JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
A carrot peeler.
Of all the gifts I have given my mother over the years – jeweled necklaces, cashmere sweaters, silk nightgowns – the one I receive the most praise for is a $5 Zyliss vegetable peeler, going on 5 years old and still in daily use.
Who knows what speaks to the heart of a cook?
With Durango being the food- obsessed town that it is, the cooks in your life are in for a treat this holiday season. The city abounds with goodies from chocolate to chateaubriand, equipment from pressure cookers to French presses and enough restaurants, wine bars, breweries and bakeries to shower cooks and food lovers with gift cards for eight nights of Hanukkah, 12 days of Christmas and New Year’s, too.
When shopping for gifts, it’s always good to start with yourself, just to get in the mood. If you want to be really good to yourself, start with Linda Illsley of Linda’s Local Food Café. She’s taking the notion of community-supported agriculture and running with it.
Rather than paying up front and receiving three months of fresh produce, she’s offering a cooked version, filling up a weekly basket with your choice of meat or vegetarian entrees like eggplant ratatouille with potatoes or pork tenderloin marinated in apple juice, as well as frozen spinach and carrots and her own tomato sauce, pesto and salsas, the produce all coming from local farms.
Any harried cook can be the beneficiary, knowing that within that basket of locally grown produce is a hot meal for four, just waiting to go into the microwave. Linda’s Local Food Café is located in the Albertsons parking lot, 259-6729, and the cooked CSA runs 12 weeks for $350.
For the unabashed meat lovers in your circle, James Ranch, 33846 U.S. Highway 550, 385-6858, can satisfy their every desire with packages stuffed with all the cuts one needs to throw dinner parties throughout the entire season. Roasts, ribs, steaks – you name it, they have it. The savory package includes 15 pounds of meat such as chuck roast, brisket and skirt steaks for $75 (regularly a $100 value). The sizzling deal package offers 10 pounds of petite prime rib, sirloin steak and kabob cubes, among other cuts, for $85. No matter how cold it is, the grill will be rolling.
Somehow, the holidays bring out the sweet tooth in us all, whether we make the treats ourselves or let someone else do it for us. Sari Brown at the Yellow Carrot, 3101 Main Ave., 259-3773, is happy to fill your loved ones’ stockings with more than sweet dreams.
The chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons are to die for, as well as being gluten-free, $1.95 apiece. The bomb is a confection of coconut, walnuts, white chocolate and dark chocolate cheesecake and one rectangle could easily serve four at $7.95.
For just a small sweet of the season, Brown offers a Linzer cookie, that Austrian favorite of short-bread-like cookie sandwiched together with raspberry jam, $1.95 apiece.
And chocolate lovers would be in hog heaven should a box of Animas Chocolate Co.’s handmade truffles show up under the tree (or in the Hanukkah box.) For a wintry bite, try the bracing Grasshopper Creek, made of fresh mint, or the mellow cinnamon swirl, with cinnamon, nutmeg and dark chocolate. A box of 12 costs $25 at the store, 555 Rivergate Lane, Suite B-1-103, 317-5761, Wednesday-Friday, 1-5:30 p.m. or by appointment.
Some of us go all out at the holidays and present our friends with the sweet results. But nothing is more irritating than being in the middle of recipe and finding it calls for 2 tablespoons of liqueur – one you don’t happen to have in your cabinet. Do the bakers in your life a favor and deliver a basket full of mini bottles of the most commonly called for libations used in cakes, tortes and pies. Star Liquors, 1485 Florida Road, 247-2258, sells 2.5-ounce bottles of Grand Marnier for $3.49, E&J Brandy for 89 cents, Kahlua for $1.99, Frangelico for $2.99, Sambuca for $2.49 and Bailey’s Irish Cream for $1.99. An added plus – the leftovers never go to waste.
Really good Parmesan cheese is a luxury ingredient for everyday cooking. Nothing says homemade like the zing of perfectly aged Parmesan shining through even potent flavors like red sauce or olive oil and wine. A great gift for the home cook, a 1-pound hunk of Gran Soresina Parmesan Reggiano from Guido’s Favorite Foods, 1201 Main Avenue, 259-5028, will cost you $17.99.
To bring to a party, the shop also carries a decadent double crème brie D’Affinois, for $15.99 per pound and a delicious morbier (a streak of blue ash decorates the middle) for the same. For the adventurous, a silver-dollar sized crotin of goat cheese – smooth and earthy because it’s aged – sells for $5.29.
To showcase those sumptuous cheeses, you’ll find the most intricately constructed, two-layer cheese boards made of bamboo at Urban Market, 865 Main Avenue, 259-0472, from $66 to $79. One is shaped like a leaf striped with two colors of stained wood and twists open to reveal cheese knives in a hidden compartment. Another resembles a petite version of a three-layered cookie tray, with simple amber-colored bamboo. And tucked away on a back shelf, you’ll find beautiful Italian glassware by Burmioli for the wine aficionado on your list, including a graceful duck-shaped decanter for $72.
Do the people you’re shopping for already have everything they could possibly need for their kitchens? (There’s always one, isn’t there?) Surprise with them with a surprising find like a vintage orange juice set from the ’50s, decorated with pink and yellow starbursts for $30 from Reruns, 572 E. Sixth Ave., 385-7336 (the home furnishings store is the eastern-most of the two buildings.) Get your kitsch on with a fabulous orange-shaped salt and pepper set from the ’30s for $14 or try out a Mad Men-era bar set made of teak wood for a high-style statement at $15. I promise, your friend won’t have one.
The holidays can be a hectic time, especially for the chief cook, so bring home a little Zen. Nothing soothes the nerves like a good cup of hot tea. Michael Thunder, owner of the White Dragon Good Feelings Tea Room, in the back of No Place Like Home, 820 Main Avenue, 385-7300, carries unusual handcrafted pots from the Far East. The raw clay pot from China’s Xi Ying province sports a happy Buddha on top (or a leopard, if you prefer) for $25, to go perfectly with the lapsong suochong tea for $7.50 for 2 ounces.
For the most part, kitchen gadgets are overrated impulse buys that muddle up your drawers until you realize you don’t use them and regift them. But a few prove to be mainstays worthy of the space they take up. Kitchen scoops, large and small, are indispensable. The little ones make great truffles, the medium ones scoop out the right size chocolate chip cookie and the large ones, similar to ice cream dippers, fill a muffin tin exactly.
Also essential, for everything from snipping herbs to deboning a chicken, are kitchen shears. A dull pair is fit either for resharpening or the trash can, nothing else. One of the best knife-makers on the market, Wusthoff, makes a fine pair. The cook you bestow them on will use them for years.
Once in a rare while a new-fangled gizmo will prove its value, and Durango Co. owner Ann Wheeler promises the new, brightly colored lemon/lime squeezers are just the ticket. Metal, low-tech and hand-held, the new form of juicers are better than the old-fashioned reamer because they catch the seeds, she says. For the cooks in your life missing these fundamentals, Durango Coffee Co., 730 Main Ave., 259-2059, offers kitchen scoops in different sizes from $12.99 to $15.99; Wusthoff shears for $19.99 and the Progressive lemon squeezer for $12.49.
If you’re lucky, your mother’s carrot peeler – or mandoline or zebra-striped espresso cup or collapsible collander -- will be waiting there.
SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald