Wednesday, January 11, 2012

consumable gifts: specialty foods offer a taste of the city

When trying to come up with the perfect gift for my mom and dad for Christmas, I had to face a couple of challenges:

*My parents have too much stuff, or so they tell me. I actually think they've done an admirable job of downsizing over the last few years.

*My parents expect a lot from me at Christmas. Past Christmas gifts included repairing an old Brownie photo of them, which, when blown up, turned out to be the only good photo of them together before they married. Last year, I ordered steak sandwiches from the half-century old restaurant in the town where they used to live. Hard to beat, in other words.

So the challenge every year is to give them something special, something that they'll really enjoy, and something they can actually use. I liked the idea of a gift basket, because since they live in a small town on the coast, they don't have the luxuries and niceties that we all take for granted, living in and around a larger city. In the end, I went to Wizer's in Lake Oswego and created my own gift basket. Without the basket. My parents actually have enough baskets, too.

If you haven't been to Wizer's, you're missing out. This fabulous gem of a specialty grocery store has, well, everything. At least the important stuff, including a very knowledgeable wine steward and a fabulous selection of craft soda pops. In addition to Wizer's, we also popped into Lady Di's British store for a couple of items to include a bit of Canadian influence. Lady Di's has all the good stuff especially if you're craving English shortbreads, toffee, or tea.

When you put together a gift basket, think about who you are buying for. My parents, like everyone in our family, are foodies. They both love to cook and they love to eat. However, they are somewhat limited by the options available to them on the coast. Although the central coast has a bounty of fresh seafood, you're hard-pressed to find gourmet food items.

I buy a spinach salad from New Seasons with a fantastic dressing made with champagne vinegar and I knew they'd love it, too. I'm trying to convince my parents to switch to homemade salad dressings. They're so much better than bottled dressings, and there's no waste- you just make as much as you need for the evening. So, champagne vinegar got added to the basket. For the other items in the gift basket (below), I just wandered around the stores and thought about what my parents would like the most. Putting it together was fun and watching them sift through the contents was even better. They loved the gift basket so I'm off the hook once again- until next year.

Champagne Vinaigrette
2 T Champagne vinegar
1/3 c Olive oil
1/2 t Dijon (mustard acts as an emulsifier- use more or less depending upon how thick you want the dressing to be)
1 T Chopped shallots
Salt, pepper, or other herbs to taste, if you like.
Quickly whisk all ingredients and serve. I use a small mustard bottle with a lid for a final shake-up.

Consumable Gift Basket
Champagne vinegar
Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon
Gift certificate for restaurant in Seaside 
Green olives hand-stuffed with garlic
HP sauce (The Canadian insisted upon this English steak sauce which supposedly puts A1 to shame. I can't really tell the difference.)
Old English hot mustard
Russian mustard (Beaverton Foods mustards are available along the coast, but they don't have all the flavors we have up here)
Sardines (Ick. Gross. Ick. However, this wasn't a basket for me, so in they went.)
Taveners Proper Sweets- English Liquorice Allsorts 
Werther's (You can get Werther's everywhere, even in Waldport, but between the liquorice candy and the sardines, the basket was tipping in favor of my dad).