Gifts for the Season
Story by Helen Krayenhoff
Illustrations and Lettering by Elizabeth Hubbell
Just walking into Oaktown Spice Shop and breathing in is apt to trigger some memory from your past. The cacophony of scents and the pleasing decor will slowly reveal themselves as you return to a very pleasant present. Although only a year old, the business has a steady and integrated community feel and a great view of Lake Merritt out the front window. Artfully arranged spices and culinary herbs encircle you. Spend time opening up jars and inhale as deeply as you dare. Co-owner John Beaver has vast knowledge, experience and love for these edible embellishments and creates unique and delicious mixes. He has generously offered a few here for you to make as gifts.
530 Grand Ave, Oakland
Rosemary-Lavender French Sea Salt
Don’t limit yourself to these flavors. Try fresh thyme, sage, chives, garlic, etc., or just see what fresh herbs you have in the garden. Use on roast potatoes, poultry and vegetables.
Makes ½ cup
½ cup French grey salt (aka Celtic or sel gris)
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
¼ teaspoon fresh lavender flowers, finely minced
Brown Sugar Chile Rub
Makes ½ cup
This rub is excellent on salmon or pork chops. You can adjust the heat by adding a little cayenne.Amchur, which is dried, ground green mango, adds a pleasing sour note, but if you can’t get it, consider it optional.
Combine the following:
1–4 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar according to taste
2 tablespoons chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons yellow mustard powder
1 teaspoon crushed red chiles
½ teaspoon amchur
1 teaspoon sea salt
Mexican Hot Chocolate
The pre-Columbian chocolate drink was made from ground, roasted cacao beans. It did not contain any sugar, and often included such spices as vanilla, cinnamon, and chile. When the Spaniards introduced sugar to Mexico, it quickly caught on. Today’s Mexican hot chocolate is often made from Ibarra or Abuelita chocolate bars, which contain a lot of sugar and offer a lighter chocolate flavor than that of American or European hot chocolate. This recipe reduces the sugar and ups the spiciness. Add some Dutch chocolate for a more chocolatey flavor, or try making it spicier by adding cayenne or using a hotter chile powder.
For 1 cup of the mix, stir together the following:
2/3 cup Mexican morena sugar (or dark brown sugar)
1/3 cup natural cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground pasilla negro chile
2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
To make a hot chocolate drink, warm a cup of milk or water and stir in 2–4 teaspoons of the mix.
Once upon a time, Traci Fellows made a tasty granola, which she sold at the Oakland farmers’ markets. When her mini schnauzer, Valentine, developed bad skin problems, Traci suspected the cause might be the grain in his diet. Not finding any grain-free treats she thought looked delectable, she let her baking skills go to the dogs and created Fido’s Fondue Gourmet Dog Biscuits, which she sold for a time through local pet food stores. For Edible East Bay readers, she offered these two recipes to make at home. We suggest you get your canine companion to practice her best sit, off, down, and stay while they are baking.
Pumpkin Dog Biscuits
Makes approximately 3 dozen biscuits
2½ cups brown rice or garbanzo flour
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup canned pumpkin purée
¼ cup cold water (or enough to make dough come together)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine flour and flax meal in a large bowl.
Place eggs and pumpkin in a mixing bowl and beat on low speed until smooth. Add flour/flax mixture and continue to blend until thoroughly combined. Add water gradually until the dough comes together. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Take about a quarter of the dough and roll out on a floured surface (or between two pieces of parchment paper) to ¼-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits with a dog bone cookie cutter (or any shape your dog likes) and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. (The biscuits do not expand much, so you can place them close together.) Repeat with the rest of the dough and re-roll scraps until you’ve used all the dough. Keep surface floured to insure that the dough will not stick.
Prick the middle of each biscuit by gently pressing in the tines of a fork and wiggling a little to expand the holes. This helps the steam escape so you’ll get crisp biscuits.
Bake 20–25 minutes, or until the tops have dried and browned slightly. Remove tray from oven and flip biscuits over. Return to oven, rotating cookie sheet, and bake for another 20–25 minutes until biscuits are completely dry. Let biscuits cool on wire racks before taste testing or wrapping. Store in a cookie tin or closed bag until ready to wrap.
PB & Bacon DOG Biscuits
Traci shops at the farmers’ market, getting bacon from Prather Ranch, eggs from Tomatero Farms, and honey from Marshall’s Farm.
Makes approximately 3 dozen biscuits
3 slices bacon
1 cup oat flour
1¼ cups garbanzo flour
(or ½ cup garbanzo flour and ¾ cup brown rice flour)
½ cup unsalted peanut butter
½ cup warm water
2 teaspoons honey
1 carrot, shredded and finely minced
Preheat the oven to 325°.
Cook bacon, drain, mince finely, and set aside. (Note, finely mincing the bacon and carrot will make the dough smoother and easier to cut with a cookie cutter.)
Combine dry ingredients in medium-size bowl and set aside.
Combine peanut butter, egg, warm water, and honey in the large bowl of your electric mixer. Add the bacon and carrot and mix well.
Slowly add in the dry ingredients until a dough ball forms. You can add a little flour if too wet or a little water if too dry. Start mixing on low, gradually speeding up the mixer until the dough forms into a ball.
Follow directions given in the Pumpkin Dog Biscuits recipe for rolling, cutting, and pricking.
Bake for 30–35 minutes. Rotate a few times to bake evenly. Let the biscuits cool in the oven for a few hours. Remove them and continue cooling on wire rack.
Store in a cookie tin or closed bag until ready to wrap.
Artist Elizabeth Hubbell created some fun labels you can download, print, and use for wrapping your gifts. To get the PDFs, visit the e-book version of this article here. Your local copy shop can print on card stock if your home printer can’t handle heavier paper.
For gift wrappings and decorations, we like to repurpose old calendars and magazines.
Spun Sugar has been a good place to find cellophane bags for food items, and you might find you can make use of all those glass jars you have been saving.
So, make some Mexican Hot Chocolate, clear off a table to make room for all your materials, and you’re ready for a pleasant afternoon of cottage industry.