December 11, 2014
If you know someone who is constantly asking, "Got a toothpick?" (and don't we all?), here's the perfect present. Unless, of course, your toothpick lover is a teetotaller.
These are not just any old toothpicks. These special toothpicks are hand-whittled out of American birch. Soaked in six-year old American bourbon. And sold in elegant smoked glass bottles. Could anything be better?
I'm buying them for half the people I know. (A dozen of these elegant little sticks costs $8.50).
December 10, 2014
In 2006, when Anne Saxelby opened Saxelby Cheese with a focus on farmstead cheeses from the Northeast, many of us had already embraced the notion of eating local. Except when it came to cheese. Back then few people were willing to forego foreign cheese; we couldn't believe Americans could match what the Europeans were doing.
We’ve come a long way. According to the American Cheese Society, entries in their annual cheese contest have almost doubled in the last eight years: from 762 to 1,372. Regional farmstead cheese is increasingly available – and increasingly exciting. Look at it this way: in 1979 Laurie Chenel produced America's first goat cheese, and today it's made in almost every state in the Union.
I like dropping into Saxelby’s to see what new cheeses they've discovered. And I like sending cheese subscriptions to friends; it's a great way to introduce them to great new American cheeses they didn't know about.
Cheese is an extremely seasonal product, which makes Saxelby’s Seasonal Cheese club especially exciting. Each of four seasonal shipments is curated to showcase the best cheeses of the moment.
And while we're on the subject of cheese, I can't leave this without giving a shoutout to my favorite cheesemonger, Rubiner's in Great Barrington Massachussetts. It's a beautifully curated shop; their cheese comes from the best cheesemakers around the world, and you can trust it to be in excellent condition. At the moment they have extraordinary vacherin; it's hard to think of a better gift for a cheese-lover.
December 9, 2014
Mushrooms Like Magic
Mushroom people are secretive. Professional foragers never divulge their favorite spots. Even amateur hunters go tip-toeing through the woods, keeping their good fortune to themselves. (The mushroom above, should you care to know, is a delicious pink oyster.)
There's nothing more romantic than tromping through a wet forest, trying to unearth what would rather go unseen. It makes you look, really look, at the world around you.
But once you get past the sheer joy of mushroom hunting, there's the culinary pleasure of your find. Mushrooms are delicate and delicious, and if you know someone who loves to cook them, they'll be thrilled with this particular present.
Sharondale Farm takes the hunt out of mushrooming. They sell a dizzying array of mushroom plugs – shiitake, lions mane, oyster, to name a few – that make mushrooming a breeze. Simply bore holes in an old dead tree, stuff with a mushroom plug, and wait…. This is a gift that pays off later.
For those without access to dead trees, Sharondale also offers mushroom-in-a-box kits for growing mushrooms right on your kitchen counter. It's a gift that keeps on giving.
December 8, 2014
A Little Luxury
If you can’t rationalize buying something for yourself, you've probably stumbled upon an excellent gift. These 100 percent linen napkins from Il Buco Vita are case-in-point. Two-hundred dollars for four napkins? Insane. But one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
They're certainly among the most luxurious objects I own. Exquisitely constructed, they’re soft but feel substantial in the hand. They also come in warm, striking colors that lift Monday night dinner to its own special occasion. Better still, they're colored with vegetable dyes, so I can throw them into the washing machine without worrying that they'll run or fade.
Montefalco, the Umbrian town where these napkins are made, has a long history of linen production. The fabric is woven on looms dating back to the Renaissance, and each seam is hand stitched.
Want something to go under the napkins? I recently stumbled upon Lisa Corti tablecloths. They may not be made by guildspeople in Italy, but they’re sure to inject a jolt of sun into any drab dining room.
December 7, 2014
For a Constant Traveler
I've spent a lot of time on the road (and in the air) this year, and coffee is a problem. It drives me crazy to pay room service prices for bad coffee, but I don't want to get dressed and go out foraging for caffeine either. Many hotels now have in-room coffee makers, but they make a pretty unappealing cup.
This Aeropress coffee maker is the perfect solution. It produces a single cup of espresso or American coffee with less acidity than you get from a French press. It's small enough to fit cozily into your suitcase. It's easy to clean – an important consideration when all you've got is a minuscule hotel sink. And it comes with everything you need – including a year's supply of microfilters.
This impressive little coffee maker produces such an excellent brew your friends will probably start using it on a daily basis. They're stocked in many places, but I've linked to Crate&Barrell because their price is low and they offer free shipping.
Should you want to make this an even more spectacular present, throw in some really great beans. We all have our favorites, but I'm very partial to Strongtree Coffee: fair trade, grown without pesticides, certified and hand-roasted on a daily basis. Their beans make a really delicious cup.