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Nontraditional Food Gifts for Holiday Giving

Every year, people give fudge, candy canes, chocolates and fruitcake for Christmas. The recipients gorge, and then when the new year arrives,  swear off candy and sweets as one of their resolutions. Rather than adding to this viscious cycle, try giving some off-beat food gifts that will be both appreciated and depreciated, as they are eaten with glee, this Christmas.

Say it with pasta

It’s safe to say that Italian food is universally loved, and pasta is one of the finest “comfort foods” that exists. If you have a pasta maker, homemade pasta trumps chocolate any day as the perfect gift.

Pasta comes not only in a variety of shapes, it can be made with several different inclusions. For a festive red and green mixture, add spinach or pesto to one batch, and sun-dried tomatoes to another. Combine the end product in an attractive clear container. Make some whole-wheat or soy pasta; both of these varieties have a rich, brown color, nutty flavor and offer health benefits that pasta made with bleached white flour do not. Offer your collection in a gift basket that contains some extra-virgin olive oil and a nice bottle of Italian red wine, and your pasta gift will shine as brightly as the star on top of the tree.

Condiments show you care

I work for a pickle aficionado. That’s right – this CEO of a multinational corporation turns up his nose at the chocolate and doughnut gifts that vendors routinely bring as offerings, but dives at the dills brought in with deli sandwiches provided for board meetings. His tastes may be unusual, but I can’t believe he is the only person who prefers sour to sweet (it may be a reflection of his personality, but I won’t go there.)

If you have a garden, then you probably have had overruns of produce at some point. Zucchini, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes tend to come in like tidal waves during the growing season. Pickling and preserving is a great way to use the excess, and the results make colorful and eclectic gifts. A nice sweet cucumber relish that contains bits of red and green pepper looks festive and tastes even better. A fancy jar of pickled peaches, complete with cinnamon stick and whole nutmeg, smells like the holidays and brings back memories of summer during the depths of winter’s gloom. Regional favorites such as apple or persimmon butter, pickled okra or corn relish can say “welcome to the neighborhood” to incoming transplants, or bring a nostalgic tear to friends and relatives who have left the area.

Food gifts that keep on giving

What about a food gift for the person who loves to bake? Why not give a starter for either Friendship Cake or sourdough bread. Both of these recipes depend on a fermented starter batter that is made ahead. The starter for Friendship Cake takes a full thirty days to make; sourdough starter can be made in as little as four days. Giving both the finished cake or bread as well as a batch of starter will continue the chain of giving throughout the year. Be sure to give instructions on how to keep the starter alive as well. Most recipes make enough starter for two or three batches, so expand your giving to two or three friends, offer the recipe to each one, and keep all of them well fed and thinking of you throughout the new year.

The best part about these gifts is that they all can be made well ahead of the holidays. This keeps you out of the malls, saving you a case of the holiday crazies. You enjoy the season and your gifts will prove to be delectable alternatives that make the season last all year.
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