Magazines and morning talk shows might tell you that the best gifts are those that anticipate the receiver’s wants and personality. I am here today to tell you that in 2009, the gifts I am giving my friends and family for the holidays are all about me – my growing obsession with all things Oregonian and the pride of place that comes from being a legitimate Salemite.
Yes, Dec. 1 marks the one-year anniversary of my family’s arrival in Salem. It has been a year in which I have sought, sometimes desperately, to play, work, and EAT my way through my new home. One year later, most people I meet are still surprised when I tell that my stomach moved to Oregon before I did. But the rare few who recognize the specialness and specificity of this state’s food scene nod in agreement as if we are members of a secret club of super tasters who know the value of living near our food.
To be sure, Oregon’s bounty has long been part of my family Christmases in Pennsylvania. For years, the highlight of the season was receiving a package of Harry and David’s Royal Riviera pears from my uncle, each of them individually wrapped in malleable foil as if they were edible gold.
This year, I’m exporting Salem to the people I love by putting together gift baskets of locally-produced consumables that might give my friends and family the same sense of place that comes from eating a single perfect pear. My 2009 Santa’s bag includes:
A bag of Gnome Hazelnut Factory hazelnuts – with the hope that they might entice people to come walk with me among our area’s gorgeous hazelnut groves in the new year.
A 3/4 pound bag of Hairbender coffee from Salem’s Latte, the only place in town that carries Stumptown coffee.
Oregon White Truffle Oil for the foodies in the family, the only real American truffle oil in existence, hand-infused by Jack Czarnecki of the Joel Palmer House, who actually unearths all of those truffles himself.
E.Z. Orchards Marionberry syrup, with a gift card carrying my favorite of Chris Rock’s jokes about former D.C. mayor Marion Berry.
One resin wine stopper designed to look like a 19th century Victorian doorbell, by AmericanAntiqueHardware.com, a preservation site run by my neighbor.
Silver Falls Creamery Goat cheese, a chevre so mind-bogglingly good my husband and I have a song we sing about it.
A bottle of Eola Hills 2008 pinot noir to tie it all together.
To clean up afterward, one bar of S.L.A.B. soap with a holiday-friendly Douglas Fir or Frankincense Myrrh scent profile.
2009 has shaped up to be a year in which local consumables are indeed the best Christmas presents. We need only look on our neighbor’s front lawns or at our own spending habits in the wake of the recession to understand that fetishizing plastic and surrounding ourselves with stuff is a habit whose time has come and gone.
I could easily have headed to the Made in Oregon store in the mall to put together my baskets. But tracking down these smaller producers, some to the very source, was an opportunity to meet the faces of the valley and share the experience of my first year here with my old friends while making some new ones.
It’s been a desperate search to capture my pride of place in a bite-sized form, but it’s also a chance to put my money where my mouth is.
Writer Emily Grosvenor blogs about life in Salem at www.desperatelyseekingsalem.com.