My Favorite Pantry Gifts

It’s definitely the holiday season. The Del Ray Christmas tree is lit, the Scottish Walk has passed. Winter coats are on. And Stomping Ground guests are asking lots of questions about gifts, particularly those related to food. Aside from shamelessly pointing to our recently expanded retail section (shirts, bags, mugs, hats, onsies!) I also share my favorite pantry gifts with these eager shoppers. As a locavore and a person who owns a restaurant that sells provisions, I want to tell everyone to come to Stomping Ground and purchase our Muddypond Sorghum Syrup, Sparrow Lane Vinegar (the secret to the Veggie Hash), and Jacobson Salt. They’re amazing and you should definitely pick some up next time you stop by. Sadly, our space cannot accommodate some of my other favorite food gifts by purveyors that I respect so I’m sharing them here.


I recently spent a few hours talking with Kim Gustafson, proprietress at Blüprint Chocolates. Color me impressed. Her marriage of chocolate artistry and science yields incredibly delicious results (and her production kitchen is easily the cleanest I have ever seen). Each of Blüprint’s hand-dipped and molded truffles, bonbons, and bars are delightfully complex and beautiful to boot. Kim’s dedication to her craft and artistry comes through even in her soft touch packaging, making her exquisite chocolates a perfect stocking stuffer. They’re unlike any commercially produced chocolate from major companies that I’ve seen.  My favorite include sea salt caramel, glögg, and sugar plum. 1001 King Street


Maple Syrup

Sure it is pricey, but with good reason. BLiS Bourbon Barrel Maple Syrup is rich, thick, and a beautiful amber color. It is aged in nearly 20-year-old, rustic, Kentucky bourbon barrels, hand picked for just the right aging and bourbon infusion.

The result is a multi-dimensional bourbon maple syrup that picks up notes of honey, charred oak, vanilla, and spice from the bourbon barrels. And, as an added bonus, you can order it on Amazon! It’s delicious on pancakes, as you’d expect, but pour it over fruit, vanilla cake, or even fried chicken and you’ll be in for a real treat. For an extra touch, gift this with a handmade pancake mix (Alton Brown has an incredible “instant” pancake mix), a spatula, and nonstick skillet (I’m partial to the All-Clad Stainless Steel Try-Ply Bonded 10 inch).


Grass Fed Butter Subscription

Hailing from my home state of Georgia, Banner Butter makes damn good butter with cream from local Georgia cows, which is ripened for flavor and churned to perfection. Their butters have a higher content of butterfat than most butters. More fat equals more flavor and Banner Butter’s are about 100 times more delicious than commercially produced butters. You can sign up for a subscription that ships a unique butter such as Sea-Salt, Lavender Butter, Roasted Garlic, Lemon Chive with Classic Sea Salt, Sweet Butter, and Roasted Garlic Butter each season. (Available at Food52)


Sqril Blenheim Apricot Jam

Jessica Koslow, chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, and one of my personal heroes, has been producing preserves from her LA-based restaurant, Sqril, since 2011. This particular jam, made from rare but incredibly delicious Blenheim Apricots, sells out fast. At Sqril, they slather the preserves on (now famous) gigantic brioche toasts with ricotta, but I like to spread it on a perfectly toasted Jewish rye, following a schmear of Banner Butter. If they are sold out of the Blenheim Apricot, go for their newest darling Boysenberry & Apricot. Pair the butter or jam with a beautiful olive spreader, like the one below from Belle and Union (available at Stomping Ground) and a vintage toast rack.

Hope these gifts bring you, or those to whom you give them, great joy and happy tummies! Hope to see you soon in Stomping Ground.


  • The latest from Nicole
Head Janitor, Chef, and Proprietor | Stomping Ground
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate. Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families. As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients. Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.

If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.

2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301


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