Handcrafted for the Holidays

Unique Gifts for the Food Lovers in Your Life

If you lack the time or motivation to give the whole DIY thing a chance this holiday season, there are many talented craftspeople willing to take up the task in time for your next holiday get-together. From the ethical gardener to the creative baker, here are unique gift solutions from three East Coast artisans:

Plant the seeds, keep the art: Fall to early winter may be the end of the growing season for most avid gardeners, but it’s also an exciting time as the much-anticipated seed catalogs arrive in the mail. Heirloom, open-pollinated and non-GMO seeds may be the preferred way to grow, but the seed packets themselves can be stark and lackluster. The farmers and seed savers at the Hudson Valley Seed Library (Accord, NY) combine their commitment to “responsible and participatory seed stewardship” with an appreciation for the arts on their seed Art Packs, designed by local artists.

“Artists keep the ‘culture’ in agriculture,” says cofounder Ken Greene. “The artwork reflects the beauty and diversity of our seeds. More than that, the art shows that when you grow a seed, you are growing a story and participating in keeping food culture alive.

Different artists design each of the Art Packs and the library works with a crop of new artists every year. And, while one seed packet might be make a great stocking-stuffer, consider a gift basket filled with garden favorites and new discoveries. The 2012 Flower and Herb Collection basket features 11 Art Packs, including Tiger Paw, Balloon Vines, Mammoth Dill and Evergreen Scallion. Bonus: The base of the basket is a locally made porcelain berry basket and can be reused. Further, after you plant the seeds, you can frame the packets to use as art.

Supporting the Hudson Valley Seed Library and its wares will not only add some color to your holidays, but, according to Greene, it “encourages and rewards seed savers and creates a way for us to keep seeds where they belong—in the dirty hands of caring gardeners.”

Shipping notes: Orders placed by Dec. 21 will be delivered by Dec. 24.

When all else fails, go chocolate: Before fancy packaging and promises of “gourmet” distract you, consider chocolates by Lagusta’s Lucious of New Paltz, NY. These mouth-watering confections stand out not only for their beauty but also for the thoughtful philosophies behind them:

“Our chocolates are special because we make absolutely everything from scratch,” says owner and chocolatier Lagusta Yearwood. “We really walk the walk when it comes to ethics. We use no artificial anything and 95% of our ingredients are organic and fair trade.”

Yearwood’s commitment to social justice and environmentalism are evident in her business practices as well. Lagusta’s Luscious is a completely vegan business that avoids animal ingredients in its goods and is also earth-friendly: kitchen scraps are composted, packaging is 100% post-consumer recycled, and decorative ink and ribbon are vegetable-based.

She also makes use of many ingredients from local Hudson Valley farms, and what cannot be sourced locally—chocolate, exotic herbs and spices—comes from small, independent businesses, including vanilla beans from a one-acre farm in Maui.

Ethics aside, what about the chocolates themselves? Lagusta’s Luscious makes a range of chocolate bars, bark, toffees and caramels with innovative flavor combinations, including truffles like Chipotle Caramelized Onion Truffles and Croissant-infused Chocolate Caramels. For the traditionalists, Yearwood also serves up the classics: peanut butter cups, peppermint patties and classic dark chocolate truffles.

And, if you want to impress the animal lover in your own life, get the Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels and a portion of the sales goes to the nonprofit Friends of Animals.

Shipping notes: Chocolates need to be ordered by Dec. 17 for Priority Shipping and Dec. 19 for Express Shipping.

Hand-shaped cookie cutters: If you’re looking to freshen up your collection of the standard holiday cookie cutter shapes (e.g. snowmen, stars, trees), then eCrandal copper cookie cutters are your answer. Based in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Eric and Jamie Border have been shaping one-of-a-kind cookie cutters since 2001.

“Eric still forms each and every cutter by hand without the use of machinery,” writes Jamie on the website. “I (Jamie) enjoy packaging each cutter as well as conversing with you…our customers.”

As a truly family-run business, the Borders receive help from their six children in packaging and taste-testing cookies made from new shapes, according to the eCrandal site.

Whether you’re whipping up a batch of your favorite sugar cookies or gifting it to a baking aficionado, there are over 1,200 shapes in the cookie cutter library. Neatly arranged by category, the eCrandall sells shapes ranging from every type of animal imaginable to holiday and religious motifs to dinosaurs and pirates. And perfect for food lovers, there are many original shape options, including a kitchen mixer, flatware, a rolling pin and a mason jar. Holiday tip: If you want to show off your unique cookie cutter, use a piece of hemp or twine to hang it from a window in your kitchen, a tree branch or a nail on your mantel to display it year-round.

Shipping notes: Due to a high volume of orders, the Borders ask that you contact them through their site to see if your desired cutter is in stock.