Holiday Gift Guide | Feature | Chicago Reader

Holiday Gift Guide 

This week: for the gourmand

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This is the final installment of our three-part gift guide. You can find our recommendations for inexpensive and locally made gifts at chicagoreader.com. —Heather Kenny

Long banned in the U.S. for its alleged hallucinogenic effects, absinthe is back. Pernod's version of the "green fairy" hews closely to the original recipe while meeting FDA regulations for thujone (the chemical in wormwood long thought to be responsible for those long, strange trips). The North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff makes its own version, Sirène Absinthe Verte, and sells accoutrements at northshoredistillery.com. aPernod, $69.99; Sirène, $59.99.

Adopt an olive tree from Nudo, a collection of seven groves in central Italy. Not only will you be supporting small-scale farming, but your chosen recipient will receive pretty tins of extra-virgin olive oil in the spring and fall. Each grove grows different varietals, resulting in oil that can be peppery, fruity, or buttery. a$96.85 plus $37 for shipping at nudo-italia.com.

Chicagoan Katherine Anne Duncan makes her hand-dipped truffles with Guittard chocolate and local honey. Her medley of holiday truffles includes seasonal flavors—cranberry blood-orange, apple pie, and pumpkin—made with locally grown produce. They come in handmade, biodegradable fair-trade boxes that are recyclable and biodegradable. a$9.50-$42 at local retailers and katherine-anne.com.

In Japan, osechi ryori—savory and sweet cold bites tucked into tiered boxes called jubako—are laboriously prepared and eaten over the first few days of the New Year. Traditional ingredients symbolize hopes for the coming year: kazunoko (salted herring roe) is for prosperity, onigara-yaki (broiled shrimp or lobster) for longevity, and subasu (lotus root in vinegar) for clarity because the holes in the lotus root are said to offer a glimpse into the future. a$139-$299 at Mitsuwa, 100 E. Algonquin, Arlington Heights, 847-956-6699 (no phone orders), mitsuwa.com.

Ricki's Cheesemaking Kit comes with rennet and citric acid and is good for 48 batches of mozzarella or ricotta—just add milk and salt. a$35 at zingermans.com.

One of the joys of visiting Paris is eating fresh macarons, wonderfully light meringue cookies sandwiched together with buttercream or ganache. Vanille Patisserie—co-owned by award-winning French pastry chef Dimitri Fayard—offers authentic versions in coffee, pistachio, raspberry, and chocolate. a$15-$22 at Vanille Patisserie, 2229 N. Clybourn, 773-868-4574, vanillepatisserie.com.

As the Reader's Julia Thiel recently discovered (see "Cooking Like Achatz" at chicagoreader.com), it may actually be cheaper to dine at Grant Achatz's famed restaurant than to replicate the mind-bending creations in his Alinea cookbook at home. But foodies may enjoy learning the secrets of the cider-gel cube and meticulously deconstructed PB&J or simply leafing through the beautifully photographed tome. aVarious editions $31.50-$75 at alinea-book.com.

Pastoral's Best of the Midwest gift set features three cheeses by regional producers: Big Woods Blue, a sheep's milk blue from Minnesota; Little Darling, a cow's milk tomme from Wisconsin; and Capriole Farm's O'Banon, a goat cheese wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves, from Indiana. Other goodies include Blooming Tree Farmstead Honey from central Illinois and organic Potter's Crackers from Madison. a$59.99 at Pastoral, 2945 N. Broadway, 773-472-4781, or 53 E. Lake, 312-658-1250, pastoralartisan.com.

Giving a good red wine time to breathe softens the tannins and releases its full bouquet. The handheld Vinturi Wine Aerator does the job instantaneously—pour the wine through the device and it mixes in just the right amount of air for a smoother finish. a$39.95 at vinturi.com.

The Cajun Microwave, handmade by a septuagenarian in Cajun country, is an efficient roaster that's roomy enough for a few chickens or even a whole hog. The roasting box is made of cypress and is heated by either charcoal or wood placed on the carbon-steel lid. If you're thinking pig roast, reserve a mulefoot piglet from Mike and Valerie Weihman-Rock, who supplied the animals for the Reader's Whole Hog Project, and it'll be ready for you to slaughter as early as May. aCajun microwave: $455-$495 plus $150-$250 S&H, crawfishguy.com. Piglet: $150 deposit plus $50/month room and board, mikerock@mhtc.net.

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