Nobody wants to give the same old predictable gift year after year. But that can be hard to avoid when stores everywhere sell the same things. In the spirit of the baking, giving and eating season ahead of us, here are a few favorite local flavors to give (and to get) that you won't find just anywhere.
A cookbook. But not just any cookbook: Mad About Food, from the Junior League of Madison (268-1414), is the official cookbook of Madison, according to a proclamation by Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. It is a fitting gift, then, in this, our city's 150th year; try the mayor's own recipe for chicken on pasta. Another good bet for the cook who has everything is the all-local From Asparagus to Zucchini, courtesy of the Madison Area CSA Coalition (226-0300).
Chocolate. Almost everyone loves it, and Madison is blessed with a number of local chocolatiers. Nilda Molina Miller of Nilda Chocolates (819-0414) on East Johnson Street offers a gift tin with a choice of handmade toffee, truffles or nut clusters ' or the larger Chocolate Collection tin with a little bit of everything, for indecisive types. Gail Ambrosius (249-3500), in her new store on Atwood Avenue, and David Bacco, at the restaurant Cocoliquot (255-2626), are also sure to please.
Renting a chef. Even the most die-hard foodies like to take an evening off, and what better way than hiring a personal chef to prepare a special meal for family and friends? No shopping, no cooking, no cleaning ' now that's a gift. Let Pat Mulvey of What's for Dinner (279-2740) or the chefs at Sweet Basil (833-0509) do the cooking for your giftee. In addition to cooking, Steven Buchholz of Cook's Commons (217-7226) also does hands-on cooking classes in the home.
A cutting board. Ridgeway, Wis.-based artist Edward S. Wohl has won international acclaim for his woodworking skills, including a signature line of bird's-eye maple cutting boards: a perfect way to cut and serve your Wisconsin-made cheese. Find him online at www.edwardwohl.com.
Great garlic. If you think a bag of garlic doesn't make a good gift, then you haven't had garlic from Tom Brantmeier. He sells all kinds of soft and hardneck garlic at the Dane County Farmers' Market nearly year-round. Still not convinced? Try his fresh-ground whole-wheat flour or his all-new goat milk soaps in a variety of shapes, sizes, and scents.
Personalized mustard. Put your mug on a jar of Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum mustard, and your friends will think of you each time they pull it out of the fridge. The museum also has all the ingredients to make your own mustard from scratch. Online at www.mustardmuseum.com, or 800-438-6878.
Gift donation. Finally, give the gift of sustainable local food to low-income households with a donation to Partner Shares, a local program that makes CSA shares more affordable. Donate online at www.macsac.org.
Beet Chocolate Cake
From Asparagus to Zucchini, page 29
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3-4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup oil
3 cups shredded beets
Heat oven to 325. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans. Whisk dry ingredients together (sugar through baking soda). Melt chocolate slowly over low heat or in double boiler. Cool chocolate; blend with eggs and oil. Combine flour mixture with chocolate mixture, alternating with beets. Pour into pans. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Optional: Frost layers. 10 servings.