Michael Di Caro’s Spotlight Holiday Gift Guide

For me, what makes the gift giving aspect of the holidays so special is the great joy on recipient's face when you present him/her with something he/she absolutely loves because you know him/her so well. I'm also a believer that those gifts should be as practical as they are personal. So in order to guide you best, I've vetted my gifts and chosen to focus on areas I know well. Hopefully, they sound like they're perfect for someone on your list.

Cocktail culture in Toronto has really grown over the past few years. Thanks to a tight group of dedicated bartenders who are as passionate about cocktail history as they are their craft, Hogtown has become a fantastic city to enjoy a top-notch drink. With that has come a growing interest in crafting some of those great cocktails at home. While the home bartender may be able to source coupe glasses for authentic pre-prohibition cocktails, or even maraschino liqueur for an Aviation, one area Ontario remains a virtual wasteland is bitters. The spice rack of the bar, a few dashes of the right bitters can transform a good cocktail into a great one. The excellent Angostura is widely available at the supermarket, but if your flavours are more complementary to citrus-based bitters for example, you're out of luck. Lucikly Dillon's Small Batch Distillers is filling the void. The just opened Beamsville distillery has pear, cranberry, lemon, lime, orange and a house recipe called DSB in its bitters line-up. When possibly they're using local and Ontario ingredients like Niagara grapes for the base alcohol, Niagara pears and Bala cranberries. In all cases distiller Geoff Dillion has worked on handcrafting bitters that provide a floral, layered, complexity that will bring the balance needed to lift your recipient's cocktails to another level.

Price: $9.95 for a 100 mL bottle
Available: Dillon's Small Batch Distillers 4833 Tufford Road, Beamsville, ON Tel.905.563.3030
Perfect for: That hard to buy for drink aficionado that already has a bottle of everything.

Although I mostly focus on all things vinous at Spotlight, I'm also equally at home in the kitchen as I am behind a glass and corkscrew. When I'm in there one of my favourite pastimes is baking. Whether it's cookies or zeppoli, ciabatta or sourdough, the one tool that makes my life easier is a stand mixer. If you're still kneading your bread, the dough hook makes quick work of that sticky and arduous task. But where a mixer truly comes into its own is when a recipe calls on you to whip cream or egg whites or cream butter and sugar. You could do it by hand or even try a handheld mixer, but nothing will do a more thorough job than a stand mixer. If you don't believe me just take a look at what Tia Harrison, whose chocolate chip recipe is perfection, has to say in this video. Although there are many great brands, Kitchen Aid tends to be the most popular and its widely available line of accessories and attachments like the pasta roller and cutter, meat grinder and ice cream maker extend its versatility even further. They aren't cheap so this is the gift for that very special someone on your list who is looking to get into baking. Although the tilting head of the less expensive models is vastly more convenient, I highly recommend you spend the extra dollars for the professional series. It will give you a bigger bowl (handy for double batches), an all steel gear transmission rather than plastic and a more powerful motor, which has the extra oomph for kneading large batches of dough.

Price: Suggested retail of $699.99 but one can be had for as little as half through here, here, or here.
Perfect for: That very dear to you epicurean.

If you're a lady and you have a special guy on your list you probably know that the last thing he likes buying and replacing in his wardrobe is underwear. At best we men can be indifferent about what sits under our clothes and at worst we can have a as-long-as-it's-in-one-piece-it's-still-good attitude. I've got a pick that's comfortable, practical and walks the fashion line without stepping over the edge, but it's from an unlikely source. I've been told from outdoorsy types and those in the Canadian Forces that Lulumeon, most famous for its women's line of yoga wear, makes a pair of underwear so good in its Studio boxer short, they won't wear anything else. It's stretchy enough to move with you and keep everything where it should without being overly restrictive. Flat seams and the breathable, wicking and silver treated fabrics minimize chafing and reeking even when you're active. The down side is that it only comes in black and it isn't cheap. But basic black is always in style and given the high endorsement it seems like a small price to pay.

Price: $32
Available: Lululemon stores
Perfect for: That very special man on your list who says “Honey, I don't need anything”.

Written by Mike Di Caro

Michael Di Caro covers all things vinous at Spotlight. His lover affair with Ontario wine began over a decade ago and he’s been in front of tasting bars trying to sweet talk staff into pouring a taste of a library wine or the latest unreleased bottle ever since. Since good wine can’t be made without great grapes, you can also catch him amongst the vines trying to persuade the winemaker into revealing his/her next big thing for you on Spotlight. His epicurean tendencies don’t just stop in the glass either. During the rest of his free time you can find him searching for the perfect bowl of Dan Dan noodles, exploring the city’s best tasting menus or baking cookies and mucking about in the kitchen.

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