From Mexican dishes, cookware and table decor to olive oil-based lotions and soaps, there are ideas aplenty in and around San Antonio to surprise the foodie on your Christmas list. (We mean surprise in a good way!) While we hate to use that phrase “last-minute gifts,” the one-week countdown is here, and that last minute is getting closer all the time!
Diana Barrios Treviño’s popular book, “The Barrios Family Cookbook,” has been selling well and for good reason. The recipes are not complex, but the results taste like genuine San Antonio Mexican food. The book can be purchased at most bookstores or at the Los Barrios restaurants. These are Los Barrios Mexican Food at 4223 Blanco Road, or La Hacienda de los Barrios at 18747 Redland Road.
Treviño suggests adding a tortilla warming pad to the basket. Place tortillas into this cloth folder, pop it into the microwave and tortillas will come out soft and warm, with not dried edges. “I use this all the time at home — you have to separate the tortillas, not just take them from the package to the warmer, but it works really, really well,” she says.
Along with the tortilla warmer and book, put another handy item into the basket — a Corksicle. This is something to keep in the freezer for those times you need to cool a bottle of wine down fast. A long plunger, with a cork on top, dips right into the bottle and brings on a good cellar temperature in just a few minutes.
Anyone who has gone into Melissa Guerra’s Tienda de Cocina, in the Full Goods building at the Pearl Brewery, knows that it’s easier to walk in than it is to leave. The array of colorful dishware, traditional and contemporary cookware, books, tablecloths, embroidered purses, glassware and so much more is fascinating, and a great way to spend part of an afternoon.
We’d suggest an earthenware bean pot, a package of organic beans sold at the store, near the cookbook section, and one of Guerra’s cookbooks as a good place to start. Then, tuck a colorful cooking utensil, such as a stirring spoon or garlic press into the package as well.
If you have time, take a pretty drive south of town on I-37 to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. Along the way the trees are shades of bronze, muted orange and sometimes bright yellow. It doesn’t take long to get to this peaceful and lovely working olive plantation — less than 30 minutes from downtown, in fact. (Take the Hardy Road exit, turn east and follow the signs, turning left on Mathis Road.)
The property has an orchard of more than 11,000 olive trees, as well as a large barn, housing meeting areas, two kitchens and the commercial olive press. There is a spacious gift shop in a new, two-story building next to the barn. Here, you’ll find a kitchen bar area where visitors are invited to sample olive oils, balsamic vinegars, granola made on premises and more. During these cool days there will be a fire in the fireplace and a pretty view into a large nursery that houses quite a few varieties of olive trees.
Sandy Oaks offers a number of different gift basket ideas, but you’re also welcome to choose your own ‘ingredients” from the many items on sale. Excellent skin lotions, healing salve and soaps, all made with olive oil, are fragrant and gentle on the skin. The healing salve ($10) is good for cuts and scratches, minor burns and insect bites. Olive leaf tea, aroma oil made from olive oil, olivewood cheese boards and beautiful French pottery with an olive motif, are just a few more ideas.
I put together a basket for a chef (my brother) that has the healing salve for kitchen scrapes and burns, a Chef’s Cinnamon scrub soap, and a bottle of Sandy Oaks Extra Virgin Olive Oil, that makes a very good finishing oil. A similar basket for another friend will contain the same items, with the addition of a potholder with an olive design, and a bag of fair trade organic coffee. Visit Sandy Oaks on the web by clicking here.
Here are just a few more thoughts on gifts that will entertain or educate your favorite food aficionado.
• Cooking classes: Central Market, the Culinary Institute of America and Sandy Oaks have classes with a wide range of appeal and cost.
• Buy a basket, a pretty Christmas-themed towel (or whatever is appropriate) and fill it with artisan cheeses, a package of good crackers and a mixture of olives. This is something we’ve found appeals to guys as much as, or more so, than our female friends.
• Choose a cookbook (there are many lists on the Internet now naming the “best of” 2011). We like John Besh’s newest book, “My Family Table,” and Anne Burrell’s “Cook Like a Rock Star.” Find a recipe that has some unusual ingredients in it, then put those into the gift bag with the book.