All-natural body-care products are a can't -miss stocking stuffer, like these made locally by Emz Blendz in Ashland. - Photo by Jamie Lusch

Gift of health

Tacky knick-knacks and sugary, fatty snacks are bound to crash any holiday gift exchange. Don't add to the troupes of trinkets gathering dust or the festive foodstuffs that portend extra pounds. Give the gift that's always in season: the gift of health.

The Oregon Healthy Living staff has compiled its Top 10 list for healthful holiday gifts that honor a wide range of budgets, tastes and values. These may inspire, challenge, nourish, relax or beautify recipients. Some promote a stronger community and a better planet. Most keep on giving throughout the new year.

Body Love
The holidays have surely arrived when there's too much to do in too little time. Before stress gets the better of family and friends, take a time-out at a local spa.

Whether it's a massage, facial or other pampering procedure, gift certificates for these services make popular presents, local spa owners say. Many spa packages ward off winter's chill, such as The Phoenix's "Across the Sahara," which combines the Ashland spa's Cleopatra body wrap to promote perspiration with a hot-stone massage, says owner Jessica Vineyard.

Patrons of Spa in Jacksonville can satisfy their appetite for sweets, not by eating them but by covering their bodies in the essence of peppermint, chocolate, coconut and citrus, says owner Laura Jarrell. Candy-scented treatments are in highest demand around the holidays, Jarrell says.

Spa treatments cost as little as $30 for a basic manicure to several hundred dollars for more than six hours of indulgent relaxation.

Skin Food
Bath and beauty products can be go-to gifts that don't cost a fortune. To really soothe the skin of someone special, choose handmade formulas containing all-natural ingredients.

Because Emz Blendz of Ashland makes all of its products locally in small batches, customers are getting only the freshest plant extracts, essential oils and all-natural emollients without the preservatives found in most mainstream cosmetics, says Emily Desmond, owner of the Oak Street store.

"I have a strong theory that what you put on your body is as important as what you put in your body," Desmond says.

When customers read the labels on Emz Blendz products, they should know what every ingredient is, which simply can't be said about most other soaps and lotions, Desmond says. Customers can view a glossary of ingredients at www.emzblendzsoap.com.

"Your body knows what to do with olive oil," she says. "Your body doesn't know what to do with sodium lauryl sulfate."

Holiday shoppers know what to do with silver fir tree, cranberry spice and chocolate candles, as well as cinnamon and winter forest soap — wrap them up for anyone who needs a soothing touch.

Clean Readin'
Washing up safeguards health, particularly during cold and flu season. It's a point chef and certified food-sanitation instructor Marilyn Moore emphasizes in her self-published book "Is It Safe to Eat in Your Kitchen?," which delves into food-handling procedures to help home cooks clean up their act.

"Things are different from when grandma was growing up, and so many people handle our food," Moore says.

Americans suffer an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness every year, says Gary Stevens, director of Jackson County Environmental Health. The culprit is bacterial growth, which flourishes in a temperature range known to sanitation experts as the "danger zone."

Holiday feasts often find foods in the danger zone. Your mother-in-law's habit of leaving the turkey on the counter for snacking or your best friend's knack for bringing a lukewarm casserole to the potluck could be putting friends and family, particularly children and the elderly, at risk.

Moore's book puts cooks through the paces of safe food temperatures and storage times and provides handy reference charts. It can be purchased for $16 at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland or Tark's Market in Talent. Or e-mail Moore directly at chefmare@mind.net.

Sacks O' joy

Give your kitchen and loved ones a break from batches of homemade fudge or popcorn balls. Instead, fill them up with whole foods.

High-fiber beans and grains, antioxidant-rich dried fruit and heart-healthy nuts may not look like such treats compared with the mail-order company's holiday hamper. Packaged in Reclamation Goods' reusable fabric sacks, however, these bulk foods promote better health and a better planet.

"I really want people to make the shift away from plastic," says Tracy Harding, the Ashland resident behind Reclamation Goods.

Using fabric made from organic cotton and hemp, Harding constructed simple drawstring bags in two sizes for use in grocery stores' bulk and produce sections. Ashland Food Co-op caught on and started selling the bags, which come printed with their tare weight, so it can easily be subtracted at the register. The large, 14-by-16-inch bag sells at the Co-op for $3.59, the small, 11-by-13-inch bag for $2.99.

Persona Farmer
To ensure their health in the year to come, pick produce. A subscription to a community-supported agriculture program is the gift that keeps on giving and solves the problem of what to get that person who has everything.

Weekly boxes of farm-fresh vegetables are standard offerings, but each of the Rogue Valley's CSAs operates slightly differently, and prices range from less than $100 to almost $800, depending on the subscription size and duration. A box can reflect the recipient's personal tastes, with add-ons like flowers, eggs, honey, local meat and cheese, even wine.

"We often will have people comment that every week it's like Christmas," says Maud Powell, coordinator for Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative of Jacksonville.

Some CSAs, like Fry Family Farm in Talent, will deliver to the recipient's doorstep. Others like Siskiyou Sustainable have pick-up sites at key locations around the valley. Blue Fox Farm of Applegate dispenses with the box and sells gift cards for use at any of the weekly farmers markets where it sets up shop. Blue Fox's system allows customers to start purchasing vegetables in the early spring when farmers markets open for business. Other CSAs begin in June and run through late fall.

For a list of CSAs, see the link on the Mail Tribune's eat local page, www.mailtribune.com/eatlocal.

Model Meals
If a box of vegetables is simply too overwhelming, give novice cooks or anyone short on time the fixings for model meals.

Downtown Market Co., a Medford-based delivery service has expanded its menus with new "fast and fit" selections. Co-owner Julie Kokinakes Anderson, a registered dietician, says she responded to clients' demands for tasty and nutritious meals in appropriate portions by making fresh, organic and local ingredients, along with recipes, available to the Rogue Valley at large.

Anderson and business partner Nora LaBrocca expect customers to spend some time in the kitchen. Detailed recipes in hand, anyone with limited cooking experience can assemble a fast and fit meal in less than 30 minutes, they say. Dinners may be salmon with wasabi sauce and seared baby bok choy or grilled shrimp with orange, pepper and avocado salad. Priced at around $10 per serving, each meal comes with a detailed nutritional analysis.

As more people are dining out less often, Downtown Market customers consider the service less expensive (even with a $5 delivery surcharge) and less time-consuming than eating in restaurants, Anderson says.

"Definitely during the holidays, people are so strapped for time."

For more information on Downtown Market, visit the Web site www.downtownmarketco.com or call 778-6123.

Doc in a Box
Sources for sound nutrition information and solid exercise regimens can conflict. Sometimes it pays to ask an expert.

Most dieticians and personal trainers sell gift certificates for their services, which can range from $75 for a single consultation to $250 for a seven-week nutrition program. Personal trainers can be contacted through local gyms, which typically host training sessions. However, some trainers will schedule in-home appointments, says Jason Tonkin, owner of Precision Fitness. Physicians' offices often refer patients for nutrition counseling.

Popular with couples or as gifts for young athletes, sessions with a trainer or nutrition professional can be thoughtful ways to jump-start New Year's resolutions.

Classy Giving
Encourage fitness-minded friends and family to roll with the punches. Whether their routine is yoga or Pilates, they'll welcome a punch card to their favorite studio or one they've longed to try. Classes typically cost $10 to $20, and cards can be purchased for just a few classes or up to 20.

"People really like to give ... something that kind of lasts a while and encourages them to take care of themselves," says Janet Langley, owner of Rose Yoga Center in Medford.

While most studios place an expiration date on cards, the system makes time for exercise flexible. Month-to-month gym memberships or programs like Southern Oregon Adventure Boot Camp also can be purchased as gift certificates but don't give as much leeway for using them when convenient. Recipients' desire to make the most of such a gift can be its own motivator to get moving, experts say.

"They get a difference out of it," says Jackie Auchard of Adventure Boot Camp.

Salt Soak
Sore muscles deserve a good, long soak at Ashland's Chozu Bath and Tea Gardens, a unique spa where anyone can warm up to winter.

Spa-goers can spend 90 minutes between chozu's salt-water hot pool, cold pool and sauna for the price of $25. An additional $10 buys a private pool in a fenced-off area of the garden. Spa treatments like massages and body wraps are priced between $85 and $130. See www.chozugardens.com for more information.

"Sweating is one of the best things for cleaning out toxins," says Ilene Rubinstein, Chozu owner and licensed chiropractor.

When the heat builds to beyond bearable, plunge into Chozu's cold pool, a breathtaking stimulus for the body's lymphatic system, Rubinstein says. Then take the chill off with a cup of polyphenol-rich green tea — linked to numerous health benefits — in Chozu's tea room, which also serves light, healthful, creative and visually beautiful meals.

Sip Samplers
Raise a glass to good health with a gift package or sampler of Devi Tea.

The Medford-based company cites numerous articles on its Web site about the healthful properties of tea, including preventing heart disease, lowering cholesterol, boosting the immune system, promoting oral health and assisting with weight loss.

"A little bit of tea every day is really one of the best things you can do for yourself," says owner Gretchen Twill.

Beyond black and green, Devi specializes in custom, loose-leaf blends and harder-to-find varieties like white, yellow, oolong and pu-erh teas. Devi Teas are sold at Jacksonville Mercantile and The Good Bean Company, both in Jacksonville, and Ashland's Mix Sweet Shop. Orders also can be placed online at www.devitea.com or by calling 734-3890. Devi will ship to any local address free of charge.

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