For the past few years I’ve included at least one favorite and unusual hot sauce (I’m still very fond of last year’s selection), but this year the hot sauce craze has gone – well, crazy. There are so many on the market that there are now dozens of hot sauce of the month clubs.
So this year I’m recommending a slight alternative. If you like Sichuan peppercorns you rejoiced when they came back on the market a few years ago. (If you want to read about the ban, you can do it here.) But you also know how fugitive that ma la flavor can be. You just can’t keep the peppercorns very long before the distinctive tingly burn begins to fade.
This Blankslate Szechuan Chili Oil, with its intriguing, slightly gingery zip, is the answer. I keep it in my refrigerator to perk up just about everything from Ma Po Tofu to steamed spinach. It’s made in Brooklyn, and if you live in New York State it’s pretty easy to find. It’s also easily available online.
Stephanie Mutz may be the coolest woman in America. When I met her a few months ago in Ojai her hands were stained purple, which makes sense since she is the only female sea urchin diver in the state of California.
The sea urchins she and her partner harvest for their company, Sea Stephanie Fish, are, in my opinion, the best in the world. (Some people prefer sea urchins from Hokkaido, but I’ll take those from Santa Barbara any day of the week.) If you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California, you can eat Stephanie’s astonishingly good uni in many restaurants. Even better, real sea urchin fanatics can purchase them in many places (they’re listed on the website).
If you’re buying whole sea urchins, you’re going to need to open them. Given their sharp spines and prickly exteriors, that’s not easy. Which is where this extremely functional tool comes in. Its only purpose is opening the little creatures up.
Stephanie sold me my sea urchin opener, but it turns out you can buy them on Amazon. And what sea urchin lover wouldn’t be happy to possess one of her very own?
I’ve had this jaunty giant Perfex pepper grinder sitting on my kitchen counter for more than twenty years. I absolutely love it. It’s eight inches tall, holds a small mountain of peppercorns, is easy to fill and adjusts at the turn of a screw.
There’s only one drawback: it’s no longer available in the United States. I have absolutely no idea why this is the case, and for the past few years I’ve sought out vintage grinders when I wanted to give them as gifts.
Suddenly they’re back. They recently became available on Amazon. Although you have to order them from England, they’re well worth the trouble. They last forever, and your friends will think of you each time they reach for pepper.
Just when you thought you’d learned everything you needed to know about wine craft beer arrived, bringing an entirely new world to explore.
So you became fluent in IPA, Stout, Pilsner, Saison and Hefeweizen.
Then along came Sake, with an entirely new language to learn.
If you find the great Japanese brew confusing, this is for you. Tipssysake.com sells dozens of different varieties of sake, so you can learn to distinguish between Junmai, Ginjo and Daiginjo. Even better, they have a sake box club that offers three different kinds of sake on a monthly basis. (You can order a single box, or opt for an entire year’s worth of research.)
For those who choose their brews simply by name – how can you resist Snow Maiden or Moon on the Water? – this would make a wonderful gift. I can think of lots of people who would consider this a rather perfect present.
This is fantastic pastrami! Texas-style, but made in L.A., Ugly Drum mail-orders their fantastic meat. It freezes well, meaning that it’s the perfect thing to keep in your freezer for last-minute guests and impromptu parties.
Who wouldn’t be happy knowing an entire brisket is waiting in the freezer, ready to delight a whole group of guests? It makes an unusual – but very welcome – gift for your carnivorous friends.