Gifts for Home Chefs and Foodies

The holidays are officially upon us. There are exactly four weeks left to go out and obtain, acquire and consume in the name of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Every year I struggle to find the right gifts for my husband, parents, sisters, nephew, godson and step-children (a few years ago my friends and I established a tradition of skipping the gift exchange and all meeting for an indulgent dinner – the best Christmas present ever). While this process is painless and fun for birthdays, I absolutely dread doing it for Christmas. I become overwhelmed by having to focus on everyone instead of just one person. Finding the perfect gift seems too lofty a goal and I often struggle just to find something that will show I actually put some thought into it. If only they were chefs or foodies, it would be so easy.

If you have a chef or foodie in your life, here are a few gift ideas:

For the philanthropic foodie: Peace honey and Green Mountain Coffee’s Heifer Hope Blend. The purchase of either one of these culinary delights benefits Heifer International, a charity working to end world hunger, one chick, pig, or heifer at a time.

For the Restaurant Devotee: A night out at a new restaurant or one the giftee’s been dying to try (either with you or via gift certificate).

Food Network Addict: A cookbook or DVD collection from the addict’s favorite chef or some of their products. Spice rubs always make great gifts as does the Julia Child – The French ChefDVD set.

Exploratory Foodie: Live in a different part of the country than your foodie friend? Send them something that represents the cuisine of your region. For Washington I can choose from smoked salmon to cherries to apples to Tom Douglas spice rubs.

For the aspiring young baker: A pint-sized chef’s toque, baking sheet, and festive cookie cutters.

For a new cook: A festive oven mitt (always available for a steal on Black Friday) filled with cooking utensils. For a more experienced cook, fill the mitt with more esoteric items like . . . the Devil.

For the serious home chef who loves gadgets: A sous vide. Check out Salty Seattle for advice on how to pick one and recipes to try out once you’ve got one. Her delectable dishes almost have me salivating for a sous vide of my own. I’m just not sure where I would put it – maybe I could move the meat slicer to the basement?

For Everyone: Books
There are innumerable new cookbooks and books about food out just in time for Christmas. Costco has two coffee table worthy editions that I have my eye on: Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc and Bouchon.

My go to fav for foodies, however, is Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything His article on attempting to eat at subsistence level will have you laughing out loud and inspire you to give more to your local food bank.

Of course, if you have the time and the motivation, homemade jams, cookies, candies and breads are always beloved by the recipient. Tack on the recipe and watch the smile break out over your foodie’s face.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’ll be cooking, photographing and researching Black Friday deals for a Black Friday kitchen upgrade post . . .

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A Review and Giveaway of “Petite Anglaise” by Catherine Sanderson

Petite Anglaise

Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson

While in Vancouver, I made a run to Chapters and picked up some light vacation reading.  One of the books was Catherine Sanderson’s debut novel, Petite Anglaise.  My feelings about this book are conflicting

Petite Anglaise is a memoir written by the blogger of the same name; a Brit living in Paris.  The story tracks her launch of her very personal blog and the path it takes her on – out of an unhappy 8-year relationship with the father of her toddler daughter and into the arms of one of her blog’s readers.  Only it seems that he is in love with “Petite Anglaise,” not Catherine.  The story rockets through Catherine’s personal highs and lows and ends in a good place.

Sounds pretty good, right?  So why my conflict?  Well, because by the middle of the book, interesting story aside, I just didn’t like her.  She was needy, self-centered, self-absorbed and just plain weak.  It was all about a man, ALL THE TIME.  She was the girl I never want to be, personified. But, she did pose some interesting insights and thought-provoking questions about bloggers:  Do bloggers become too self-centered?  Do our lives become “all about the blog”?  Do we live our lives, in part, to please our readers?     

I want to know what you think.  So, I’m giving away my copy of Petite Anglaise.  To enter, just leave a comment below by midnight Pacific Time next Friday, March 12th.

Tuesday Treat: “The Girl Next Door” by Elizabeth Noble

"The Girl Next Door"

"The Girl Next Door"

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m a big Elizabeth Noble fan – anything she writes, I read.  I stumbled upon her first book, “The Reading Group” when I lived in “THE OC” and my girlfriends and I had a “book club.”  In searching for a book for the group to read, my friend Tal and I stumbled upon “The Reading Group” and she made it her pick.  I devoured the book while on a trip to Hawaii with Jim and Tal and I discussed it at the next “book club” meeting.  We were the only ones who had read the book, but we were both happy at the find.  

The book club went down the path of only Tal and I reading the books, even ones others had picked and were, quite frankly, sometimes painful -“Eat, Pray, Love” comes to mind (yes, I know it was an international best seller and has inspired numerous blog titles, but she lost me right off the bat whining about her life and marriage while having an affair).  So while the book club quickly turned into the cocktails and dinner club, my addiction to Elizabeth Noble remains. 

Genre? 

I hesitate to call Elizabeth Noble’s books “chick lit” because she deals with heavy topics, death, premature birth, abortion, infidelity, single motherhood, to name a few.  But, her books also have all the elements that make us devour chick lit books.  Hmmm.  Genre suggestions? 

The Girl Next Door centers around a New York apartment building.  15 flats, 15 windows into the lives of the dwellers.  The story focuses on six women – three married, three unmarried – and four men, with a strong cast of supporting characters weaving in and out of their lives.  The timeframe is April through January.  It is amazing what Elizabeth Noble accomplishes in the span of 331 pages.  By peeking into her characters’ lives for a 9 month window we see Eve, an English expat, struggle to battle loneliness, find her place in a new city, and cope with her husband’s new workaholic life; Violet, an 82 year-old British expat, come out of her shell and embrace life once again by befriending the lonely Eve; Kim battle to save herself and her marriage; and several characters have their worlds turned upside down, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in the most heart-breaking ways.  In the end, there are some loose ends and some gift packaged ones, because, well, that’s how life is at any given moment. 

Elizabeth Noble’s true gift, however, is that in each of her books, no matter what your current lifestyle or background, there is always someone or something that will resonate with you.  I think that is what makes her books so addictive.

Elizabeth Noble’s new book, The Way We Were, comes out in May of this year.  I can’t wait.

Tuesday Treat: “Not Becoming My Mother” by Ruth Reichel

"Not Becoming My Mother" by Ruth Reichl

"Not Becoming My Mother" by Ruth Reichl

Editor in Chief of now defunct Gourmet magazine, restaurant critic and author, Ruth Reichl has dipped her hand into every aspect of the food world.  But Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way is not about food.  At least not in any but an incidental way.  Instead, it is the story of her mother Miriam; a vibrant, intellectual woman who lived in a time when women were supposed to get married, have babies and not have a career. 

As beneficiaries of the feminist movement, women now are coping with the expectation that they will have a career, raise children, run a household and be active in the community.  The superwoman mantra of the 90s is over though and most of us are just plain old tired and sometimes a bit resentful if we’re honest about it.  I for one am happy to have the option to work, to decide if I want to marry (I did, but for a long time I didn’t want to ever get married), and to decide whether or not I want to have children (I don’t) but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be grateful if once in a while one of those damn overweight businessmen would get off their a$$es and help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment!  And seriously, when did opening a door for someone become a crime?  I do it for both men and women (and I help women with their luggage when the aforementioned men can’t be bothered).  Being a gentleman is not a crime or insulting to women. 

In this atmosphere of today, Ruth Reichl’s book is timely.  While some of us are exhausted and many women I meet want nothing more than to be able to quit working, Reichl tells us a story of an intelligent woman trapped in a societal prison.  Miriam was not a good cook, she was not particularly good at housekeeping but she was successful at running a bookstore before she married and writing a few “How To” books early in her second marriage.  She was not successful at being inactive and like many women of her day she became depressed and eventually hostile for many years as a result.  She also became subject to the pharmacopeia of the day, with a continuously changing cocktail of pills to cure an illness that could be remedied by gainful employment.  Miriam finally turned things around after her husband died and her children were grown through employment in an area that engaged her.  She also, throughout her journey, made darn sure that her daughter didn’t end up like her. 

Miriam taught her daughter and she teaches us to be thankful for the options we are given as women today.  It’s a good reminder, especially on those days when you just want to throw it all in.