The season is upon us to think creatively, or sensibly, when giving presents
Friends I polled for ideas reached for the culinary skies with desires for kitchen makeovers (including magical grease-sucking vents and Julia Child’s voice piped in for recipe instruction), fully automatic espresso machines (plus Japanese manual coffee bean grinder), oven mitts that protect your hands from heat and allow you to grip properly, weekly date nights at good restaurants (without the baby) and 18th-century silver marrow scoops.
One boozehound mused about receiving the Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises champagne ($750, but it is made from ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines), but said he’d settle for the $208 Pol Roger 1999 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
Exorbitant notions aside, there are attainable options. Trawl local fairs such as the Etsy-esque Souk@SAT, December 9-11, (1195 St-Laurent, www.souk.sat.qc.ca), about as hipster as possible for the kind of holiday event that traditionally includes macramé. More tony is the Salon des Métiers d’Art (December 2-22 at Place Bonaventure, www.metiers-d-art.qc.ca/smaq). A full day spent there could see you cross everyone off your list.
And there are plenty of stores that help fit the giving bill. When I entered La Diabla, I thought it was the perfect place to buy presents for people and parties. Homemade salsas, jams, marinades, spice mixes, with Mexican and Lebanese twists that reflect the owners’ heritages. Spicy peanuts or spicy-tangy chocolate-dipped tortilla chips pair nicely with holiday gin and tonics. Buy some chocolate-based mole sauce for leftover turkey in the days following the Xmas meal aftermath. (4615 St-Laurent; 514-348-0336).
Fait Ici specializes in locally and sustainably produced food and goods. Ceramic sugar dishes and maple syrup containers by Marianne Chénard or gorgeous cutting boards by the Atelier Beau Grain. For eats, there are compotes by Simon Turcotte (the lovely pear-thyme flower cries out for good cheddar), or fine dark chocolate by Olivia Chocolat (2519 Notre-Dame W.; 514-439-3888, www.faitici.ca).
For those who love a good pun (and who doesn’t?) there’s Mortimer Snodgrass (named for their dog, Mortimer, and little-known baseball player Chappy Snodgrass). In the Christian spirit of the season, there’s a Holy Toast Virgin Mary toast stamper. For your dopey cousin, there’s the "pot" holder of bright green silicon in the shape of the popular smokable plant. They stock cookie cutters in the shapes of Pac-men, moustaches, ninjabread men, gingerdead men, perfect for cheeky holiday baking. (56 Notre-Dame W.; 514-499-2851, www.mortimersnodgrass.com)
You can spring for a Japanese knife from L’Émouleur, or if that’s beyond your budget, opt for a serious knife sharpening ($20) by Guillaume De L’Isle (1081 Laurier W.; 514-813-3135, www.montrealknife.com). But beware – you should never give a knife for fear of severing ties. Extract a nickel from the recipient as payment to keep the friendship intact.
Long-lasting seasonal sweets are usually welcome, such as panforte or chocolate. Seek out the unusual. A baker I know yearns for a jar of vanilla paste, and I’d always appreciate a good olive oil. Browse fresh spices and olive oils at Jean-Talon Market’s Olives et Épices (7070 Henri- Julien; 514-271-0001, www.epicesdecru.com). Instead of a cheesy gift, give the gift of cheese. Yannick Fromagerie is where mice in the know head to (1218 Bernard W.; 514-279-9376, www.yannickfromagerie.ca).
But back to booze. For an affordable tipple, pick up a Crede Bisol Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene 2010 ($19.75) or any Lustau sherry. Along those lines, sniff around wine paraphernalia stores Vinum (1480 City Councillors; 514-985-3200, www.vinumdesign.com) or Aux Plaisirs de Bacchus (1225 Bernard W.; 514-273-3104, www.auxplaisirsdebacchus.com) for a double-hinged Pulltaps waiter’s corkscrew. Under $10 (or upwards), it keeps you drinking all year long.