How are you doing on your Christmas shopping? For the cooks, bakers, and eaters on your list, shopping should be a snap. For anyone who enjoys a good bottle of wine, fine spirits, or craft beers, it’s easy to please.
Here are a few wish list suggestions for last minute shopping that will be an alternative to scarf, hat, and gloves. There’s no need to worry about sizes and, if your lucky, you may be invited to share.
Books are always welcome. Joshua McFadden, farmer, chef, and owner of the renowned Ava Gene’s restaurant in Portland Oregon, has divided the year into six parts for his cookbook, Six Seasons, a new way with vegetables. We ate at Ava Gene’s last year and were swept away by cherry tomatoes on grilled bread. I asked for the recipe and was told to wait for the book. It’s finally here. The easy yet magical recipe for tomato rubbed grilled bread topped with tomato salad is on page 263. This recipe alone makes the book worthwhile, but there’s so much more.
The rising popularity of Apéritif and Amaro alone or in cocktails seems unstoppable. These French and Italian infused wines are taking over bar carts with their herbal, bitter, exotic flavors. In Apéritif, cocktail hour the French way, Rebekah Peppler dives into the culture with history, drink formulas, and recipes for the delightful snacks served before dinner in France. These low alcohol, refreshing, classic drinks are a delightful way to start any evening.
This year I got hooked on The Great British Baking Show, a long-running, genteel, amateur baking competition on British TV available here on Netflix. Mary Berry, one of the two host-judges has been the public face of baking in Great Britain for four decades. Her book, Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, includes many of the confections seen on the show as well as the full range of traditional British sweets. Such fun!
I love doughnuts, but I’m scared to deep fry at home. My paranoia includes putting a dark greasy spot on the ceiling, filling the house with oily smoke, burns from splashing, and, of course, fire. But if you’re more intrepid, then get a copy of Doughnuts, Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home by Lara Ferroni. The second edition, which perfects the recipes, is self described as, “90 simple and delicious recipes to make at home.” The book is filled with mouth-watering pictures. If you take the plunge, I’d be happy to taste.
If you know someone with a thirst for fine wines and spirits, here are some ideas to make them smile.
Heitz Cellars is one of the great names in the Napa Valley, easily recognized by anyone who enjoys California wines. In the high-value 2016 Chardonnay ($25 Total Wine) peach and citrus flavors are balanced with modest oak and bright acidity. The Heitz family describes the 2014 Cabernet ($46 TW) as “powerful yet elegant” from a classic vintage. If you want to splurge, go for the single vineyard Trailside ($76 TW) These are among the last vintages made by the Heitz family before the recent sale of the winery.
Highland Park is one of the great names in single malt whisky. We visited the distillery on the Scottish island of Orkney and tasted a broad range of their spirits. Highland Park 12 year old ($40) is their flagship bottling and a fine example of their unique heather-honey style.
The 18 ($130), with an additional 6 years in the barrel, is an exceptional if pricy, single malt experience. It’s a bit of an indulgence, but will keep your favorite single malt drinker just as warm as a cashmere sweater for about the same price. In between the two is Valknut ($72 TW), made primarily with local Orkney grain and matured in sherry casks.
You can’t go wrong with Chocolate. Krause’s Chocolates of Saugerties, NY has been making hand-dipped candies since 1929. If you can’t visit the sweet-smelling shop, order online. Caramels, creams, nuts, fruits and truffles come enrobed in milk or dark chocolate by the half or full pound.
For stocking stuffers, no home in Connecticut (the nutmeg state) should be without a nutmeg grater and a supply of whole nutmegs. Look for them at the Cook’s Nook in Wilton. Any spices or seasonings from Penzeys Spices on Westport Avenue fit right in the stocking. I particularly enjoy the French and Italian dressing herb blends. Trader Joe’s has a sweet-tart sugar plum jam that puts visions of Christmas in my head.
Can’t decide what to give? Give a restaurant! A gift card to your favorite place is always a winner. We like Washington Prime in SoNo, Barcelona or Peaches Southern Pub on Wall Street. Or you may want to try a stylish new place, like the Tavern at Gray Barns in Norwalk. Perhaps a special occasion restaurant with an excellent reputation like the Whelk in Westport or Bernards in Ridgefield would fill the bill. Any of these will bring Christmas cheer after the holiday hub-bub dies down.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Get your shopping done soon so there’s time for food and drink as you celebrate with friends and family. And from ours to yours, best wishes for a Merry Christmas!