20 UNDER 20 : Great gifts in good tast: Some are local. Some ar seasonal. All are affordable.
* In the 1930s, Fiesta pottery was sold in dime stores. Then the Homer Laughlin Co. stopped producing its colorful dishes and suddenly Fiesta became collectible . . . and expensive. The company has started making Fiesta again, but the colors are slightly different from the originals. This cozy turquoise pitcher holds four quarts and sells for only $9.99 at Arni’s the Dish Factory, Inc., a downtown Los Angeles restaurant supply company (310 S. Los Angeles St.).
* Prosciutto is swell. Bresaola’s delicious. But when you’re thinking about air-dried meat, there’s really nothing better than coppa. This Italian delicacy is made from cured, dried pork shoulder spiced with chile peppers and cayenne; served in paper-thin slices, it has a rosy hue and a sweetly addictive flavor. Some of the best comes from Domingo’s (17548 Ventura Blvd., Encino), an Italian grocery and deli that’s more Bensonhurst than Ventura Boulevard. At $6.99 per pound, coppa is an affordable luxury.
* Why spend hours in the kitchen messing around with cookie cutters? For $12.50 you can pick up a sack of classic gingersnaps at City Restaurant (180 S. La Brea Ave, Los Angeles). A pound of Citysnaps are packed in a shiny red shopping bag and tied with a holiday ribbon. Included is one big decorated gingerbread man that would make a perfect tree ornament . . . provided you can resist the urge to eat it.
* Marie Antoinette didn’t really say, “Let them eat cake!” Brioche is what she was pushing. Better than bread, it’s a buttery, egg-filled loaf. For the holidays, Breadworks (7961 West 3rd St., Los Angeles) is making a good thing better. Co-owner Tony Di Lembo has created a special chocolate version of this decadent bread. The chocolate brioche ($5.95), which is baked in a fluted pan and is topped with a perky knob, is superb with a cup of cappuccino.
* Author Dorothy Parker once said there were three things she could never attain: envy, content and sufficient Champagne. If you really want to know what she was talking about, try pricing Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne. One of the best of the bubblies, the imported bottle sells for about $40 in most liquor stores. But at Topline Wine & Spirit, a discount warehouse (4718 San Fernando Road, Glendale), you can get it for just $19.99.
* Stollen has been putting in an appearance at the German breakfast table since about 1400. Traditionally rich in butter, almonds and rum-soaked fruit, the cake is dusted with powdered sugar and shaped in an oval, symbolizing the manger. For the real thing, try the loaf ($14) at Rockenwagner (2435 Main St., Santa Monica).
* During the holidays, no Armenian household is without sweet soujouk. It looks like a sausage but is really a sweet made of whole walnuts wrapped in a blanket of condensed grape water. Arax, an Armenian grocery and deli (17644 Vanowen St., Van Nuys), sells this delicacy for $6 a pound.
* If you really love your dog, you’ll buy him a bag of gourmet goodies specially created by Mary George, the pastry chef at Trumps (8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood). These all-natural snacks for canine customers come in a variety of shapes. A bag of 12 dog biscuits costs $7.50 and includes temptations such as carob-liver breadsticks, whole-wheat-oatmeal health biscuits, peanut butter cookies, fresh garlic (no fleas!) cookies, chicken liver empanadas filled with gizzard pate, and-carob-chip-wheat germ scones. If your dog doesn’t like them, your friends might.
* In Italy, it isn’t Christmas without panettone, the tall, rich loaf filled with nuts, citron, raisins and anise. It’s easy to find the imported brands, but they’re always dry. Nicolosi, an Italian bakery in Encino (17540 Ventura Blvd.), bakes panettone on the premises, so it’s always fresh and fine. The festive-looking loaf sells for $6.95.
* Nobody understands edible luxury quite as well as the Indians. They often gild their food with thin sheets of edible silver or gold and are the world’s largest consumers of the world’s most expensive spice. Maybe that’s why saffron is a bargain at Bombay Spiceland (8650 Reseda Blvd.) in Northridge. One gram of imported Spanish saffron is $3.99 at this no-frills supermarket; that’s less than half what you’d pay at most stores. The imported chutneys--Aeroplane mango ($2.49), hot-sweet ($2.99), fresh mint ($2.99), and coriander ($2.99)--are also worth trying.
* This prize-winning fruitcake isn’t available in any store. You have to get it from the vet. It’s a good, old-fashioned one-pound cake, laden with fruits and rich with booze; packed in a pretty container, it sells for $12.50. The fruitcakes are made by Mrs. Quinn, the mother-in-law of veterinarian William Garner, who sells them at Garner Veterinary (11967 Ventura Blvd., Studio City).
* Looking for a politically correct gift? Consider this: A beautiful bowl ($12) and spoon ($2), both recycled coconut shells. They come from Terra Verde Trading Co. in the environmentally conscious Fred Segal store in Santa Monica (420 Broadway). The place stocks everything from organically grown cotton shirts to solar-powered lawn mowers. Don’t expect gift wrap: Waste of all kinds is frowned upon, and all purchases are simply wrapped with twine and handed across the counter. As a sign in the store says, “Buying only what you need helps our environment.”
* More than five million African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, a weeklong holiday of African cultural heritage, beginning on Dec. 26. Kwanzaa, Swahili for “first fruits of the harvest,” is not a religious holiday (it does not replace Christmas) but rather a cultural observance for black Americans. In “Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking,” author Eric V. Copage provides information on everything you need to know to celebrate the holiday, including more than 125 recipes from people of African descent. The book is published by William Morrow for $25, but at Crown bookstores the price is $20.
* “The entire proceeds from this card provide a complete meal for a homebound elderly person in our community.” It’s one of the nicest gifts you can give--and it’s tax deductible. Simply write a $20 check payable to the Department of Aging’s Meals-on-Wheels Los Angeles Program (600 S. Spring St., Suite 900, Los Angeles 90014). In return you will get 10 holiday cards, and you’ll know that you have provided 10 elderly persons with a nutritious hot meal delivered right to the door. It sure beats sending another tie.
* Marmalade (710 Montana Ave., Santa Monica), an upscale deli that offers everything from fancy food to take-away pot pies, makes its pate maison fresh weekly from chicken livers, Calvados and clarified butter. A tiny ramekin of this precious pate costs $10. Serve it with bread or crackers--or simply eat it by the spoonful.
* In Scandinavia, Christmas is always white, and the holiday table is always laden with lefse and lingonberries. The former is Norway’s answer to the tortilla, the latter a Swedish relative of the cranberry. In the Southland you can find both at Olson’s Delicatessen (5660 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles). Lefse are nine for $1.79, lingonberries $4.98 for a 14-1/2-ounce jar. God Jul!
* What kid could possibly resist these edible pine trees? Especially when they’re topped with an all-natural tomato-basil sauce made with pecorino cheese, imported balsamic vinegar and fresh spices. The spinach-flavored pasta pines (15 ounces for $3.99) and the Lucrezia Del Mare tomato sauce (17 ounces for $3.69) are both available at Cost Plus Imports, a chain of stores filled with gourmet foods and good wines at bargain prices.
* It gets its richness from candied fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate. It gets its kick from pepper. It’s Panforte Nero Il Balestro, a dense confection, imported from Italy, at Cost Plus and other local import shops. The 15.8-ounce wheel supposedly improves with age, but panforte ($7.49) tends not to linger. Once you start eating it, it’s impossible to stop.
* For that hard-core vegetarian in your life, what could be more appropriate than this impressive-looking spinach-carrot-and-zucchini pate ($6.59 per pound) from Trader Joe’s? Wrapped in a flaky crust, this rich and satisfying loaf will keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
* These imported French olives are macerated in a blend of thyme, basil, savory and lavender flowers, packed in a rustic stoneware jar and capped with sealing wax. The olives ($19.99) are available at Maison et Cafe (150 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles), a new gourmet food store/coffee bar from the owners of trendy American Rag Cie.