Cue the Dean Martin. It’s the time of year when I share that tiny iota of wisdom I’ve been granted and point you to great made-in-Niagara Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali and any-other-reason-to-give gifts. I usually reserve my holiday gift list for my column in the local papers. But that real estate will be used up this year by a list of Strip Mall Gems I wasn’t able to write standalone stories about — a different kind of gift list, really. So here goes. Many of these are great last-minute buys that fit as perfectly into a stocking as they do under the tree. (Note: there are no affiliated links in this post. One day I’ll get my act together and set up something with the mighty Amazon.)
For the reader with a refined palate
Niagara Falls food blogger Kelly Kwok wrote one of the most surprising titles to hit cookbook shelves this year. The Asian Slow Cooker is a page-turner of 80 recipes that you’d be more inclined to associate with the swift work of high heat and a wok. But Kwok shows how it’s done with that kitchen appliance made famous for its more relaxed approach to getting dinner on the table. Kwok’s ma po tofu and her General Tso’s sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts have me using my slow cooker more now than in the entire eight years I’ve owned it.
For the curious cook
Cooks Book by local chef John Vetere is the pocket guide for the perfectionist in the kitchen. It’s a quick reference filled with useful morsels such as temperatures for sous-vide cooking, seasonality of ingredients, measurement conversions, and ratios for basic recipes. Even better that it’s stain- and water-resistant, so no worries if you spill your espagnole all over its pages.
For the team player
The Canadian Museums Association got into the kitchen this year and penned Great Canadian Masters. It’s a cookbook dedicated to 50 chefs putting Canada on the culinary map. It wasn’t written by a Niagaran but it does feature Junior Culinary Team Canada from Niagara College in the chapter dedicated to the chefs of the future. Team members contributed recipes to the project, so think of it as an intro to Ghosts of Chefs Future, and a glimpse of what’s ahead for Canada’s culinary culture.
For the sweet-toothed sybarite
Is it weird that my stomach rumbles at the sight of an evergreen? It’s not if you’ve ever eaten one of Kyle Paton’s salted juniper caramels sold under his Strangeways Sweets label. Paton sells his foraged flavours collection, rounded out by fermented marigold gummies, wintergreen gummies and porcini ganache, in quantities of 10 and 20. Whatever the size, it will be a serious workout of your willpower to ration. The candies look beautiful but as always, it’s what inside that counts. And what’s inside will make you the favourite person of whoever receives these.
For the philanthropic pleasure seeker
Southridge Jam Co. is spreading hope with its peach and strawberry jams, and grape jelly. The sale of each jar supports Southridge Community Church’s homelessness programs. It also provides job training for people trying to find their way after life on the streets. Each preserve is made by someone who has come through Southridge’s shelter doors and needs an extra hand to ensure success when they leave. The grape jelly is definitely the soul mate to my PB on my morning toast.
For the thirsty thrillists
Dillon’s Rye 1 Whisky — if you can still get your hands on a bottle. All of Niagara and craft whisky fans throughout Ontario have been waiting years to get this ferment, featuring 100 per cent Ontario rye, into their rocks glasses so it might be hard to come by. Bottles have disappeared as fast as Dillon’s can empty a cask. Any bottle with a Dillon’s label will bring a smile to a loved one’s face if you don’t luck out with the whisky, though.
For the green gourmand
You don’t have to be a fan of kale to appreciate getting this kind of leafy green: a fruit or nut tree. And if you ask the right person, this gift comes gratis. Contact your local municipality about its tree replacement program, especially if there’s a bare patch on your boulevard. The urban canopy is a hot topic right now and growing it is incredibly important. The City of St. Catharines, for example, has a boulevard tree replacement program that features native fruit and nut trees. Barring that, a visit to Grimo Nut Tree Nursery will set you up with incredible options, including black walnut, heart nut, persimmon and even pawpaw trees. With harvests like that, this gift keeps on giving — to you and the planet.
For the big-spending bon vivant
Might I suggest a ticket to one of the premiere Niagara food and wine events? There’s:
- Xerox Icewine Gala;
- Cuvée, whose proceeds benefit viticulture and oenology student education at Brock University;
- Niagara College Seafood Gala, which also benefits students;
- a ticket to a mind-blowing pop-up dinner like the Crux series;
- or something serene, such as Niagara Parks’ Rooted dinner, which happens under the canopy of a beautiful oak tree, weather-permitting. It shares a less-told story one of the world’s most popular natural wonders.
Happy gift-giving and all the best over the holidays.