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The other day in the office, I was absolutely shocked to find out that not everybody knows about Marshmallow Fluff — that there are actually children in America growing up without knowing the simple joy of a Fluffernutter sandwich: soft bread (corners cut off or not) sandwiching together sticky swaths of sweet Marshmallow Fluff and salty Teddie Peanut Butter.
Coupled with the meteoric success of my friend's new Australian meat pie shop, serving throngs of homesick customers the nostalgic comfort foods previously unavailable anywhere in New England, I suddenly realized the power certain foodstuffs have on our happiness and the elegant simplicity of giving them as gifts.
If you're looking for a thoughtful last-minute gift, consider stocking a basket chock-full of Beantown-made nosh for your bestie or your bro. Greater Boston is now home to some of the most innovative gourmet foods and grocery products, and many local companies are currently setting the national and international trends playing out in top food, wine, and women's magazines.
Here's an economical selection of affordable luxuries (all under $30) from some of my personal favorite local purveyors. Who knows, your kin may even be kind enough to share!
Dancing Deer Baking Company, Sweet Home Gifts (from $26)
No time to bake your own cookies? No worries, Dancing Deer has got you covered in the guilt-free goodies department. Shop for sweet treats from this now-household-name bakery in Hyde Park, which donates 35% of each sale from its Sweet Home Gifts collection to educational scholarships. I've always admired founder Suzanne Lombardi as a local female entrepreneur and have watched in awe as she scaled her social mission as her business grew. For more convincing on Dancing Deer as a company, check out this April article in Inc. magazine.
Polka Dog Bakery, Tall Cans ($13)
Every pup-loving, pet-food-recall-paranoid person in Boston by now knows (and loves) Polka Dog — and for good reason. Almost seven years ago, founder Rob Van Sickle opened the pet treat bakery after Pearl, his eponymous one-eyed Boxer and locally famed "Polka Dog," passed away, and has been providing tasty, fresh, nutritious & delicious dog-spoiling treats daily ever since, from the flagship store in the South End (and now a new, second location in Jamaica Plain). Pick up a tall boy for your favorite tail-wagging companion and find out just how best man's friend can be.
Dr. Gonzo's in Worcester, Holiday Baskets ($29 or $34)
Dammit, he really is a doctor of hot sauce, man. Punky first introduced me to The Good Doctor, aka J. Stuart Esty, after a Worcester swap last year, and his Buffalo Balm Hot Sauce and Moose River Adirondack Black Fly Mustard ($6 each) have become staples in our house, even passing the tests of my hot-sauce-snobby friends from out West. Check out the holiday baskets online or stop by the Central Mass. store to taste for yourself what the buzz is about for these "uncommon condiments" — and meet The Good Doctor himself.
Taza Chocolate (from $4.50, TazaChocolate.com)
Fair trade, artisan chocolate has become a must-have for any gourmand or greenie, and Somerville is home to one of the best chocolate makers in the biz. Take a tour of Taza's brand-spanking-new factory and retail store, celebrating its grand opening for the second time after an early summer flood tried to ruin the fun, but these resilient chocolate makers (and fervent fans) are here to stay. I recommend the Salted Almond or Guajillo Chile varieties. (Shoestring not responsible for any resulting addictions caused or pounds gained.)
Bittermens Bitters ($18 at Boston Shaker)
Old-timey embibements and their old-fashioned ingredients have become as regular a sight in trendy bars as skinny jeans and irony, but, sometimes, you don't want to put up with the crowds just to enjoy a cocktail. No Manhattan would be complete without a dash of bitters, and no one is making small batch varieties better than Bittermens in Somerville. Shake things up with a bottle of aged rum paired with the Xocolatl Mole Bitters, made with (what else?) Taza Chocolate.
MEM Tea ($9, Cardullo's)
Ask any restaurateur or critic, and they'll likely tell you that tea snobbery has replaced coffee snobbery as the one-upsmanship du jour for foodies, and many fine restaurants serve up a selection from our own MEM Tea in Somerville. From yerba mate for your college-aged cousin to rooibos for your retired mum, MEM's loose leaf teas are legit — and delicious. Pair with a loose leaf tea ball or infuser and a cool mug, all available from the legendary Cardullo's in Harvard Square.
Spindrift Soda ($2 each, various locations)
Films like Food Inc. and King Corn have made many of us more aware of the health and environmental hazards of high fructose corn syrup. Thankfully, craft beverage maker and Charlestown resident Bill Creelman decided we didn't need to stop drinking soda, he was just going to make it healthy. Spindrift, his new line of natural sodas, use pure fruit juice (including, gulp, pulp!), are sweetened with cane juice, and come in refreshing varieties like grapefruit, blackberry, mango-orange, and lemonade. Fun fact: Creelman is also the co-founder of the gourmet Stirrings line of all-natural cocktail mixers, now found everywhere from Williams-Sonoma to your local liquor store. Here's hoping Spindrift finds the same fame.
This month, we also met the team from HowAboutWe.com, a new dating site that allows people to find each other based their idea of the perfect date. We're huge fans of "experience gifts" for the holidays, so if not for the food or drink, how about giving an "IOU" or coupon gift to someone you love (or a co-worker you'd like to get to know better) and take a factory tour behind the scenes of one of these iconic brands:
What are your favorite Boston-made, eco- and wallet-friendly gourmet foods? Because, well, now I'm starving for new sweets and treats.
Story: Copyright 2010, Shoestring LLC. Image: Courtesy of Taza.