Books, gadgets, or gear. Dining gift certificates, special ingredients, or interesting bottles. Shopping is easy for anyone on your list who likes to eat, cook, or enjoy fine beverages. Compare yet another scarf or sweater against a treasury of recipes, a handy kitchen tool, a memorable restaurant meal, artisanal foods, or a collectable cabernet – the eating experience wins every time.
Our tree is up (but not decorated), Christmas music is playing, and Marsha’s fragrant almond cake is in the oven. All this holiday atmosphere inspired me to jot down some suggestions for gifts that will suit almost everyone on your list. (If this reads like my Christmas list, I hope the right people see it.)
For several years I’ve been making the Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead bread – an easy method that yields an impressive loaf. Jim Lahey, owner and head baker has a new book out, The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook. It brings professional techniques and recipes for crusty European loaves and café fare right into your kitchen. The resulting hand-made bread will wow everyone fortunate enough to get a slice.
Apple crisp is a team effort in our house. I get to operate the machinery, our hand-crank, peeler-slicer-corer, while Marsha makes her crunchy crumble topping. The only thing better than prepping the apples is eating the resulting crisp. Apple peelers like this, used for generations, can be found at The Cook’s Nook. Every New England kitchen should have one of these classic tools.
The Cook’s Nook at 39 Wilton Road (just north of Walmart) is a trove of cooking gear. Not only do they have an encyclopedic inventory of just about everything a cook would want, their knowledgeable staff is always ready to answer questions, make suggestions, and offer advice. Often I meet a fellow cook scouting the aisles, ready to share a recipe or discuss a favorite kitchen tool.
Last time I was there, I was eyeing the mandolins. A device for making thin slices, plain or crinkle cut, as well a julienning vegetables, a mandolin is found in most pro kitchens. I have a commercial French model, challenging to use (and meant to be cleaned by someone else) that I’d like to replace with something more user friendly. At the Cook’s Nook, they have choices from simple to complex that will easily make perfect thin slices for au-gratin potatoes, cucumber salad, or transparent shavings of apples.
Winter is the season for warm, cheesy fondue. If you don’t have a set with the special pot that sits over a burner and the long dipping forks, check them out at the Cook’s Nook. The recipe is easy and the camaraderie of the communal pot can’t be beat.
Every Connecticut kitchen has to have a cutting board in the shape of our state. The outline is roughly rectangular with Greenwich sticking out to make a great handle. I like the ones at Bed, Bath and Beyond – another source for great kitchen gear.
This is the year of the cocktail for me. I’m asking Santa for a cocktail mixing set and some books on the topic. The New York Times Book of Cocktails looks like a handy reference. It combines recipes with the writing of contemporary beverage mavens.
Bottles of booze to stock the bar of an amature bartender are always welcome. Look for local producers from New England or the Hudson Valley like bourbon from Litchfield Distillery, award winning gin from Berkshire Mountain Distillers (just over the line on Rt. 7), or rye from Tuttletown Spirits whose Hudson whiskies are available in local stores.
Bitters are a key ingredient for the home bartender’s setup. At The Hudson Standard you can order their Catskill-made, small-batch flavors like Spruce Shoot, Ginger, and Love Struck. Check out their tempting cocktail recipes while on the site. At the same time, you can order some of their delicious shrub syrups like Peach-Lavender or Cassis-Berry.
Honey is well-known for its natural benefits and subtle flavors. Smiley Honey, so well described by Holley Bishop in her delightful book, Robbing the Bees (one of my favorites) is a great source for natural, raw honey from a variety of flowers: blackberry, orange blossom, sourwood, linden and the rare Tupelo are just some of the flavors that your food friends would love to have.
A good bottle of wine, perhaps something that will benefit from age, is always a welcome gift. Stew Leonard’s Wines on Westport Ave. has a large rare wine room with exceptional wines from around the world. You can’t go wrong with a Heitz Cellars single-vineyard Napa Cab.
For immediate gratification, anything from Cafe Dolce at 345 Main Ave. in Norwalk will sweeten the holiday season. Stop in for an elegant hostess gift or a refreshing break to renew your shopping enthusiasm and review your list over coffee, Hungarian-accented pastry, or a good lunch.
A slice of Dobros Tort and an energizing cappuccino will help you power through any last minute shopping. Happy hunting!