Now that we've meticulously observed National Buy Nothing Day, what better excuse than the holidays to indulge in this year's feast of gourmet gift items — everything from Three Stooges aprons to homemade chocolate fudge, "body puddings" or a vicious-looking cleaver.
If you can imagine it, it's out there, courtesy of our fully functioning capitalist economy. Local retailers have stocked a trove of fascinating gadgets, edibles and offbeat culinary items to charm the gourmand in your life. Throw in the global reach of the Internet, and you can choose from a mind-numbing assortment of goods.
Start with the fancy fudge Susan Strachan makes by hand and then sells at her Palm Harbor shop, Strachan's Homemade Ice Cream. Gooey and delectable, the fudge costs only $9.96 a pound and requires no wrapping — it comes packed in colorful baskets or tins that are ready to set right under the tree.
Or try one of the $45 holiday gift baskets made from candy canes by Candy Bouquet, of St. Petersburg, which dubs itself "the delicious alternative to flowers!" The baskets look like floral arrangements, except that they're composed of fanciful artificial flowers, commercially made candy bars, lollipops, gum and balloons. If the person you're gifting likes Milk Duds, you can have those included in your bouquet; if your giftee has more expensive tastes, your basket can include high-quality Ghiradelli or Toblerone chocolates instead.
The Santoku hollow-edge blade looks vicious enough to star in a Halloween horror flick, but it's the trendiest knife on sale this season. Popularized by Food Network Chef Rachel Ray, the knife has a row of grooves along its leading edge designed to produce less drag and keep delicate food from sticking. Manufactured by Wustoff-Trident Cutlery, the 7.5-inch cleaver-like knife, along with a 3.5-inch parer, together sell for $99.99 at the Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, in Tampa's Westshore Plaza.
And while you're there, check out another hot item this season, fondue pots, which are basically communal pots used to cook squares of meat in oil, or to heat sauces made with cheese and chocolate (among other things) for dipping veggies, bread or fruit. Fondue was a big fad in the 1970s but faded into oblivion. It's back this year with classier pots in updated colors and designs. A $39.99 stainless steel Trudeau meat fondue set includes six forks, splatter ring, gelled fuel burner and rack.
Let's not forget man's best friend during our holiday celebrations. Treat your mutt to primo dog biscuits, handmade by bakers Keri Eisenbeis and Michael Matthews. The treats sell for $1 each, or five for $4, at Great Harvest Bread Co., in Tampa. The bakery provides treats for humans, too: a pretty $10 gift basket stuffed with a beautiful loaf of hand-kneaded, honey-wheat bread and a fancy jam. More elaborate gift baskets start at $25 and can cost as much as $100.
The Internet provides some pretty weird gift ideas: Why not surprise your favorite cook with a Three Stooges apron, 100-percent cotton with two front pockets and a snarling picture of Chef Curly that's sure to inspire a properly aggressive frame of mind for cooking? The $17.95 apron is available at www.sonypictures.studiostore.com.
"Turn your partner into a delicious snack, anytime, anywhere!" advises the ad copy at www.intimate-pleasures.net, which sells what it calls "body pudding" in three flavors — Swiss chocolate, French vanilla and wild strawberry, at $11.23 per four-ounce jar. Can't vouch for the taste of the pudding, but if it's terrible, it still would make a great gag gift for your friends.
Of course, everybody loves gift certificates. Why not drop a gift certificate for sushi- making classes into your giftee's stocking? GoSushi Catering, Inc., of Tampa, operated by sushi experts Andrew Moos and Matthew Beilstein, offers regular classes at $45 per person. If your sushi lover's too busy to cook, the gift certificates can also be used to buy catering services.
Floridians are lucky to be able to buy fresh Key limes at the market much of the year. You can encourage your cook to turn 'em into tangy salads, zippy coolers, Floribbean-style entrées, desserts and dressings, sauces and condiments with the help of local chef Joyce LaFray's excellent Key Lime Cookbook from Seaside Publications, in St. Petersburg. The cookbook alone sells for $5.95, but add another four bucks and you can get the cookbook gift pack, which includes an eight-ounce bottle of authentic Key lime juice.
Give a little holiday cheer to your favorite senior citizen or strapped parent who lacks the discretionary income to bail out of the kitchen from time to time. The manager at Bob Heilman's Beachcomber Restaurant, on Clearwater Beach, assured us that the restaurant's simple, printed gift certificates are popular because people know their recipient will appreciate a meal out. Or give a takeout certificate, like one available at Plateroti Italian Gourmet, Inc., in Clearwater, which produces yummy Italian specialities, like homemade tortellini, raviolis, exotic oils, wines and cheeses.
And finally, if your giftee has seriously overindulged during holiday festivities, consider a Weight Watchers' gift certificate. For $99, you can treat your foodie to 10 weeks of meetings, written aids, group advice and emotional support, all designed to result in healthful, no-fad and sustainable weight loss.
Strachan's Homemade Ice Cream, 105 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, 727-781-0997 or www.strachansdesserts.com.
Candy Bouquet, 9049 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-576-3254 or www.candyb.com.
Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, 317 Westshore Plaza, 813-639-9816 or www.rollingpinonline.com.
Great Harvest Bread Co., 500 S Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-259-3700 or www.greatharvesttampa.com.
GoSushi Catering Inc., 4318 S Manhattan Ave., Tampa, 813-835-8757 or www.gosushicatering.com.
Seaside Publications Inc., P.O. Box 14441, St. Petersburg, 888-352-2665 or www.famousflorida.com.
Bob Heilman's Beachcomber Restaurant, 447 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, 727-446-9463 or www.heilmansbeachcomber.com.
Plateroti Italian Gourmet, Inc., 1621 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater, 727-461-1817.
Weight Watchers International, 800-651-6000 or www.weightwatchers.com.
Food critic Sara Kennedy dines anonymously and the Planet pays for her meals. Contact her at 813-248-8888, ext. 116, or [email protected].