Gift baskets can help teach spirit of giving
Michael Smith wants his children to understand that the Christmas season is about using their time and talent to bring joy to others.
The Canadian chef has been assembling baskets of mainly foodie gifts to give to close family members and friends for about a decade, and putting them together has evolved into an activity that he and his children enjoy together.
“I think the spirit of these baskets is teaching your kids that giving is more important than receiving,” he said in a telephone interview from Fortune, P.E.I. “I know that’s where the whole idea started for me was years ago, just frustrated with all the stuff flowing one way into the house for the kids and not necessarily feeling like they were engaged with the giving side of things and really trying to figure out a way for them to create a tradition.”
Making a basket for someone you care about is personal and perhaps easier in some ways than braving the shops. It can be tailored to the person and your economic situation and need not be expensive.
Smith puts six to eight items in each basket and makes up about 25 of them for close friends and family, then delivers them just before Christmas.
“Anybody can go out and spend 100 bucks and buy some fancy new cookbook or something for your kitchen or some nameless whatever, some anonymous sort of gift — maybe it’s special, maybe it’s well thought out, but you know what I mean,” he said.
“There’s nothing more precious than giving your time, than giving your talent.”
Smith will be seen as a judge on Chopped Canada, premiering on Food Network Canada Jan. 2, and currently hosts the instructional cooking series Chef Michael’s Kitchen. He has also hosted The Inn Chef, Chef at Home, Chef at Large and Chef Abroad, so it’s not surprising that his baskets take on a food theme, but he says they can be tailored to the interests of the giver or recipient.
Each basket always contains a handmade ornament created by him and his children. Gabe, 11, and Ariella, 5, play an active role, and Smith expects one-year-old Camille will take part in the future.
They often use different coloured clays and bake them into shapes, such as snowmen, wreaths or Christmas trees. Last year it was a small box gift-wrapped with ribbons.
“We know we have friends who can look at their tree and see six, seven, eight years worth of ornaments that the kids have made for them. It’s pretty cool.”
“I also like to include what I call the foodie find,” says Smith, who led the team of chefs that cooked at the Whistler athletes village during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and helped make the Canada Summer Games athletes village a junk-foodfree zone.
“Over the run of the year I run into a lot of really cool food items and some of them really stick out and are so good that I really feel like sharing them with my friends.”
This year he has chosen Cherry Lane concentrated tart cherry juice from Ontario’s Niagara region. A personalized dark chocolate bar sprinkled with sea salt and nicknamed The Islander is a nod to Smith’s role as food ambassador for P.E.I. will be included.
“And then outside the world of food I like to do a gag gift in there every year, something silly. This year it’s actually going to be candy insects. We found earlier this year a company that sells five different cans of canned insect protein, like a can full of crickets sort of thing. Totally edible, totally legit.”
For anyone contemplating making up gift baskets, Smith recommends visiting a craft store for inexpensive baskets, fun labels and other decorations.
“Keep it simple and really understand that first and foremost you’re giving yourself and you’re giving your time and it doesn’t need to meet that sort of over-the-top standard of Martha Stewart or the pictures you see in the magazines,” he said.