Fancifull Gift Baskets' Blog

30 Fancifull Years A Learning Experience

It has been quite a journey, this Fancifull road we’ve been on for 30 years. From young whippersnappers with a gleam in their eye and an idea in mind, we set out to elevate gift baskets. Now here we are, older, one might say even old, but we like to think we are experienced.

We’ve seen trends come and go – we know what is a passing fad and what is authentic. This doesn’t mean we’re set in our ways with a, “been there done that,” attitude. No, we believe in staying current: going to trade shows to meet and see all the new innovations, traveling to meet makers in all parts of the world, and talking to our clients so we are sure we are offering them new product to keep it interesting. Fancifull is always evolving, as are we.

Slow Food Cheese Festival, Italy

Slow Food Cheese Festival, Italy

Along the way we have kept our eyes open and observed certain truths that have stood the test of time.

Research is Important
It takes effort to sift through all the marketing slogans, hype and cute packaging to find what is authentic and frankly, delicious. It isn’t about symbols, instagram followers or cool packaging. It is about people who care where their ingredients come from, who give back, and who make something that tastes great. Samples come to our shop almost daily. We taste test with all our staff and friends. Some are packaged beautifully but the taste just isn’t there. With some producers, once we investigate their claims, they come up short.

Taste is Personal
Everyone has their taste and it isn’t for us to enforce our taste on them. Taste goes so far beyond just good or bad. There are sense memories wrapped in smells and flavors that you have and others don’t.
We will always offer to widen someone’s view: taste them on our latest discoveries. All we try to do at our tastings is to get you to pay attention to the food, question what you think you like and what you don’t. But it never ever pays to be pretentious. I’ve been told by many they don’t like white wine. So we ask, “what whites have your tried?” Often it is overly-oaked California Chardonnay. We pour them something else and they are surprised, “wow, this is good.” Even if they don’t love the wine we poured, they tried it. Mission Accomplished.

Good Food is Universal
Starting with good ingredients – those grown in a sustainable and organic manner and made with care – is a great starting point. Our motto has long been, If we won’t eat it we won’t sell it. We all live on this planet and it is our role to take care of it. The taste and craftsmanship have to be there as well. You don’t want to waste your money sending a gift basket full of tasteless product.

Gathering around a Table with Food and Wine can be Magic
Well, we knew that all along, which is one reason we love sending baskets full of great food and wine – it’s the start of a party.

Tasting at our shop

Tasting at our shop

Everyone Loves to be Appreciated
Part of what we love about our job is we get to send out caring messages to people every day. Messages of Thanks, Happy Birthday, I’m Sorry, Congratulations, Condolences – all these lines going out from our shop letting others know someone is thinking of them. We see their faces when the gift arrives. It isn’t about the gift being big or small. It truly is the thought, the recognition. Don’t we all want to know someone cares? It doesn’t even have to be a gift basket. You can just send a card. It is the communication.

Working with your husband/wife is both a blessing and a curse
We have been married 38 years so it must be more of a blessing and we will leave it at that.

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A Beau Visite to Beaux Frères Winery

Beaux Freres VineyardBeaux Frères

Beaux Frères Pinot Noir from the Northern Willamette Valley in Oregon has long been one of our favorite wines at our dinner table. We decided we had to track down the distributor so we could bring it into our shop and share it with our clients.

Beaux Freres means Brother in Law in French and that is exactly how this started.
One Brother in Law, Michael G. Etzel, bought an 88 acre pig farm in Oregon and got his brother in law, Robert Parker Jr, renowned wine critic and publisher of the Wine Advocate, to join him in his venture of planting pinot noir and making wine.

It is done right: sustainable agriculture, low yields, natural yeast, grapes are sorted by hand to toss out undesirables, caps are hand punched twice a day so they can be familiar with the cuvee, the wines are not fined or filtered, they work hard to maintain the terroir of their grapes.

We visited in mid May and were able to walk among the vines, play with the soil, taste a gamut of wines and play with the dogs and the pigs that are on property. Because of the cold wet winter the vines are about 6 weeks behind in growth.

To introduce you to these wines we have the 2014 Willamette on sale right now for only $10 off a bottle at $50. 2014 was an outstanding vintage so grab some for yourself and lay it down for a few years. Perfect for Fathers Day and any gifting occasion. Bump up any of our wine baskets with this thoughtful bottle of wine.

Tasting notes from the winery
A medium ruby color. On the nose, this wine has a lush fragrance of sweet dark cherries, baking spices and sandalwood. In the mouth, it is very savory, plush, medium acidity and irresistible. is may be the best Willamette Valley cuvée that we have made to date. is wines sees about 33% new French oak.

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Spread The Love | Valentine’s Day and Beyond

Simply Elegant

There are those who roll their eyes when Valentine’s Day comes around. They think, “Another invented holiday to make me buy stuff. “ I look at it differently; to me it is a day to spread love. It doesn’t have to be about red roses and chocolates. It could be the day to tell your best friend how much you appreciate her or call your mom and say I love you. Volunteering at an organization that helps others is a great way to pour love into society.

We tend to rush through life with our attention on all we have to do.
A day like Valentine’s Day makes us stop and think about Love. Hal David wrote the lyrics, “What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love.” Isn’t that sentiment is as true today as it was in 1965 when Jackie Del Shannon sang that song for the first time? How much better would the world be with an abundance of love and joy? Luckily we can each contribute freely.

Think about spreading the love this February, spread it throughout the year. At Fancifull we will sell our share of flowers and chocolates, nothing wrong with that. But we want to pour love into this world of ours so we are having a Tasting on Friday February 10th with proceeds going to Project Angel Food, a local organization that delivers meals to those in need. All that love going out to so many people. Their funding is being cut dramatically under the current administration so they need all the help and love they can get. We will start pouring wine at 6pm, it is only $10 and for that you will get to sample all sorts of cheese, chocolates and artisanal food in our shop on Melrose – soon to be the Fancifull Tasting Bar. You can check it out on our website www.fancifull.com or call 323/466-7654.

Fancifull was created because we loved the concept of sending love and joy out on a daily basis. I wanted gifts filled with amazing food and quality items that people would use and enjoy. It had to be personal. What keeps us excited, even after 30 years, is we spend our days sending messages of joy, thanks, and comfort. We deliver flowers along with condolences, a vegan basket to wish someone a happy birthday, or a bit of chocolate decadence to cheer someone up. It is all about letting people know they are being thought of, they are important to someone.

Champgne and Wine Tasting Invitation

When one feels obligated to do something it takes the fun out of it. Valentine’s Day can quickly dissolve into, “I gotta find some flowers or I’ll be in trouble” which is just stressful and so not what it should be about. Since we at Fancifull are the gifting experts here are a few suggestions for making it lovely:
Order early so it is done and you can just enjoy the day. Chances are you will get better prices and exactly what you want if you order a week before the holiday
Think beyond red roses: the wholesale cost of red roses triples around Valentine’s Day. It is not us florists gouging you, we actually make a lower profit. You can say I love you with just about any kind of flower or gift as long as your message is sincere and some thought went into it.
Consider a Fireside Picnic with Champagne, Fresh Cheese and Candlelight (hint: Fancifull can provide it all for you)
Remember all the people who support you by sending a card or baking some cookies – it isn’t about the money spent but the love that goes into it.
Make being kind part of your everyday pattern: say hello to people you see, let that person into your lane while driving, find something to admire in those who irritate you, invest your time into helping others. If you want to support a non profit consider what is dear to you: Feeding others? The Environment? Literacy? Below are a few organizations we have vetted and they would be happy to have the help:

Project Angel Food – you can volunteer when you have time to help in the kitchen or delivering. They provide thousands of meals each week to those who cannot provide for themselves. They are currently experiencing a big cut in funding, so helping in any way you can is appreciated.
www.projectangelfood.org

Natural Resources Defense Council – They are defenders of our planet: the NRDC creates solutions for lasting environmental change, protecting natural resources in the U.S and across the globe.
www.nrdc.org

Fisher House – Helps military families with housing near their hospitalized loved ones.
www.fisherhouse.org

Root Down L.A. – A phenomenal local organization that is bringing better food and nutrition education to the neighborhoods of South L.A.
They plant gardens, teach kids and their families about good food and how to prepare it, and help ensure better health to all.
Rootdownla.org

WriteGirl – WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills to empower teen girls. They can use help from writers to mentor girls as well as donations.
www.writegirl.org

Our Heart-Shaped, cloth-lined picnic basket

Whatever you do for Valentine’s Day, even if it is a day to love yourself by curling up on the couch and indulging in a little Netflix binge, do it with love in your heart and look for ways to keep that love flowing all year long. To quote one of my favorite authors Kurt Vonnegut: A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved. It will be good for you and good for all of us.

Fancifull Fine Food and Baskets
5617 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
323/466-7654

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Diet Terms Made Simple

Here are some very short and sweet definitions to help understand some of the diet terms used these days.


Our Sweet Vegan Gift Basket.

Vegan/Vegetarian

The difference is Vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish, or any animal. Vegans go a bit further and eat no animal products such as eggs, dairy or honey.


Our Gluten Free For All Gift Basket.

Gluten Free

Gluten is a mixture of proteins that occur naturally in wheat, rye, barley and crossbreeds of these grains.  The FDA defines gluten free  as having a gluten limit of less than 20 parts per million of gluten in foods carrying that label. We are careful with the products we put in our gluten free gift baskets.  Luckily there is a world of good food to use: Nuts, Cheese, Fruit, Tea and Coffee, Chocolates, Chips and so much more.


Our Happy Chanukah Gift Basket.

Kosher

Kosher is an adaptation of the Hebrew word meaning “fit” or “proper.” Kosher foods are those that conform to the regulations of kashrut.  These will carry the symbol of the rabbinical council that approved the item. Fruit is naturally kosher. The best known rules are:  no pork, no mixing of dairy and meat, and the term pareve which means it is a neutral food that can be eaten with meat or dairy.  This is a very short abridged definition.  There is much more to be found in research and among those who keep kosher (many who have been very helpful with advice).  We have an array of kosher products in our shop including wine, cheese, chocolates, cookies and more.  We also carry Kosher for Passover during that holiday. You can call and check the symbols on the foods we have if you have any questions.

Note:  These definitions above are by no means complete as each diet has complexities that we don’t have the space to go into here; and it varies by individual. For more data please research or ask the people you know who adhere to one of these diets to find out how they adapt it for themselves.

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Is Big Always Bad?

Is big always bad?


Fat Toad Farm, Vermont. Tiny

We are ardent supporters of local businesses and love when we find a small batch maker who produces delicious product we can put in our baskets and bring to you. Our shelves are filled with their product and we are always finding more. The search is always on. Yet we don’t want to neglect the larger producers who are sustainable and do it right. Because of their production capabilities, they can often bring prices down for those who have a budget and yet can have a positive impact when they use good practices on a large scale.


Beechers curds. Getting big. Doing it right.

So we are always researching the companies we buy from, checking their sourcing, especially important for our chocolate makers as there are still many bad practices going on in that industry. We are relieved when we find a giant like Cadbury now using Fair Trade Chocolate on all their products made in England. Sadly the items Hershey makes for them in the U.S (mainly those popular Easter Eggs) can’t make that claim. So, if you don’t see some of the more popular brands in our baskets, there is usually an explanation. A choice was made.


Gruyere. Big Wheel. Big production.

Being in California, we are fortunate to have a plethora of organic and sustainable producers within a day of us. California themed gift baskets will always be prominent on our site and are often the perfect welcome to someone at a hotel or to represent a business that is located in California.

It is a bit of a balancing act. We love our local cheese makers but don’t want to forget the fabulous Basque shepherds and cheesemakers whom we met recently in the Pyrenees. They, too, have families (and animals) to support. Many cheeses like Gruyere can only be made by in quantity with milk from cooperatives to get the designated origin status. I wouldn’t want to ignore this important cheese in our selections just because it doesn’t come from a small maker.


Bond Bar – Los Angeles -tiny

And shouldn’t we be celebrating the winemaker in France who converted his whole vineyard to organic as well as the guy down the street who came up with a great idea of coconut curry popcorn and managed to get it produced? Different size companies but both making positive impacts in the world.

The world is full of fragrance and flavor.
Searching and investigating is part of our job.
From taking your order, preparing your gift and deciding who to support – we take it all personally.

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Connections

As I reflect on my 29 years building baskets and Fancifull I can’t help but think: “What is it all about? Why have I done this for so long? Why?”

Connections. Connecting people via a basket and a message, connecting our clients to the producers we’ve found over the years, connecting people to the truth of good food and why it is important.

It is a huge invisible but existent freeway system of lines going out – vectors arching across the U.S. with info, food, and warm messages. Our whole job is to send a message, to make people smile, to let them know someone is thinking of them.

When I started Fancifull back in 1987, I said to my friend, as we sat in the booth in my kitchen, drinking coffee and savoring the possibilities, that I didn’t want to just send stuff. The world was full of stuff: things that people didn’t want or wanted at some point but didn’t know what to do with now. I wanted my gifts to be joy bombs going out, making people happy, taking care of a need, sending a message.
I wanted to create delight in each person’s space upon receipt.

Letter from a Recipient

So I started the journey that is Fancifull. As that journey progressed there were detours, learning curves and terrific “ah-ha” moments. We evolved.

I threw myself into learning about cheese, wine, chocolate and how food is made. It became apparent to me that how we grow our food creates a huge impact on our planet. This wasn’t news to me, but the truth became more real, became something I couldn’t ignore.

I met many small artisans along the way and came to realize that by putting their products in my baskets I could help them find an audience. We began to do more tasting in our shop so we could indulge our passion for great food and finds and share them with anyone who was interested. This business of baskets got more and more interesting.

Our studio on Melrose near Gower in Hollywood has become a bona fide wine and cheese shop with all our offerings. We kept listening to our clients and created different packaging, some more sustainable some in a manner that would make shipping easier and more cost effective. Fresh flowers became a big part of Fancifull and making the baskets with fresh flowers along with gourmet food, became a signature design. They look like a still life.

Evolution and Connections. It keeps us expanding and growing. It allows us to daily create products that make us proud. We get to contribute back by buying from sustainable producers, encouraging the start ups, offering lots of advice (sorry to all whose ears we have bent), speaking to other retailers across the nation about how to succeed, holding fundraisers in our shop and sampling lots and lots of cheese, chocolate, salami and wine (those seem to be the favorite 4 food groups).

It keeps our love of Fancifull alive and burning. There is a vitality to sending out messages for people daily; knowing the gift is going to land on a desk and someone will smile, someone will feel acknowledged. Our clients’ business and personal lives will get stronger because their connections are stronger. We make life personal. We do it on many levels. We love doing it for you.

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A Visit To Frog’s Leap

Sophistication and Insouciance. Responsible yet Carefree. These pairs seem to be opposites, but they work together when there is a certain ease that comes from knowing what you are doing, of being so certain of what one is producing that you don’t have to worry. It seems simple yet it isn’t. Which lends itself to another dichotomy. Frog’s Leap Winery is full of them. After a relaxing afternoon tasting wines while lounging on their porch overlooking gardens, fruit trees, chickens, a pond, and of course grape vines, we felt a little in awe of all they manage while making it seem effortless. In addition to the chickens there are 5 acres of organic vegetable and fruit gardens. They do make their own preserves but this environment has been created because wine maker John Williams feels the grapevines feel the chickens, that the different crops bring birds and other life to his grapes and that make his wines more interesting. This is part of the bio diversity that Frog’s Leap embraces along with their organic and dry farming methods. It feels familial because it is; he keeps his grape pickers employed year round, with full benefits, because they know his vines, his grapes and he wants them to have security. Seems there are certain values that run deep at Frog’s Leap – through all the ranks. It is refreshing to visit a place that cares so much about what they produce and how they do it, yet they do it with such fun it can be deceptive.

It is easy to be a fan of Frog’s Leap Wines. Their Zinfandel is bright and pairs well with food, not the high alcohol Zin we are used to in California. The expression of Cabernet he gets from his Rutherford grapes make it a very sophisticated wine. Frog’s Leap chardonnay has echoes of burgundy while keeping the terroir of California. The opposites mentioned above abounds in their Merlot – assertive yet tender, full of the ripe flavors you expect, able to be drunk now but could be laid down for 10 years easily. If we are lucky this year we will get some of the La Grenouille Rouganté – the blushing frog – their Rosé which is made in very limited quantities. Refreshing, clean, full of flavor, everything you want in a great rose.

Picture of winemaker John Williams

We would love them just for their wines and the fact that they contribute to the beauty of Napa and the health of our planet. They took a desolate farm filled with old tractors and turned it into a fertile garden with an abundance of flora and fauna. There is a definition of integrity that says, “Wisdom is knowing the right path to take, integrity is taking it.” That pretty much sums up what we know of John Williams and his team. Here is how he works: They’ve been producing a Rutherford Cabernet for some years now. John farmed on part of the Rossi Estate just north of Yountville ( he leased his share of the 52 acre vineyard). The story goes that when Louise Rossi, the owner of the vineyard, died at 99 she had a long list of people she wouldn’t allow to buy it and only one person who could. Yep, John Williams of Frog’s Leap. That land had been in her family for over 100 years. When her husband died Louise ran into trouble with some of the local winemakers who were taking advantage of her and not treating her with due respect. John stepped in and helped her out and kept an eye on her throughout her life. A friendship grew and because of the sale, the Rossi estate was able to donate 12.5 million to the U.C. Davis Wine program. John owns the land he felt was always perfect for his Cabernet, only now it is all his. Deservedly so.

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Wine Names

Terry August

In the United States we are used to wines being named after the grapes they are made from. Chardonnay, for instance is made from chardonnay grapes. In Europe the wines have been named for the region where they are grown. This is because where they are grown, the climate, rainfall, soil and other elements of the region result in completely different wines even when they are from the same grapes. Compare a French Chablis with a California chardonnay, for example. Both are made from the chardonnay grape, but are worlds apart in flavor. Then sample a French Montrachet. Same grape again, but a world of difference.
Need help picking a wine for your gift basket? Please call. We love to talk food and wine!

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Edible Hug

Terry August, founder Fancifull Gift Baskets

Terry August

I am sitting over my stove this morning stirring a big pot of red beans and rice. I am making them for a family I don’t know. Yes, I should be at work, getting ready for the looming holiday season. But I got an order yesterday that compelled me to cook, and cook a meal imbued with love.

I have a funny business. We make gift baskets. Many are business gifts, thanking clients and such. We also get intensely personal sometimes. Which I like. You are acutely aware of the passage of time with some clients, the yearly notes on their holiday baskets change: they have a daughter who is 5, their daughter is 7, their daughter is in grad school….I come to realize that I have been part of their holidays for 20 years. That is joyful and makes me happy.

Then there are the times we have to provide comfort. This is such a case. A young man with a bright future, full scholarship to college, was killed in gang related violence. My client called saying he wanted more than just a basket. Could we provide a meal? He knew he could call a restaurant but thought we would do a better job of putting it together. My heart ached for the loss. So much violence, it is just too much. Then I googled the address to see where they lived to calculate delivery. I saw their house. A clean ranch style, nice enough neighborhood. And I could feel the tragedy. A family no longer complete. I thought, “in that house they have lost a son, a brother, a loved one.” I felt tears on my cheeks. After the Oregon shootings and seeing the plight of refugees in Europe, I felt caved in. When does it stop?

Normally my staff would handle this, but I took this personally. I went out myself to pick up the food but as I walked the aisles of the market looking at the premade foods I thought, “they deserve something better than a roasted chicken from the market. They need food infused with love.” So I bought the makings for a dinner. I got an organic chicken, some beans and rice mix, brought it all home and got up this morning and began to cook. I poured all the love I could. I heard Aretha singing, “I love you and I love you,” as I put the chicken in the oven. I, who don’t usually pray, prayed over it. Hoping it would bring them some solace. I timed it so we could take it right to them with proper heating and storage instructions. (I used to cater , have my food safety certificate so there was no conflict for me. I know how to do this)

I felt so helpless on hearing the news, but this made me feel like I could do something. I don’t know them and will never meet them. But I hope this food brings them warmth, an edible hug from me.

We are all members of this human race located on planet earth. My hope goes out to all that we realize that and stop killing and start loving. We need to pour lots and lots of love and joy into this world.

This is an odd world I’ve created for myself over here at Fancifull. But I daily get to send out bombs of joy to the world, which are the only kind of bombs we need.

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Terry’s Gazpacho

Gazpacho Recipe


Wally’s Tomatoes

The proportions are up to you: I don’t care for a lot of cucumber so used 2 little persian ones with about 6 tomatoes and 1 large Red Pepper

All this is to taste:
A few cucumbers
Red Bell Pepper
Several tomatoes – fresh grown are the best
Touch of Garlic
Splash of Wine Vinegar (Sherry Vinegar was used)
Splash of Olive Oil (flavored is good)
Salt
Pepper
A bit of hot sauce
Any other herbs you want to add
Option: we added grilled corn which was great

Whip it all up in your food processor to desired consistency, and voila – you have a refreshing summer soup


Terry’s Gazpacho

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