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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Island Pantry
Last-minute gifts can be bought with lots of thought

By Kaui Philpotts

Just when you think your holiday giving has ended, when the mountains of paper and boxes have been mashed into the trash can, and you are about to breathe deeply and pat yourself on the back for getting through the season, you realize there's more.

There is usually a nice simplicity during the week between Christmas and the New Year. The manic shopping and urgency are gone, yet the season is still with us. There is more time now to enjoy the holidays in a relaxed mood. This is the week where impromptu gatherings have a way of cropping up — friends and relatives are here from out of town and want you to drop by, or you get invited to a last-minute gathering and need to arrive with something in your hands.

Sometimes the only place open is the closest supermarket.

So I thought it would be fun to see what I could find on the spur of the moment. This is a technique that also works for any occasion during the year.

The first thing that caught my eye was a display of cameras and film. I grabbed a Kodak Maxi-Flash disposable camera on sale for $7.49. Cameras are often forgotten at gatherings, but when someone takes the time to record the event and deliver processed photos, it makes a very special gift.

Most supermarkets have fresh flowers, but in some of the bigger ones there are mini-florists. It may be a little late for bright, red poinsettias and a fresh wreath, but red roses (usually about $12 a dozen) or an ivy topiary are always in style. This supermarket actually had made-up baskets of sweet-smelling, seasonal paper whites.

Produce departments will almost always make up gift baskets for a small fee, but they are often boring. Instead, see if you can go though and pick up packages and bottles of items you know your friends will love, but are not what they would pick up on a regular shopping. Get together the ingredients for a 15-bean Cajun soup, or combine a special orange- or walnut-scone mix and warm chai for breakfast. Think themes. Then have the produce department wrap it up with some fresh asparagus and shiitake or heirloom tomatoes.

Picking up a bottle of liquor is a no-think sort of gift most of the time, but not when you splurge on something really wonderful. On a swing through Safeway in Manoa, I found 10-year-old Myer's Legend Jamaican Rum in a dandy bottle ($44.99), Anejo Patron Tequila ($47.99) and an assortment of single-malt scotches, some of which is available only at this time of the year. Nearby were bottles of Dom Perignon and Opus One.

This year, Safeway offers gift cards for not only shopping in its stores, but other stores such as Blockbuster, Nordstrom, K B Toys and Borders. They can be purchased in any denomination and inserted into a card as a last-minute gift.

Here are some other ideas:

  • The supermarket gift cards or certificates are great gifts for students and seniors. Pick up a gift card and pair it with a copy of Lucky magazine, the shopper's guide extraordinaire, for that niece home from school.
  • Teenage girls would love to receive a copy of Seventeen magazine's makeover issue along with an assortment of lipsticks and nail polish from the sundries aisle.
  • Along with that bottle of Dom Perignon, you might wrap up a "hangover kit" of sparkling Pellegrino water, Ultra Tums and Tylenol.
  • Make up your own collection of bottled sauces for a friend who loves hot stuff.
  • Look for an assortment of better-quality teas such as Tazo's Refresh and Springleaf All Natural Rose Green Tea; match it with lehua honey and fresh biscuits from the bakery for a relaxing afternoon tea.
  • Harry Potter hair products (shampoo, hair detangler, body gel) are fun for kids of all ages. Tuck in some fun toothbrushes like Aquafresh's Flexosaurus brushes or Colgate's Atlantis collection.

Go through your own market with this mindset, and you will come up with lots of ideas.

By the way, this is a good week to make a pot of Gumbo Ya Ya and have it sitting on the stove ready to feed anyone who drops by. Make a pan of cornbread (try Hungry Hawaiian Cornbread Gourmet Mix in Hawaiian Cane or Coconut flavors) and a big salad of Manoa lettuce with your favorite dressing. For dessert, you can polish off some of that fudge and those Christmas cookies that are still hanging around.

Gumbo Ya Ya

1 roasting chicken, about 5 pounds, cut in pieces (you can use boned chicken, if you prefer)

  • Sea salt to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound andouille sausage (or any spicy smoked sausage), finely diced
  • 4 cups cooked rice

Season the chicken to taste with the sea salt, cayenne pepper and powdered garlic. Let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Place the flour in a paper or plastic bag, add the chicken pieces and shake until coated. Remove chicken and reserve the flour. In a large skillet, brown the chicken in hot oil, remove and set aside.

Stir remaining oil into the skillet and with a whisk, loosen all the brown particles from the bottom of the pan. Whisk 1 cup of the reserved flour and stir constantly until the mixture of oil and flour becomes dark brown. This is a roux. Remove from the heat and add the onions, celery and bell pepper, stirring constantly so they don't burn. Transfer to a heavy saucepan or stock pot. Add the stock to the roux and vegetables and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a quick simmer and add garlic, sausage and chicken. Continue cooking until chicken is tender, about 2 hours. Adjust seasonings and serve in bowls with white rice. Serves 8.

Adapted from "The Commander's Palace New Orleans Cookbook" by Clarkson Potter.