What Gives? Tracy's Guide to Gift-Giving for the Simple Good and Tasty Shopper: Part One

Naughty or nice? A Whorganic T-ShirtNaughty and nice?
Give the Whorganic t-shirt.

I don’t know about you... but 2009 has brought about a number of lifestyle adjustments for me. Some, such as cooking more often, shopping weekly at my farmer’s market, rigorous composting and recycling, and eating closer to the food source, have been on my plate (so to speak) for a couple of years now. But others, like joining a CSA, serving on the board of my co-op, thinking hard about my carbon footprint, and buying a bike, are new this year. And, for a number of practical and philosophical reasons, I’m on a tighter budget than I’ve been in the past.

So I’m trying to put all this into perspective as I shop for holiday gifts this year. Gift giving is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and it’s even more fun when I challenge myself to buy local, sustainable, handcrafted or recycled. And, most important, buy delicious. Like Shari’s post last week about buying organic at the big box grocery stores, I use the same guidelines when I shop – though I realize I’m not going to hit each one with every gift. But the guidelines help to keep me on track. And with so much great stuff to choose from, I’m having a ton of fun working within these parameters:

- Local, as much as possible.
- Handcrafted, also as much as possible.
- Beautiful and thoughtful. Naturally.
- Easy to buy. This is a big one because there are lots of great products out there but sometimes the process of buying them is frustrating. I recommend joyful and happy! I don’t recommend frustrating.
- Available. As in, now.

So, let’s get shopping! I’ve compiled a two-part post about holiday gift giving, and the first, this one, is going to start east of the Mississippi river. Last weekend was the Grand Meander in St. Paul, and meander I did. (Not to fear, Minneapolitans or non-Twin Citians, I’ve got plenty for you, as well.)

This past fall, I discovered a nifty occasional sale in St. Paul called W7 Collective. Once a month, W7 brings together funky, innovative artisans (think artwork, décor, jewelry, accessories, paper goods, apparel, etc.) for a three-day selling frenzy just outside St. Paul’s downtown. I’ve been to a couple of these events and love the variety and new selection each time I go. Plus, there’s wine on Friday evening! Anyway, this time, I picked up a couple of cheeky t-shirts (photo, above): one for a friend of mine, one for myself. It was created by Rapport Apparel, which uses local designers and eco-friendly inks and fibers. It also recycles unusable materials into stuffing for car cushions. Clever!

 The next W7 is scheduled for the second Thursday, Friday and Saturday in February (the 11th, 12th and 13th), but you can order the t-shirt online at Rapport Apparel's web site.

Next, at The Grand Hand Gallery (on, yes, Grand Avenue), I spied some fun bowls in the window (photo, right) and had to go inside to check them out. Made from very thin slices of fruits and vegetables, they won’t hold much, except maybe some potpourri, but I love the ethereal colors and the play of the light through them. And the combinations are cool; in addition to the two shown in the photo was one I especially admired, made from Thai green papaya with kaffir lime. A foodie’s dream!

From Evla Pottery on St. Paul's Grand Ave.On that same end of Grand Ave, I also visited Evla Pottery. Now this is some seriously functional kitchenware (photo, left). All food-safe, made with natural glazes, these pieces are hardy enough take on just about anything you can, ahem, dish out, like tomato sauces, the dishwasher, you name it. And they’ve got a massive selection that includes bowls, mugs, vases and more. I loved these tangerine footed bowls, though my photography doesn’t do the color justice. Their glazes are delectable.

And now, onto the food! Stopping at Golden Fig Fine Foods proved to be a bit of a challenge for me; I wanted everything for myself! This is such a fun shop, the folks that run the place are so nice and informative and, hello – samples!  Hot cocoa fixings from the Golden FigAnd not only do they develop and produce their own super-high quality products (mixes, dips, seasonings, beverages, etc.), but they also source and sell a ton of local foods  -- from chicken to cheese to cupcakes. I grabbed a bottle of the basil limeade (I’m anticipating cocktails here) and, with a yummy sample, they hooked me on the Northwoods Cocoa mix (photo, right).

Not overly sweet by design, there’s a nice hint of maple syrup and vanilla that really brought the cocoa powder home. Literally -- in my case.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how you can shop online – and not lose the local-ness of your gift-giving.

Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie and the owner of Segnavia Creative, a marketing services consulting company located in St. Paul, MN.