If you have someone in your life that likes either of those two subjects, you might be searching high and low for a good book, or maybe more daring, a good tool. Let me assist you.
Gifts for Cooks
I think that the cook book of the year for a baker has to be Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. If you are lucky enough to live in Portland Oregon or visit it, get thee hence to Ken’s Artisan Bakery in the Alphabet District. If I lived in Portland I would find a way to make it part of my commute in the morning. Anyway, Forkish jumps into the no-knead, Dutch oven bread baking technique, and he proves that you can make excellent bread at home on your own schedule. I’ve been stunned at the quality of the bread and how easy it is. The pictures are clear and useful, and his instructions are complete. This book is for any level of bread baker.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn (author of the much-loved autobiographical-recipe filled The Sharper the Knife The Less You Cry) is another story with recipes, but with an interesting twist. She really takes 9 students on a cooking school journey in a commercial kitchen… with mixed results. The opening story with her stalking a shopper in the supermarket is both hilarious and an object lesson.
Ethan Stowell’s New Italian Kitchen, by Ethan Stowell, raises the bar on Italian cooking. It’s not just tomato sauce, it turns out. Who knew (sniff the francophile snob). It’s simple and delicious, without a lot of pretense. Try his take on deviled eggs, you’ll be hooked.
I cannot say this often enough: I hate single-purpose gadgets. They occupy too much space to be worthwhile only to be used once or twice a week/month/year. That said, I cannot sing the praise of a good micro-plane grater often enough. Grating hard cheese, zesting citrus, working with nuts, spices, even chocolate, all of it is easer with one of these things. I’m always amazed at the stuff I’m willing to try because this tool is easy to use. A little fresh nutmeg grated on your nog?
Gifts for Gardeners
The gardening world seems to split along the lines of the ornamental gardeners and the vegetable gardeners. So how do you know which side of the fence to shop for your gardening friend?
I have yet to meet any gardeners who do not love a Hori-Hori knife. These things are sort of amazing: you can weed, dig a hole for a transplant, they even have measurements so you can see how deep your hole is. One edge is sort of serrated for cutting roots. Bonus: you look really badass with this thing held in a stabbing grip. Be sure to buy the holster for it too: this will be the tool that the gardener reaches for the most.
The ubiquitous Felco by-pass pruners are ever-present for a reason: they work better than any other. They are pricey, but with good care they will last a lifetime, and over the long haul will be the best buy. This is another one to buy with a holster.
If your gardener is part Druid and has a love for trees (fruiting and otherwise), nothing beats a good pruning saw. My personal favorite is the Silky Gomtaro Pruning Saw. It is razor sharp, lightweight, and cuts on the pull, not on the push. When you are up in a tree or ladder, these things make a difference.
There were not that many books this year that held my gardening attention, but one that did is Garden Up!, by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet. It is full of ideas for people with limited space and literally how to garden on walls. I’ve been starring at my fences with a new gleam in my eye.
Succulent Container Gardens is gardening porn. Deborah Lee Baldwin has carved out a niche for herself and has made succulents high-style (again). This is a picture book of ideas on how to use succulents and also a succulent plant dictionary. While I was recovering from minor surgery, this book was keeping me entertained while I could not garden. And since then… well, I now have a small succulent container garden that I’m rather proud of.