I know, I know, I'm supposed to be mister DIY, eschewing packaged goods so I can toil away in the kitchen milling my own flour, harvesting local sugar cane, and carefully tending orchards of orchids for vanilla beans so I can whip up a batch of Christmas cookies. Well, here's the thing: I'm a dab hand at jams, pickles, and a handful of other goodies, but there's plenty I just don't do.
For starters, I don't bake, so those Christmas cookies? Not gonna happen. I'm also not a chocolatier, and I'm certainly not a gelatin artist (seriously, keep reading). So, in spite of (or perhaps because of) my borderline compulsive desire to make everything from nearly molecular ingredients, I can appreciate that there are others dedicating their energies to producing the best possible product they can and selling it to the public. And if I'm not going to make it myself, I'm sure as heck going to buy it from the scrappy local artisans to emerge from the La Cocina incubator.
Friday's La Cocina gift fair at Mission Cultural Center showcased the best and brightest of the nonprofit's client businesses, but had a few things extra (and non-foodie) for color. Here are a few gift-giving ideas gleaned from the assembled vendors:
Sweets Collections gelatins
What at first looks like a paperweight of a flower encased in glass is in fact a 100-percent edible creation. Owner Rosa Rodriguez manages to coax stunningly beautiful, delicate, and elegant creations out of simple gelatin and coloring, and they'll stay, refrigerated, for a month. Major wow factor.
Good for: Hostess gift, holiday table
Pick-a-Peck employs an array of peppers to bring complex yet balanced heat to their pickles (except the beets, which are mild). They'd be a welcome addition to a crudité plate, but I'm also thinking they're going to make an appearance in the New Year's Day Bloody Mary.
Good for: Holiday entertaining, holiday party
Waverley Kitchen Indian spice packs
Cooking Indian food involves a dizzying array of spices; one good friend of mine keeps hers in a special box in a cool, dark place so they'll stay fresh until she needs them. But if you want to conjure up some curry in a hurry, these spice packs make it easy for those who are more busy than Desi.
Good for: Stocking stuffer, hostess gift
Kika's Treats palm sugar caramels
Kika's caramelized graham crackers and Brazilian honey cakes are longtime local favorites. Kika Besher's new offering is fleur de sel caramels made with palm sugar, an ingredient whose star is rising. Palm sugar is low-glycemic and high in nutrients, and has a natural caramel-butterscotch flavor.
Good for: Under the tree, hostess gift