You’ve been scurrying about, braving line-ups, making lists, checking them twice, and as you do, you realize you forgot to get a gift for that certain someone. The clock is ticking down, supplies of many popular items are short, but you can always give the gift of something sweet. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like chocolate? The Island Artisan I featured this week is Rogers Chocolates, celebrating a business that began 125 years ago in the back of a grocery store in Victoria owned by Charles Rogers, who soon became known as ‘Candy’ Rogers when his sweets became popular. We have a lot of fine chocolate makers in BC, but none have been in business as long as Rogers, so if you’re looking for a gift to give, you’re not going to disappoint anyone.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the Rogers chocolate factory not too far from downtown Victoria. After I put on my lab coat and hairnet I was literally like a kid in a candy factory as I was shown around by Cornell Idu, the master chocolatier at Rogers. First of all the aroma just surrounds you and I think I was floating about six inches off the ground just from that…and you can’t believe what it’s like to see giant slabs of chocolate and vats of melting chocolate and little nougats heading down a conveyor belt to be drenched in more chocolate!
This is the busiest time of the year for the company,even busier than Easter, or Valentine’s Day, which they are already getting ready for! Everyone I saw in the factory was going flat out, especially in the mail order packing department, where even the manager who usually is in his office was packing and taping up boxes to be sent out. Unless you pick up the phone right now and order something delivered by FedEx, you’re probably out of luck for a delivery this Christmas. What I do like about their online system is a build-your-own-box feature, where you can drag and drop your custom selection from 24 different chocolates into a box of 16…so if you know someone’s favourites you can really customize the gift…of course if you can drop by one of their stores you do that as well, and with just two shopping days left to Christmas you had best get yourself on the road.
Other Last Minute Gift Ideas: I always like to pass along last-minute kitchen gadget gift ideas for people to consider. If you're in Vancouver, my favourite place for kitchen gadgets is Ming Wo, the Chinatown store, where manager Fontaine Wong always knows what's hot, what's not, and what's really useful. Such as:
Meissermeister paring knives and peelers. These are very good quality at a low price and extremely useful. Last year I started using the tomato knife, pictured here in red, and it can slice a tomato paper-thin. I have three different Meissermeister peelers, one smooth, one serrated for fruits like kiwi or mangos, and one that while instantly create zests from citrus fruit or fine julienne strips from carrots.
A good quality chef's knife is always a great gift for someone just starting out in a new apartment or house and I like a number of brands, including Henckels and MAC, and especially Global, pictured at left. It has a nice thin blade that is good for most uses in the kitchen (other than hacking apart chicken carcasses) and people seem to really like the all-metal one-piece design.
You need to keep your knives sharp, of course, and for that Fontaine likes the Chef's Choice company, since it only makes one product, knife sharpeners. I bought an electric model this year since I tend to do a number of knives all at once, but this manual model also works very well, and can handle serrated blades as well as the one-side-sharp Japanese knives some foodies have in their drawers.
Still with sharp things, another kitchen essential for me is a microplane grater, which I use for cheese, garlic, nutmeg, zesting and so much more. The microplane grater started off as a tool in the woodworking shop, used to rasp wood to desired shapes, but it is fantastic in the kitchen and now comes with handles, in box graters, and different sizes and shapes of holes depending on what you want to grate.
Cuisipro makes a wide line of kitchen tools, but two of Fontaine's faves are the heavy-duty measuring cups and spoon sets. The larger cups are so sturdy you can put them on a small burner to melt butter or heat small amounts of liquid.
They may seem expensive but they are so well designed and manufactured your giftee will use them for a lifetime.
With all that cooking your gift recipient is going to do why not throw in some of these Skoy absorbent, re-usable towels. They soak up a mess, then you just throw them in the dishwasher or rinse them out and put them in the microwave for a few seconds to zap any bacteria. And when they have finally outlived their usefulness, they are biodegradable, breaking down in your compost in just five weeks.
And if you'd like to give the gift of some cooking classes, or even writing or food culture classes with yours truly, see my previous blog posting with listings of upcoming classes at Cook Culture in Victoria and at UBC in Vancouver and even online classes!
Finally, for the big splurge, forget about buying a mixer, food processor, juicer, or blender when you can just get a Thermomix. This is a really amazing machine that I've been using for a few months now and it does everything except burp the baby. (It does make excellent baby food purees!) You can one of these 'Bimbys' through me, find out more from my last posting on my Thermomix Diaries. Special Holiday incentives are still in effect!
MY gift to the Cowichan Valley community takes place tomorrow night (Thursday) at 7pm at True Grain Organic Bakery in Cowichan Bay. It’s a free, very casual evening where I read to everyone some of my favourite Christmas stories and Bruce and Leslie from the bakery put out some nice goodies and tea and coffee and I just love doing it. Space is limited, though, so if you want to come please call the bakery and make sure there’s still room. And happy holidays to all the people out there around the province that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to ever since I got into the radio business out here.