Rudolph's Gifting Guide for the Holidaze

Are you one of those last-minute shoppers like me? I'm ready to start making the Christmas cookies as soon as the turkey has cooled from Thanksgiving, but I'd rather scrub the pots and pans twice than have to go to the mall.  Ever. Over the past few years I've tried to figure out what  matters most to me about the holiday season and consequently, strategies for completely avoiding places I don't want to have to shop (do you hear me Abercrombie and Fitch? Banana Republic? and even you Williams Sonoma?)  My mantra is: What would Rudolph buy?  

Well, Rudolph would certainly put out some tasty things to eat. And he'd probably like to spiff up his look for the nice lady reindeer.  And he'd definitely want to make some contributions to his favorite community organizations.   He could easily prance his way around downtown and the farmers market to do his shopping. No doubt with that red nose, he wouldn't be caught dead at Sharper Image. 

Tasty Treats
So, my friend Jen has put together a great Guide to Local Food Artisans for the holiday. In addition to the wonderful artisan sweets from Nancy at Sweet Gem, and Maite with her Alfajores, and Julie at Tasty Bakery with her excellent gluten-free baked goods, you might also want to know more about:

Cecilia's Pastries
One of the things I'm most excited about lately are the absolutely amazing French pastries that Cecilia has just started bringing to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. (Real! French! Melt-in-your-mouth!) Macarons, tartes au citron, eclairs, Galette du Roi. Need I say more?  She also does some cakes by special order, sells her handmade puff pastry (frozen), and if you want to learn how to bake like an angel, you can take (or gift) one of her classes.

Tammy's Truffles
For a limited time only, Tammy is making one more of her holiday truffle "collections." Flavors for this season's handmade chocolates include: Salty Caramel, Orange, Cardamom, and Amaretti. She's also making Pecan-Cherry Bark, and Bacon-Smoked Almond Bark, Lavender Caramels, Peppermint Marshmallows, and the be-all, end-all for Snickers lovers everywhere - her Sweet Salty Crunchy Bars. Order by December 11 or take your chances on availability. 

For Your Bod
I've learned, fairly recently, that it's possible to put as few questionable chemicals on your body as you would put into your body. I like the idea (and also the delicate scent and efficacy) of soaps and salves that are made with things that would not be harmful to eat.  

Stone Cloud Gardens and Bob's Wife's Soaps
I learned last week that the graceful squiggle that is the signature on Marjie Johns' soaps is a Chinese symbol of clouds and rain, and a reference to her favorite poet, Stone Cloud, for which her market garden business, Stone Cloud Gardens is named.  The soaps are made with essential oils and all natural ingredients including their own herbs, with saponified coconut, olive oil, and beeswax. They smell heavenly and come in flavors like: Bay-Cypress, Lemon-Eucalyptus, Licorice-Basil, and Rosewood.  

Community Farm of Ann Arbor Lip Balm and Hand Salve
In addition to what are undoubtedly the prettiest, freshest and best-smelling wreaths in all of Ann Arbor, around Christmas-time Paul and Annie of Community Farm of Ann Arbor also have both all natural lip balm and hand salve that I love. The balm and the salve are made with biodynamically produced pure beeswax, calendula oil, and goldenseal. The jar of salve says it is especially helpful for chapped skin and diaper rash and that it contains: "Calendula Oil, extracted from the petals of the calendula flower, has natural antiseptic, antifungal, and antibiotic properties.  Goldenseal was used by native North American Indians for years. It has great antiviral and antibiotic action." 

M'Lady's Soaps and Salves
When I met Cynthia High at the Dexter Farmer's Market she told me that with her grandmother's help, she first made her own shampoo at age 7 from burdock root. Later, she started her business making and selling hypoallergenic bath and body products as a result of her own allergies and sensitivities.  She says all of her ingredients are food grade quality and: "Ethically Grown & Harvested, including Coconut Oil, Greek & Italian Olive Oils, Hemp Seed Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Essential Oils, Organic Herbs, Spices & Botanicals." And she uses no plastic in her packaging - all products are packaged in either glass or paper.  

Books for Cooks (and Gardeners)
Books are probably my favorite holiday gift to get and to give.  Oh right, I'm a librarian. Duh! 

Easy Edibles: A Beginner's Guide to Growing Organic Food in the Lower Great Lakes Region
Written by Sheri Repucci, formerly of Project Grow Community Gardens, this lovely book is made for people who would like to start growing some of their own food.  It has everything a beginning gardener needs to know, and some hints for what to do with your vegetables once they appear (in a chapter contributed by yours truly). It also has lovely illustrations by the wonderful local artist Melanie Boyle.

Community Farm of Ann Arbor Cookbook
I still haven't seen an actual copy of this book, but I understand they are still available.  With a forward by Laurel Roberstson of Laurel's Kitchen, the book was created by the members of the Community Farm of Ann Arbor.  And I'm guessing there are lots of delicious, creative ways of cooking what's in the farm share. 

Cooks' House Cookbook
Have you eaten at the Cooks' House restaurant in Traverse City? This tiny farm-to-table restaurant (seats 20, maybe) is one of the very best restaurants in Michigan. Last time we were there (as I was swooning over the warm peach-caramel cobbler), I opened my eyes long enough to notice they were coming out with a cookbook.  I signed up for one and I just got my pre-0rdered copy in the mail!  I love that it's seasonal recipes using Michigan ingredients.  Samples: Turnip Soup with Turnip Greens and Bacon; Eggplant Caviar with Zucchini Sauce; Rhubarb Tarts.  Mmmm. Wishing I had rhubarb tarts right now. 

Community Organizations
Of course you know that the number of people on food assistance has gone up dramatically over the past year (1 in 8 people in Michigan and climbing) and that 1 in 4 children in this country is eligible for food assistance.  But did you know how easy it would be to help? 

Food Gatherers
With the combination of the deduction you take on your federal income tax and the Michigan Tax Credit, a $400 donation to Food Gatherers (for a couple) ends up costing a total of $56.  But Food Gatherers gets the benefit of the whole $400. And they can buy food much cheaper than you or I can.  The Food Gatherers website says that with a donation of $250 they can feed a family of four for six weeks.  You could essentially spend $56 and feed a family of four for 2 months.  And Food Gatherers lets you make a gift in someone else's name and then sends them a great card telling them about the gift.   

So what would Rudolph buy? I think he'd probably spend most of his nickels laying in some gifts at Food Gatherers.  He loves carrots.   

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