Kitchener-Waterloo

Last-minute gift ideas for the foodie on your list from Andrew Coppolino

From an avocado sock to reusable drinking straws, here's a few gift ideas and ways to toast the season from food columnist Andrew Coppolino for any food lover on your list.

From an avocado sock to reusable drinking straws for your non-alcoholic cocktails

These spice "crayons" allow people to add different seasonings into their food. You shave the seasoning sticks into whatever you're cooking. (Andrew Coppolino)

The final shopping days are quickly counting down, so if you're scrambling for a few last-minute gifts for the food lover on your holiday list, here a few suggestions of popular items from area retailers.

An over-arching theme I found this year has been the idea of "care," both of personal health and for the good of the planet: responsible packaging and new philosophies for eating have been a focus.

Specialty store Relish Cooking Studio says sustainable and responsible packaging items have been extremely popular this season.

"When it comes to storage bags and other zero-waste items, we can't keep them on the shelves," says Relish co-owner Maria Burjoski.

She adds that includes vegetable storage bags, drinking straws and re-usable Swedish dishcloths that have a much longer life than sponges and standard cloth dish towels; they're biodegradable and super-absorbent and can shame dozens of paper towels with their inefficiency.

Burjoski also says they have a cute little avocado sock that's flying off the shelves, too. Canadian-made, the woolen mitten-like receptacle keeps expensive avocados safe from bruising while being stored and allows you to buy green fruit and ripen it at home in 24 hours.

This sock for avocados claims to help ripen a fruit quickly. (Andrew Coppolino)

Full Circle Foods in downtown Kitchener has a self-care kit ready to go: a loose leaf tea and infuser spoon and vegan gummies or chocolate covered almonds. Again, it's zero waste.

STOP Restaurant Supply has re-usable drinking straws that ("magically") change colour when used in drinks. The six-pack of straws includes a cleaning brush, and they're BPA-free. A good stocking stuffer for kids — or for adults who like fun kid stuff.

At Vincenzo's, co-owner Carmine Caccioppoli sells an assortment of spice "crayons" — they'd make a smart little stocking stuffer. Made by Ocni, the seasoning sticks are made with real ingredients and you shave them into whatever you're cooking. One trio among a few of the box sets at Vincenzo's includes lime, ginger and black garlic.

"It's a unique item, and they've proven to be very popular," Caccioppoli said.

A toast to the holidays

As part of a new movement toward healthier eating and drinking, more and more people are looking for good non-alcoholic cocktails. Bars and restaurants are offering more options and now home mixologists can create their own professional-style drinks, too — using high-quality (and often local) ingredients.

Gone are the days of the humdrum cranberry-and-soda-water "mocktail," companies like Tost and Seedlip are producing sparkling beverages and zero-alcohol spirits packed with robust botanical and other flavours. Check your nearby LCBO for Seedlip availability.

You can also find the popular zero-proof, zero-calorie botanical Borrago beverage flavoured with spice, citrus and pepper at Vincenzo's.

A similar beverage, Sobrii, is made in Stratford with co-packer partner Junction 56 Distillery. Sobrii is self-proclaimed as Canada's first distilled non-alcoholic "gin" made with local botanicals and Ontario ginseng. It's available at Bradshaws and at Junction 56, both in Stratford.

Check out O&V Tasting Room in Hespeler, Cambridge, for an interesting range of syrups and bitters (remembering that some bitters have alcohol) by Toronto-based Nickle 9 Distillery. Flavours include grapefruit-orange, lavender and chocolate-hazelnut, to name only a few.

O&V owner Natasa DeVilliers says the bitters are delicious, high-quality products.

"They are distilled just like Nickle 9's other spirits," DeVilliers says, "And are made with the actual herbs and spices."

Cookbooks are always a good choice

Books about food and cooking are always excellent gifts for food lovers on your list. Words Worth Books has a curated selection of about a dozen food books in their annual gift guide. They include, of course, a heavy emphasis on plant-based foods, picking up that theme of self and earth-care.

For example, Jamie Oliver has a new Ultimate Veg cook book as does the prodigious and hugely popular food writer, chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, who is an culinary industry unto himself. Essential Ottolenghi includes a staggering 280 recipes of his signature Middle Eastern and veg-centric approach to food and cooking.

At this year's CBC Sounds of the Season, Indigenous chef Aicha Smith discussed her culinary philosophy using "pre-contact" ingredients and the techniques of Indigenous cookery. She's part of a new wave of chefs with Indigenous heritage, and that includes a unique book called tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine by Shane M. Chartrand and Jennifer Cockrall-King. The title means "there is room" and the book is an exploration of First Nations' stories, food knowledge and lore as well as 75 recipes.

Another particularly timely — and perhaps truly last-minute — gift is Karoline Jonsson's Happy Vegan Christmas. It's a smorgasbord of Scandinavian Christmas food and entertaining ideas, either for the favourite vegan on your list, or for you.

Happy holidays!

A major trend this year are reusable items to help reduce waste, such as beeswax wrap, produce bags and straws. (Andrew Coppolino)

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