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Low Mileage Kitchen: Locavore gifts

Bron's Bees honey from Heritage Prairie Farm LFox. (Rich Hein/Sun-Times)

Bron's Bees honey, from Heritage Prairie Farm in La Fox. (Rich Hein/Sun-Times)

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The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe.

Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program (chicagoworld; registration is now open. Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to

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Updated: December 21, 2010 2:12PM

Attention, last-minute shoppers. If your list is longer than your available time, we have some answers for you. You can score points not only for originality but for local sustainability as well. Food gifts are always welcome, so make up a customized basket for everyone on your list.

For the cook

One of the most original gifts I ever gave was to a member of a far-flung family. I carefully chose a variety of Spice House spice mixes that reflected the location of each family member — Lake Shore Drive for the city condo dweller, Argyle Street for the in-law from Asia, Salmon Seasoning for the Alaskans and Back of the Yards Rib Rub for those relatives who moved to the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.

It was fun to put together, and the cook who received it thinks of each family member any time she reaches into the spice cabinet.

For the baker

Custom and handmade are things they relate to. Search out Koval Distillery Vodka made in Ravenswood and pick up some Spice House vanilla beans. You’ll need five beans, about 1 cup vodka and a small vertical bottle with tight cap or cork for each gift.

Pop the beans into each bottle, fill with vodka to submerge the beans and tighten the cap. Tie on a bow. Your work is done.

The mixture needs to stand for six weeks in a cool, dark place, but your baker will be thrilled when the time comes to use it, and you might just get a home-baked treat to show their gratitude.

For your mother who lives alone

Ruth and Phil’s or Nice Cream individual servings of ice cream and sorbets. Sure, you have to keep them frozen, so you can’t tuck them under the tree, but a collection of these single-serving cups will be a hit. Choose fabulous flavors, like raspberry-lavender and chocolate-with-salted-caramel, which she can’t get anywhere else.

For the hostess

Fill a basket with local dips, cheeses and candies. Add a jar of shallot confit with red wine, Party Starter dip mixes and some Three Berry vinaigrette.

For the hip young couple

A subscription to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which provides a box of the freshest local produce or meat every week. It’s sustainable, helps the local farmer and keeps them eating their veggies without having to make a shopping list.

For the friend with food allergies

There are plenty of gluten-free, nut-free and safe yet delicious choices. Make up a basket that includes coconut macaroons from B True, crackers from Nicole’s, granola from Jessica’s Granola or sunflower butter from Futters.

Local honey is said to tame some allergy symptoms, so add a jar of City Hall honey or better yet, a flight of three flavors from Bron’s Bees.

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On a budget yet want a gift that will please every family member and friend on the list? This festive but simple recipe for Meringue Jewels requires minimum prep and inexpensive ingredients.

Recipients will be impressed with your personal touch, the time you put into it and the flavor, too. Put them in little bags tied with a bow and consider your shopping all wrapped up.

Judith Dunbar Hines is director of culinary arts and events for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, which operates Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand.

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