HO HO HO! 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

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Let’s talk about the holidays, shall we? Being a godless heathen myself, I spend Christmas day at my favorite Szechuan restaurant trying to selfishly gobble up all the salt and pepper triple seafood delight before my boyfriend can beat me to it. Afterward, we roll ourselves home and usually watch a good movie like Beverly Hills Cop or Coming to America (In my world, Good Movie=Eddie Murphy Movie, apparently).


Even though I don’t bother with a tree, or cookie exchanges, or A Charlie Brown Christmas (too sad!), I’m not a total Scrooge. I love shopping for gifts! I am an American, after all, and despite what Kirk Cameron would lead you to believe, Christmas is about acquiring more stuff. And so, at the kick-off of the biggest shopping season of the year, I’ve put together a not-at-all comprehensive, highly subjective list of gift suggestions for the food lovers in your life.


We had the pleasure of losing a meatball-making contest and getting tipsy with the lovely folks who write Behind the Food Carts in Las Vegas earlier this year. They are the previous year’s winners for Best Travel Blog and have just come out with a great new book, Food Truck Road Trip: A Cookbook. In it, Kim, Terri, and Phil have assembled a collection of over 100 recipes, photos, and stories about the cooks behind the dishes.

Speaking of bloggers, Stephanie Le, the mastermind behind i am a food blog recently released her first cookbook Easy Gourmet. When we heard that Saveur was going to announce the winner of the title of Blog of the Year, Lucy and I both looked at each other like, duh, it’s going to be Stephanie. A talented photographer and food stylist, there’s a sensitivity, restraint, and harmony in the way she composes her plates. In addition to beautiful images, one of the things I found so striking was the actual design of her blog. Great graphic design is the sort of thing you don’t notice if it’s done well, it’s just one of those intangibles that adds to the overall pleasure of the experience.

I also love Jeffrey Steingarten’s two books The Man Who Ate Everything and its sequel, It Must’ve Been Something I Ate. I first came across Steingarten’s work in Vogue, possibly the most carb-phobic publication of all time, waxing poetic about the pleasures of a perfectly baked baguette. He does kind of insane, indulgent things like cook meals (all of them) for his dog, Skyking, conducts exhaustive taste tests of store-bought ketchup (35 different varieties!), and delves into the pursuit of the ideal gratin in the fussiest way imaginable, all told in his own, deliciously bitchy, inimitable manner.


For the bakers on your list, a pie bird is probably unnecessary, but so charming and possibly can prevent your pies from being overly soggy. Or, you know, you could cut some vents in the pie, but this option is way cuter. If they don’t already have one, a pastry blender is life-changing. As a person with a tiny kitchen and limited cabinet space, I generally don’t bother with kitchen tools that only have one purpose, but this one saves so much time (okay, maybe like, five minutes) when assembling pies, biscuits, and scones, it’s totally worth it.

Vietnamese people don’t give knives as gifts. They think it’s bad luck, the equivalent of basically saying, “I’m going to kill you.” So if a Vietnamese person happens to give you a knife, you must give them a symbolic payment of $1, to prevent such a miscommunication. I bought this Victorinox knife a few years ago, upon the recommendation of The Sweethome, and I fell madly in love with it, despite it’s humble provenance. It’s not the most beautiful knife, but it performs remarkably well, far better than the fancier, more expensive knives we’ve tried, it holds its edge, and it only costs $30! Amazing! I don’t know if the superstition applies to any non-Vietnamese, but if you do decide to give this as a gift, please just bully your friends out of a dollar. I don’t want blood on my hands.

As a balcony-deprived apartment dweller, I once believed home-made smoked meats and fish were beyond my grasp. I would lie awake at night, tossing and turning, obsessing over the thousands of dollars I would be forced to spend on smoked salmon, brisket, and other culinary delights. Little did I know, the solution was awaiting me on Amazon.com, in the form of this miraculous stovetop smoker. It’s so easy to use, and you aren’t limited to just animal protein. I’ve smoked tomatoes, sweet onions, and most recently beets!


If you are feeling extra-magnanimous, or are as loaded as Jaden and Willow Smith, you can think about an apple, and you can also think about the opposite of an apple, and then you can think about the obvious follow up: the best thing to pair with an apple. The answer, of course, is cheese. Consider a Cheese-of-the-Month club for your friends who are not on diets or have recently fallen off the wagon. Some recommended cultured-dairy purveyors: Murray’s in New York, Pastoral in Chicago, and the Bay area’s own Cowgirl Creamery. They all offer cheese-subscription services, and most ship to the lower 48 states.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream offers a membership to their Pint Club, an ice-cream delivery service. Can you even imagine how wonderful that would be? Four times a year, they send you a few pints of their classic flavors as well as limited edition seasonal varieties.

And lastly, I love the hot sauces from Co-Op Sauce. Romeo and I can murder a bottle of their Poblano hot sauce in record time, but all of their sauces are wonderfully complex, and are a welcome addition to pretty much any food imaginable. The best part is proceeds from the sales of these sauces go to support their arts organization, Co-Op Image, which works with underserved youth in the Chicago-area. Kill two birds with one stone: give back to the community while contributing to your waistline as well. A win-win all around!

What are your favorite food-related things to give? Tell us in the comments! We’d love to hear your suggestions!


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  1. My mother says that if you give a knife as a wedding gift you must also include a penny taped to the handle, so that you are not responsible for severing the couple’s relationship (or something?). Obviously this is not nearly as cool as the Vietnamese lore, though, so I may switch knife myth allegiances.

    I often give the Frankie’s Spuntino cookbook to people, in the hopes that one day someone will make me something from it. (STILL WAITING.) Also: Fancy olive oil from Eataly, which comes in really pretty bottles and (shhh) isn’t that expensive.

  2. I think if you’re feeling extra generous cast iron dutch ovens are a great gift :) Perfect for roasting and braising (and deep frying too!)

    I also love stainless steel nesting bowls. I think one always needs one when cooking.

    Happy holidays!

  3. @Didi, those are great suggestions! Romeo’s mom gifted us a little red dutch oven a few Christmases ago and I use it at least 2-3 times a week.

    @Lucy, Come to Chicago and I will cook you something from that cookbook! (Or maybe I will just order you Seamless.)

  4. Ooo, I’m so glad I read this. I love knives and have always imagined giving gorgeous knives as presents when I become rich and famous. Now I know what kind of murderous homewrecker I would have been. Quitokeeto has some nice food-related gifts, including a sharpening stone. Is it cool to give those?

  5. Pingback: 2015 Holiday Gift Guide (i.e. Some Fun Stuff To Buy This Year) | Pen & Palate

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