Things have been quiet (read: busy) but it’s time to start counting down the days to Christmas. First up, a gift guide.
You’ve probably done most of your shopping already (or not. This is a no-judgement zone). But if you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for something else to round out your list. Despite my Kindle love (and I am, in fact a convert – one of these days I’ll write about my Kindle love and the library), there’s nothing like a book as a gift. Easy to wrap, lasts forever, doesn’t take up much room, and can be purchased at a cozy bookstore, which is almost never overrun with holiday craziness (or online. I admit to that, too. And if you haven’t joined Amazon Prime (2 day shipping!) now is the time to sign up for a free trial.) Here then, is my list of great gift books for 2013. (Links are affiliate links).
For your cousin who just got married and is learning to seriously cook with the fancy knives and brand new KitchenAid Mixer she has recently acquired:
Why: This book is a modern classic for a reason. Judy Rodgers, who passed away this year, has written a cookbook that is not only a collection of (excellent) recipes, but is also a book that’s interesting enough to read cover to cover and a true primer on technique. This book will make her a better cook – worthy of all those fancy pots.
For your husband, who follows the stock market for fun and actually reads corporations’ annual reports as if they were magazines:
Why: To quote my husband (who happens to read annual reports for fun): “You’re getting the collected wisdom of America’s greatest investor in real time.” (He also wanted me to point out that you can print these for free off the Berkshire Hathaway website.)
For your college roommate, who has been going through a tough time and could use a laugh and some empathy:
Why: Anyone who reads her genius blog knows that Allie Brosh is a wonder – she manages to be both poignant and hysterically funny at the same time. The book is a collection of some of her best cartoons and some new material, but it’s all fresh and hilarious and so, so true.
For your gay BFF, who follows pop culture like it’s going out of style and will never leave New York because of Broadway:
Why: This is the best cookbook I’ve bought this year, maybe in many years. The recipes are fresh and exciting – evoking the city that inspired them with beautiful photographs. It’s a great book for the armchair traveler, but it’s also a great book for the cook – the flavor combinations are often surprising and always delicious.
For your curly-haired rosy-cheeked toddler, who learned animal noises before he learned any actual words and thinks every dog he meets is a friend:
Why: with cute pictures of real dogs, a lilting, fun rhyme, and some basic pop up characteristics, this book is sure to be a hit. It also teaches opposites (big dog, little dog, neat dog, sloppy), and some preliminary counting. In our house, it’s a great favorite, accompanied by cries of “Doggie!’ and “aGEN”.
For your precocious six year old daughter, who is balancing right on the cusp of kidhood, and is just now finding secrets to keep (and the ability to write them down):
Why: Gaiman gets overlooked by the lit fiction set who are all busy reading Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri, but this is a gem of a book. Part horror story, part fairy tale, part psychological insight – you’ll want to read it and then have someone to discuss it with. Plus, it’s short, so you have plenty of time to read it before next month’s meeting – even with all the holiday madness.
Why: Who doesn’t love Bill Bryson? Funny and smart, he’s an excellent tour guide and dispenser of trivia. This book covers baseball, gangsters, airplanes, the stock market – all with Bryson’s trademark wit.
So get in the kitchen, pop open a cerveza, and start the party.
2. Sustainable Scarves:
I am totally jonesing for one of these scarves from FashionaABLE. I heard Barrett Oliver, the founder, speak at Big Traveling Potluck, and it was so inspiring. Each scarf is made by hand in Ethiopia by a woman who is a former sex worker and has been given the opportunity to make scarves instead. And each one comes with the story of one of the women who made it, and how she can educate her children, or support her family because of your purchase. Isn’t that amazing? I think they would make a fantastic mother’s day gift, since they’re so supportive of women. I am eyeing the Frehiwot in Marigold. (Hint Hint husband who may read this)
3. La Dolce Vita
I was lucky enough to have lunch this week with the ladies of Vamoos Travel;. If I had some spare dough and some spare time, I would be waiting in line to sign up for one of their amazing luxury culinary tours of Italy. These ladies don’t just plop you in a tour bus and send you to eat pasta in some tourist establishment — they provide all sorts of fantastic experiences, like visiting a artisan who makes Parmigiano Reggiano, or learning to make gnocchi in the kitchen of an Italian grandma. Their next tour is in November, and they only take about 10 people, so they book up fast.
4. A Kick in the Booty
If there has been a little too much dolce in your vita lately, you have to check out the Virtual Bootcamp from my friend Karen at Balance Personal Fitness in Austin. I signed up for the first round (totally paid for, this is not a sponsored post!) and it’s been great. Karen sends me a workout 3 times a week, provides you tube videos to show me proper form, and answers questions and provides support in a special facebook group. It’s a total bargain. Now, if only I could stay healthy long enough to work out consistently (I live with the world’s cutest petri dishes).’
5. The Foodie Finish
One of the loveliest people I got to meet at the Potluck was Lillian of Chinese Grandma. She’s also a great cook – she brought this amazing Roasted Cauliflower to the potluck and I ate TWO helpings (and there was a lot of food). I’ve found during this year of living vegetally that cauliflower is one of the most versatile vegetables, but Lillian’s dish was a knockout.
Bootsy is now nine months old (look at those teeth!), which means he’s been out for as long as he’ve been in. I, for one, refuse to believe it. In my mind, he’s still a tiny, snuggly, helpless newborn. He, on the other hand, has a fondness for lasagna, wants to be walking more than anything else, and is pretty much ready to move out next week. Having a second baby, nearly five years after my first, was a learning experience. I felt like I had forgotten so much hard-won wisdom. On the other hand (and don’t all second time moms say this?) I was much more relaxed with Bootsy than I was with the Nuni. I stepped away from the parenting articles and books and shoulds and “did yous” and was much happier for it. (As an aside, this parenting article by JJ Keith at HuffPo was maybe the best one I read, ever. You should read it. Especially if you’re in the pregnancy and infancy trenches).
One of the main differences of mamadom, round 2, is that I didn’t buy everything in sight because I thought I needed it. The Nuni in utero got a fully decorated and fully stocked nursery. I learned my lesson when Bootsy came along, though, and we started minimally. Bootsy gets changed on the bed (we’ve only had to change the sheets twice as a result of underdeployed washcloths) and sleeps in a pack and play (it works at home AND on the road), but here are a few innovations in baby gear that have impressed me this time around that I wanted to share with you. (Note: Links are affiliate links, but all the recommendations come from my own sweet self.)
It’s that time of year. Yes, peace and love and joy and family and cookies and all that, but also the time of year when you find yourself looking for gifts for a variety of people. People like your clients, your boss, your brother in law, your boyfriend’s dad.* In times like these, the eager giver turns to Scotch Whisky (note the lack of an “e.” If you’re drinking whiskey, you’re in the wrong country). Scotch is a good gift — it’s expensive enough to convey value, but not so expensive it will bankrupt you. It’s sophisticated, a little exotic, implies that you know a lot about the finer things in life. The question becomes what scotch to buy. This guide will give you a little overview of how to choose a nice bottle of scotch if you are not a scotch connoisseur, as well as discuss it reasonably intelligently with the giftee.
*Although I know many women who drink scotch, I know of no woman who has ever received a bottle of scotch as a gift. I, for one, would much prefer to receive a nice bottle of scotch than either a scented candle or bath products. Continue reading The Gift Giver’s Guide to Scotch Whisky
Christmas seems to have snuck up on my this year. I’ve been listening to Christmas music since November, have had our tree up since December 2nd, but here I am, with Christmas less than a week away, and I’m not done shopping! If you’re in a similar boat (greetings, fellow procrastinator) here are a few suggestions for the foodies on your list. All are still available to ship before Christmas.
For the meat lover:
image courtesy of Creminelli
My grandfather is 98 years old and his favorite food in the whole world is salami. Ergo, it must be health food, right? This year I’m giving him a salami from Creminelli. The fine folks there were kind enough to send us a few salamis to sample, and we inhaled them. As in, I couldn’t get a picture before they disappeared inhaled them. The Nuni has been asking for them every day since, and my husband has requested them in HIS stocking. These are good salamis. Our collective favorite was the wild boar, but I have a soft spot for tartufo. You can find them at many local retail establishments, or there’s still time to order online.
For the reader:
I have cooked and posted many a Laurie Colwin recipe on this blog, but I can’t replicate her beguiling prose. Her books are wonderful to cook from, but even better to read. Do someone you love a favor and buy them Home Cooking
and More Home Cooking. They will love you back.
For the mini:
My proudest parenting moment to date was when someone mentioned “Julia” in conversation and the Nuni popped up with “Julia Child”. For your budding epicureI can’t recommend enough Rosemary Wells wonderful book, Yoko, which teaches the lessons of fearlessness and tolerance through sushi. Pair it with this darling Wooden Sushi Set from uber toy makers Melissa and Doug, and get them cooking in the (pretend) kitchen.
For the cocktail drinker:
I first tasted an Amarena cherry in a Manhattan served at Clyde Commons, in Portland, and I was hooked. Their intense cherry flavor, melting texture and ruby syrup elevate any drink to a whole new level. I can inhale maraschino cherries with the best of them, but these are special. Available at igourmet.com or in Williams Sonoma stores.
I was very sad to have missed the summer jam season this year. With all the craziness around buying the house and moving, I never got around to putting up plum jam, or strawberry balsamic, or peach and basil, and my stash from last year is getting dangerously low. Fortunately, I still have a few seasonal fruit tricks up my sleeve. Like this pear jam with vanilla beans, which will make your heart swell with domestic pride and impress anyone you care to give it to.
Jam seems terribly intimidating, but really, it’s not. Yes, there are a few basic steps you need to go through to make sure it’s safe to eat (or really to store) but the risks of contaminated jam are much lower than for canned vegetables because both the acid and the sugar in jam act as preservatives. You don’t need any special equipment, other than jars (I get mine at the local hardware store — you can reuse jars, but make sure to get new lids, which you can buy separately) and a big pot to boil them in. An hour’s worth of effort (and not MUCH effort, really – most of it involves occasional stirring or waiting for the water bath to boil.)
And the result? Golden jars of sunshine, lined up in your pantry, making you proud, waiting to be doled out to deserving friends and family this holiday season.
And if you think that you or your family and friends don’t eat jam, here are some serving ideas:
Stir it into oatmeal
Top crackers with brie and a dollop of pear jam
Spoon it atop ice cream
Plop into pastry shells to make jam tarts
And there’s always toast. We’re quite fond of it in our house.
Peel the pears, core them and cut them into small chunks. Place in a large saucepan with the remaining ingredients. (I like my pear jam chunky to preserve some of that grainy "pear" texture -if you don't, mash them a bit in the pan). Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to gel --test it by dropping a spoonful on a cold dish and dragging the spoon (or your finger, after it's cooled a bit) through it -- if it leaves a trail that takes a few seconds to be filled in, it's ready.
Meanwhile, heat 4½ pint jars in a stock pot full of boiling water. When your jam is ready, pull the jars out of the boiling water and fill them with hot jam. Leave ¼ inch space between the top of the jam and the top of the jars, and run a clean (pref sterilized) knife around the edge of the jars to let any air bubbles escape). Wipe the top of the jars with a clean damp towel to ensure a seal. Cover the jars with the lids and the rings, and return them to the boiling water, making sure the water covers the jars entirely. Cover the pan, and let boil briskly for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the pan, and let them cool to room temperature.
Nothing frustrates me more than visiting someone’s house and seeing their beautiful kitchen, decked out to the nines, and stocked with the latest kitchenware. I compliment them on it, and the person says, “Oh thank you. But I never cook.” What a waste of good tools. On the other hand, I also see the kitchens of people who really love to cook but don’t have the right kitchenware, which is also frustrating. I think to the words of the great comedian, Eddie Izzard, who said “‘Guns don’t kill people, people do,’ but I think the gun helps, you know? I think it helps. I just think just standing there going, “Bang!” That’s not going to kill too many people, is it?” Having great tools isn’t going to make you a great cook, but it’s certainly going to help make cooking a more pleasant and successful experience.
That’s why I wanted to write a series of posts about the tools in my kitchen that I just love. If you’re looking to buy some new kitchen accessories, or you’re building a wedding registry or equipping a new kitchen, I hope this guide will give you some ideas of what kinds of kitchen tools would be useful.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!