HIGH BAR: Handmade shrubs for the cocktail enthusiast on your list.
There are plenty of people with Martha Stewart-like (or Sandra Lee-like) abilities to deck the halls, create magical tablescapes and painstakingly wrap the most thoughtful, hand-selected gifts. Of course, not all of us possess these holiday superpowers. For many, choosing gifts for the holidays strikes fear — resulting in a selection of presents (including ties and sweaters) that will never see the light of day, useless closet clutterers like tabletop slot machines or the always-useful but not-really-all-that-thoughtful gift card.
Instead of spending a hectic weekend elbowing your way through the masses at the mall, allow us to suggest a kinder, gentler way to tackle your holiday shopping list. We tapped some of our favorite local artisans for homemade gift ideas that will keep you safely in the comfort of your kitchen and be sure to please even the most discerning palates on your list.
Gifts that last are what Amanda Feifer of fermentables blog Phickle is all about. When asked for gifts from and for the kitchen she had more than a few genius ideas, from homemade kimchi and fermented hot sauce to lacto-fermented pickles for your friends who have recently embraced the paleo diet. Preaching the gospel of all things fermented, she’s also a proponent of giving project-kicker offers like sourdough starters and SCOBYs or mothers for making your own batches of kombucha (available at Philly Homebrew Outlet). Feifer’s go-to holiday gift is a jar of whipped crème fraîche (look for the recipe on Meal Ticket), sour cream’s more luxe French cousin. Dead simple to make at home, Feifer loves the customizable nature of this giftable topper. “It’s easy to add flavors to fit the palate of the recipient and to make it look pretty,” she explains. “I recently attended a party where I knew the host would be serving a chocolate mousse for dessert, so I brought along a jar of orange-cardamom (cultured) whipped cream. I always bring it chilled, but let the host decide if they want to share it with all or devour it later.”
Marisa McClellan, preserver extraordinaire and author of Food in Jars (Running Press, May 2012), offered up a mulled-cider syrup. (Get the recipe here.) “This syrup makes it possible to have the taste of autumn all year long,” McCellan tells us. And the process couldn’t be simpler, it’s merely a matter of simmering down freshly pressed apple cider with sugar and mulling spices. Once you have your syrup chilled, all you have to do is funnel it into decorative bottles (Fante’s in the Italian Market has a great selection), tie a ribbon around them and they’re ready to give. McClellan suggests drizzling them over cinnamon-spiked pancakes or stirring a few spoonfuls into hot water for instant apple cider. Of course, we’re not opposed to outfitting your home bar with a bottle of the cider syrup for cold-weather cocktails.
Speaking of cocktails, Maria Polise and Zachary Svoboda, head bartenders at Ela, are doing some killer drinks at the bar using all sorts of seasonally perfect and easy-to-make-at-home components. Their gift for the home bartender comes in the form of a shrub, an acidulated, fruit-based mixer popular in 17th- and 18th-century England. The formula is simple and can be made in a matter of minutes at home, bottled and ready to mix. At Ela, they use an easy formula of two parts fruit to one part sugar and one part vinegar for their shrubs. On the current menu, the Tautou is a Collins-based cocktail featuring a raspberry-thyme shrub mixed with vodka, sparkling water and a lemon. But Svboda has plenty of ideas for using the same formula for more seasonal ingredients. He has an apple-toasted barley shrub in the works for a whiskey cocktail on the winter menu and plans for a roasted pumpkin shrub ready to be matched with tequila. Quince and pear would also work beautifully. For your own shrubs, all you have to do is macerate two parts chopped fruit with one part sugar and one part vinegar (champagne or white balsamic types are preferable), let it sit for three days, bring to a boil, strain, bottle and refrigerate. “Man, these were invented to make all things taste good, you know,” Svoboda says of this mixer with a history. “And all booze makes these taste good. It’s kind of like a perfect match.” Pair a bottle of one of these homemade shrubs with a bottle of your choice? A gift match made in heaven.
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