When your Christmas list includes cooks, eaters, and food lovers, the shopping is easy and fun. Here are a few gift ideas and sources for presents that will be a hit. Be careful as you’re reading, though, you may see something you just have to have for yourself. Try to hold back and put it on your wish list, or you could always just forward this column to Santa.
A HANDMADE SPURTLE
No home should be without a spurtle. This ancient Scottish cooking tool is meant for stirring porridge (oatmeal), but is handy for stirring hearty soups or boiling pasta. Dating from the fifteenth century, it’s a useful tool in a modern kitchen. Mine stays on the counter in a handy crock of essential tools alongside my collection of spoons and spatulas.
We saw woodturner Derek Andrews of Seafoam Woodturning demonstrating spurtle turning at a wool farm market in River John, Nova Scotia. I had to have one, and at only $13.00 CDN it’s a hand-crafted bargain. Order yours at Seafoam Woodturning. It comes with “The Spurtle Times”, covering spurtle facts and lore, for a unique and practical stocking stuffer or hostess gift.
The New England Kitchen is a fresh look at New England cooking by James Seawall and Erin Byers Murray. Seawall, a successful Boston area chef and restaurant owner (Linage, The Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34), has deep family roots in New England. He likes nothing better than cooking with the regional bounty, building new recipes on an historical foundation, and taking advantage of new sources for top notch ingredients.
This book will take you on a culinary tour of Red Sox country. It’s packed with recipes ranging from simple to challenging – pot roast on one page and roasted duck leg confit on the next – with clear instructions and often a photo. It satisfies the need for everyday New England comfort food and the occasional challenge that will keep your skills up. The chocolate pudding, for one, was yummy.
“The Best Food Writing of 2016” edited by Holly Hughes. This annual anthology is a perennial on my Christmas list. Hughes has collected the cream of the crop from magazines, blogs, and web publications, doing the hard work for us and picking out the best. Keep the book handy and dip in for five or ten pages whenever you have the time. The writing is excellent and covers a wide range of styles and topics. Great for any food lover!
While I’m thinking about books, I have to bring up two I’ve already discussed at length this year but don’t hesitate to recommend again: “New England Pie, History Under a Crust” by Robert Cox is an entertaining seasonal guide to an iconic food from our region. Cox’s eloquent stories kept me between the crusts to the end; “Robbing the Bees” by Holley Bishop is a fascinating look into the buzzing world of beekeeping and honey production. If you like to peek behind the scenes, like I do, this book will give you the insider’s view.
Our area’s most complete store for cooking equipment, The Cook’s Nook, has moved from Connecticut Ave. to the former home of Wilton Hardware at 39 Wilton Ave. (Rt-7). The familiar warren of small rooms and multiple levels has been replaced by well-lit long aisles of great gear. The friendly staff, often family members, has encyclopedic knowledge of cooking gear and the geography of the store. Whether poking around, making discoveries, picking up a few gifts, or adding to your own Christmas list, time here is always well spent.
Check out the wall of whisks, the stack of strainers, piles of pots and pans, colorful Le Creuset cookware, everything for the home pizza maker and even a cookie cutter in the shape of our state. They’ll have what you need, but if they don’t, they’ll get it. And best of all, the staff knows their business and is eager to help!
We’re lucky to have the Wusthof knife factory outlet store here in Norwalk at 333 Wilson Ave. Knife buyers make the pilgrimage from all over the Metro area to get these professional quality knives at deep discounts. Any cook on your list would like a new bread knife, a set of steak knives, carving set, or a complete starter knife set in a wooden counter block. The deals get even better December, 8, 9, & 10 at their holiday sale.
For a gift that keeps on giving, sign up for the Community Supported Fishery at Alaskans Own. A box of pristine Alaska seafood, flash frozen right on the dock will be sent monthly. Just like a CSA, they’ll send the top of the catch as the seasons change. In addition to giving delicious fish, you’ll know you’re supporting small boat fishermen and their way of life.
Take a cheese class together with your favorite eating buddy. The Cheese School at Fairfield Cheese offers a series of classes about once a month. Covering topics like: Cheese 101; Regional Cheeses (Spain or Italy, for instance); and Cheese Pairings (beer, wine, or chocolate), the classes are fun and informative. Sign up for a class and put the syllabus under the tree. Any cheese lover will be thrilled.
Cooking gifts are always welcome for the food fan in your life, and, if you’re lucky, you may get to share in a delicious experience.