these are a few of my favorite things …

Christmas gift wrapped with loveWith just 15 days left until Christmas, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite gift ideas. Truth be told, you won’t find me anywhere near a mall; I’m all in favor of opting out of the holiday shopping frenzy and reclaiming the beauty of the season. Won’t you join me?

My #1 favorite gift to give (as well as receive) is always something homemade and more often than not … it’s something good to eat!

Homemade Pepper Jam

Spicy Pepper Jam (delicious served with aged Pecorino cheese) makes an eye-catching gift that’s always a big hit at holiday get-togethers. The key to success for any homemade edible gift is to choose a tried-and-true recipe that’s both flavorful and beautiful. In years past, I’ve given homemade almond biscotti, my mother’s date pinwheel cookies, luscious chocolate walnut fudge and homemade Irish Cream (sin-in-a-bottle!). Regardless of the recipe you choose, be sure to give yourself plenty of time, use the highest quality ingredients you can afford and have fun. And just to be safe, it’s always helpful to provide recipients with a list of ingredients.

My #2 favorite gift is something unique & delicious from a small local business. 

my Spice House favoritesYears ago, I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of The Spice House and on any given day I could be found wandering around this charming shop, inhaling the lovely aroma. A favorite of professional chefs and home cooks alike, this little shop is one of my all-time favorite destinations and it’s no exaggeration when I say their spices are the very highest quality and freshest possible. As a regular customer for the past fifteen years, I’ve never been disappointed and their beautiful gift boxes are always well received. In addition to their brick & mortar shops in Illinois and Wisconsin, they also have an excellent website and ship nationwide – just in time for Christmas! I’ve managed to get my entire family hooked on their Back-of-the-Yards Butcher’s Rub (there’s nothing better on grilled pork chops and broiled lamb chops), Tellicherry Black Peppercorns and wide range of dried herbs, spices, extracts and salt.

Trio of Penzeys SpicesI also like Penzeys Spices, their family-owned rival. Here in California, I can frequently be found stocking up on favorites at their Menlo Park location, but they also ship nationwide.

Sigona's Fresh Press TrioJust like fresh spices, there’s nothing better than freshly pressed olive oil. Here in California, I’ve fallen hard for Sigona’s Farmers Market – a small, family-owned grocery specializing in locally grown fresh produce, dried fruits & nuts, local raw honey as well as balsamic vinegar and freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil from around the world. On any given day, I can sample over two dozen fresh pressed single varietals and blends, and unlike the olive oil at a typical grocery store, nothing on Sigona’s shelf is more than six months old. My husband and I love drizzling Chilean Leccino Extra Virgin Olive Oil on homemade thin crust pizza and focaccia bread.

We’re also hooked on Sigona’s Meyer Lemon Infused Olive Oil; it’s delicious on roasted cauliflower and steamed Broccoli Rabe. This versatile oil also comes in handy for making   one of my favorite appetizers: cut a fresh baguette into thin diagonal slices, spread a tablespoon of fresh ricotta cheese on each slice of bread and drizzle with Meyer Lemon Olive Oil. Finish with a light dusting of sea salt. Yum!

I also recommend Sigona’s wide selection of balsamic vinegars; my husband and I are especially fond of their fig and pomegranate infused vinegars. Both make wonderful salad dressings and are equally delicious when served with vanilla ice cream. Of course, these are all available via internet mail order – hooray!

Swanton Berry Farm JamWhen I don’t have time to make my own, I always buy jam made by locally owned small-batch producers; my two favorites are Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California and American Spoon Foods in Petoskey, Michigan. They’re equally delicious!

My #3 favorite gift is something handmade, preferably both beautiful and useful.

In prior years I’ve made photo albums, family recipe books as well as hand painted note cards (and it simply isn’t Christmas without a handmade ornament for the Christmas tree), but I also enjoy going to events like The Renegade Craft Fair to buy handmade pottery, textiles and soap – direct from the makers. And my favorite way to wrap up all of these gifts is to use beautiful dish towels. Who wouldn’t love to start the new year with festive new dish towels?

sample Christmas gift box

Of course, time spent with loved ones is the most precious gift of all.

Merry Christmas!

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