A Unique Holiday Gift Guide

Well, friends, I'm back at it. After a few terrible attempts at this in past years (no, I'm not providing links), this time I've got what I hope will be a unique take on holiday gifts for the important folks in your lives. Yes, these gifts are great for food lovers -- but they're the types of things others might appreciate as well. I've tried to cover all the bases. From unique Etsy finds, to quirky items from standard stores like Amazon, to exotic spices, to must-own cookbooks, I hope there's something here for everyone. All pictures are clickable; want it? Click it.

Take a look past the jump.

...and here we go:


FOR:the hostess with the mostess, the classy entertainer, the grandma, the vintage bride, the cupcake lover, the collector relative.

3-Tiered Pink China Stand from High Tea for Alice: a funky, vintage-inspired cupcake stand from one of my favorite Etsy shops. A must-have? Not exactly. But it's a beautiful piece, if this is your -- er -- cup of tea.

Vintage China Pedestal Dessert Stand from Orange and Blossom: I love cake stands only slightly less than I love cakes. This one's a bit grandmotherly, in the best possible way. That slice of cake in the picture looks like an olive oil-citrus cake (am I being too presumptuous?), and I can totally see making the only lemon cake you'll ever need as a bundt and serving it on this cakestand. Purr.

Of the items on my registry, the sugar bowl and creamer were two of the hardest to choose. Some look generic, others too fussy, and most are really expensive. I absolutely love this set, being sold on Etsy from Stella by Star. The color is beautiful, the look is unique but versatile, and the price is right.

I bought a set of these cute "tidbit plates" from Kate Spade earlier this year, and I'm contemplating getting another set. These are the plates to stack on the coffee table when you serve dessert in the living room. They're small enough that your guests can hold them with one hand while lounging on the couch, and they're funky enough to stand on their own, regardless of your dinnerware pattern. If it's not obvious, I love these and think they're the perfect gift.

The red-on-white color scheme of this cake stand feels classic, but the bird design is distinctly retro, and that candlestick bottom is totally vintage. This feels like something my crafty friends would make themselves, and I love that. Plus, how beautiful would a chocolate cake look perched atop this stand?


FOR: the post-college crowd; the aspiring entertainers; and of course, the greatest pottery lovers, the yuppies.

This whimsical pitcher from Anthropologie would make a great vehicle for sangria. Or orange juice. Or hey, water. It's pretty and colorful, can go with lots of different dinnerware patterns, and can steal the spotlight at your next party. Plus, unlike most everything else at Anthro, it's not terribly expensive.

This awesome platter from Tracy Porter is funky, unique, and super light. You'll be surprised, in fact, at how light it is. It's made of what looks like laquered bamboo, in bright, vibrant colors that'll zap those winter blues in no time.

Another gorgeous piece by Tracy Porter. This one's a serving bowl, deeper than the platter above, and coordinated without being matchy-patchy. I especially like that when as your guests down their roasted brussels sprouts and the bowl empties, that gorgeous peacock becomes visible.


FOR: the home cook, the mother, the mother-in-law, the rustic home, the Francophile, the food photographer.

Some version of these french linen napkins are in the home of every food photographer and French woman, and we food bloggers just swoon over them. I recently got a set in blue, and they really are lovely: casual and rustic, elegant and classy all at once. Plus, since they're not made of terrycloth, they double as bread cloths.

Potholders may be my favorite gift this holiday season. I've already given them five times myself, and Chanukah hasn't even started yet. Why? Because the funky ones are just expensive enough that you'd probably forgo them if you were shopping for yourself, but in the scheme of things, $12 isn't that much money, and the little splurge will mean a lot to the recipient. There are any number of awesome patterns available at Anthropologie (of course), but this is one of my favorites.

MISCELLANEOUS FOR: the coffee lover, the spice addict, the kitchen tool junkie

I'm always surprised at the number of serious coffee drinkers and/or cooks who don't own a spice grinder. At under $20, it's the cheapest workhorse in my kitchen. (Ok -- I have two; one for coffee, one for spices. Still.) This is the type of gift your people may not know they want -- but if you get it for them, and maybe include some recipes that would put it to good use, they'll thank you for years.

Spices are the quintessential great gift. They're useful, unique, and be put to use immediately. My favorite local source for spices of all sorts is Penzeys. They have a branch out in Rockville where you can stick your nose into a jar of each spice and really smell it. Their offerings range from straightforward (high-quality vanilla extract and a great cinnamon blend) to unique (their chili2000 is one of my favorites, and there's no better source for Aleppo Pepper).

For the discerning cook, pick up a jar of Guerande, the undisputed king of sea salts. Its flaky texture and briny taste add dimension to any savory dish, and it's killer atop homemade caramels.

During my trip to San Francisco this past August, I fell hard for Blue Bottle Coffee. Their beans are the best, their method is the best, and their coffee is the best I've ever had. I brought a few pounds of my favorite beans with me, and friends in NorCal and beyond have been kind enough to replenish my supply from time to time. If you're looking for a gift for a "caffiend," look no further than one of Blue Bottle's subscription packages.

The New York Times Essential Cookbook is the best cookbook I've acquired this year, by far. I'm often skeptical of large, pictureless cookbooks. Without pictures, there's less to draw you in, to command that you make a recipe. Hysterical and spot-on headnotes from the lovely author, Amanda Hesser, serve this purpose. In her comments on coeur a la creme, for instance, she refers to "its frenemy," fontainebleu. If you've had both, you know how true this statement is. Hesser's comments send you sailing through this book, from spicy chicken soup to yogurt rice to a natural accompaniment of chutney and beyond. It's been my bedtime reading for weeks.

Gabrielle Hamilton's new memoir, "Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reuluctant Chef," is on my watchlist for this season. Hamilton occupies a unique place on my lovelist: not only is her restaurant, Prune, is one of my favorites in Manhattan, but hers is some of the sharpest, cleanest, most precise food writing there is. The decision she wrote in the Food52 "Piglet" cookbook contest put both skills on display. Her assessment of each cookbook is, in my humble opinion, spot-on and so well-said, and her ability to pinpoint the issue or missing ingredient in the recipes she tests demonstrates what a refined palate she has. I'll be heading to Prune while I'm in New York in a few weeks, and this book is on my must-buy list for the holiday season.

There you have it. My random but hopefully helpful list of good holiday gifts. I'll be back with good ideas for entertaining, including some favorite appetizers, good brunch food, and more. Happy Thanksgiving and have a great weekend!

Santa Fe Getaway

Hi folks!

Well, we're back from Santa Fe. I can't say we got a warm welcome home -- it was more of a scorching welcome. The weather here was completely out of control, with temperatures soaring into the 100s and humidity in the high 90% range. Now that DC isn't completely exploding, I'm out of my post-vacation funk, and I've got loads of pictures and bits to share.

Santa Fe is nothing like DC. The days are hot but dry, the evenings cool and breezy. It's weather that calls for linen pants and light, airy sweaters. That's what I wore for 6 wonderful days.

The weather and surroundings in Santa Fe were, without a doubt, the highlight of the trip. Not since I lived in Israel have I been in a place with such beautiful scenery everywhere you look. Desert in the background, mountains in the distance, a hot, dry haze in the air, but the promise of cool breeze in early morning and evening. We took advantage of those cool evenings to eat outdoors, and restaurants in Santa Fe have beautiful outdoor seating. At one restaurant, Aqua Santa, we ate under wooden beams laced with vines and supporting a beautiful sour cherry tree. A couple plump, red sour cherries were the perfect end to the meal.

Not surprisingly, Santa Fe had a beautiful farmers' market that sat adjacent to an artists' market in the center of town. We strolled through both on our first day there, and came home with the motherlode of produce, bread, and some great marinated feta. Two of the loaves we bought were focaccia-style rounds, topped with onions, potatoes, and green garlic scapes. That, the feta, and a heaping spoonful of raspberry jam made for an easy lunch on day 1. Full and powered up for the day, we went back into town to visit the Georgia O'Keefe museum and check out a couple of galleries.

Day 2 was July 4th. Santa Fe has a sweet tradition of serving a citywide pancake breakfast to any and all of its 70,000 residents, as well as all tourists, who show up. I've never seen so many pancakes in my life! We actually didn't eat the pancakes -- we had plans for something a little more spicy -- but we passed by a truck that had some mostly empty pitchers of batter, and I couldn't resist snapping a couple shots.

New Mexico's specialty is chiles -- hatch chiles, in particular. They're green and spicy, but not too spicy, and they most often get turned into a pale green sauce that's just delicious atop enchiladas, flautas, burritos, huevos rancheros, and pretty much anything else. I'm just as much a fan of the dusky red chiles as I am of the more piquant and tangy green ones, so I asked for "Christmas" atop most every dish I ordered, and received an equal portion of each.

To top of the 4th celebrations, our crowd had a full-out barbeque at home. After grilled chicken and whole fish, small pieces of salmon wrapped in banana leaves, corn on the cob, roasted peppers and zucchini, and probably more, we were stuffed.

The best day by far, for me at least, was our last day in town. My respiratory infection had abated and I was finally able to hike, so D, her stepbrother Adam, and I drove out to Bandelier, about 45 minutes out of the city, where we hiked down and back up a mountain, then ducked into some old-school cave homes that, given the heat ourdoors, stayed surprisingly cool. Toward the beginning of our second hike, we saw the most adorable Texan women strolling along the path. How great are their outfits?

We spent one of our most bizarre days in a small town called Taos, just over an hour outside of Santa Fe. Taos is an artists' colony, and the folks who live there march to the tune of their own drums. Even their mailboxes smack of free-spiritedness.

Santa Fe is also a free-spirited place. Fresh juniper berries grow on the trees, tablecloths have the funkiest patterns, and everyone wears bright colors all the time. It may not be my style, exactly, but I loved it. I loved the breeze and the dry heat, the spicy food and the funky art. If I could go again, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Sour Cherry Liqueur

cherryliqueur1 It's officially sour cherry season! I got my first quart at the market today, and I simply can't wait to turn them into this lovely aperitif. Originally posted last July, sour cherry liqueur is back!

Want to do something awesomely cool and really flippin' easy along with me? Make sour cherry liqueur. It's the height of sour cherry season, and markets are bursting with those tart little bubbles of juice. The season's pretty short: I was thinking of hitting up a u-pick next week to get some sour cherries out in the countryside for cheap, but they said they'll be gone by Sunday. So grab some now, like, now now, and put them to use in a way that'll keep well into the fall.


My dear friend Dellie had D and me over for an early Thanksgiving dinner last November, and her mother served this liqueur as an aperitif. I was totally blown away: it was sweet, very sweet, but also tart and zingy. It tasted strongly and distinctly of sour cherries, and sipping it sent waves of summer nostalgia down my spine. I sauntered into the kitchen where I found the always-graceful Mrs. S pulling a whole turkey out of the oven to rest. What better time to bother someone for a recipe? She said to come knocking again when it was sour cherry season, and she'd give me the rundown. Unlike most other things, I didn't forget this promise, and last week, I emailed Mrs. S begging her recipe. She graciously obliged, and her instructions were so thorough that I can easily share them with you. Granted, you won't be tasting the fruits of your labor until the fall -- but if you feel like preserving some of summer's bounty in this unusual way, I can promise that your patience will be well-rewarded.

That's a knife jutting out of the pitcher -- I used it to stir the stuff, and I did fill it to the top after taking the pic.

Update! I've stirred (and tasted) the sour cherry liqueur twice now, and it is freakin' amazing!

Sour Cherry Liqueur adapted from Mrs. S's recipe

For this recipe, you will need a crock of some sort: Mrs. S's crocks are salt-glazed antique crocks made in central Va. over 100 years ago, for preserving & storing foods. I'm not that fancy; I just used a relatively large ceramic pitcher. You can use anything that is dark glass or ceramic of some similar sort.


The quantities used really depend on the size of your crock, so the instructions below are in proportions instead of absolute amounts.


Cherries: clean & pit the cherries, except that for every cup of cherries, leave about 1/8 of the cup unpitted (adds character & depth to the liqueur) Sugar: use about 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of cherries (cherries should be tightly packed). I used organic cane sugar, but white sugar is just fine. In fact, I can't promise that my cane sugar will work -- I just assumed. Here's hoping!


Fill the crock 1/2 - 2/3 full of cherries & sugar (in proportions above), and stir. Then fill to the brim with white rum, and stir. Cover tightly with plastic wrap (using a rubber band to secure it) and foil (to shut out light), and store in a dark, cool place. Stir with a wooden or plastic non-reactive spoon about once a week. The sugar may take about a month or so to fully dissolve. Taste from time to time: cherries that are very sour may require additional sugar once the first batch has dissolved completely.


It should be ready mid-September. The cherries will have lost much of their color, and the sugar will have all dissolved. The flavor should be pretty rich. You can pour into decorative (dark glass) bottles and cork, but leave a few pitted cherries in each bottle. The "extra" cherries are great on pound cake, over ice cream, or however you would use canned cherries.

You could add cinnamon sticks, if you like, but Mrs. S likes the purity and simplicity of cherries.

So pack your crocks and get ready to wait -- let's do this thing!


Judging by its exterior, Morduch has developed its reputation entirely by word of mouth. The sign outside is small and dirty, and the restaurant is not much more than a hole in the wall, overshadowed in size and grandeur by its neighbor, the shuk (open air market). It's not the kind of place you notice just walking by; for Morduch to be full as consistently as it is, people must be talking about it. And I can assure you, they are. I actually sat down on the bus the day after I started writing this post, and sure enough, the two women next to me were discussing Morduch.

Morduch serves classic Israeli comfort food: warm hummus with whole chickpeas and ground beef, and kabobs with rice and tomatoes, are both menu staples. But they're known for their soup -- kubbeh soup, in particular.

There are three varieties of kubbeh soup at Morduch. The first is called "marak kubbeh adom," or red kubbeh soup. It's a mildly-spiced tomato broth with celery, a couple other vegetables, and big kubbeh, or meat-filled semolina dumplings that have been boiled in the soup. Marak kubbeh adom is generally regarded as the most basic soup; it's what your friend orders when it's his first time at the restaurant and he's still skeptical about the whole kubbeh thing.

The second variety is called marak kubbeh hamusta, and it had me at hello. I first ate kubbeh hamusta in 2004, and was immediately addicted to its mouth-twisting tartness (from sorrel leaves) and rich spicing (from the beef in the kubbeh). There are few things I adore more than hamusta soup.

Given my love of hamusta, I generally don't look at the menu -- I just sit down and order. As I was slurping the last of my bowl last week, I glanced at the menu for blog-reporting purposes and noticed a third soup on the menu: marak kubbeh siskeh. As it's described by the restaurant, siskeh is hamusta soup for the advanced palate: its spicing is more aggressive, its tartness more pronounced. Basically, an amped up bowl of the already-wonderful hamusta. I had in mind to head back and give it a shot, but there was too much else to do and not enough time, so siskeh will have to wait until my next trip. If you have it, you must let me know how it is!