Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

The Procrastinator's Guide to Gift-Giving


It need not be elegant.  Not even pretty.  What matters most about a gift is its utility.  (That's the Asian in me talking.)  The thought and gesture are nice.  But what I wish for in gifts and therefore what I assume others to want is to be able to actually enjoy something versus just stashing it away forgotten in a storage closet somewhere.

If you give someone the gift of food, chances are, they are going to pay attention to it immediately.  Savor it even.  Worst that could happen is that it gets re-gifted, even if it is over and over again.  At least there's some purpose to it.  Sorry Chia Pet.  As kitsch-wonderful as you are, my ultimate gift is always food.

Right about this time of year, procrastinators (like me) are likely going nuts (not just getting them for neighborly offerings) about things to give to people.  Especially if you're strapped for cash and with many gifts to give, the questions inevitably is:  "What am I going to get for everyone?"

Re-phrase that question to "What am I going to MAKE for everyone?"  And much of the stress will be gone.  Seriously. Just keep in  mind what I said in the beginning.  It needn't be pretty.  Just given.  Remember how cool you felt when you gave your mom the macaroni necklace?  You'll be beaming like that.  Only I suspect the things listed below will be appreciate a lot more than that necklace (my mom family gave in and told me how she tolerated these tokens like my dad tolerated those god-awful ties).

Below is a quick list of things written about here that can easily be converted from everyday kitchen treasures to a most treasured token of friendship, love, etc.  You can get crafty and all of that with the packaging.  But what really matters is the food itself.  Some of it you can make.  Others you can buy.  Either way they are quick, awfully useful, and yes, extremely thoughtful.


1.)  Chocolate-Dipped Candied Ginger - A handful in a clear plastic bag and a ribbon makes any sweets-lover and coffee aficionado happy (because it's great with java).

2.)  Ghetto-Fabulous Peanut Butter Cups - Fugly, but good.  If the last time you made anything for anyone was a macaroni necklace for your mom, you're excused from not creating picture-perfect confections no matter what Martha Stewart might tell you.

3.)  Pandoro with a recipe - No wrapping necessary.  Though a little nudge on how to use this citrus-infused brioche-like holiday bread will the recipient all the more grateful.  Try this French toast recipe.

4.)  Tarte Tatin with Cheddar Crust - Bring it to a party.  It's good in the evening for dessert or in the morning while opening presents.

5.)  A Gift Card to Somewhere Foodie-Cool - In my neck of the woods, a qualifying place would Caffe d'Bolla where coffee geeks can talk with the owners about bean expression, roasting techniques and the virtues of siphon brew. 

6.)  Flavored Sugar - No, it's not too late to scent the vanilla sugar.  Or the lemon verbena sugar.  Simply leave a note telling them not to enjoy until the depth of winter, which for me, qualifies February and March when the holidays are a distant memory, Spring is too far away, and the blasted inversion won't go away.

7.)  Chai Caddy - Find them at Indian stores.  Even if they don't make chai (spice-infused black tea with sugar and milk), it's a great item for any cook who likes to use aromatics. If you're ordering these online, call it a New Year's gift. 

8.)  Jaggery Nuts - For fans of nut brittle and/or Indian food.  A different sugar than our beloved white granulated cane, it's a little muskier with a bitter finish that's great with roasted nuts and a pinch of cayenne.  Put some into a pretty little bowl (disposable, even) and it's an unusual riff on the standard brittle.

9.)  Hug an Artisan - Or at least, support them by giving your food-loving friends the gift of good food from knowing hands.  Some of my favorites:  Rockhill Creamery Belvedere Tomme (order online or find at a cheesemonger) and Creminelli Artisan Salumi (OH. MY. GOD. GOOD.)  Never underestimate the power of pork.

10.)  Good Dark Chocolate - No bitterness here.  Just complex, nuanced flavor from makers like Pralus, Amano (located in Utah), Amedei, Domori, Valrhona, and Patric.  Lately, this bar has been my fixation.  Rumor has it that it's only a holiday deal.  Dark chocolate so fruity that it tastes like jam, especially when unsweetened peanut butter is added to the bar.  Fantastic.