Warning: Today marks four weeks until Christmas and 11 days until Chanukah. Those of you who tore the town apart on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday probably are sitting pretty with your pile o’ presents, but what about the rest of us? Don’t worry — the Heavy Table has a long list of gifts that 1) range from insanely affordable to crazily splurge-worthy, 2) can be found at one of many locally owned businesses, and 3) will endear you to your food-loving friends and family for life, or at least until next holiday season. With much ado, we present the 2012 Heavy Table Holiday Gift Guide.
Publisher’s note: Thanks to Gandhi Mahal for underwriting this guide.
The Appetizers: Gifts <$10
On a budget, or have a lot of people on your list this year? Not a problem: We found a wealth of wallet-friendly gifts that can be slipped into a stocking or combined in a big box under the tree.
Over at the Beer Dabbler (1095 7th Street W, St. Paul), pick up a pack of Summit playing cards ($5.50) or Swag Brewery soaps ($7 each) for the suds savant on your list. Pack them in one of the store’s many pints and mugs (pictured two photos up, $4, $20, and $7), and throw in a package of Minnesota-made, brewer’s yeast-enriched Grrrowler Bones ($5) for Fido, too.
Journey to the Golden Fig (790 Grand Ave., St. Paul) and start by picking up a wedge of local cheese, like the Summit Winter Ale-washed Winter Blues cheese from Faribault Dairy ($16 / lb. — our wedge was a reasonable $3.40), and pair it with pear with honey and ginger preserves ($8.50) from Madison’s Quince and Apple. Condiment fans would appreciate a bottle of Natedogs Honey-Spiced Mustard ($9.95) and tart-but-balanced Minnestalgia chokecherry syrup ($8.95) — but probably not served together. A trio of popcorn on the cob and Golden Fig maple pepper ($10) can accompany a gift of DVDs or a Netflix subscription for a cozy movie night.
Is your friend a fan of Indian food but wary about cooking it at home? Try one of the Dice N Spice cooking kits ($9.95) created by Golden Fig employee Tamera Shintre,who aims to simplify Indian cooking by packaging the necessary ingredients and spices for the ever-popular dal in one jar. Tame the heat from the dal with a bar of peppermint crunch chocolate ($5.50) from B.T. McElrath.
Across town at Local D’Lish (208 N 1st St., Minneapolis), you can indulge your carb lovers with a selection of baking mixes from Homestead Mills, located in (no, we’re not making this up) Cook, MN. We’re partial to its Northern Lites ginger snap pancake and Bannnock quickbread mixes ($6 each), but you can mix and match the hearty little sacks to your heart’s content. While you’re there, swing by the sweets table for a package of chocolate hazelnut or pistachio LindaLicious biscotti, baked in St. Paul by Linda Canfield using Hope Creamery butter and Larry Schultz eggs.
A budget south of $10 doesn’t limit you to food, however. Anyone of hardy Scandinavian stock would proudly salute his / her heritage with this mug ($8.95) from Patina (multiple locations) — remember, if you don’t talk to your kids about lutefisk, someone else will. Combine the mug with a Minnesota-themed pot holder ($8.95, above right) or Christmas dish towel ($8.95) to reinforce the recipient’s state spirit, or throw in a bag of Nordic licorice ($4.99) from Ingebretsen’s (1601 E Lake St., Minneapolis) to keep with the Scandinavian theme.
We found a similar pot holder ($9) over at the Walker Shop (1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis) featuring variations of our state’s beloved hot dish that tickled our fancy even more. Roll the pot holder around a Mini Supoon from Dreamfarm ($8, Walker Shop), a handy little utensil that scrapes, stirs, mixes, and scoops without melting into the hot contents of that pot.
Small Plates: Gifts $10-25
A slightly larger budget will bring you into full-on kitchen-gadget gift glory, as evidenced by the selection at the Walker Shop. For your aunt who always hosts the holiday meal, pick up the roasting laurel from Prepara ($22), a silicone lift that keeps your bird off the bottom of the roasting pan so it will brown evenly. It’s green, it’s leafy, it’s festive — don’t be surprised if you find a relative wearing it on his head (hopefully, before use).
Black and Blum’s Spudski potato masher ($16) is a perfect pairing with the laurel, because who doesn’t want mashed potatoes with their bird — especially taters made with a tool that looks like a ski pole. Better yet, add a hand-crafted Stirsby kitchen tool ($10 for the tong-like seizer, $16 each for the wider seizer and stirring spoon, pictured above), created by Minneapolis woodmaker / photographer John Danicic, and the gravy is taken care of, too.
Joseph Joseph’s bright fold-flat grater ($20, Walker Shop) falls into the “why didn’t I think of this?” category for anyone who is constantly rearranging his or her kitchen cabinets to squeeze in all tools, bowls, and gizmos. It offers the stability of a traditional box grater but slims down considerably for storage. Match it with a complementary-colored Teafu infuser from Dreamfarm ($16, Walker Shop), which allows the user to easily scoop, brew, and squeeze loose tea leaves without making a monster mess. The flexible pod is made of silicone that is heat-resistant up to 500°F, so chances are, it can handle your cup of chai without risk of disintegration.
Camping enthusiasts will go ga-ga for the Light My Fire Outdoor MealKit ($24) from Ingebretsen’s, which combines two plates, a cup, a colander / cutting board, and a Spork into a compact, triangular box. You certainly could use it for office lunches as well, but unless you commute via kayak, you probably won’t be able to test out the kit’s floating ability.
Minnesota mavens and art fans will be smitten with these dish towels ($15.95 at Patina, $16 at Walker Shop) designed by Minnesota College of Art and Design students Katie Evans and Alexandra Roche. Evans and Roche created the whimsical towels for Vestiges Inc., a local company that is updating traditional souvenir European tea towels for the American market, and though you can find towels for every state in the union, you can’t deny the Minnesota versions are the cutest, especially when paired with a Gopher State-shaped cutting board ($19.95, Patina).
For those who love beer as much as they love our state, pick up a Summit wooden ornament ($20) or a beer-themed T-shirt ($22) at the Beer Dabbler.
Of course, you can find many foodstuffs in this price range, too. We were blown away by the spicy green tomato pickles from Duluth’s Talmadge Farms ($12.95, Golden Fig), which tasted perfectly crunchy and briny and brought the heat on strong. A bottle of Smude’s sunflower oil ($14, Local D’Lish) is a subtly flavored choice but one any home cook would appreciate for its light, buttery flavor and high smoke point (bring on the fried chicken!).
You also can spruce up his or her kitchen with fresh herb or chili pepper seeds ($10 each, Walker Shop) that sprout right in their cans, making them a natural fit for the windowsill by the sink. And you can never go wrong with chocolate — Golden Fig lets you create your own boxes from the truffles and bonbons it stocks from the St. Croix Chocolate Company, Mademoiselle Miel, and other area chocolatiers (prices vary; box above, $18.25).
We won’t complain if you stack one or more of these books by the Heavy Table crew under your tree, the most recent being editor James Norton’s Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities, which gives readers the lowdown on restaurants, markets, and gourmet shops all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Norton also partnered with several HT writers and photographers on Minnesota Lunch, a terrific tome for the sandwich savvy, and Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, an in-depth look at the certified cheese wizzes from our eastern neighbor, with his photographer wife Becca Dilley. HT writer Tricia Cornell debuted her CSA-inspired love letter, Eat More Vegetables, this summer, but the cookbook deserves a place on your counter year-round, and photographer Kate N.G. Sommers’ stunning food shots enhance local chef Stewart Woodman’s Shefzilla: Conquering Haute Cuisine at Home.
And though he’s not a contributor, fellow blogger and friend-of-the-site Brett Laidlaw’s Trout Caviar: Recipes from a Northern Forager never fails to make us smile with its poetic prose and insights into the food that grows, literally, right outside our doors. (All books are available on Amazon at prices ranging from $18-25; several can be found at local shops such as Golden Fig, Magers and Quinn, and Patina as well.)
Heavy Table contributor Eric Faust has gone whole hog into the coffee business — you can read our profile of his Duluth Coffee Company roastery in tomorrow’s edition and / or support his endeavor by purchasing some of his lovely locally roasted beans from his website ($12-14 / pound.) The inspired roasting and packaging of Peace Coffee’s Alchemy series of coffees are another option for the locavore java lover.
Festive Entrees: Gifts $25-50
St. Louis Park-based Nordic Ware (factory store at 4925 Highway 7, Minneapolis) may be best known as the inventor of the Bundt cake pan, but the baker in your life may appreciate a break from the cake once in a while. Pick up Nordic Ware’s mini scone pan ($30, Patina), and who knows, you may be the beneficiary of the tiny treats that come forth from said pan.
If there are any scones left, serve them up on this Santa platter ($40, Ingebretsen’s), which, despite its holiday theme, avoids becoming a Christmas kitsch item thanks to its streamlined St. Nick design.
The beer lovers on your list may raise a cold one in your honor if you present them with a subscription to The Growler magazine ($27) from the folks at the Beer Dabbler. The locally produced pub, launched earlier this year, focuses on Minnesota life and its ties to craft brews. You can pick up every issue at the Beer Dabbler’s West 7th Street storefront, but wouldn’t it be nicer to have it delivered straight to your brewski brother’s mailbox instead?
It’s not really a Scandinavian Christmas without a shot of aquavit or a hot mug of glögg, the mulled wine (plus a little extra) that keeps spirits bright in even sub-zero temperatures. Ingebretsen’s has a clever ice + shot glasses + carafe kit ($35) that makes serving chilled aquavit easy on the eyes and palate, and a glögg warmer and server ($40) that practically oozes decorum and restraint, the hallmarks of Scandinavian charm.
Tasting Menu with Wine Pairing: Gifts $50 and Over
Satisfy your loved one’s sweet tooth — and caffeine fix — while supporting local youth programs by purchasing a CityKid Java gift box. The South Minneapolis non-profit is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year by offering three holiday boxes that combine the program’s signature 100 percent Arabican coffee with a selection of local favorite treats, such as Cookie Cart cookies, Patisserie 46 caramels, B.T. McElrath chocolates, and Raspberry Bird cake pops. Prices top out at $50 for the “Minnesota Nice” box, and all proceeds benefit Urban Ventures.
If your recipient’s taste runs more salty than sweet, consider this sleek, striking salt box ($60, Walker Shop) from St. Paul artist Scott McGlasson. McGlasson primarily uses American hardwoods in his studio, Woodsport, and can be found at the Mill City Farmers Market in warmer months selling his smaller items, such as bowls, plates, and stools, while taking private orders for large furniture pieces. Undeniably impressive and utilitarian, McGlasson’s salt box will become a permanent fixture in any kitchen.
The colorful characters in your life merit equally colorful gifts, such as these repurposed Corian trays ($55, $75, and $95, Walker Shop) from St. Paul’s S2BH studio. Artists Steve Buetow and Scott Helmes began collaborating last year after being laid off from their architectural jobs, with the result being a line of functional yet fine-quality serving pieces in a variety of bright hues. Each piece is purchased separately but can be combined with its compatriots in as many combinations as your budget allows.
The rainbow of mixing bowls, colanders, and measuring spoons in Joseph Joseph’s Nest 9 Plus Set ($58, Walker Shop) are eye-catching, elegant, and — most importantly — dishwasher-safe. The bowls and utensils stack inside one another for easy storage, but it might be hard to relegate this set to a cupboard if you’re as smitten with the colors as we are. To complete your color-forward kitchen gift, add a Bar10dener ($50, Walker Shop), the Swiss Army Knife of bartending tools that somehow combines a muddler, stirrer, knife, channel knife, zester, reamer, jigger, bottle opener, corkscrew, and strainer into one stainless-steel handle. Choose from orange, green, blue, and our favorite, purple.
Finally, for those who have been really good this year, surprise them with this wow-inducing wooden serving plate ($250, Walker Shop). A newcomer to the Walker Shop by way of Canada, the chestnut-colored circle can anchor a stunning holiday centerpiece or serve as the state’s largest cheeseboard. Of all the wares we found during our massive shopping excursion, this was the one hardest to say good-bye to. (But maybe not for long — I have been very good this year, hint, hint.)
Thanks to the following stores and organizations for their assistance in compiling this year’s gift guide: Patina, the Beer Dabbler, Golden Fig, the Walker Shop, Local D’Lish, CityKid Java, and Ingebretsen’s.
James Norton contributed to this story.
Gandhi Mahal: Uniting people by spice and still dedicated to bringing peace by pleasing the palate! Lunch Buffet everyday 11:30am-3pm; Dinner 5pm-10pm; live music on weekends, delivery, take-out and on- and off-site catering available.