It's that time of year again, and I am always on the lookout for an easy way to do all of my shopping (well- most of it, anyhow) in one encompassing trip. I rarely ever achieve that, but I love the season and I tend to give gifts to almost everyone I know-so, gifting is a tall order. Even my dog and cat receive gifts and stockings!
I decided that the most efficient way of assembling my gifts was to stick to what I know, and what I know is food, what I LOVE is food, and who doesn't love a great food gift? We are so fortunate to live in such a food mecca of a place. There are artisanal products from great craftspeople of almost every kind, there is a beer and wine culture here that only gets better each year that passes, there is a tea shop that grows their own tea, there is ice cream, there is liquor and coffee, there are home made pies from Grand Traverse Pie Company!- the list is truly endless. So, I've put together some of my favorite items and ideas and I hope that this simple list will spur some thoughts about some of your "hard to buy for" friends and family. Even those people will love a food or beverage gift of some kind!
It is so easy to do a lot of shopping at a small, family owned store in the Commons that sells almost all of the many jar items that are made by food crafters in Northern Michigan. I'm talking about Michigan Farm Market. They have so many items, and if you don't want to go to the Commons, they have a website and have hand selected lots of items and packaged them up together in hand made crates that say "Made in Michigan". What a great gift idea! especially if you are sending a gift out of state. I selected a few of my favorites for friends; Traverse Bay Farms Cherry Jalapeno Jam andBrownwood Farms' Pepper Jelly, Cherry BBQ sauce and the Jalapeno Cherry Butter. The great thing about Michigan Farm Market is that they have assembled the best of Northern Michigan's food products, so one stop and lots of variety- what's not to appreciate about that!
Have you noticed that we live in a recognized viticulture area? Both Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula are the primary wine regions of Michigan. There is so much great wine in this area! Did you know that Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay noir, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Pinot blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Syrah and some Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are grown here? Check out Mari Vineyards' Ultima Thule for the wine connoisseur. For the sweet wine lover, Chateau Chantal has a nice ice wine and a beautiful bubbly. And if wine isn't your thing and hard cider is, why not check out Left Foot Charley's Cinnamon Girl, or Perry? And this list is by NO MEANS complete! There's something for everyone found around the shores of Lake Michigan.
I'm a serious foodie, so anything fresh and unusual usually tops my list. I love the CSA movement here in Northern Michigan. One year I gifted a family with a farm share from Meadowlark Farms CSA. They absolutely loved it and continue to be loyal patrons to this day. So, if you know someone who loves organic, fresh food, why not gift them with a farm share? They'll have fresh produce throughout the season, usually experimenting with organic veggies that can't be bought in a grocery store. And the double bonus is that you also will support a farmer in the the fresh food movement in Northern Michigan. There are so many different CSA's available. There are even pastured meat CSA's that will supply a family with meat, chicken, eggs, cheese- you name it and we have it! Here is a list of some of the available CSA's in our community of Northern Michigan.
I get my chicken and eggs from a farm in Mayfield named Mayfield's . He doesn't have a website, he's definitely low tech, but he only raises pastured chickens and feeds them non- GMO feed. He is conscientious about the streams that run through his farm and will only raise what can comfortably fit on his farm. No over grazing, no crowded chickens here. Just healthy, robust chickens and healthy, brightly colored yolks. I also love The Grass Feather. Jeff and Ryan are passionate about their animals and about supplying healthy, nutritious meat. They go beyond organic and humane. Their practices are sustainable and their animals never get hormones, antibiotics ( unless they are sick) GMO feed or are confined. They are offering the best, most natural meat available while protecting our beautiful Michigan land, rivers and air. Their farm isn't located in Northern Michigan- well, not yet- but they have pick up locations around town and make regular deliveries.
Home made food gifts are also high on my list. When I have the time, I'm eager to get into the kitchen and whip up something good and special for someone. This is a Poppyseed Cake with very little sugar in it. I made it for my special family member who desires very little sweetness in his treats. The sweetness isn't really missing either, since i added additional flavor with the mellow char of vanilla bean. I find that most recipes are too sweet for my tastes, as well as my husband's tastes. To me, Poppyseed Cake says "family" and "I love you". The recipe for this wonderful simple cake is at the end of this blog piece. Check it out. You won't be dissappointed!
Here is my recipe for the low sugar Poppyseed Cake
- 1 cup poppy seeds
- 1 cup milk or soy milk
- 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, plus more for greasing pan
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting pan
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean split open and scraped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- In a small saucepan, combine the poppy seeds, milk and the scraped vanilla bean and husk. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to rest until cool, about 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean husk.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a large loaf or tube pan by greasing it with margarine and lightly flouring the inside of the pan.
- In bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter or margarine and sugar. Add egg yolks, vanilla extract, and poppy seed-milk mixture, and beat until smooth. Gradually add 2 cups flour, salt and baking powder. Mix well; remove bowl from mixer and set aside.
- Place a clean bowl in mixer, with a whisk attachment, and whisk egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into batter. Scrape into pan, and bake until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on a rack. When cool, dust cake with confectioners’ sugar.
I know that the season can be hectic and crazy at times. It often is for me since I always try to do too much. I tell myself repeatedly to slow down and not rush around. Breathe. EnJOY the time, the snow, the friendships, the love. I hope you will not try to do too much. Remember thatit's always the simple things that we cherish. The way your loved one laughed when he opened your gift. The way the ornament sparkled on the tree that evening. Reindeer footprints in the snow. The way all of the voices blended perfectly during that Christmas carol. That kiss your lover gave you!
Anyway, see you around. Next year.