This year, instead of flowers, a box of See's, or a bottle of wine from Trader Joe's, shake up the host/hostess gifts a little bit. There are plenty of local options that will make it look like you put a little care into the choice of gift; they won't run you too much money, they're easily available, and you can discharge your social niceties with a clear conscience. Below are five suggestions:
I'd never had good pralines outside of the South until I happened by a table at the Long Beach Southeast farmers' market, where Mabel's Gourmet Pralines (625 N. Pine, Long Beach; 562-491-5354; mabelspralines.com) had set up shop. The pralines are snappy without being tooth-jarring, just perfectly (and very) sweet, and contain high-quality nuts. A box of these will put your host or hostess into delirious, delicious diabetic shock.
Orange County is chock-a-block with great beer, and you can buy the county's alcoholic product in any number of places. A growler can be had from any of the craft brewers in OC, but a bottle makes a better gift. Your best bet is either the Bruery Provisions (143 N. Glassell, Orange; 714-997-BEER; brueryprovisions.com) or Hi-Time Wine Cellars (250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa; 949-650-TIME; hitimewine.net); pick out your selection from their cooler and head out to your party.
Macaroons (with two Os) may be a common sight at Hanukkah parties, but if you prefer the French style sandwich cakes (macarons, with one O), head to Layer Cake Bakery (4250 Barranca Parkway, Irvine; 949-786-0023; layercakebakery.com) for your supply of brightly colored pastries. It's like stopping by Ladurée, but without the 400-person line, the rushed service or the breathtaking cost. Now if only we had something like Hédiard's fruits confits...
You can't ignore Dolce Monachelli's (11571 Lampson, Garden Grove; 714-537-5202; dolcemonachellis.com). They're seemingly at every farmers' market in Orange County, they often set up a booth inside the Tustin branch of Claro's Italian Market, and sometimes it feels like the call of "I-I-Italian butter rum cake!" can be heard everywhere in OC. Regardless of its ubiquity, the cakes are quite good, very reasonably priced, and available in small and large sizes, with frosting in the hole of the bundt cake.
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Brittle and mendiants and bark, oh my! The old-fashioned candies are making a fancy comeback at Long Beach's C. Salt (csaltgourmet.com), including an outstanding pistachio-cherry bark that comes in a completely vegan option. The boxes are pretty enough that you don't have to wrap the gift, and they'll stay sound without refrigeration. If you don't catch them at local festivals, you can buy the products at the Promelis Market (2043 Westcliff #108, Newport Beach; 949-548-2500; promelis.com).