For many of us, holiday shopping and planning began weeks and maybe even months ago.
For others, it's barely gotten started. If you are in the latter group, you may share my aversion to the commercialization of Christmas and other winter holidays. I love this time of year, the cold, the shortening of the days as we approach the solstice, the way we naturally turn inward, and I have, for years, refused to let the pressure to shop eclipse these quiet pleasures. From November through the end of December, I do very little shopping, except at a few local craft fairs, farmers markets, a couple of local shops and hardware stores, where I buy cases of canning jars.
If you love to cook, you can make wonderful gifts in your kitchen, an activity that works well when it is chilly outside and darkness falls by 5 p.m.
Flavored olive oils and vinegars have been popular in recent years, but I think there are better ways to go. Working with olive oil can be especially tricky, as fresh herbs submerged in it go bad quickly and garlic, a popular addition, can result in an oil infected with botulinum spores if not done properly.
Today's recipes feature gifts I'm making this year. I've prepared nearly six pounds of gomashio, a sesame-based Japanese condiment, using locally harvested nori seaweed from Strong Arm Farms. When a friend gave me a bushel of Meyer lemons, I made a huge batch of marmalade, most of it flavored with ginger and a bit with fresh thyme from my garden. Because apricot season sped past me this year, I've made a favorite chutney using pineapple instead of the fleeting stone fruit. And after several requests for my recipe for Korean Barbecue Sauce, I realized it would make a great gift for friends who love to cook but rarely have much time in the kitchen.
Two ounces of gomashio lasts a while, as it doesn't take much of it to brighten up such foods as steamed rice, grilled Korean ribs, grilled cheese sandwiches and such.
<strong>Gomashio, with a Spicy Variation</strong>
<em> Makes about 1 pound (enough to fill eight 4-ounce canning jars)</em>
1 pound white sesame seeds, preferably organic
1 ounce nori seaweed, preferably local and unprocessed
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt
Toast the sesame seeds in a wok or similar pan set over high heat, stirring frequently with a wide wooden spoon, until they take on some color and become fragrant. Do not let them burn. It should take about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Break the nori into manageable pieces and toast it in the same pan, turning the seaweed frequently, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl to cool.
Grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder or food processor fitted with the metal blade, until about half the seeds are broken into smaller pieces and the other half remain whole. Work in batches as necessary and transfer each ground batch to a bowl. Process the seaweed similarly, reducing it to small pieces but not dust. Add to the bowl with the sesame seeds.
Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the mixture, toss thoroughly, taste and add the remaining teaspoon of salt if needed.