A Pie of the Month Club gift allows the recipient to choose a dozen pies through the year at Two Fat Cats bakery in Portland.
It's time for my annual list of gift suggestions for people who love food.
Well, actually, I'm a little early this year. But I made a phone call last week, before Thanksgiving, and they played "Jingle Bells" while I was on hold. I stopped by the grocery store that same night and heard the sparkly refrain of "Winter Wonderland" playing among all the displays of Christmas candy and holiday fare.
So it appears the proverbial reindeer has left the barn.
Think of these items as hostess gifts you can take to all the holiday parties you'll be attending this year, or as not-so-last-minute stocking stuffers. Some of these ideas are things I've written about earlier in the year, while others are brand new items I have given as gifts myself.
The common denominator: I promise you I have tried them all and liked them.
EDEN ICE CIDER (edenicecider.com)
$27.99 at Whole Foods. Also sold at Browne Trading Co., LeRoux Kitchen and other places around Portland. Check Eden's website for a list of stores and restaurants that carry it.
CABOT CLOTHBOUND CHEDDAR (cabotcheese.coop)
$24.99/lb. at Whole Foods or
$17.61/lb. at the Cabot Farmers' Annex on Commercial Street
Ice cider is a not-too-sweet dessert wine that's been developed over the past decade or so in Quebec. Eden Ice Cider is made by Albert and Eleanor Leger, orchardists from the town of West Charleston in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, where it gets good and cold in the winter.
Believe it or not, there are about 8 pounds of apples in each bottle.
To make the cider, apples are harvested at peak ripeness and kept in cold storage until winter really sets in. The fruit is then pressed, and the juice left outside to freeze for six to eight weeks. The concentrate that melts off is then fermented into an ice cider that is perfect for Thanksgiving, but will also be a great addition to any holiday table. Serve it in small port or sherry glasses, paired with some of Cabot's award-winning Clothbound Cheddar.
This popular English-style cheddar is made from a single farm's milk – the Kempton Family Farm in Peacham, Vt. – and aged by the Cellars at Jasper Hill. It is sharp, rich and buttery, with notes of caramel, and goes perfectly with the ice cider. The complexity of the cheese balances well with the intense, crisp flavor of the apples.
This pairing is a gift I would be thrilled to receive myself, and it's my go-to food gift for the holidays this year.
SPICY BLUEBERRY STEAK SAUCE & MARINADE (loughlinirish.com)
A few years ago during the holidays, I wrote about an unconventional hangover cure for New Year's morning – two tablespoons of Loughlin's Irish Steak Sauce & Marinade. It was introduced to me by the ultimate expert in hangovers, an Irish cop. The recipe came from (of course) his grandmother.
Now Joe Loughlin, Portland's retired assistant police chief, is at it again, this time with a business partner who helped him develop a new spicy blueberry version of the steak sauce. Loughlin came up with the original recipe, then Dave Fillinger of Pemberton's Gourmet in Gray worked with it, did some tweaking, and developed the final version.
I've tried it on steak, marinating the meat overnight. The blueberry flavor is subtle – you'll notice blueberries are down a ways on the ingredients list – but the overnight marinade really gives it a decent kick. I found that I also liked having some sauce on the side for dipping. I also tried it on chicken and liked it, and Loughlin says he thinks it's good on salmon.
The spicy blueberry steak sauce, along with the original Loughlin's Irish steak sauce, is available in Pat's Meat Market, Moran's Market, Borealis Breads, Rosemont Market's Munjoy store and Maine Pantry. It's also available on Loughlin's website and Pemberton's website (pembertonsgourmet.com).
These sauces would make good stocking stuffers or, paired together and presented nicely, a good hostess gift.
HONEY, ANY VARIETY FROM THE HONEY EXCHANGE, 494 Stevens Ave., Portland, or thehoneyexchange.com
Most are $10 to $12 a jar.
I came home a couple of months ago and found a note on my back door. My neighbor's Internet had gone out, he got bored and mowed his lawn, and then he came over and mowed most of mine. Hope you don't mind, the note said.
Are you kidding me?
I immediately packaged a little something from The Honey Exchange with my own note: A big thank you with honey on top.
Phil and Meghan Gaven opened The Honey Exchange last year, and I'm always surprised by the number of people I run into who haven't been there yet. It's a great place to buy a gift, whether it's for a holiday or a simple thanks for a kind gesture. I took visitors from away there over the summer, and they immediately started picking up honey to take home.
If you're not into honey, you can get all kinds of honey-related gifts here too, from bee-themed jewelry to mead from around the world. But it's the honey that fascinates me, and I love trying the different kinds. (They have a honey tasting bar that usually has several varieties for you to sample.)
Each jar tells you where the honey was made, what season it was harvested in and what kind it is – orange blossom honey from Florida, for example, or cotton honey from North Carolina. Right now at home I have a tall jar of dark honey for daily use from Haas Apiary in Biddeford (harvested in fall 2011, according to the label), and a jar of Brazilian pepper honey, harvested in summer 2011 by Webb's Honey in Florida, that has an unusual peppery flavor.
These jars are small enough to be stocking stuffers, but you could also bundle several of them together and impress your friends with one large gift.
COFFEE BY DESIGN'S HARVEST RESERVE (coffeebydesign.com/shop/harvest-reserve.html)
$20 for 8 ounces of beans
This gift is for the person who has everything, and who also loves coffee. Or the coffee lover for whom, when it comes to a good cup of joe, money is no object.
Coffee by Design's Harvest Reserve line is pricey, selling for $40 a pound, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're giving the best of the best. The limited edition coffees come in amber jars presented in nice copper bags.
Right now the three coffees being sold under the Harvest Reserve label include the Panama Boquete Geisha coffee from the Esmerelda Estate, a light-to medium-bodied coffee "with extremely distinct floral aromas and a lively taste that presents a sparkling brightness and sweet burst of honey tea to the tongue." Phew.
In a recent press release, Coffee By Design owner Alan Spear called this coffee "insanely amazing" and said it was "the best coffee I've ever had."
Also in the current Harvest Reserve collection is a coffee from Rwanda that was awarded a 2011 Cup of Excellence from an international jury of coffee professionals. It's described as "sweet and creamy with flavors of bright cherry and warm honey."
The third Harvest Reserve that's available now is a Guatemalan coffee that has "full body with intense sweetness and distinct notes of peach and strawberry."
I've purchased coffees from this line before, including some Kona Star Estate from the Big Island of Hawaii that I parceled out to myself slowly to make it last, and a Panamanian coffee I bought for my sister-in-law for her birthday in August. My favorite by far has been the Guatemalan that's part of the current line. Maybe my palate just prefers Guatemalan. One of Coffee By Design's Guatemalan coffees is my favorite for daily drinking, and once, years ago, a friend of mine who went on a reporting trip to Guatemala brought me back some coffee beans she bought straight from a local farmer. It was some of the best coffee I've ever had.
This Harvest Reserve Guatemalan is so good I would recommend that you be sure to drink it black to get the full flavor.
Yes, I know, coffee experts don't like it when you do things like add cream and sugar to coffee, but I confess I usually use a little cream. Not much, just enough to lighten the coffee. It's a hard habit to break. Well, this coffee helped open my eyes as to why the coffee experts are right. I tried it with cream as well as black, just to test the difference, and will never put cream in it again.
I learned one of the reasons it's so good is it's made by a man named Arturo Aguirre, who is supposedly "the rock star of coffee" in Guatemala. Each label contains so much information about where and how the coffee was grown, you might feel like you've wandered into an episode of "Portlandia." The Guatemalan label informed me, for example, that the coffee beans came from 18-year-old trees grown in loam at 5,800 to 6,000 feet above sea level. They spent 48 to 60 hours in a wet tank and 25 hours drying in the sun. Just the kind of info the coffee geek on your list will love.
This may sound silly, but half the fun of buying this coffee is just opening the jar. It's vaccuum sealed, and when you twist the top it makes a satisfying little "whoosh" noise before inundating your senses with the most intoxicating aroma.
PIE OF THE MONTH CLUB (twofatcatsbakery.com)
$230 a year for a dozen 9-inch pies or $48 a year for 12 mini pies
I wrote about this new Pie of the Month club a few weeks ago on our food blog, but it bears repeating: Who doesn't love pie?
Give the gift of a monthly pie from Two Fat Cats bakery in Portland, and the recipient can start collecting in January. Doesn't matter if they want blueberry, coconut cream or apple, all they have to do is come to the bakery on India Street once a month, choose from the pies that are available, and have their card for that month punched.
They can try a different pie every month, or eat 12 apple pies. It's up to them.
There are two categories. You can buy a year's worth of 9-inch pies for $230, or pay $48 for a year's worth of 3.5-inch mini pies – a great gift for a senior or single person who loves pie but can't eat a whole one.
Terrien, $37; Chateau Musar, $43 to $50
I'm no wine expert by any means, but throughout the year there are wines I try that just really get my attention. Here are two interesting wines I've tried that I think the wine lovers on your list might like, too.
I first tried Chateau Musar Blanc 2004, a wine from Lebanon, at a dinner with friends at Carmen at the Danforth, and we liked it so much it was the topic of much dinner table conversation that night. Of course, our first reaction was "They make wine in Lebanon?" Yes, they have for thousands of years, apparently. Chateau Musar was founded in 1930 in the Beqaa Valley.
Not long ago, I went to a wine dinner at the Purpoodock Club in Cape Elizabeth with one of the same friends, and lo and behold, there it was again. (The chef for the evening was Jen Flock, who is also training to become a master sommelier. She developed the wine list at Carmen, and obviously loves this wine too.)
We were sitting at a table of wine lovers, all members of the same wine club, and my friend and I talked about how excited we were to try this wine again. Let it open up a while, and it is so complex. Then out came the bottles of Chateau Musar, and I started to sweat. Had we oversold this? Was everyone going to be disappointed after all our hype?
Nope. It was just as good as the first time, and all the wine geeks loved it too.
Another memorable bottle, this one with a Maine connection, is the 2007 Terrien Chardonnay, which you can only buy retail at Browne Trading Co. (I checked; they still have some and are ordering more.) I first had this wine at Fore Street, but it's also served at Bresca, Back Bay Grill, the White Barn Inn and Primo, if you would like to go somewhere and taste it before buying it as a gift.
For the story on this really delicious, crisp chardonnay, read my profile of the winemaker, Maine native Michael Terrien, at bit.ly/SUq9u1.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:
The Honey Exchange in Portland offers a delicious variety of honeys and honey-related gifts, from bee-themed jewelry to mead from around the world.
For cheese lovers, consider a gift of Cabot’s award-winning Clothbound Cheddar. It is sharp, rich and buttery, with notes of caramel.
Ice cider is a not-too-sweet dessert wine that’s been developed over the past decade or so in Quebec. Eden Ice Cider is made in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.