These days, when someone asks me what I think about the economy, my answer varies depending on my mood. Sometimes my eyes widen and out comes an oh-my-God-this-is-the-beginning-of-the-end response, and sometimes my eyes just glaze over and I give a no-worries-we’re-all-gonna-land-on-our-feet response. Sometimes I’m up in the night worrying, and sometimes I sleep like a bear.
Usually, though, I’m somewhere in the middle: Let’s be prudent, let’s take care of business, and no panicking allowed. Which, incidentally, is also how I’m thinking about Christmas.
I’ve made lists and checked them twice — or five times. I’ve studied catalogs and websites. I’ve even hit the mall (which was kinda quiet, come to think of it).
But to gather gift ideas, I’ve also asked Culinate contributors what’s on their lists for not-too-spendy kitchen gifts — both to give and to receive.
Wendy Cohan, who writes about gluten-free cooking on the Dinner Guest blog, wants an apron. She spotted one at Target, but there are 254 aprons at Target, so I hope Wendy’s letter to Santa was explicit. (No, not in that way.)
Wendy also wants a mill or grinder for grinding grain. “Grinding our own grain is something we gluten-free folks occasionally need to do to come up with new uses for the limited grains we can consume safely,” she says.
As for what she’s giving: cookbooks, especially to people who like to cook. “They’re usually well-received,” she says.
Ronnie Fein, the author of Hip Kosher, is also after aprons, but not just any aprons: “I am very fussy. They have to be of thick material and be full-body aprons (not those halfy things that tie at the waist). No logos or fancy trim.”
(Hmmm. Perhaps Ronnie can find a pattern she likes on the Angry Chicken and get someone to make her the perfect apron?)
Ronnie’s also asking for potholders, but she’s fussy about those too: “I don’t want mitts or those silicone things. A long time ago I bought some that I love, and they have become ratty and I can’t remember where I got them. They are round (there were also square ones) and made of cream-colored fabric and bound with black trim. Not fancy, but the most functional ones I ever owned.”
Mamster’s also got his eye on a knife-sharpening DVD from Korin so he can improve his knife-sharpening technique. (Remember this? It got him going on knives, and he hasn’t been able to stop obsessing yet.)
But Mamster has more on his mind than knives. In fact, he’s tormenting those of us who aren’t his neighbors or “unnamed family members:” “I’m giving an unnamed family member Irvine's Vintage Cider, made from Washington cider apples on Vashon Island. It’s the best cider I’ve ever tasted, and I discovered it while researching my cider column for Culinate (coming soon). It’s only available in the Seattle area; I got it at Pike Place Deli, $7/bottle.” (Italics mine.) Shucks.
What else? “For kids, the Melissa and Doug Wooden Sushi kit has provided us with more fun than necessary,” writes Mamster. (If you ask me, just the idea of a wooden sushi kit is pretty fun.)
Dinner Guest blogger Harriet Fasenfest is asking for a grinder attachment for her KitchenAid mixer (and because she wants to make sausage she’ll probably need one of these too). “I’m gassed about this cause I can go even more nuts in the kitchen,” says Harriet.
As for gifts to others, Harriet is giving casseroles, “the traditional ‘gift of time’ for working families who’d like something to pull out of the freezer on busy days.”
Cynthia Lair, a Dinner Guest blogger, the author of Feeding the Whole Family, and one of the masterminds behind Cookus Interruptus, likes to give butter crocks “because I like to encourage people to use and appreciate butter,” she says, “especially butter from the farmers’ market from pastured cows!”
Also a fan of rubber spatulas, columnist Deborah Madison likes to get — and give — them “because it’s the kind of thing one forgets to replace and one day you look at your spatulas and see that they’re all burned, scorched, melted. Funky stuff. Two years ago I started buying myself one every time I was in a kitchen store, and now I am happy to have all these pretty colored scrapers there on my counter in different shapes and sizes, as well as colors. There’s always one to reach for when I need it, which for me is often. Wooden spoons — the same thing. You can always use a fresh, new wooden spoon, whether it’s for cooking or a beautiful little spoon for a salt dish.”
Deborah’s also giving shagbark hickory nuts. “I bought some over the Internet when I was testing recipes for my dessert book, and they were so divine, I got more to give as gifts. They are really expensive ($27/lb.), but even a good handful will make a special treat for someone who likes to bake. If I were on the receiving end, I’d be thrilled!”
Also on Deborah’s list? Something luxe and something practical: Champagne flutes and a toaster oven. “I’ve tried out a cheap toaster oven and found that I like using one. Now I want one that really works!”
Dinner Guest blogger Joan Menefee, like Mamster, is obsessed with cutting; she’s got her eye on an OXO mandoline and a . . . pizza chopper. (I know, right? Whoever’s heard of a pizza chopper? Anybody actually used one? It does look handy.)
Columnist Kelly Myers, also in a knife mood apparently, is buying herself a Mac boning knife at Uwajimaya. For others, she’ll buy large, round, bamboo trivets from Mirador; one or two luxurious French cotton jacquard kitchen towels; or a mortar and pestle: “These are available in a variety of materials, sizes, and shapes. Something for every budget. They are beautiful to look at, too. Many people need one but won’t buy it for themselves.”
Cindy Burke, the author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic and a contributor to the Dinner Guest blog, is giving ginger graters. I second Cindy on this gift: If you’ve never used a ginger grater, you’re in for a nice surprise. As Cindy says: “These palm-sized copper graters are not only functional, but a beautiful treasure to nestle in your kitchen utensil drawer.”
Next on Cindy’s list is a wine cooler — not the beverage, of course, but the device that cools your wine and keeps it that way.
Attorney-turned-chef Hank Sawtelle, of the Dinner Guest blog, has his eye on a girolle, a cheese slicer that’s designed — wait for it, folks — for just one type of cheese, a tête de moine. “I’ll probably never buy one . . . but it would be so cool to have for parties,” says Hank. “In other words, a perfect gift.” Especially if it comes with the cheese.
More practical, perhaps, are pot clips for holding a spoon in place on a pot, and another mandoline: “Skip the complicated, expensive, hard-to-clean European version — these Japanese mandolines get used like crazy in professional kitchens, and for good reason: they are fast, accurate, and easy to maintain.”
Joan? You hear that?
And finally, Culinate recipe editor Carrie Floyd is asking for a new omelet pan, managing editor Caroline Cummins, like Cynthia Lair, is gifting tiny spatulas, and I’m hoping for some Felchlin 72-hour chocolate, to continue my efforts at developing a do-it-at-home drinking chocolate that’s as good as the one at Cacao. (Actually, I’m giving that same gift to some of my cooking friends, in hopes that they can help me along in my efforts.)
Now tell us, what kitchen gifts are you putting on your list?
Kim Carlson is Culinate’s editorial director.
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