Birthday Bounty

My mom has accused me of being difficult to shop for. “You’re difficult to shop for,” she says. “I don’t know what to get you for your birthday.”

“Whatever you get me will be fine,” I assured her.

“What do you want?” she replied.

What did I want? My Desire Department divided into two camps: Camp TV and Camp Food. Camp TV craved a Tivo because, well, Tivos are awesome and also 4/5ths of my classes this semester are TV writing classes and I need to Tivo important shows that I’ve never seen like Grey’s Anatomy, 24, and The Office. It’s school-related. Thus the gift would not only prove recreational but educational too. Two gifts in one: how could Tivo be bad?

But Camp Food made a very compelling argument. “Ask yourself this!” began the leader of Camp Food. “If you had a Tivo, would you watch more or less TV?”

Camp TV was silent for a moment. Camp Food was exposing Camp TV’s greatest fear: that with a Tivo we’d suck even more hours out of our day than we already do watching the boob tube. Educational or not, Tivo may take away from our more important edifying endeavors like reading books, writing books, reading about people writing books and writing about people reading books. Tivo could be way destructive. Camp Food members began to high-five each other.

“I dunno,” I said to mom. “Maybe a gift certificate to Williams Sonoma?”

Zap forward 24 hours and what arrives in the mail? A gift certificate to Williams Sonoma! A very generous gift certificate, I might add. What would I buy there? There are so many options…

There are so many options, yes, but also so many needs. We need so many things to become the Gourmet we’ve always wanted to be: the non-Amateur Gourmet. (Is there a new blog dawning around the corner?)

At Williams Sonoma, I knew straight where to go. To the pots and pans section: I was in great need of…well..better pots and pans. My kitchen inventory at this moment in my life consisted of a tiny aluminum crap crap crappy saucepan from God knows where; a larger saucepan from Target, an outrageously huge saute pan that doesn’t fit anywhere except high on the top of my cabinets and a skillet that’s crusty and bad and shameful and hidden away beneath my countertop. So I needed pots and pans.

“I need pots and pans,” I told the woman at Williams Sonoma.

The woman was a bit condescending and a bit artificial (“These pans are so amazing, I use them all the time”) (ok, maybe that’s not artificial but her TONE was artificial) but ultimately she was helpful. And with her guidance I realized that all I needed was one non-stick pan (for making eggs and fish and things you don’t want to stick) and a medium-sized saute pan. An All-Clad saute pan, to be specific, which is what The Barefoot Contessa recommends at the back of her book.

Zip us again to my apartment where I unpacked and photographed my bounty. Behold my saute pan and non-stick fry pan!


Here’s the saute pan unwrapped:


Here’s the fry pan unwrapped:


Aren’t they pretty? Don’t you want to come to my kitchen and cook things for me? I know I do! In fact, that very night I set upon using them (after cleaning them) making my favorite, simple stay-at-home meal: pasta with Parmesan, butter and nutmeg.


Here you can see three out of four of my burners in action. On the upper left you’ll notice I’m toasting pine nuts: I got that idea from Giada De Laurentis who made a similarly buttery sauce on her show the other day and added pine nuts at the end. I did the same.

You may also notice that the pot I’m boiling the pasta in is the same pot that I’ve been using forever. That’s because the woman at Williams Sonoma said: “I don’t think you’ll see a huge difference if you buy an expensive pot here.” I appreciated her honesty. I’m sorry I called her artificial. Now I think she’s genuine.

So, the butter melts in my new saute pan and then I added some pasta water, some nutmeg, some salt and then I added the pasta directly to the sauce, added the cheese and it all came together beautifully:


See, the Italians combine their sauces and pastas like this in a separate pan. I’d been doing it in my pot but now that I have a saute pan, I think I’ll continue to do it here because more heat hits the pasta this way and it’s easier to glide it all on to a plate. It was a terrific first saute pan experience.

Now you might think, having met my saute pan and fry pan, that you’d experienced the extent of my birthday bounty. But you’d be wrong. There is more, my friends. Much more. [Clue: the picture at the top of this post is of chocolate! You smarties must have noticed that.]

On Friday morning (the day before my birthday) I got an e-mail from my front desk: “You have a package,” it said. In parentheses it said: “(Brown Paper Bag.”)

The way my building works is when you get a package you get an e-mail. Usually it just says “You have a package.” Very rarely does it say “(Brown Paper Bag.)” In fact, I’ve never had it say “(Brown Paper Bag”). This frightened me slightly.

When I got downstairs to pick up the package the front desk man, Eddie, said: “You have chocolate Adam. Is it your birthday?”

He handed me the brown paper bag and I saw this inside:


A giant hatbox of chocolate from Jacques Torres. Most people seeing this would experience intense delight. I, instead, experienced intense fear.

“Who sent me this giant hat box from Jacques Torres?” stammered Captain Neuroses on the Ship Anxiety. “What if I have a crazy stalker reader who KNOWS where I live and delivered this in a brown paper bag and what if there’s a note inside that says, ‘NOW THAT I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE, WE CAN CHEW CHOCOLATE TOGETHER…FOREVER!” Perhaps this isn’t so much neuroses as megalomania. Do I really warrant having a stalker? I write about food on the internet. Let’s open this up and see who sent it…


Awww, it’s my family. They double gifted me this year. Gift certificate + hat box of chocolate = love. And judging from the inside contents of the box, my family loves me a whole lot:


Or another theory might go that they don’t love me at all and want me to eat all this chocolate, gain 400 lbs and die of a heart attack.

“It’s for your party,” said mom, when I called her to thank her and dad and Michael. “I thought people would help you eat it.”

Did people help me eat it? You’ll have to read the next post.

Is that the end of my birthday bounty? Not at all! Honestly, this was the most bountiful birthday year of my life. I think because I’ve defined myself as a food person the field is narrower when it comes to buying me gifts. Thus, at my party I received (and prepare to be jealous): four bottles of wine, Martha Stewart’s new baking book (which is absolutely stunningly beautiful), Nigel Slater’s Appetite (awesome!), and The Sopranos Family Cookbook (baddabing!). I also received some more books (non-food related), a gift certificate to The Strand, and a gift certificate to the iTunes music store. I am rolling in riches but the real riches are the people in my life who…

SAP POLICE: Please pull over sir. You’re sapping beyond the sap limit.

Sorry. It’s just that I love the people in my life more than the gifts they…

SAP POLICE: Sir, I’m going to have to shoot you.

But I…

[Bang bang.] Thanks for my birthday bounty, everyone!

18 thoughts on “Birthday Bounty”

  1. Happy Birthday! Your party looked like it was a lot of fun…and was quite tasty, too. If we don’t like parmesan, could we substitute another hard cheese? Hmm…maybe I should investigate this…does anyone have any suggestions?

  2. Tivo can be a little scary sometimes: the other day it thought Ina Garten was making “shrimp linguine with meringue.” Maybe you’re better off without that kind of inspiration.

  3. Happy Birthday Adam, you young puppy you!

    Have a wonderful 27th year: may your cholesterol be low, your waistline not expand, and may calorie counting be the last thing on your mind! ;-)

  4. Although your pans look beautiful and useful, find some way to get yourself a Tivo! You don’t watch more TV…you actually just watch it more efficiently. Seriously, I don’t know what I’d do if I actually had to go back to being home to watch things when they start. Get one if only to Tivo The Office! That show rocks!

  5. Happy Birthday! I got Martha Stewart’s new baking book for Christmas and it is AWESOME. It’s my new secret weapon…

  6. I have a little doorman jealousy… The guys who work in my building stop working if you’re carrying anything. So, say you pull up in a taxi with 15 bags of groceries and a month’s worth of dry cleaning, they will all be on break, watching you sweat while they sip lattes.

    Happy Birthday! The blog’s great!!

  7. congrats on the pans! i bought myself some all-clads for my birthday last summer, and i l-o-v-e them. just a hint: to keep the stainless shiny, wash with soap and baking soda. don’t worry about getting special cleanser – it’s pretty much a waste unless you really beat the hell outta your pans. enjoy the next year of cooking, eating, and fun!

  8. I toast nuts in the microwave, its super easy and little chance of burning them. Also, its probably too late, but there is a great thread on egullet about cookware. I was going to get a non-stick all-clad, but I read that basically non-sticks are meant to be disposable after so many years.

  9. Happy (belated) birthday!

    As an aside, you should absolutely watch the original UK verison of The Office. Although it’s the same script, the humour doesn’t seem to translate very well into “American”. ;D

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