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2022 Holiday Gift Guide
Some gift ideas for Friends and Family
I’m a big fan of edibles. No, not those kind, which aren’t legal in France. But after doing a big move this year and finding space for everything, I do like it when I’m gifted something edible—or drinkable. (Rather than something that takes up cabinet or shelf space.) However, my other love is cookbooks, so I’ve included a few here that I found worth making space in my kitchen for.
You may find that not all the places listed ship internationally, so you’ll have to check their websites to see where they do and don’t. (In some cases, I did mention it.) If they don’t ship to where you live, I hear ya; there are things available in the U.S. that I want, but they don’t ship to France. Thankfully, I have friends that go back and forth a lot and bring things both ways.
[While I haven’t used one, you may wish to investigate package-forwarding services, such as Parcel Monkey and Forward2Me. I’ve not used any of them, so I can’t recommend one specifically. But a little sleuthing around the internet will probably answer some of your questions and help you find one if you’re interested.]
The French are into their honey, and for good reason — it’s excellent! There’s a lot of honey in France, but if I had to choose a favorite, it’s the honey from La Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes. The miel de bord de mer is cultivated from the seaside and has a savory herb flavor from what the bees buzzing around the Atlantic coastline snack on. The hard-to-find dandelion honey has a unique flavor that some like, but my favorite is their Buckwheat honey. Dark and assertive, it’s great on toast in the morning with a swipe of salted butter. (Ships within France. Website says to contact them for a shipping quote outside of the country.)
Poilâne Bread Knife
I love my Poilâne bread knife, which is available for left- or right-handed bread lovers. It’s an iconic knife to cut your iconic loaf of bread with and is sharp enough to cut through the densest, crustiest loaves. A nice touch with the Poilâne logo imprinted on the blade to remind you of everyone’s favorite bakery in France when you use it.
Le Bon Garçon Caramels
The caramels at Le Bon Garçon (in Los Angeles) are some of the best I’ve tasted. Justin Chao learned his craft from caramel master Jacques Genin in Paris and brought the same savoir-faire back to the States. Made with organic cream, the caramels are available in a variety of flavors. Truthfully, I’m partial to the Sea Salt caramels, but for the holidays, there are Spiced Gingerbread caramels as well as Holiday Mint.
Kouing Amman from Les Madeleines
Continuing in the realm of French pastries, Romina Rasmussen brought Kouign Amann to the lucky people of Salt Lake City, and the rest of America (via Goldbelly). Her classic Breton pastry is loaded with the same flaky layers you get in Brittany, along with good French butter. After nearly two decades, Romina is closing the shop at the end of the year, so grab some of her famous Kouign Amanns…before they’re gone for good.
The generous Sharing Box from Michael Recchiuti is a great gift for any chocolate-lover, packed with bars, filled chocolates, fleur de sel caramels, dragées…and more! Michael is a long-time friend, and it’s always a treat when he comes to visit, dropping off a few boxes of his goodies which are appreciated (and devoured) by my French friends. For smaller appetites and stocking stuffers, his Fleur de Sel caramels and Burnt Caramel Almonds can’t be beat.
Lost Bread Co. Pretzel Shortbread
Omg. Omg…I said when I first tasted Lost Bread Co’s Pretzel Shortbreads, due to a nudge from Brad Thomas Parsons. I am hooked on these delicious shortbreads that combine salty, malty pretzels with buttery shortbread. These are so good, you’ll want to grab an extra bag (or two) for yourself when buying them for holiday gifts.
Diaspora Co. Spices
The Spice Girls told us to spice up your life! Since ’tis the season for spices, why not give a gift of great spices?
Diaspora Co. was founded by a Mumbai native who began by selling Pragati turmeric and now offers everything from masala and various peppers to top-quality baking spices such as cinnamon quills and nutmeg, all sustainably sourced and paying the workers 6x the commodity price. If you can’t decide, Sana, the owner, has put together a lovely line-up of gift boxes here.
Burlap & Barrel Spices
Burlap & Barrel is another favorite for equitably sourced, and exceptionally aromatic, spices and has a “Baking Collection” (above) and “Salt and Pepper” selection in their gift box range, perfect for your sweet—and savory—friends. (Pro tip: The Cloud Forest cardamom is outstanding, and I’m very interested in trying their new cardamom extract.)
Épices à Shira
French food maven Caroline Mignot collaborated on a special Vanille Amoureuse, blending vanilla, rose, ginger, cinnamon, white pepper, and fenugreek, which I used in a recent batch of Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip granola in place of the cinnamon. Yum!
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Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans
No one knows beans like Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo and this year’s RG bean gift box contains their excellent cassoulet beans, which I tuck in my suitcase and bring back to France. They offer a few other gift boxes, or you can assemble your own. If so, I recommend including the Christmas Limas, Cranberry borlotti beans, and giant Royal Coronas. Oh, and Romain discovered the Stardust powder, and likes to sprinkle it on everything, so that’s on his wish list.
Fiskars and Pallarès Scissors
You never know what a joy good scissors are until you pick up a good pair. I’ve been using mediocre scissors for a few years now and I finally upgraded to a pair of affordable Fiskar’s “Professional’s shears.” Your fingers slide right into the handle and fit my hand perfectly. They’re lightweight but act like heavy-duty when you use them, with long, thick blades that don’t seem to get dull. Your friends or family will never know they needed new scissors until they’ve tried these
If you really want to treat someone special, the Pallarès scissors from Spain are like royalty. I bought a pair of the Professional Kitchen Scissors (the website isn’t super clear which scissors they are showing) for someone a few years ago and am now waiting patiently for someone to get me a pair. They come in 8-inch or 9-inch sizes and according to a friend’s website (who no longer sells them), the smaller ones are better for average (medium-small) hands, and the larger ones are better for larger hands.
In the U.S., Bernal Cutlery carries the 8-inch ones and Flotsom and Fork has the 9-inch ones. In Canada, Ciselier has them. (They also ship to the U.S. and Canada.) I got the pair that I gifted to someone in Paris at La Trésorerie (although the website doesn’t show them, so you may want to call), and in England Objects of Use carries the 9” size.
[In many countries, if you give someone a knife or scissors as a gift, you include some coinage. Otherwise it’s considered bad luck. However in France, the onus is on the recipient to give a coin to the gift-giver.)
Pomme Prisonnière, also known by another distiller as Pomme Captive, are both versions of Calvados with an apple in the bottle and would make a fine gift for the spirit lover in your life. The bottles are placed on the buds on the tree, before the fruits form. Then the apples grow inside the bottles. So it takes some work…and patience.
As you can see from above, they are bottling them now at Christian Drouin, so availability may be limited. I haven’t tried the Dupont one, available in England here, but I do keep a bottle of the Christian Drouin Pomme Prisonnière on hand, and it seems to be currently available here in the U.S. You’ll have to do a little search where you live to find a bottle. (Availability varies, the company says, due to a high “failure rate.”)
St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur
Can’t get the apple in (or out) of prison? St. George Spiced Pear Liqueur is a holiday-friendly libation made with cinnamon, cloves, and fragrant Bartlett pears by one of my favorite distillers, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s winter in a bottle. They’ve even got some intriguing cocktail recipes for using it on their website. Due to the, um…unique liquor laws in the States, shipping and availability varies by state. You can use their product finder to locate it.
Hot Sauce Collection
Food writer and cookbook author Kenji López-Alt has put together a 6-bottle hot sauce selection with Heat Hot Sauce Shop, with a portion of the profits going to Colombia Diversa, advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ persons in Colombia. So you can do some good while sizzling your family’s and friends’ taste buds with this spicy line-up.
Christophe Louis Chocolate Panettone
I hesitate to recommend the chocolate panettone from Christophe Louie in Paris not because it’s so good, but because they’re hard to get. (According to the website, they ship within Europe and perhaps to certain other countries.) But you have to get your order in first, although the FAQ page of the website says you can get his standard panettone at The Grand Épicerie and Fou de Pâtisserie. Last year I refreshed my browser page so much that I was worried that I’d have to replace the Return key on my laptop. Studded with outstanding bean-to-bar chocolate from Nicolas Berger and delightfully crackly Italian hazelnuts, this panettone is the one to beat!
What’s for Dessert
I’m not much of a video watcher, but ones I do watch are the ones by Claire Saffitz who has a calm, confident demeanor. (We’ve gotten to know each other in person, and she’s lovely, which made me even more of a fan.) Her first book, Dessert Person, wowed me and became a best-seller, and her new book, What’s for Dessert, offers up over 100 simple(r) desserts than her previous book. I love how Claire explains things carefully in her recipes, walking you through the recipes with steady reassurance—as if she knows you and what you’re thinking as you’re baking your way through her recipes. I’ve bookmarked the All-In Shortbreads with pretzels, pecans, and chocolate as well as the Caramel Peanut Popcorn Bars, and was even name-checked in the book, for having introduced her to prune-stuffed prunes.
The Woks of Life
I’ve also been a fan of the The Woks of Life for years, and the Leung family has finally compiled their favorite (and easiest, and classic) Chinese and Chinese-American recipes in one book: The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese Family. With their clear instructions and photos, anyone can make dumplings, lo mein, and hot pots for their friends and family. They’ve given me the courage to tackle Zongi (page 53) one day, steamed lotus leaf filled with sticky rice and Chinese sausage. Or maybe I can just convince them to adopt me and I join them in the kitchen? While I await the paperwork to arrive, in the meantime, I’ve got their book to tide me over.
Smitten Kitchen Keepers
I once did an apartment swap with Deb Perelman, the creator of Smitten Kitchen, the wildly popular food blog. Due to a mix-up on the dates…on my part (I was still getting accustomed to November 10th in France being 11/10, whereas in the U.S. it’s 10/11 — or is that vice versa?), they came back a day before we were leaving, so we had a little slumber party in her tiny place, which was before she had kids, and she and her husband insisted on sleeping on the sofa. (Yet for some reason, however, she’s never offered to do an apartment swap again🤔.)
Deb has continued her blog, and her third cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Keepers: New Classics for Your Forever Files, is my favorite, and one that makes a perfect gift for anyone who likes to cook and bake but without a lot of fussing and fretting. With recipes like Toasted Ricotta Gnocchi that she says are guaranteed to work, Lamb Skewers with Crackly Vinegar Glaze, and no-need-to-wait-a-day Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnut Brittle, it’s easy to see why this book has zoomed to the top of the lists of many of the year’s best cookbooks.
Savory baking seems to be a trend, and I am here for it. Two of my favorite bakers have savory baking books. One is Claudia Fleming, who made her name at Gramercy Tavern, eventually moved to the countryside to open an inn, and now is back in New York, overseeing the baked goods (and more) at the excellent Daily Provisions, and is the executive pastry director for the other eateries in the Danny Meyer restaurant group.
Claudia Fleming’s Delectable leans more toward spins on the classics, such as Espresso Shortbreads, Plum and Almond Cakes, and Potato Flambé Tart, but I’m eyeing the Fennel Taralli (crisp Italian appetizer rings) and the Gruyère and Onion Cocktail biscuits. Claudia is back…with a baking bang!
In Savory Baking: Recipes for Breakfast, Dinner, and Everything in Between, Erin Jeanne McDowell dips into the salé (savory) world. Known for her pie prowess, Erin knows her dough, with recipes for Stuffed Pretzels, Spicy Cheese Crackers, “Baby” Baguettes, and Roasted Garlic Naan, as well as other multicultural treats, including Lumpia, Quiche, Dumplings, and even the famous Swedish Sandwich Cake. Lots of photos and Erin’s helpful advice will provide reassurance to beginning bakers but will also help experienced ones to up their baking game.
The internet is full of know-it-alls, which I know for a fact. But no matter what your skill level in the kitchen is, Food IQ has the questions and answers that will “raise your cooking smarts.” Chef Daniel Holzman teamed up with food writer and cookbook author Matt Rodbard to discuss, divulge, and bust myths, such as: Do you really need to use San Marzano tomatoes for tomato sauce? Is organic produce worth the extra money? Do you need to spend $300 on gear to make a good cup of coffee? And answers why pasta in restaurants tastes better. To prove their points, they offer recipes like Kakuni (Japanese pork belly), Frozen Spring Vegetable Risotto, and Garlic Confit. I learned a lot from reading this book, and you (or your gift recipients) will too.
Many of you were kind enough to share Drinking French drinks with me during our collective lockdowns and confinements, and I feel like I’ve made (literally) thousands of new friends from my book. Thank you!
You can share the love, and join the community, with my latest book, which includes recipes for hot chocolate (three of them! including a Salted butter caramel hot chocolate…), Mulled Wine, and other café favorites, as well as cocktails and French apéritifs, as well as a chapter of French-inspired snacks to serve with them. I’m biased but think the book makes the perfect gift, perhaps with a bottle of one of my favorite French spirits. Bon santé, and bon appétit!
Drinking French is available at Bookshop, Indie Bound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble as well as Book Larder, Kitchen Arts and Letters, Now Serving, and your local independent bookseller. Global readers can order Drinking French from Book Depository, which offers free international shipping.
My Paris Kitchen
For those who want a taste of Paris, My Paris Kitchen features over a hundred of my favorite sweet and savory recipes, inspired by the markets and food shops, and restaurants of Paris. There’s everything from a Green Olive and Almond Tapenade, Romain’s Leeks with mustard vinaigrette (which I added bacon to!), a super simple Duck confit, Cassoulet, to a Bûche de Noël to cap the holidays off in classic French style.
You can pick up a copy of My Paris Kitchen on Amazon, Book Larder, Kitchen Arts & Letters, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Book Depository (for free international shipping), or ask for a copy at your local independent bookseller.
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