Holiday gifts for food (and drink)-loving travelers

gifts for food loversHoliday shopping is easy if the people on your list like to eat and/or imbibe. If they’re into travel–be it armchair or the real deal–the options are endless This year, think beyond the predictable bottle of wine or pricey “artisan” cookies and give reusable, portable, eco-friendly gifts or small-batch edibles that are the taste equivalent of a trip abroad.

As for where to get these items, look at farmers and flea markets, street fairs, specialty food shops, wineries/distilleries, and boutiques. One of my favorite spots to shop: foreign supermarkets.

For the green at heart

An inflatable wine bag is ideal for wine and spirit-loving travelers. They’re multi-use and work equally well for olive oil, vinegar, or other fluid specialty products.

A logo tote bag (preferably made from recycled materials) from a specialty food shop, winery, etc. is great for practical recipients. A co-worker recently brought me a signature navy blue number from Neal’s Yard Dairy, a famous cheese shop in London. In two months, it’s traveled to South America and across the U.S., doing time as a souvenir satchel, laundry and grocery bag, and all-purpose carry-on. When I don’t need it, i just roll it up and stash it in my duffel bag or day pack. Love it.

Gift a wine key (opener) salad tongs or bowl, chopsticks, or other kitchen utensils made from local, sustainable materials such as wood, antler, bone, bamboo, or shell. Do a quick online search or ask (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: phrasebooks) about the origins of said object. If you have any qualms about the eco-aspect, don’t buy it and let the shopkeeper know why.

[Photo credit: Flickr user noramunro]gifts for food loversDrink coasters are always appreciated. I’ve picked up woven palm versions in Indonesia, as well as purchased colorful Portuguese azuelos tiles for this use. If the country or region you’re visiting is famous for its leather, woodwork, ceramics, or even recycled metal handicrafts, you’ll probably find a nice, inexpensive set of coasters. Again, be sure they’re made from sustainable materials.

Vintage kitchenware–even if it’s not functional–can be a great gift, especially if your intended is a collector. Salt-and-pepper shakers, wine openers, cheese knives, a set of Melamine bowls: hit up antique stores or street fairs, because you’re sure to find treasures at affordable prices.

For the adventurer

A pocketknife or plastic folding knife from a famous cheese shop or winery is indispensable to hikers, campers, foragers, and DIYer’s who enjoy a good picnic while on the road. Just make sure your loved ones aren’t the type who don’t check their bags when they fly. A mini-cutting board of wood/bamboo or slate is also a nice gift.

Know someone who’s into mountaineering or other high-altitude pursuits? Coca leaf tea (or for a less effective but more entertaining option, caramels or hand candy) really works, and it’s legal.

For the locavore

If you have a friend of the “Eat local/Support family farms” variety, a gift from your travels can still fit the mold. Whenever and wherever I travel, I make a point of purchasing local, handcrafted foodstuffs: jam or other preserves, honey, cheese, candy. What I buy depends upon where I am and whether or not I have to abide (cough, cough) by customs regulations or have access to refrigeration.
gifts for food lovers
If customs and temperature aren’t an issue, consider a gift of cheese, charcuterie, or even some spectacular produce (A would-be suitor once presented me with a tiny disc of goat cheese and one perfect peach before I departed on a flight; I wasn’t into the guy but loved the thoughtfulness of his gift).

If you you’re looking for a shelf-stable product, some suggestions: leatherwood, manuka, or tupelo honey (from Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Florida Panhandle, respectively); sea salt (I love the red alaea salt from Hawaii); Argentinean dulce de leche; drinking chocolate; real maple syrup; dried chiles or posole from New Mexico; palm sugar from Indonesia; spices from India or Morocco; Spanish saffron or paella rice–look for Calasparra or Bomba from Valencia; Provencal chestnut cream; Italian tomato paste or canned sardines (canned tuna from overseas is very often not from a sustainable fishery); barbecue or hot sauce; heirloom dried beans; stoneground grits…

I particularly like to buy items grown/produced by farmer co-ops but unless they’re manufactured for export or are a dried good, beware. A jar of manjar (the Chilean version of dulce de leche) I purchased from a tiny bakery wasn’t sealed properly, and was contaminated with mold when opened. Botulism or other foodborne illness is not a thoughtful gift (although I suppose it’s better to give than receive…), so make sure you’re getting professionally packaged goods.

[Photo credits: wine opener, Flickr user corktiques; honey, Laurel Miller]

On a tight budget this year? Make your own edible gifts based upon your recipient’s interests, favorite holiday spot, or ethnic heritage. Check out the below clip for an easy holiday recipe; bonus points if you know where Moravia is.

Moravian Spice Cookie Wafers

Undiscovered New York: Handmade in Brooklyn

Brooklyn remains one of the more fiercely independent places in all of New York City. Although the Borough was officially incorporated into the greater city in 1898, it has long-rivaled its more popular neighbor Manhattan across the river for the tallest buildings, the most impressive parks and museums and for the ingenuity of its residents.

One of the more visible artifacts of this competitive spirit and creativity is Brooklyn’s love affair with all things handcrafted, artisanal and one-of-a-kind. What is it about Brooklyn that makes it so creative exactly? Call it a symptom of the pride Brooklyn’s residents have for their unique brownstone neighborhoods. Or chalk it up to the high creativity of the area’s many transplants from around the world. But whether it’s made-from-scratch pickles, chocolate or beer, a lovingly crafted musical instrument or quirky piece of jewelry or hooded sweatshirt, the labors of Brooklyn refuse to be homogeneous.

And what about you, dear reader – are you looking for a one-of-a-kind gift or souvenir from your visit to the Big Apple? Does the prospect of some handcrafted beer make you thirsty? Perhaps some custom-made cologne, perfume or clothing is more your style? Grab the next subway out of Manhattan: this week’s edition of Undiscovered New York is handmade, straight from Brooklyn. Click below to read more.
Handmade Gifts
They say smell is the sense most closely associated with memory – Brooklyn scent-makers at D.S. & Durga seem to have taken the idea to heart. The pair of budding smell-smiths have been producing small batch handmade colognes and perfumes since 2007, sourcing plant extracts, resins and oils from around the world. Stop by one of their Brooklyn retail outlets and pick up a custom made bottle for yourself.

While D.S. & Durga are playing around with notes of scent like citrus and ginger, the craftsmen at Sadowsky Guitars have a very different kind of note-making in mind. Though New York has a long history as a center for guitar-making companies, the team at Sadowsky operates out of a small store in Brooklyn. They have produced custom guitars, basses and audio products for such musicians as Adam Clayton from U2 and Lenny Kravitz. If it’s good enough for these accomplished axe-handlers, guitarists everywhere can bet there’s a custom guitar there waiting to built just for you.

Independent Fashion
When it comes to clothing, Brooklyn’s got a style all its own. Men and women alike swear by local clothing chain Brooklyn Industries. They stock a wide range of quirky bags, outerwear, t-shirts and dresses to suit the most discerning fashion-lovers. It’s gotten so popular you can now find retail outlets well beyond the chain’s Brooklyn home in locations as far away as Chicago and Portland.

If customization is your thing, look no further than Brooklyn favorite Neighborhoodies. The clothing chain, which lets customers design one-of-a-kind hooded sweatshirts and t-shirts emblazoned with personal messages and imagery, first got its start in this most creative of Boroughs. This isn’t your boring old iron-on we’re talking about here – the letters can be hand-stitched onto any clothing item and can include graphics like guns, monkeys and thunderbolts.

Free-form Food
As was noted in a recent article by the New York Times, Brooklyn has become ground zero for one of the country’s most interesting and creative artisanal food scenes. Passionate foodies and chefs are making just about every kind of foodstuff imaginable from scratch, including items like chocolate, cheese and pickles.

But it doesn’t stop there – beer lovers should make sure to try out one of the Borough’s several local brews. Local favorites include Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery, where visitors can take a tour and to sample a few of their recent specialities, or the Brooklyn brewers at Sixpoint Craft Ales. Meanwhile, the small-batch pickle makers of Wheelhouse crank out seasonal experimental pickle flavors like Champagne Vinegar Spears as well as standbys including Big Bang Okra and Top Shelf Beets.