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Always searching out new and unusual gifts to give everyone from school teachers to accountants can get exhausting. So this year, I consulted my friend Eugenia Bone, who gave me the most incredible carrot jam when she was testing her upcoming book, The Kitchen Ecosystem. It struck me as the most perfect gift: interesting, but not too interesting. I knew she'd have other good ideas for holiday presents and hostess gifts. Here, our conversation.
DBC: If you had all the time and all the money in the world, what would you make as a holiday food gift for friends?
EB: And 10 acres in California's Russian River Valley? Wine, of course. But after that, I'd smoke big wild mussels, vacuum-pack them and ship them overnight in time for New Year's Eve. Dipped in a little homemade mayo, there's nothing more fancy, rich and over-the-top scrumptious.
DBC: I've been giving granola to teachers and friends for years, and I'd love to have a new gift that isn't too time-consuming to make and isn't sweet (no cookies, no chocolates). What would you make and why?
EB: The carrot jam I gave you is easy to make and beautiful to look at. So orange! So glisteny! It's great on a cheese plate, but awesome on a mozzarella sandwich. I write all over the jar just like they do on Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap: "Great on a mozz sandwich! Eat me with pot roast!" I make limoncello for a gaggle of girlfriends every year—we give each other yellow gifts. It's a long story. Kept cold in the fridge, it's just so sexy to pour a little digestivo after dinner. One of my friends' favorite holiday gifts is porcini butter, but you can't ship it. You can, however, ship porcini salt, and that seems to make people very, very happy. On occasion I have made a set of extracts, which is a great gift for bakers: lemon, vanilla and candy cap, a sweet maple-flavored mushroom. Best of all, I make orange bitters, because they last forever and are useful to have in the bar—and we all need an old-fashioned every once in a while.
DBC: Is there anything you'd rather buy than make as a food gift?
EB: Sometimes I buy exotica from Italy. There is a special dry anisette made in my father's hometown, Ascoli Piceno, that is so elegant, but you can't get it here. I always include a recipe or two on how to use it. Once I bought my friend Willie a whole prosciutto from Di Palo's (dipaloselects.com) and he was so excited that he started hugging it. Kind of weirdly satisfying.
DBC: Everyone says there's only one fruitcake in the world that gets passed around. What is an automatic regift for you?
EB: Truth is, I've stopped with the regifting. I just can't do it anymore. I really prefer to give gifts I like, and on the occasion when the person I give it to doesn't like it, I don't feel bad, because I still think it's fabulous. And if I ever get the sense that the gift just doesn't work for them, I can take it back and, well... regift it.