Gift Guide: Present Tense

story by Marisa McClellan

I come from people who believe that pickles are integral to a good sandwich, that dinner should be eaten around a table and that all the very best gifts are edible. In fact, one of my earliest memories includes reaching up to slip a cooling cookie off the kitchen counter, baked by my dad for friends and neighbors. In later years, he gave up the cookies and started making huge vats of homemade pancake mix—a move that made him extraordinarily popular.
These days, I spend a large portion of my warm weather days preserving the precious fruits of June, July and August. That squirreled-away stash becomes gifts galore. My extended family is so well-trained that they never buy jam at the grocery store. Instead, they simply wait until one of our Christmas or Hanukah gatherings, knowing that I can be depended upon for a jar or two.
Here are three of my favorite giftable treats. The Spiced Pear Bread is flavorful and moist (thanks to all the fruit), and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. The Honey Roasted Nuts (with cinnamon and vanilla) are aromatic, sweet and crunchy. And of course, there’s Mo’s Famous Pancake Mix recipe. Pair a jar of it with some homemade jam and you’ll be a holiday hero.

Spiced Pear Bread

Makes one large loaf or two small ones

2     cups finely chopped pear
1     tsp. lemon juice
¼     cup softened butter
¾     cup packed brown sugar
¼     cup applesauce
2     eggs
1 ¾     cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
1     tsp. cinnamon
½     tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
½     tsp. ground ginger
1     tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter one standard loaf pan or two small ones.
Peel and chop your pears and toss them with the lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.
In a large bowl (a stand mixer works nicely, but you can use elbow grease as well), cream together the butter and sugar. Add the applesauce and eggs, and beat to combine. Stir in the chopped pears, taking care not to stir too vigorously—they’ll dissolve into the batter.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Integrate the dry ingredients into the wet ones in several batches until combined.
Scrape the batter into your buttered pan(s) and place them in a hot oven. Bake 50 to 55 minutes for large loaves, 35 to 40 minutes for smaller ones. I like wrapping this bread in a couple layers of parchment or wax paper, secured with baker’s string or ribbon, for an old-fashioned look.

Honey Roasted Nuts

Makes approximately
three pint jars, loosely filled

5     cups raw nuts (I prefer a combination of peanuts and almonds)
4     tbsp. butter
6     tbsp. honey
1 ½     tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½     tsp. cinnamon
    a pinch of cayenne pepper (1/16 teaspoon)
1     tsp. flaky salt (kosher or Maldon sea salt works well)

Place the nuts in a large skillet or Dutch oven and toast over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and honey together. Once melted, add vanilla extract, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. (This doesn’t actually make things spicy; it just adds a bit of nuance).
When the nuts are toasted (you can tell when the vast majority have darkened spots), pour the butter mixture over the nuts and toss to coat.
Spread the glazed nuts out on a silicon liner (Silpat) or parchment-lined cookie sheet (makes for easier clean up) and roast in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your desired level of roast. Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.
When you take the nuts out of the oven, sprinkle immediately with salt—it adheres to the still-sticky nuts.
After they’ve cooled, pour these into pint jars and gift with a mixed six of artisan brews.

Mo's Famous Pancake Mix

Makes enough to fill two quart jars

2    cups whole wheat flour
3    cups whole wheat pastry flour
2    cups toasted wheat germ
1    cup cornmeal
¾    cup cane sugar
2     tbsp. salt
3    tbsp. baking powder

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir together using the largest whisk in your kitchen. Using a wide mouth funnel, pour the mix into quart jars. If you don’t plan to give the mix away in the near future, store it someplace cold—all those whole grains can go rancid quickly when stored at room temperature.
Print the following instructions on a card and include along with the jar of mix:

Whisk together three eggs, one cup of milk and two tablespoons oil or melted butter. Fold in two cups of mix. If it seems too thick, add a bit more milk.
Heat a griddle to medium heat and oil it lightly (a precisely folded paper towel is the best tool I’ve found for this job). Using a serving spoon or a quarter cup measure, portion out the batter onto your griddle.
The pancakes are ready to flip when the bubbles around the edges of the cakes pop and stay open. Flip carefully and then cook just another minute or two on the second side. Serve with maple syrup (real only, please), jam, yogurt or honey.