Here’s a difference between journalism and blogging: the former relishes the new, the hot, the of-the-moment. Blogging, on the other hand, can pull back and talk about subjects that may be a bit dated but are, nonetheless, important and personal to the blogger. For example, book reviews only review new books but I just finished reading “David Copperfield” and I enjoyed it. If I wrote for a professional publication and I said, “I want to review “David Copperfield” they’d say, “Take a hike.” But here on my blog I can tell you that I found it very moving and funny in parts and that I really admire the way Charles Dickens paints his characters with such vitality and generosity of spirit. Now wasn’t that useful? Aren’t you glad I’m a blog and not a newspaper?
In the spirit of that first paragraph I would like to address the subject of Christmastime Gift-Giving Lists. There seems to be a notion that the only gifts worth giving this time of year are things that are NEW: the newest hottest cookbook, gadget, poster of Rachel Ray. But, in fact, were I the sort to buy gifts for people I wouldn’t buy the newest, hottest anything. I’d buy something that I felt strongly about, regardless of how new it was. And so, what follows, is a list of food-related items that aren’t new in any way but that make excellent gifts. I hope you find it useful.
The Amateur Gourmet’s List of Food-Related Gifts That Aren’t New In Any Way (Except For Some)
1. M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Art of Eating.”
It’s pretty obnoxious, probably, when someone reads a difficult writer and then brags about how moved they were by the work, how personally they felt the author spoke to them through the page. That’s how I felt for a long time whenever a food writer would gush about M.F.K. Fisher and how much they love her and how she’s their main influence (see: Ruth Reichl, Amanda Hesser, etc.) But then I read M.F.K. Fisher and I realized that she’s not difficult, she’s fun; she’s like a good teacher–she rewards discipline and focus and she teaches through example. Reading her books is a necessary rite of passage for any food enthusiast and this collected volume makes the task much easier. Granted, once I bought this volume I found myself overwhelmed by its weight and I spoiled myself by purchasing a smaller copy of “The Gastronomical Me” which recently had a pretty new reprint.
If you’d rather, substitute the larger volume for a few of these smaller M.F.K. Fisher books. Either way, it’s a perfect gift for a food lover and lover of literature like me.
2. Bacon of the Month Club from The Grateful Palate.
I’ll confess: I am not a member nor have I ever been a member of The Bacon of the Month Club. But I heard Mario Batali talk about it on his show and it occurred to me that this gift, while not new, is still a wonderful idea for anyone who loves to munch on salty, savory goodness. Why not combine it with Michael Ruhlman’s book to use when the bacon runs out?
3. An Immersion Blender.
It’s the sort of gadget that’s hard to justify when you have a blender and you rarely make soup, but once the cold weather hits and you DO have this gadget you look back at the former you and say, “What are you crazy? This thing makes it so much easier!” Seriously: I can’t imagine making soup without my immersion blender and at $50 it’s a perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza gift.
4. Sunday Suppers at Lucques.
This book came out more than a year ago (so it’s not hot or new) but I can’t think of a cookbook I love more right now. Here’s what I love about it: (1) it’s beautiful; (2) it’s helpful; (3) the recipes are outrageously good; (4) the stories that accompany the recipes are charming; (5) it’s organized by season; (6) it teaches you about ingredients; (7) did I mention that the recipes are fantastic? Seriously: every endeavor I’ve undertaken from this book has paid off enormously. Most notable: Devil’s Chicken Thighs With Braised Leeks and Dijon Mustard, as seen in the photograph below:
This recipe is featured prominently in Chapter Six of my book and it remains one of the highlights of my short career as an amateur chef. If you’re looking for the perfect cookbook gift, this is it.
5. Jacques in The Box from Jacques Torres Chocolate.
Last year my parents gave me the best birthday present ever in the form of a giant hatbox filled with chocolate. Look at this dramatic gift:
It was filled with so much chocolate it made Augustus Gloop look like Nicole Richie. There were candied oranges dipped in chocolate, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered corn-flakes, hot chocolate mix and then, of course, a beautiful box of bon-bons. It’s a feast for the eyes and mouth and at $85 is perfect for the chocolate lover in your life that you want to do something nice for.
6. The Supper of the Lamb.
A perfect stocking stuffer, this book is written by a priest, Robert Capon, who mediates lovingly and humorously about food and what it means. I’ll confess it’s a book I never finish but it’s a book I pick up now and again and read from and a book that I plan to finish someday. It’s really lovely.
7. An Oven Thermometer.
Another perfect stocking stuffer, this is a gift most home chefs don’t think to buy for themselves but a gift that will change everything about your food, most notably: how well you cook it! My oven thermometer has blown my mind on several occasions, most historically on Thanksgiving when the oven read 400 degrees and the oven thermometer said 200. It took quite a while before the oven reached the right temperature and my turkey (and my family) were forever grateful.
8. Saveur Cooks Authentic French.
For the Francophile in your family, this is the book my French friends all urged me to buy for its authenticity and accuracy. It’s a book that’s completely transportive: you open it and suddenly you hear the soundtrack to Amelie and smell grassy cheese and imagine yourself stomping around the City of Light. It’s from this book that I made pot-a-feu not too long ago and there are many more recipes that I plan to try. Also available: Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian, Saveur Cooks Authentic American, and Saveur Cooks Authentic Midget. (The last one is a bit gory, please be advised.)
9. Olio Santo California Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
This is the olive oil that The Barefoot Contessa uses and ever since I tried it, I’ve been hooked. It’s got a wonderful fresh green aroma and it’s perfect for salads, pastas, and just about any dish that you want to make special. It comes in a beautiful bottle and makes for a very thoughtful gift for the olive oil drinker in your life.
10. Make Hazelnut Linzer Cookies With Blackberry Jam from Bon Apetit:
I made these the other day and they have a wonderfully muted, almost smoky flavor (perhaps because I pre-toasted the hazelnuts thinking that was the only way to get rid of the skin; but re-reading it now, I wonder if I should’ve just put them in raw?) Either way, a batch of homemade Christmas cookies in a pretty box or bag would be a highly memorable gift.
I hope this idiosyncratic guide to holiday shopping was useful: these are all gifts that I stand behind 100%. And don’t forget the massive options available at Menu For Hope (which has raised over $30,000 miraculous dollars!) I highly recommend UE14 (New York in A Box) and UE15 (An Amateur Gourmet Lunch at Work) but I’m hugely biased.