Gift bas­kets can help teach spirit of giv­ing

Metro Canada (Ottawa) - - Holiday Gift Guide -

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.

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