Edible Gifts, Dec 04 | Chocolate, Cheese, Cookies & More: Traditional Foodstuffs Make Trendy Presents


At Home proprietor Rosie Witherspoon and daughters Claire and Torrey bearsome of the elegant chocolates, candies, and jams that fill the shelves.

Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are upon us, and this monthbrings to mind two of my favorite things: food and giving. As someone whoprefers to keep things as simple as possible, I am a proponent of combiningthe two. I love to give, and receive, good food. With the exception ofthe often maligned fruitcake, I’ve heard no complaints over the yearsabout the proffer or receipt of any yummy edible offering.

While there is much to be said for surrendering to any given year’strends or flights of fancy, this year’s model in the world of culinarybeneficence is one of classics and standards, with the occasional sprinklingof international flare. Aligning yourself with the usual suspects is what I’mrecommending and what I’ve been counseled to do. Trusted standbys suchas cheese, chocolate, and baked goods are back in vogue, and deservedlyso. What’s so wonderful about life here in Iowa is how easily thesethings can be accommodated with both a palatable and conscionabletwist. Supporting locally owned businesses and cooperatives can make anyonea popular and sophisticated bestower.

Deep, Dark, and Divine, Everyone Loves Chocolate

Last October, a trade show exhibiting chocolate in conventional and originalforms opened in Paris awash with vendors, buyers, and fans from aroundthe world eager to take a peek and taste all things cocoa. Even Miss France2004, Leatitia Bleger, got in on the action modeling a 13-foot-highumbrella made entirely of what any purist will tell you must be brownand never white. Some also suggest the best should, in fact, be French.When we’re talking Vosges chocolate no one is going to get any argumentfrom me. In Fairfield, at 52 N. Main Street, the At Home Store has anassortment of this exclusive delicacy in bar, elixir, and truffle form.Despite what have traditionally been very exclusive distribution rights(Vosges “boutiques” in the States can only be found in Chicago,Miami, and New York) owner Rosie Witherspoon is able to deliver the goods.

Most Iowans need no reminder that an extraordinary truffle is an elusiveand exclusive affair. Thankfully, in this case we need not spend aninordinate amount of time in the woods hunched over or chasing arounda beloved or ill-tempered pig. My choice this holiday season is theVosges nine box assortment featuring such exotic bonne bouches asthe Black Pearl with Japanese ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds,and dark chocolate; the Nagawith sweet Indian curry, coconut and milk chocolate; and the Budapestwith sweet Hungarian paprika and dark chocolate. Anyone who wouldturn up their nose at such an indulgence would probably prefer a fruitcake(or a pot-bellied pig!). Rosie sells many other international gastronomicaldelights, as well as an assortment of gorgeous baskets. She and her staffwill be happy to throw together an appropriate selection for anyone onyour gift list. As my eight-year-old niece, style maven, and quintessentialCalifornia girl Emma informed me recently, “Gift baskets are waycool!

Cheese, Made the Old-Fashioned Way

In all things cheese, I consult my local expert, Robert Morey, the “cheese guy” atIowa City’s New Pioneer Co-op (22 S. Van Buren St.). Morey steersme in the direction of several cheeses that would make wonderfulofferings in their own right or excellent additions to that “cool” giftbasket, a service New Pioneer will also happily provide. The firstis from an Amish co-op dairy in Cresco, IA, called Schwarz und Weiss,which produces a product “unlike any other cheese I’ve hadbefore,” says Morey. He’s impressed with the dairy’s “traditional,old-fashioned operational style and the subtle yet precise nuance of itsproduct’s flavor.” Morey also impresses upon me that it isimpossible to go wrong with any cheese imported from Neal’s Yard,the famous cheese shop in London. New Pioneer carries three that Robertis especially fond of, the Colston Bassett Stilton, the Cashel Blue fromIreland (this writer’s favorite), and its original Cheddar, whichMorey swears “is the best in the world and an extraordinary eatingexperience.”  

Something from the Oven . . . But Not Necessarily Yours

One of the more delectable options for baked goods in eastern Iowa canbe found at Deluxe Bakery at 812 S. Summit St. in Iowa City. Owner andpastry chef Jamie Powers can provide you with one of her increasinglypopular assemblages of Petit Fours, Russian Tea Cake, Linzer, or ThumbprintCookies in a custom pink box with ribbon for less than $10. These goodies wouldmake affordable and delectable (Deluxe is aptly named, I promise) giftsfor co-workers, teachers, neighbors, or beloved postal workers. I wouldalso suggest one of Ms. Powers’ party-sized tortes or cheesecakes,an offering any recipient would be out of their minds to quibble with.Be sure to make time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while stopping byDeLuxe. The eternally hip antique suburban ambiance is a dream come truefor this former urbanite non-traditional traditionalist.

Other Goodies

Locally roasted organic coffee, imported herb tea, and organic fruitand wine also make excellent gift selections and will help complete anyassortment. Whether you choose to construct your own basket or have aprofessional do it for you, bear in mind that treating others as you’dlike to be treated is a time-honored and rewarding rule of thumb. As amatter of fact, putting yourself somewhere on your food gift list is asomething I would enthusiastically recommend.