Every year, I am surprised by the sudden arrival of the holiday season. And every year, I run around like a madwoman in late November and December, trying to get my act together and feeling supremely incompetent in the process. It is tiresome in the extreme. So this year, figuring that Hugo wouldn't exactly allow me more time to sort this stuff out, I started to write down my gift ideas for the loved ones in my life in August. AUGUST, people. I am such an old lady. It will probably surprise no one that I will still have to run around like a madwoman in order to get it all ordered and made on time, but at least I know what I am getting everyone and that already feels like a triumph.
Here, in the meantime, are some of the frivolous, delicious, luxurious and lovely things that I covet and that I think you might like, too - to either give or receive.
Bellocq's Afghani Chai - I haven't tried this handmade-in-Brooklyn tea yet, but the description alone is bewitching: "A hand-crafted evocative blend of Organic Assam black tea, organic red poppy flowers, green cardamon, star anise, ginger, clove and black pepper." Poppy flowers in my chai? Yes, please. Comes packaged in a gorgeous yellow or blue caddy, if you like.
Rare Tea Company's English Peppermint Tea - I first heard about the Rare Tea Company from Amanda Hesser. While their white and black teas are very nice, it is their English Peppermint that is truly special. It deserves a spot in every tea cupboard in the land. It seems expensive, but you need only a pinch of the Cornwall-grown stuff at a time - it's quite strong and incredibly fragrant.
Garden Place Cards - perfect little stocking stuffers, these would definitely upgrade your next dinner party.
Iginio Masseri Panettone - Apparently, this is the best Panettone in Italy. We will be spending Christmas at my aunt's house near Nice and I'd love to have one of these shipped there in advance of our arrival. (For all you bread geeks out there, if you want to try to make this yourself, here's a semi-comprehensible recipe.)
Beurre & Sel Cookies - Finally - finally! - Beurre & Sel offers online shopping, a godsend for those of us who don't live in New York (sob! tiny, heartreading violins!), yet would like nothing more than to eat, or, um, you know, gift the cookies that Dorie Greenspan and her son sell out of a tiny storefront on the Lower East Side. There are savory cookies, like Sesame Sea Salt and Rosemary Parmesan, as well as sweet ones, like Dorie's world-famous World Peace Cookies (also known as Korova cookies) and the ones that I am hankering after, the Port Jammers and Chocolate Mints.
Johanna Flores's Matte Porcelain Cups - Teatime has never been so chic! Pour your fragrant peppermint tea into one of these elegant little cups, matte on the outside, glazed and shiny on the inside, and kick all those mismatched mugs in your cupboard to the curb. I can't decide which color I love the best. The pistachio? The lilac? The charcoal?
Theo Fig Fennel and Almond Chocolate Bars - On the Seattle stop of my book tour, my media escort brought me to the factory store of Theo Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate company. It was a heavenly place - you could try every single chocolate bar they make! My very favorite bar (I bought bundles of them to give as gifts) was the one flavored with figs, fennel and almonds. It sounds a little weird, I know, but this chocolate is divine, especially during the holidays. It's rich and spicy and not-too-sweet. A really unique and delicious treat. (Though I dare you not to go to their online store and come away with about 17 other bars in your cart.)
iitala Piano Serving Spoons - I'll never get over how timeless and elegant these serving spoons are. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano for iitala, they are modern heirlooms.
Manshroom by Amy Ross - Okay, the price tag on this one admittedly pushes this into fantasy-gift area, but I adore this weird and wacky collage by artist Amy Ross and think it would look amazing in a kitchen.
Jane Mount's Ideal Bookshelf - this is a more affordable piece of art for the kitchen, a graphic representation of a New York chef's favorite cookbooks.
Haeckel's Sea Squirts Wooden Puzzle - Need something to do to wile away the hours of your holiday break? Right now, all I want to do is assemble this gorgeous puzzle while drinking tea, nibbling cookies and sitting by a roaring fire.
Astier de Villatte's Conserve Vase - I have been lusting after this vase for the better part of the past decade and think it would look equally amazing stuffed with flowers in your living room as it would filled with all your worn wooden spoons on the kitchen counter. (I keep thinking I should DIY this with an empty tomato can and some white paint.)
Homemade gifts - for those of us more interested in making edible presents, here are my favorites from the archives:
And if you have a copy of My Berlin Kitchen (hey, another brilliant gift idea!), the Austrian Früchtebrot (fruit bread) from my friend Christine is also a great one for gifting (each batch makes four small loaves that keep well for a while). During the next few weeks, I'm going to attempt perfecting Stollen and making Bethmännchen, classic German marzipan confections. I'll keep you posted, of course!