La Cebolla Roja pickled red onions fit right into a Christmas stocking. Photo by Susie Weinrich

It’s the little pleasures that bring us a measure of happiness during this pandemic – the kind of small but delightful surprises you might find in a Christmas stocking. If you’re starving for ideas for the food lovers on your list, here are our suggestions for a dozen local products or services that might bring a smile to their faces, even more than the thought of saying goodbye to 2020.

Naughty Chocolate Cherry Granola from Lucy’s Granola, for the naughty person on your list. Photo by Leslie Brienza

LUCY’S NAUGHTY CHOCOLATE CHERRY GRANOLA

We already know that Lucy’s Granola – made in small batches in East Blue Hill in varieties such as extra seedy and “really nutty pecan” – is full of healthy ingredients and tastes great. For the person who’s likely to show up on the wrong side of Santa’s list, choose the naughty chocolate cherry. In a year full of bad juju, it will make them feel nice.
If there’s a baker on your list, go with Lucy’s Chicken Feed, a jar filled with granola, chocolate and toffee bits that can be mixed into cookie batter or homemade pie crusts.

How to find it: Order online at lucysgranola.com, or visit one of the dozens of Maine shops listed on the website. (In the Portland area, that includes Pat’s Meat Market, Lois’ Natural Foods and Maine’s Pantry.)

Cost: Naughty Chocolate Cherry, $10.25 per pound or $3.75 per 4-ounce bag; Chicken Feed, $8 for an 8-ounce jar.

 

VENA’S FIZZ HOUSE SPIRIT SIPPER INFUSIONS

Just add bourbon to this infusion jar from Vena’s Fizz House. Photo courtesy of Vena’s Fizz House

You can easily infuse your own spirits at home, but if the person on your list has never done it before, give them this pre-made “bar in a jar.” I tried the Blackberry Stinger infusion jar, which comes with blackberries, orange slices, ginger and a blend of organic cane sugar, cane syrup and honey. All I had to do was fill the pint jar with bourbon and walk away for five to seven days. Then strain and sip. Easy peasy. My tip: Don’t harvest your cocktails too early. I sampled from the jar after the liquor had been infusing for two days, and the bourbon was still overpowering the other flavors. So I didn’t touch it again until the fifth day, which just so happened to be Thanksgiving Day, and it was perfect. The delicious drink had a new sweetness to it, and the blended flavors of the fruit had come forward to take the edge off the bourbon. One jar makes about three larger drinks if you’re looking for something you can sip on for hours, or four or five smaller drinks.

How to order: Visit the store at 345 Fore St., Portland, or order online at venasfizzhouse.com.

Cost: $12.50

 

Spring Day Blues blue cheese goes well with a glass of ruby port, says Mary Chapman Sissle. Photo courtesy of Spring Day Blues

CHEESE? YES, PLEASE!

Sure, cheese is one of those perishable gifts that will have to be stuffed into the stocking at the last moment, but if you’re a cheese lover, there’s nothing you’d like to open more on Christmas Day. (Well, OK, some of us would take a sapphire bracelet over a wedge of brie, but you take what you can get.)

Up North, a smoked ricotta from Crooked Face Creamery, is a favorite of Shannon Tallman, the specialty cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market. Photo by Kate Ray Photography

Just in case Santa needs help at the cheese counter, we asked a couple of local cheesemongers which Maine cheese they would like to find in their stockings on Christmas morning. Shannon Tallman, specialty cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market in Portland, chose Up North Applewood Cold Smoked Ricotta made by Crooked Face Creamery in Skowhegan, which she says she “could easily eat with a spoon and in one sitting.” The cheese is made with whole milk from registered Jersey cows by Amy Rowbottom, who recommends it as a spread, mixing it with fresh greens, pairing it with pasta, or using as a pizza topping. She named the cheese Up North because its smell reminds her of sitting around a campfire at Moosehead Lake.

Mary Chapman Sissle, co-owner of The Cheese Shop of Portland, says she enjoys a big wedge of blue cheese with a glass of ruby port during the holidays. She recommends Spring Day Blues from Spring Day Creamery in Durham. “It is dense and fudgy in texture, with rich notes of salted caramel and red fruits,” she said.

Where to find them: The ricotta is available online through upnorthricotta.com or at nativemainedirect.com, or at Whole Foods or the Portland Food Co-op in Portland. Spring Day Blues can be ordered through springdaycreamery.com and is available in the Portland area at The Cheese Shop of Portland, the Portland Food Co-op, Solo Cucina Market in South Portland, The Cheese Iron in Scarborough, and Town Landing Market, Royal River Natural Foods and Bow Street Market in Freeport.

Cost: Up North, $8 per 7-ounce round; Spring Day Blues, $7 per quarter pound or $9.25 for one-third pound.

Artist Jennifer Connor of Belfast made these towels featuring Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris, part of her Strong Women Series. Photo by Jennifer Connor

STRONG WOMEN TEA TOWELS

Belfast artist Jennifer Connor did not make her first Ruth Bader Ginsburg tea towel in 2020, but this is the year they went tea-towel viral. Connor, who describes herself as “a Smith graduate and a raging feminist,” saw sales of the tea towels with Ginsburg’s image on them skyrocket this year, both through her Etsy site and through wholesale accounts. “I have stores right now that are getting ready for the holidays that are buying 100 Ruth Baders at a time,” she said.

The Ginsburg towel, made from a 100 percent cotton flour sack and printed with water-based inks, is one of four in Connor’s Strong Woman Series that also includes Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, former First Lady Michelle Obama and climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Connor donates $1 from the Ginsburg, Obama and Harris towels to the local women’s shelter; $1 from the Thunberg towel goes to local environmental group UpStream Watch, which advocates for the health of midcoast rivers.

Connor said some men have told her they’re “buying a Ruth for every woman in my life. It’s kind of a lovely thing.” Others have made nasty comments, but “then we have a discussion about that. It makes for really interesting conversations.”

Next up? Connor is toying with the idea of a Stacey Abrams tea towel.

Where to find them: Connor’s Etsy site, etsy.com/shop/Jenniebluemaine; LisaMarie’s Made in Maine in Bath and Portland; Yo Mama’s in Belfast; and Archipelago in Rockland.

Cost: $18

2020-THEMED CHOCOLATES

These caramels, which resemble the coronavirus, were originally made as a gift for Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC. Photo courtesy of Wilbur’s of Maine

Not long ago, a customer of Wilbur’s of Maine in Freeport approached the chocolatier and asked if the company could make a custom chocolate to present as a gift to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC – presumably as a thank-you for guiding the state through the pandemic. The result was a much, much sweeter version of the coronavirus – a chocolate-covered caramel studded with sea salt and dried cranberries. Shah posted a photo of the candy on Twitter on Nov. 20, along with a note that called it “far more palatable than the virus itself.”

The phone at the candy store, says owner Andy Wilbur, started “ringing off the hook.” Wilbur had not planned on the impromptu creation becoming a part of his company’s regular repertoire. His lean staff was already slammed with holiday work, but mostly he did not want his customers to think he was being insensitive to the suffering of others. But after talking with his staff, and considering the huge response, Wilbur decided to go ahead and make more, with one big caveat I am passing along here to you: This viral chocolate is meant to be comforting, something that only eases your troubles during this trying time.

We recommend pairing it with one of Wilbur’s Shah bars, which has a photo of the good doctor on the wrapper and comes in several varieties. Wilbur’s will donate 10 percent of the sales from Shah bars to the Freeport Community Services Food Pantry.

Where to find them: Go to wilburs.com or the factory store, 174 Lower Main St., Freeport.

Cost: $20.20 for a box of eight caramels, milk or dark chocolate; Dr. Shah chocolate bars, set of six for $13.50, all one variety; or a mixed pack of one dozen for $27.

GIFT CERTIFICATE FOR GRYFFON RIDGE SPICE MERCHANTS

Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants in Litchfield produces a wide array of spice blends. Photo by Lauren Lear Photography

Everyone seems to be cooking at home more these days, so why not fill their stockings with beautiful herbs and spices, spice blends, chiles and chile powders, gourmet salts, and flavored sugars from Litchfield-based Gryffon Ridge? Their spices come from all around the world, but everything is blended and processed right here in Maine, and most of it is certified organic, with no artificial ingredients, fillers or other additives.

For the hunter in your family, Gryffon Ridge has a Hunter’s Blend, inspired by an old Polish stew recipe, that can be added to soups or used as a rub on pork, beef and game meat. For the adventurous eater, try the new Bezar Seasoning, an Arabian blend. Give the cocktail afficionado more options for rimming their glasses, such as chile lime salt made with red ember chiles grown in Maine.

And because we’re in a pandemic, check out immune-boosting products, such as the elderberry syrup kit and a fire cider kit.

Where to find them: Order online at gryffonridge.com, or find the products at the Brunswick Winter Market, Whole Foods Market, the Portland Co-op, Lois’ Natural Marketplace, and many other stores listed on the website. Gryffon Ridge will also be at the Dec. 20 Makers Market at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

Cost: Varies.

RAGGED COAST DRINKING CHOCOLATES

Ragged Coast Drinking Chocolates come in flavors such as pumpkin spice, dirty chai and matcha green tea. Photo by Kate Shaffer

The winter is long and dark enough without adding the isolation of a pandemic on top of it. We all need chocolate, and more chocolate, to make it through to spring, right? Not to mention that chocolate is one of Santa’s favorite things to drop into Christmas stockings. Ragged Coast’s drinking chocolates are available in 12-ounce packages, or two-ounce individual serving packets. Or do what I did, and order the holiday bundle – a collection of five flavors in individual serving packets, all tied up with a festive little bow. Give one to each person on your list, or throw them all into one stocking. What’s great about these hot chocolates, which you make at home with milk or a milk alternative, is they come in more unusual flavors. In addition to classic dark chocolate, there’s pumpkin spice, dirty chai, matcha green tea (made with Ecuadorian white chocolate), and spiced ancho.

But be warned, these drinking chocolates are made with 70 percent bittersweet chocolate with no added sugar, on purpose so you can sweeten the drink to your own taste. I love that idea, but the day I tried the pumpkin spice flavor, I realized I had no sugar in the house. Thankfully, a bottle of maple syrup saved the day.

Where to find them: The Ragged Coast Chocolates Westbrook factory store, 869 Main St., or purchase online at raggedcoastchocolates.com. Shipping is free within Maine.
Cost: $22.50 for the holiday bundle of five packets.

COOK WITH CHEF SAM HAYWARD

Chef Sam Hayward will be teaching an online cooking class in January to benefit the oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick. Photo by Lily Piel Photography

Five midcoast Maine chefs – including Sam Hayward, the founding chef of Fore Street in Portland and a James Beard award-winner – will teach virtual cooking classes next year to raise money for Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick. The non-profit clinics provide free medical and dental care for the uninsured, and also help pay for prescriptions. A note gifting a pre-paid class, or series of classes, would fit perfectly in the stocking of the wannabe chef on your Christmas list.

A few days before class, each recipient will receive an ingredient list and recipe. (Just watching and asking questions is OK, too.) All classes begin at 6 p.m.

Hayward will launch the series on Jan. 27 with a class called “Duckling: Breast, Legs and Nasty Bits.” Here’s the rest of the schedule:

Feb. 10: Ali Waks Adams, former executive chef at The Brunswick Inn and now chef/producer of Willie & Chet’s, a weekly pop-up at Dog Bar Jim in Brunswick. Adams will make pan-roasted chicken with preserved lemon and olives, and a winter vegetable tagine.

March 27: Nikaline Iacono, owner of Vessel and Vine in Brunswick. Iacono will teach a class on classic and improvised stirred cocktails.

April 24: Christine Burns Rudalevige, Green Plate Special columnist for the Portland Press Herald and editor of Edible Maine magazine. She’ll make a spring seafood stew.

May 1: Isabella Mastroianni of Sanctuary Baking, which produces baked goods and other foods for the homeless, displaced families, at-risk elderly and shut-ins. Mastroianni will make chestnut gnocchi with gorgonzola cream, crispy pancetta and toasted walnuts.

How to buy a class: Go to CookingWithOasis.org or call (207) 721-9277.

Cost: $75 per class or $350 for all five; a $750 gift to Oasis includes one free class and a gift of $3,500 or more includes all five classes.

Lobster claw bottle stoppers and bottle openers made by Merrymeeting Clay in Bath are made from molds fashioned from real lobster claws. Photo by Kai Evenson

NEW ENGLAND CLAW WINE STOPPERS AND BOTTLE OPENERS

If lobster-claw anything feels a little kitschy to you, set those feelings aside and take a closer look at Kai Evenson’s ceramic lobster claw stoppers and openers. The glazes are gorgeous – some are glossy, others have a brushed, weathered look – and, like Maine snowflakes, no two are alike. Each piece is cast from a mold made from a real lobster claw and takes about a month to finish. They’re made at Merrymeeting Clay, the home studio in Bath that Evenson shares with his wife, Jackie, a visual artist who teaches at Bowdoin College.

Go ahead, tuck one of these into your own stocking, but don’t forget: Santa not only sees you when you’re sleeping, he sees you when you’re sleeping it off.

Where to find them: At etsy.com/shop/MerrymeetingClay, LisaMarie’s Made in Maine in Portland and Bath, Now You’re Cooking in Bath, Archipelago in Rockland, Leslie Curtis Designs in Camden, Maine Craft Association in Gardiner, Three Wishes in Blue Hill, Henry VIII Carvery in Kittery, BIRCH Home Furnishings in Wiscasset, and Alison Evans Ceramics in Boothbay Harbor.

Cost: $40

These pickled red onions are good on sandwiches, burgers, salads – or straight out of the jar. Photo by Susie Weinrich

LA CEBOLLA ROJA

If anyone on your list loves red onions like I do, they’ll find themselves eating these pickled ones right out of the jar. But they’re also good on sandwiches, tacos and burgers and as an accompaniment on charcuterie boards. Choose sweet and tangy or hot and spicy.

Where to find them: Order from lacebollaroja.com, or check that website for a complete list of stores that includes the Portland Food Co-op; The Cheese Iron, Hannaford, On the Vine, and Lois’ Natural Marketplace, all in Scarborough; and Bow Street Market in Freeport.

Cost: $7.99 for a 12-ounce jar

BOTTLE OF COLLABORATION BEER

A new collaboration benefitting the Maine Brewers’ Guild has resulted in 39 different beers being sold under the same label. Photo courtesy of Maine Brewers’ Guild

The craft beer lovers on Santa’s list will be thirsty on Christmas. Dropping a bottle of a local brew into their stocking is easy enough, but how will Santa ever choose from among Maine’s 150-plus craft breweries?

Good news for the elves: This year, for the first time, 39 Maine brewers have collaborated on a beer to benefit the Maine Brewers’ Guild. The result is 39 distinct beers, all carrying the same label. All of the breweries used donated ingredients from suppliers of hops, malts and grains to make a new IPA from a recipe agreed upon by the brewers over a Zoom call. Then each brewery used its own yeast and base malts to put its own twist on the recipe. Check the back of the label to see which brewery made the bottle in your stocking.

Where to find them: Breweries, bottle shops and restaurants all over the state.

Cost: Varies depending upon brewer.

 

DEAN’S SWEETS CHOCOLATE SUBSCRIPTION

The next best thing to a newspaper subscription in 2020 is a chocolate subscription. Dean’s Sweets in Portland has launched new three-, six- and 12-month subscription boxes that will help keep those chocolate endorphins floating around in your bloodstream all year long. Seasonal subscription boxes that arrive four times a year are also available. Each box contains chocolates that reflect the time of year – December includes peppermint bark and a chocolate snowman, for example – plus sneak peaks of new products on the horizon.

Dean’s Sweets in Portland has started a chocolate box subscription program that includes treats like this chocolate snowman. Photo courtesy of Dean’s Sweets

How to order: Go to deanssweets.com, visit one of the Portland stores at 475 Fore St. or 54 Cove St., or call (207) 899-3664.

Cost: Three months, $115; six months, $209; 12 months, $395. Seasonal boxes cost $195. Free shipping.


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