Stockings, Stuffed

A foodie's guide to last-minute gifts to make your chowhound smile

What's more fun than a barrel of monkeys? Clearly nothing, or the culture would have replaced that particular weird phrase by now, right? To test this hypothesis, I recently had a rather large barrel of monkeys installed in my home office, so that I might finally, really start living. Take that, Zelda Fitzgerald, I muttered, using my crowbar to pop the top of said barrel. I'll show you I don't spend my whole life reinstalling the printer software. I'll show you a life of fun. I'll show you an earthly bacchanal. Yet, mere seconds after the lid from my barrel of monkeys clattered to the floor, a hamadryas baboon threw a pygmy marmoset at my head, a cotton-top tamarin set about ripping the pages out of my Oxford Companion to Wine, and a pigtailed macaque was using my already-touchy home copy machine to Xerox his own feces. Needless to say, I haven't been home since, and have been using the intervening days to search for the very best stocking stuffers for the difficult-to-impress grown-ups on your list.


Regina's Fine Candies

Serious holiday cheer: Regina's Fine Candies
Jana Freiband
Serious holiday cheer: Regina's Fine Candies

One for the file titled, "Where have you been all my life, oh, I see, right here on this very same corner," Regina's Candies has been making absolutely gorgeous handmade candies since the 1920s. They have all those foil-wrapped chocolate Christmas trees, Santas, toy cars, and toy saws you remember from your childhood--I'll confess, the sight of a few of these had me nearly in tears--as well as delicious homemade, super-old-fashioned chocolates like chocolate-dipped candied orange peel; buttery, delightful peanut brittle; and hand-pulled candy canes that look like they're made of Venetian glass. If you have a grandma, this place is chockablock with the timeless treats that will bring tears to her eyes--citrus slices, sour balls, almond bark, and the like. And I'm telling you, if you don't make it your business to delight her this year, will you get the chance next year? Okay, I know, but what is a Midwestern Christmas without a little guilt? And trust me, you'd rather have me nagging you today than mom coming at you on Boxing Day. They also have a bunch of sugar-free candies; at Regina's (rhymes with Christina) you can make all of the people happy all of the time.

If you've got an interior decorator or other artsy type on your list, be sure to pick them up one of Regina's jewel-bright handmade ribbon candies, which come in gorgeous blues, greens, reds, whites, and stripes. If you're not familiar with ribbon candies, they're hand-pulled zigzags of sugar that look like ribbons, and their chief virtue is that they make any Christmas table look like the most impressive Martha photo shoot imaginable, but at $9.95 a pound, cost about half what the ones in the Williams-Sonoma catalog run. And the blue and white ones are anise-flavored. Anise! That just kills me; it hearkens back to a day when candies had flavors like clove, anise, and violet, not Bubbleberry Apple Slime.

Charmingly, the shop itself has the old-fashioned feel of the 1920s, just glass and wood cases brimming with chocolates, and little baskets brimming with candies. Walk in the door and you get more of a real Christmas feel than you will in a month of eggnog parties.
(REGINA'S FINE CANDIES; 2073 St. Clair, St. Paul, 651.698.8603)


Kiev Foods

You know what no one ever talks about? The fact that Minneapolis-St. Paul has more architects, aesthetic philosophers, art designers, packaging whizzes, graphic geniuses, and proponents of visual refinement than anywhere else on earth. Where did I get this statistic? Well, I made it up, but you know, still, I think it's true. And if you hold dear one of those local members of the visual vanguard, I think you could knock their socks off with a trip to Kiev Foods, an Eastern European import market that stocks some of the most beautifully wrapped candies you'll ever hope to see. For instance, I now have in my possession chocolates wrapped in stoplight-yellow paper printed with a black and white swooping constructivist sort of building. No, I don't know why. I can tell you that the candy inside isn't very good, but I happened to bring one to a party, and about 20 people stopped dead in their tracks and gathered in a circle to ooh and aah over the things. And they didn't even see the big Ukrainian Roshen candy bars that cost $2 and look pretty enough to frame: One shows a brown-eyed little girl wrapped up in a prettily printed yellow headscarf. She looks like she just flew in from a movie combining the glorious future with the printing aesthetic of 1923. Another shows a black-headed seagull soaring past a yellow sun on a turquoise sky, and has more visual integrity than every single thing shown on television last month. Beautiful stuff.

Kiev also sells Kinder Eggs, those Italian chocolate eggs that are banned in the United States. If you don't know the things, they have a cult around them because of the wonderfully intricate little toys that come inside, in pieces, inside a smaller plastic egg. They're banned by the FDA because of fears that children under three could choke on the pieces, but I say anyone who would give one of these toys to a child under three is practicing child abuse to begin with. Some of these toys can take 20 minutes for an award-winning grown-up restaurant critic to put together.
(KIEV FOODS, 3509 W. Seventh St., in the Sibley Plaza strip mall, St. Paul, 651.690.5655.)

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