A last minute gift list for anyone who eats

Posted Dec 20th, 2011

A last minute gift list for anyone who eats

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T minus four days and I'm nowhere near done my Christmas shopping.

Maybe it's the lack of snow or the new format of my boss's radio station that now plays more Burton Cummings than Bing Crosby, but it's been tough getting motivated to hit the stores. The fact that this year I am stumped more than any other to come up with thoughtful, meaningful gifts for my family members isn't helping my cause.

It's only leading to aimless wandering, which is only leading me in the direction of frustration.

That has me thinking of last-minute gift ideas (food-related, of course) that, for me, would be more heartfelt than another button-down or shiny gadget.

For the procrastinators out there, this is for you as much as it's for me. Here are my gift ideas for the foodie (or any eater, really) in your life and it's easy to pack lots of Niagara into every package.

A gift basket of home preserves

If only I thought of this last year. I could have made stocking stuffers out of the dozen jars of strawberry jam I still had kicking around. But if you went on a preserving tangent this summer and have lots of local goodness to spare, throw it in a basket, wrap it in cello and put a bow on it.

Growing up, I didn't really appreciate homemade gifts. I wasn't sure if the giver was cheaping out or just didn't get my wish list filled with requests for the latest Wham tape or an ALF doll. These days, though, I appreciate the time and effort that goes into the DIY gift.

Going shopping in your own pantry now may save you a few bucks at this most expensive time of year but the value of such gifts is actually immeasurable. Good, homemade preserves. A far cry from the ill-fitting sweater that was made in China.

A gift certificate to dinner — at your place

Everyone loves a night out but if you think about it, inviting people over to a home-cooked meal is way better than a pass to even the finest restaurant.

My mom always laments the dinner invitations she doles out. 'Next time, we're going out," she'll say. But that's because of what she puts in to every meal. It's fine dining in a relaxing setting.

The time and effort that the giver has to put into every plate — not to mention the cost of ingredients — is nothing to scoff at. Make it meal made of mostly Niagara foods and wash it down with a bottle of local vino and who wouldn't feel grateful for such a gift?

A share in a CSA

A basket of greens from Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm.

This is the ultimate local food gift. But it's so much more than that. It's an investment in a local farmer and your health. A basket of fresh veggies sounds just as good for you as a membership to the local sweatbox, er, gym. And it's probably more appealing, too.

CSA or community supported agriculture means weekly baskets of produce for a certain period of time during the growing season. It's like a share in your local farm. You pay upfront and your investment is paid back in dividends of radishes, greens and root veggies.

There are several CSAs in Niagara and they start at about $320 for 16 weeks depending on the size of basket. Some run longer and offer different sizes of weekly offerings. Some farmers will let you pay in instalments, too, which may make this a more feasible option.

Farmers may not be signing up new members just yet, but drop them a line to let them know you want to be a part of it — or at least pay for someone else to join. It's the gift that will keep on giving long after Christmas is but a distant memory.

Here are a few places to start your search:
Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm in Wellandport 
Bartel Organics in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Creek Shore Farms in Jordan 
Thiessen Farms in Jordan
Ridge Meadow Farm in Beamsville
Sexsmith Farm in Ridgeway

A wine club membership

Picking out the perfect bottle of wine for your favourite oenophile can be an exercise in stress (and possibly disappointment) so let someone else do it for you.

Most of the wineries in Niagara have wine clubs that offer bottles monthly or cases quarterly.

Some of the monthly clubs, which usually include shipments of two bottles at a time, can run about $50 for each instalment. That's about $600 annually. If you live with said oenophile, it's a good deal for you because there's a good chance he or she will share (or, at least, they should).

The packages often include a recipe or wines that may not be available to the public. If you're not sure what winery to choose, Vineland Estates has a great deal that includes partnerships with other Twenty Valley wineries so each shipment has a bottle from Vineland and a vintage from elsewhere. Wine club members also get a free flute of bubbly when dining at the winery restaurant among many other benefits.

Most wine clubs offer plenty of perks in addition to the tipple for members. With so many fantastic wineries out there, you shouldn't have any trouble finding this gift easily.

A cooking lesson

Figuring out how much butter to use during a cooking class with Adam Hynam-Smith of Peapod Cuisine.

So maybe your loved one isn't quite the culinary wizard you'd like them to be. Or maybe the foodie in your family wants to sharpen his or her kitchen skills. A cooking class is a fun outing and usually involves eating the lesson afterward. Plus, it's a gift that lasts with all the new know-how to be learned.

Niagara College offers several themed classes on weekends or evenings. Check the course catalogue to see all that's on offer.

If you love Thai food and an Australian accent, Peapod Cuisine (the folks behind the El Gastronomo Vagabundo food truck) offers fun, educational and exceptionally tasty teaching moments. Editor's note (Dec. 2012): Adam can now be found sharing his skills in classes at The Good Earth.

The Good Earth is a most beautiful spot with no pretense. This winery and restaurant started as a cooking school and classes are still on offer by well-known local chefs and those from beyond Niagara's borders.

Always wanted to learn how to make a top-notch tamale? Eh Jose, that most gregarious of St. Catharines farmers market vendors, who serves up guacamole and quesadillas like it's nobody's business, will come to your home, show you the ropes and then let you devour them.

Happy last-minute shopping (and eating).


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