Posts Tagged gift ideas

Long Distance (Food of) Love

Before and after streusel-fication.

A few weeks ago, Leah came to visit.

It wasn’t long after we moved back in from the Great Flood Recovery Project.  Boxes abounded.  Stuff was missing.  Everything was askew.  Not the ideal time for house guest, but Leah isn’t a house guest.  She’s my sister, except she’s my cousin — but in my heart, she’s my sister.

One thing the Great Flood taught me is how much I’ve changed in the past decade or so of my life.  I used to thrive on chaos and thirst for change.  During college and early adulthood, I can’t tell you how many times I moved, changed jobs, changed majors, changed everything.  I still have that visceral need to have lots of balls in the air, but I require a heck of a lot more order and predictability than I did back then.

When The Boy was The Baby and had just learned to crawl, it took him 0.002 seconds to find those little padded foamy cushion thingys on the inside corners of our kitchen cabinets.  He plucked them from their highly functional placements, and then he ate them.

Now, had he been a second or third child, I can easily see how this might be regarded with some level of tolerance.  Or overlooked with a little humor, even: Oh honey, let the boy have his fun and ingest inedible objects.  They’re clearly not a choking hazard!   But being a first-born to two left-brained dorks — err, one left-brained dork and an actually very cool engineer/entrepreneur who knows pretty much everything about almost everything — this was not to be.

The Baby was informed that he was heretofore NOT to ingest any more of those foamy cushion thingys.  I swear he looked me in the eye with defiance as he plucked the next one and popped it into his mouth like a Tic Tac.

Apparently babies don’t really observe authoritative mandates, even from those upon whom they are 100% dependent.  Huh.

So, all the foam cushion thingys were removed, much to my chagrin.  Chagrin for two reasons: 1) I’m not big on removing each and every little thing that might tempt a kid, because I generally think children can and should learn their boundaries, and 2) the members of my household, present company included, apparently enjoy slamming cabinet doors.  SCHLAP!  I jumped a little every time it happened.  So. Annoying.

Fast forward two years, and one of the The Boy’s favorite pastimes is opening cabinet doors and seeing how hard he can slam them.  And dang if he doesn’t wear that same look of defiance when he does it.

One recent day, he and I were out running errands.  On a whim, I made an unannounced stop. 

Mommy, are we going to the Orange Store? 

Yes, Baby, we’re going to the Orange Store.  It’s called Home Depot.

MAMA!  I toleyoo, don’t call me Baby! 

If you’d like to say that with nice words, I might listen.

Mama, don’t call me Baby.

Please?

Please.

That’s better.

(This is my life now.)

So, we marched into the Orange Store, located the Padded Foamy Cushion Thingy section, and we bought replacements.  I have to admit, I got a little excited.

We went home and both had a little treat.  The Boy climbed into his chair at the kitchen table and had his way with a popsicle, and I went around my kitchen, sticking Padded Foamy Cushion Thingys any- and everywhere they might belong.  Then I test-slammed some cabinet doors, and reveled in the fact that the SCHLAP! had been downgraded to a dull thud.

I swear, my heart skipped a beat.

It skipped a beat because I had the presence of mind to run an unscheduled errand that I’ve been meaning to get to for months.  It skipped a beat because I had the time to devote to such a menial-yet-meaningful task.  It skipped a beat because it was a sign that maybe — just  maybe! — life was getting back to normal.  Hell, my heart skipped a beat.  It had been a while.

I made some with blueberries...

But Leah visited before all that order had been restored.  And in her perfectly wonderful sister-cousin way, she said, “Laura, this is the messiest I’ve ever seen your house.  And I like it.

She and I somehow managed to spend hours together that we didn’t have during that short weekend trip.  It was wonderful, actually.

Somewhere along the way she passed by my fruit bowl, which was full of peaches.  Her back was to me, and I knew before she turned what she would say.

Oh, Lawwra. (She’s one of the few people in my life who pronounce my name correctly.)   Do you remember those muffins?!

I smiled, because I knew it was coming.  She mentions them any time we are both in the proximity of peaches or muffins.

Oh yes, I said, I remember.

A couple of weeks later, I shipped her a baker’s dozen of those peach muffins, the ones she loves so much.  They weren’t as good as the time she ate them fresh from my oven, but no matter.  I remember, my gesture said.  And I get you.  Thank you for loving me.

Friends, I’m sure someone you love lives farther away than you’d like.  Maybe a special kid you know is away at college for the first time.  Maybe you have a Leah who lives a couple of hundred miles away.  Maybe you have a neighbor who could use a pick-me-up.

And maybe you’ve thought about dropping them a note in the mail.

Maybe you should drop them some muffins, too.

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And some without.

The guy manning the FedEx desk kind of flipped out over my Food of Love package.  I placed before him two zippered plastic bags full of muffins, lined with paper towels.

Can you box these up and send them to someone for me?, I asked.

Wait, did you make these?!, came the reply.

Yes I did, actually.

Do I smell cinnamon?

Yes.  And vanilla bean.

Wow, someone really special must be on the receiving end of THIS.

Why yes. Yes, she is.  How much do I owe you?

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The first time I made these years ago, it was for no better reason than to test a good-lookin’ recipe. Leah was in dental school nearby, and dropped in to say hello.  Not having a better use for a couple of dozen muffins, I gave them to her to share at the dental office where she was working.  And now, they are the stuff of legend.

Breakfast Muffins
from Martha Stewart Living, June 2002

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/4 cups fruit and/or nuts, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or peaches
Streusel (see separate recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Butter a standard muffin tin.  Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, vanilla bean scrapings, sugar, milk, and egg; whisk to combine.  Fold butter mixture and fruit into flour mixture; use no more than ten strokes.

Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each prepared cup; press 2 tablespoons streusel on top of each.  Bake until tops are golden, 15 to 17 minutes.  Remove from oven; let cool in pan 15 to 20 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 12 standard muffins

 

Muffin Streusel

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix with your fingers until mixture is moist and crumbly.

Yield: enough for 12 standard muffins

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Foodways Texas Update

There’s lots of news coming out of the new Foodways Texas organization these days, and I want to pass along a few highlights…

First, their website is up.  It looks fantastic, and has tons of great information.  Check it out at www.foodwaystexas.com.

Second, their first annual symposium will be held next month in Galveston, and tickets are on sale.  If the event I attended in Houston is any indication, I can assure you that 1) there will be a ton of great food there from amazing chefs, and 2) it will be a heckuva party.  For more information, look here, and to buy tickets, look here.

Third, there will be a Foodways Texas Barbeque Summer Camp at Texas A&M University this June.  That’s right, summer camp for barbeque nerds.  You know, the ones that correct people on the differences between barbeque-ing and grilling… or will get in a fistfight over how to properly smoke a brisket.  The camp spans an entire weekend, and there will be sessions on butchering, formulating rubs and sauces, cooking demos, and the general science of barbeque.  The light of heart need not apply, but if you want to learn serious techniques from the legends of the Texas barbeque world, look for more information here.  (Hint: This would be an amazing gift for the person who has everything.)

And last but not least, Foodways Texas is hosting a fundraiser in Dallas on January 24th.  The theme is celebrating the Texas Gulf, and the menu features shrimp, fish, and oysters, plus an oyster shucking contest for those not afraid to risk a digit for bragging rights.  To top it all off, it’s being hosted at Smoke, which I keep hearing is absolutely fantastic.  If you are anywhere near Dallas a week from Monday, you should do yourself a favor and attend.  More information, including the menu that had me drooling, is here.  If you’re on the fence and you want to know more about how the Houston event went, look here.

In summary, these folks aren’t fooling around.  If you’ve given any thought to becoming a member of Foodways Texas, now’s the time to help them get off the ground.  Plus, you can tell your grandkids that you were a charter member.  I’m sure you’re grandkids would want to hear about that kind of stuff… right?

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Lagniappe: Getting Into The Mood

One of Williams-Sonoma's flagship stores.

Something very interesting happened to me today.  I actually got into the Christmas spirit.

You might not find that to be particularly odd, given that it’s mid-December.  But it’s been years since I’ve really felt the excitement and buzz of the holidays, and not only is it nice to be back, I’m taking it as a very encouraging sign.

Let’s see… last year, we’d just lost Mom, and I was pretty much in zombie mode.  The year before that, The Boy was less than two weeks old on Christmas Day, and I was pretty much in zombie mode.  The year before that, I was grieving a miscarriage, and I spent a lot of time trying not to pay attention, because I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Christmas is all about Baby Jesus and Virgin Baby Mama and Perplexed Baby (Step) Daddy, and angelic announcements regarding babies, and babies stirring in the wombs of their mamas at the news of other babies.  An incredibly beautiful story at the center of my soul had suddenly become salt in my still-gaping wound.

By my math, that means that 2006 was the last time that Father Christmas lifted my holiday spirits.  Wow, it really has been a while.

So, what happened today that elevated me to that elusive plane of jolly good cheer?  Well, the Christmas carols I’ve been playing non-stop have finally kicked in, for starters.  And my manager took our small group to Mark’s for our official holiday celebration (which, by the way, allowed me the pleasure of confirming that it’s the best ding-dang restaurant in Houston, a city full of fantastic restaurants).  After we toasted to a successful 2010 and expressed high hopes for 2011, we traded stories about Christmas traditions, and telling about my childhood traditions really got the juices flowing.  It also didn’t hurt that I ended the meal with a trio of mini egg nog desserts: flan, cheesecake, and torte, with a chaser of actual egg nog.

But, all that aside, what really gave me a Christmas buzz was receiving an email from Lauren, who works for Williams-Sonoma.  Because that, my friends, means that I can pass along a really great gift idea for the sophisticated food-lover on your list that you still desperately need ideas for, with less than ten days until Christmas.  (Or perhaps, like yours truly, you haven’t even started shopping…)

A few months ago, I spent my lunch hour at the Williams-Sonoma in Highland Village, and when I went to check out, I noticed something very interesting at the counter.  It was a beautiful antique cookbook on display… not at all what you’d expect among all the gleaming new everythings there.  Tom, a.k.a. The Most Helpful Sales Guy in the History of Retail, saw the delighted can-this-possibly-be-true look on my face, and explained.  Of the hundreds of stores they operate, 29 were selected to carry a handful of one of a kind books, which are sourced from a store in San Francisco called Omnivore Books on Food.

Those of you who know me personally know that I’m a crazy bibliophile with the beginnings of a decent antique book collection.  Two universes were colliding, and my wallet was in the crossfire.

I gently paged through a couple of the books, each of which had a handwritten card tucked inside with a charming summary of its contents.  One was a gentlemen’s guide to entertaining from the 40s, which was witty and delightful and laughably anachronistic.  Another was an authentic tome on Cajun cookery, which looked like it was from the 60s.  When I asked, Tom confirmed that the folks at Omnivore carefully select which books should go to which store, based on regional interests.  And he also confirmed that once these particular books were gone, they were gone, and Omnivore would ship other unique works to replace them.  I had to slowly step… away… from the… books… and go back to the office.

People!  This is like hiring a personal shopper with amazing taste in rare books about food.  I wanted to run home and tell you all about it, but I felt like I needed the complete list of 29 stores, lest I superbly tick you off. (Remember when I told you about Barbara Fairchild’s book tour?  I posted the dates a day too late and Reader Jess missed the NYC date.  Doh!)

Then life got in the way, and Halloween came out of absolutely nowhere, and it was all downhill to today.

That’s where Lauren comes in.  I had to make five or six phone calls to Williams-Sonoma today to find her, but once I did, it took her about two seconds to get the list of stores in my grubby paws (err, inbox).  And getting to share this with you is like Christmas coming early.  Fa la la la la!  Thank you, Lauren!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have halls to deck, bells to jingle, and a box of ornaments to locate…

Store Name City State Phone
WS BEVERLY HILLS BEVERLY HILLS CA 310-274-9127
WS SHOPS AT COLUMBUS CIRCLE NEW YORK NY 212-823-9750
WS BOSTON/COPLEY BOSTON MA 617-262-3080
WS SAN DIEGO/FASHION VALLEY SAN DIEGO CA 619-295-0510
WS WALNUT CREEK WALNUT CREEK CA 925-210-1215
WS KING OF PRUSSIA KING OF PRUSSIA PA 610-265-5970
WS STANFORD SHOPPING CENTER PALO ALTO CA 650-321-3486
WS UNION SQUARE SAN FRANCISCO CA 415-362-9450
WS N MICHIGAN AVENUE CHICAGO IL 312-587-8080
WS 59TH AND LEXINGTON NEW YORK NY 917-369-1131
WS SOUTH COAST PLAZA COSTA MESA CA 714-751-1166
WS NORTHPARK CENTER DALLAS TX 214-378-6216
WS BLOOR STREET – CANADA TORONTO ON 416-962-9455
WS ALA MOANA CENTER HONOLULU HI 808-951-0088
WS PENN SQUARE MALL OKLAHOMA CITY OK 405-843-5013
WS BELLEVUE SQUARE BELLEVUE WA 425-454-7007
WS ANNAPOLIS MALL ANNAPOLIS MD 410-571-0589
WS HIGHLAND VILLAGE HOUSTON TX 713-212-0346
WS EDINA GALLERIA EDINA MN 952-285-1338
WS VILLAGE AT CORTE MADERA CORTE MADERA CA 415-924-6799
WS CRYSTAL COVE NEWPORT COAST CA 949-464-2168
WS MALL AT SHORT HILLS SHORT HILLS NJ 973-467-3641
WS CHINOOK CENTRE – CANADA CALGARY AB 403-410-9191
WS UTICA SQUARE TULSA OK 918-742-5252
WS OAKBROOK CENTER OAKBROOK IL 630-571-2702
WS ALBUQUERQUE UPTOWN ALBUQUERQUE NM 505-872-0486
WS LENOX SQUARE ATLANTA GA 404-812-1703
WS PARK MEADOWS CO LITTLETON CO 303-790-2565
WS THE ARBORETUM MARKET AUSTIN TX 512-231-1813

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Lagniappe: You’re Welcome

There’s a lot going on at Bon Appétit these days.  Condé Nast, the company that publishes the magazine, has decided to move the editorial offices from Los Angeles to New York, and Barbara Fairchild, Bon Appétit’s editor-in-chief, has decided that she will retire rather than make the move.  Read more about Barbara’s decision here.

Just this week, Condé Nast announced that her replacement will be Adam Rapoport, who’s currently the style editor at GQ.  Read more about him and the plans he has for Bon Appétit here.

But!  In the midst of all this moving and shaking and what must be insane uncertainty, Barbara Fairchild has hit the road.  Yep, she’s on tour promoting her new book: Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and WonderfulIt’s a compilation of the best desserts from the magazine over the past 50 years, and it comes with a 12-month subscription to (or renewal of) Bon Appétit. 

And!  The tour is coming to Houston next week.  (A list of other cities and dates, including Dallas, is at the bottom of this blog entry.)   That means that you can meet Barbara and have her to sign a book.  And that means that I just served up a great gift idea for the baker on your Christmas list — or for yourself, for that matter.  You’re welcome.

For the Houston event, she’ll be at Central Market, doing a book signing from 5pm to 6pm, and then a cooking class from 6:30pm to 9:00pm.  The cooking class is a ticketed event, at at this writing there were only 15 seats left.  For details, click here

I, of course, will be there, trying not to geek out too much…

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Dear Santa…

Okay folks - fortunately or unfortunately, Thanksgiving is behind us.  Whew!  Time to put up your feet and relax a bit before plunging into whatever’s next on your project list.  (Christmas cookies?  Holiday party planning?)

While you have your feet up, let’s talk about Christmas gifts.  Specifically, gifts for home cooks.

I’ve mentioned before that receiving kitchen-related gifts generally makes me break a sweat.  This is because I am a bit of a miser when it comes to storage space in the kitchen – I reserve room only for things I actually need, or want really badly, or am guaranteed to use.  So, for example, I don’t have a meat mallet because I can use either a rolling pin or a heavy skillet instead.  I don’t have any chopping gadgets because I actually like working on my knife skills (or I use the food processor – there’s no in-between).  Someone gave me one of those really cool rabbit-thingy’s for opening wine, which is great, but I am just as adept with a flat waiter’s corkscrew.  Every time I see the fancy one, I think about the real estate it takes up in that nice wooden box with all those crazy attachments. 

So, while I love all the gadgets – really, I do – I don’t actually want to own them unless they offer some sort of functionality I can’t otherwise replicate.  Instead, I occasionally visit them at Williams-Sonoma.  An hour there usually scratches the itch.

That being said, the tools I do have in my kitchen are terrific.  And a few people who really know me have hit it out the park with some really REALLY great cooking-related gifts.  (I won’t name names, but you know who you are…)

I’ve tossed out a few gift ideas that I personally think would be great for any cook, even a Scrooge like me.  Here goes, starting with the budget-busters: Read the rest of this entry »

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