‘Tis the season again and, this year, you’ll see my Gifts of the Mitt picks are leaning more toward consumable items and charities. When it comes to holiday gifts — actually, shopping in general — I’m trying to take some cues from the “unshopping” movement. Over the past few months Mr. TW and I cleaned out a lot of clutter and donated a ton of Stuff. I don’t plan to replace it anytime soon; the house feels better without it, and so do I.
But as you already know if this isn’t your first visit here, I like to eat and try new foods and products, especially local ones. I’m not going to feel guilty about buying those, and here are a few of my food discoveries from the past year, along with a couple of old favorites.
Food and Drink
The Brinery - a relatively young Ann Arbor business that uses natural brine fermentation to make awesome sauerkraut and kimchi — from locally sourced produce as much as possible. They make pickles, too. Check the website for retail locations.
From Adrian, Michigan, comes smoky-sweet Soaring Hill hickory syrup. It’s perfect atop buckwheat pancakes or a long-baked sweet potato with toasted nuts (walnuts are my go-to). Give Zingerman’s or Morgan & York, both in Ann Arbor, a call, or check their websites when you’re ready to buy.
“You got chocolate on my peanut butter.” “No, you got peanut butter on my chocolate.” Sound familiar? Substitute coffee and caramel corn in the old Reese’s shtick and you have the recipe for Slabtown Coffee Caramel Corn. I’ll admit I was skeptical when owner Jennifer Patterson handed me a sample to try at an Ann Arbor food event earlier this year (the company is based about 250 miles away in Traverse City’s Slabtown neighborhood). I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee cuts the cloying sweetness I find in caramel corn and…it just works really well. Check the website for retail locations around the state or for contact information to place an order.
Many years ago when I, too, lived in northern Michigan I visited Leelanau Cheese Company creamery, whose owners John and Anne Hoyt use local milk and a vegetable-based rennet to make their signature Raclette cheeses (mild and aged). I used to serve it with crackers as an appetizer, but it’s also a great melting cheese (think: grilled sandwiches and paninis; atop potatoes or vegetables; or, she says in a flash of genius, en croute.) The website provides ordering instructions; you also can call or email to inquire about retail outlets. I’ve seen it sold in several markets around the state.
One of my favorite quick-serve restaurants in Ann Arbor is Grand Traverse Pie Company, which has grown from a small pie shop in Traverse City to a chain of café-bakeries around Michigan and even beyond. The cozy décor, seasonal dishes and the glass case brimming with fruit pies give the place a homey feel. I tried the butternut squash soup a couple of weeks ago — hearty, creamy and appley-sweet. You can order Grand Traverse Pie Company’s pies online, request a catalog or, assuming you’re near one of their 15 locations, just grab a few relatives, coworkers or friends and go out to eat. The company caters as well.
Pie not your thing? (It wasn’t mine until I moved to the Midwest.) Check out Cupcake Station, which will ship. I like bringing an assortment to parties…everyone ooohs and ahhhs over the colors, textures and flavors. Never fails.
In addition to my 2010 picks for preserves and salsas — American Spoon Foods and Cherry Republic — made (when possible) with locally grown fruits, I’m excited to check out Froehlich’s in Three Oaks. (Their Jalapeno Jam and Habanero Apricot Jam have caught my eye.) And I’m anxious to try Wee Bee Jammin’ products, with their signature yellow-burlap-topped jars.
This item isn’t made in Michigan, but I’m exercising poetic license here because it’s from my home state of New York (I discovered it in Franklin, TN, of all places): Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout. It’s rich and thick and was easy to discern the chocolate and coffee flavors — even for me, who rolls her eyes whenever she hears the phrase “with notes of…” uttered aloud. A great comfort drink for the fall and winter (assuming you are over 21 and not behind the wheel, of course).
In the “You probably don’t want to eat this” department, Bella Des makes natural beauty products and candles from American soy wax, all in Ann Arbor. I just received lavender vanilla body lotion as a gift (from a business I patronize, not from the company), and I love it — scent not too strong, and it works on skin that hates the cold, dry winter months, i.e. mine.
Also not to be eaten are organic, homegrown skin care products from M’Lady’s. I’ve tried the bergamot soap, which smells delish, like it was steeped in a strong cup of Earl Gray.
If helping others is on your mind, check out Michigan-based World Clothes Line. Through an experience she had while traveling in Laos, native Michigander and founder Mallory Brown realized that clothing — something as simple as a clean t-shirt — is a basic need for people around the world who live in extreme poverty. Her company now donates clothing to the poor with each customer purchase. So you buy a sweatshirt; World Clothes Line donates a new sweatshirt (or equivalent) and delivers it to impoverished areas within one of several countries. Yes, you can specify where you’d like your donated item to be taken.
And, unfortunately, victims of Hurricane Sandy and the typhoon in the Philippines could still use help. The Christian Science Monitor compiled a list of charities providing Sandy relief; GlobalGiving has partnered with several organizations and supports relief efforts through its Philippine Flood Relief Fund.
Here’s to a safe, healthy and happy holiday season!