By Kim O'Donnel
Warm a foodie's heart (and belly) this holiday season with these eco-friendly and beautiful gifts. I've included some personal favorites that I use in my own kitchen (and plan on gifting to others), plus a smattering of newly discovered items I covet. Notice how each product on the list tells a story -- of artisans, farmers, foodways and families -- and in doing so, offers a window into how others may live.
It's the Great Pumpkin Seed Oil, Charlie Brown
There's a newcomer to the specialty oil market, and it's coming from the pumpkin patch. A couple of Wisconsin organic pumpkin farmers doing business as Hay River Foods are harvesting and drying hull-less pumpkin seeds. The result? An amber-colored finishing oil that has this cook dreaming of ways to dress winter salads, finish pilafs and drizzle atop pizza. The oil has made its Whole Foods Market debut and is also available directly from the source ($22).
Heirloom Bean Revival
If you think all dried beans taste the same, a guy called Steve Sando can change your perspective. Sando's pursuit of fresh, good-tasting beans and people who grow them resulted in a venture called Rancho Gordo, which has developed a cult following among chefs and home cooks around the country. Through a unique partnership with a small company in Mexico, Sando is importing heirloom beans grown by small farmers in that country, and keeping certain indigenous crops off the endangered species list.
My gift picks:
- The Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project Sampler: four 1-pound bags of beans from the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico ($22)
- "A Year of Beans": four quarterly shipments of six 1-pound bags, plus a book, recipes and extra goodies from the Rancho larder ($249, available this month only)
Kitchen Linens Made with Two Hands
I got my first gander at Studio Patro's hand-printed kitchen linens at remodelista, a traveling warehouse artisans show that was making a pitstop in Seattle this spring. It was love at first sight, but I exercised restraint and bought just one towel, a birthday gift for a baking pal. I couldn't shake the simple elegance of their knee-length bib aprons and finally surrendered a few months ago. I have no idea why I waited so long. I wear it every day and can't see that changing anytime soon. Check out their fun gift sets, each of which includes a hand-carved wooden spatula ($68-$88).
Coffee Fresh Off the Farm
If you're a regular farmers' market shopper, chances are you've heard about CSAs -- community-supported agriculture programs, direct relationships between growers and shoppers. Until recently, CSAs were typically produce based, but now there are CSAs for seafood, grains, eggs, meat -- and most recently, coffee. Enter CoffeeCSA.org, an farmer-owned enterprise run by a California-based cooperative that represents 140,000-some coffee farmers in Ethiopia, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. The beans are organic and Fair Trade certified and roasted in California. Upon visiting the site, you pick the farmer you want to buy from and choose the level of pre-paid commitment, from one month to one year. The farmer receives 100 percent of the profits. Three monthly deliveries start at $78.99, which includes shipping.
Letterpress Gift Tags to End Childhood Hunger
Share Our Strength, the Washington, D.C.- based nonprofit working to end childhood hunger, is always coming up with clever ways to inspire the rest of us to give. I really like the letterpress-designed gift tags for donations made on someone else's behalf; a set of five (3.5"x4.8") tags and envelopes is a steal at $50. Order by December 19 to receive in time for Christmas. P.S.: More than 16 million kids in this country (just about 1 in 5) are considered "food insecure" -- with limited and/or uncertain access to adequate daily nutrition.
Maybe I'm biased because we're both Seattle-ites, but time and time again, Theo Chocolate continues to win me over with its socially responsible business practices and its superlative line of organic, Fair Trade, bean-to-bar chocolate.
I'm partial to the 70 percent salted almond bar, while my husband digs the hunk of 45 percent creamy milk chocolate (which has changed the tune of this dark chocolate-loving gal). Here are my gift set picks:
- The Chocolate Pairing Kit for Beer: four bars curated for their brew compatibility ($20)
- The Theo Library: a heady assortment of 10 three-ounce bars ($39)
- The Theo Cocoa Connoisseur Gift Set: a chocolatey smorgasbord that includes caramels, bars and sipping chocolate ($53)
Kim O'Donnel is a trained chef, longtime journalist and cookbook author. Her work also appears in USA Today. Kim is at work on her second book, The Meat Lover's Meatless Holiday Table, coming in Fall 2012. Follow her on Twitter at @kimodonnel.
Photo courtesy of CoffeeCSA.org