This year has been objectively challenging, no matter how you look at it. Giving gifts makes you feel good. So here’s our third annual gift guide, with picks from everyone on our team. We like to think there’s something for everyone in here — mostly food-related, with an abundance of smoked fish, because … we love it. We’ve also got some (non-food! gasp!) wild cards.
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So, technically, this thing — the wooden contraption that the young gentleman is standing on — is called a Learning Tower, but I just can’t bring myself to ever call it that. To me, it’s “the baby cooking stool,” and it’s kind of a game changer (if you have a kid; otherwise, useless). Here’s the deal: I love to cook, and would be delighted if my kid loved it too. To put those wheels in motion, I started sitting him up on the counter next to the stove to cook dinner with me. This sort of worked, but required all sorts of MacGyvering to make sure he didn’t shove his hand directly into the burner or pot. This stool lets him stand at a “safe enough” distance from the stove and bop his spatula around until he gets bored, which is, obnoxiously, never. It’s not cheap, though I’m sure it does other things. But you know what’s also not cheap? A trip to the emergency room. So, until then, the baby cooking stool it is.
The pinkish pan, also pictured above, is called The Always Pan, and is the best nonstick I’ve ever used. (Mark said the same in a newsletter a few weeks ago, but maybe it bears repeating.) It’s useful for a handful of things (hence the name), but I’ve been leaning on it most for its nonstick powers. I’ll often heat a few glugs of oil in it, then pour some sourdough starter (of course!) straight into the pan, spread it around, and cook until brown and crisp on both sides, maybe 5 minutes per side. But that pancake-looking thing in the photo is an apple cider doughnut smushed flat, dipped in egg/milk/vanilla, and cooked like French toast. It’s good — how could it not be? — and has festive winter/holiday breakfast written all over it.
Another pan I love is the Lodge 15” carbon steel. A while ago, I “borrowed” one after one of Mark’s cookbook photo shoots (along with about 100 pounds worth of other stuff that I crammed into a duffel bag). I told my wife’s mom I would give it to her (she makes the best paella, and it’s a perfect paella pan), but then I made the mistake of using it, at which point I got super Grinch-y and decided not to give it up. It’s basically now my go-to roasting pan (so much surface area!), but comes with the added benefit of being designed to go on top of the stove. Since getting it, I haven’t roasted a chicken in anything else. One tip: If you’re planning on giving it as a gift, actually give it! (My mother-in-law was forced to buy her own.)
Quick tangent re: roasting: It’s something that a lot of us do quite often towards the end of the year, and some of us are just more competent at it than others. I, for instance, tend to put things in the oven and then forget that they’re there. One year, we were throwing a holiday party, and, as is tradition, I hopped in the shower five minutes before everyone was supposed to come. Somewhere mid-soap, my wife burst into the bathroom screaming “there are flames shooting out of the oven!” Apparently, there was a ham in there. That situation (naked in the kitchen fighting a ham grease fire) might have been avoided with a Chef Alarm, a really good probe thermometer that you stick into whatever you’re roasting and that will beep whenever it reaches whatever temperature you set it at. If you have any kind of Norman Rockwell holiday feast aspirations, this thing can really help you nail it.
When my wife had our baby, Mark and Kate sent us a giant box of smoked salmon (many kinds), bagels, and cream cheese from Russ and Daughters. SUCH a good gift! So much so that we’ve stolen the idea and used it twice (once for the newborn baby thing, once for friends who bought a house). If you send this to someone, you’ll receive validating texts like the ones above. It’s expensive, so perhaps the kind of gift you might be inclined to give when something momentous happens. (I’m planning on sending one to Joe Biden; just waiting for him to give me his new address.)
One insurmountable challenge of my adult life is organizing my spices: Too many jars, not enough room, random baggies everywhere, spillover into cabinets. It’s a lot. The Spice House (purveyor of many incredible spices) now gives you the option of getting your spices in these flat paper packs, which can either be used to refill glass jars, or are the gateway to a whole new (highly efficient) spice storage system. I’m still workshopping it (do I alphabetize, organize by category, or what?), but let’s just say things are happening. (I am of the opinion that a haul of interesting spices is a great gift for any cook, but if you disagree, just buy them for yourself.)
I wanted to make sure to include one gift that has nothing to do with food, which is why I’m showing you this picture of a door that’s littered with photos of food. Social Print Studio is a company that lets you easily upload photos from your phone and order them all sorts of ways: paper 4 x 4s (like the ones above that make it look like Instagram threw up on my door), metal prints (I put those in the bathroom), and basically anything else you can think of. For whatever reason, I’ve decided I really like this business and want to support them (they strike me as scrappy and spunky; if they’re actually owned by Facebook, my apologies). Regardless, having these photos of friends and family around the house brings a strange amount of joy, especially now that actually seeing friends and family is somewhat of a luxury.
There are two things (well, three, but I can’t really plug pharmaceuticals here) that have helped me get a better night sleep in this sick mindf*ck of a year: a weighted blanket (this one — it’s nice and cool, feels like a hug) and Lord Jones CBD gumdrops. I have not found a flavor I don’t like, plus the packaging is perfect for gifting (and they’ve got holiday flavors — sugarplum, and spiced cranberry). I also really like their CBD lotion; it smells amazing.
Have you read about the Great Jones Holy Sheet? I bet you have, but I want to talk about it anyway: It is a wonderful gift for anyone who loves cooking and baking. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or what but MAN this thing roasts vegetables super quick! And the blueberry color is so cheerful. I already have one person in mind to gift it to (if she doesn’t buy it herself first).
My son is 4 ½ and still loves pretend food. This play salad set from Hape, one of my favorite toymakers, is just the cutest. Pretty sure he’s getting it, and maybe it will convince him to eat lettuce once in a while AHAHAHAHA.
Omg, MoMA, I love you. (I will concede that this particular item is probably a love hate thing, but I fall firmly into the former camp.)
Another special pick from the MoMA Design Store, you rearrange the skyscrapers in this perpetual calendar (lol, hello 2020) each month; you move the car a spot each day.
Our favorite chocolate maker, Dandelion, now makes truffles and HOLY MOLY they are good. I’m not even a fan of truffles, but these are really something else. Not too sweet, very dark, and they come in five different flavors (“tasting notes”): sweet strawberry, honey, milk chocolate; dark caramel, brownies, roasted nuts; heavy cream, fresh banana, molasses, fudge; chocolate cake batter, toasted marshmallow, black coffee; and tart berries, grapefruit, yogurt. If you have a serious chocolate lover in your circle, these are perfect.
If you’re hosting anyone over the holidays (safely, yes, please), and you love smoked fish, may I recommend Acme’s Appetizers Delight? I think the price is ridiculously reasonable for the insane array of addictive goodies you get — whitefish salad, smoked salmon, smoked salmon pinwheels … And it includes four packs of their smoked salmon “candy,” which I cannot stop eating. HEY IT’S PROTEIN.
Mark and I also both love the Regal New Zealand king salmon variety packs, which have been a a game changer in the lunch department for me and my husband lately. These would be a really nice addition to a weekend with family (and are great mixed into “big salads”). Use the code REGALKING20 for 20% off a wood roasted or cold smoked variety pack of eight (and shipping is free regardless of your Prime status).
Suzanne Lenzer — who made this incredible looking salad bowl with her husband, Ken Rath — is a Bittman team alum, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to put their beautiful goods in this guide. The two of them started Sawdust Studio & Turnery together, and all the pieces in their collection — many bowls, plus other goodies like an extremely pretty mortar and pestle — are turned or shaped from green logs found in and around their neck of Connecticut (often their own backyard). You can’t go wrong with anything on their site.
These are so ridiculous but I want them (plus: less single use plastic!). A good stocking stuffer for the avocado lover in your life.
And finally: I have a Sonos in the kitchen because it was a gift. But this little speaker is also a household favorite and relatively cheap.
I have cooked with Ethan Frisch, founder of spice company Burlap & Barrel, and he’s serious about sourcing the world’s best spices and treating producers right. He’s also a great guy, and a terrific cook. The company’s varied spice sets are fantastic. If you use the code MARK, you’ll get a free set of two Burlap & Barrel kitchen towels with the purchase of a Fundamentals Collection, pictured — just be sure to add the towels to your cart manually, and they’ll be comped. (Want to mention that I also share Daniel’s affinity for The Spice House.)
Heath Ceramics is obviously known for its plates and bowls (they’ve been used at Chez Panisse for years), but its collection in general is (IMHO) sublimely tasteful. Look at this blanket, for example; its sibling is sitting on my lap as I type.
We’re currently writing a piece about seafood by mail, but in case you don’t want to wait for it, and there’s a seafood lover in your life, check out the world’s best oysters from Mac’s Seafood (and I’d recommend this Opinel oyster knife, pictured above, to go with), or the wide variety of incredible fish from Sitka Salmon Shares (not just salmon), RealGoodFish, or Taku River Reds.
If you want to make real tortillas from scratch, Masienda is the place to go; it’s the place for the best dried corn. (There’s also good masa harina, if you’re not up for the whole process.) Now they’ve teamed up with Made In to develop and sell a beautiful blue steel comal (griddle), which you can use for pretty much anything, but which does a great job on tortillas. (If you’re not familiar with blue steel, it behaves much like cast iron but with a couple of advantages: It’s lighter in weight and heats up faster. It’s also more expensive! But that’s life.)
I bought side towels like these in Berlin in 2000, and I still have them (admittedly, they’re fraying). They are big, absorbent, attractive, long-lasting. And they get softer and softer as you use them. They’re 50% each cotton and linen and, at about $8 each, a steal.
Soda Stream: It looks like a hideous monster on the counter, and it isn’t inexpensive, but if you know a seltzer addict, this is a fine choice. Now that glass bottles are available, it’s even better. One thing I especially like is that you can control the carbonation level, making very gentle seltzer (kind of like Badoit) or really aggressive stuff, like that from old-fashioned pump bottles.
Saffron is notoriously expensive and notoriously fake. It’s also amazing to cook with. I have been buying it by the ounce from Saffron.com for at least 20 years — probably an ounce a year or so — and it is The Real Deal and, at $60 per ounce, a bargain. A lovely gift for serious cooks.
Oh and I can’t forget about Knowable (the company I worked with to create my audiocourse, How to Eat Now). They have a number of expert-led courses that teach you really useful things, and you can listen to them at your own pace. If you have any curious (and busy) learners in your life, a one-year membership to Knowable would be an awesome gift.
Regional foods through international cookbooks: Since planning a journey isn’t really an option at the moment, armchair travel by way of cooking will have to do. Thankfully, new cookbook options abound. Consider Red Sands, one with a focus on Central Asia, which is the newest from Caroline Eden, author of the award-winning Black Sea. It’s equally as beautiful and enlightening — and comes with recommended reading to continue your journey of the mind and palate. For a sunny read with an eye on health, there’s Ikaria: Food and Life in the Blue Zone from Meni Valle. Her book of stunning photos features a collection of salads, legumes, pies and breads, seafood and meats, and of course, sweets. Finally: Andy Ricker may have closed Pok Pok, but his recipes live on in books like Pok Pok Noodles that came out in May, with classics like phat thai to lesser known regional noodle dishes that you can make at home. (Note: We’ll be doing a full cookbook roundup soon.)
A tamis: A tamis isn’t particularly expensive and it’s so versatile — yet it has never been in my repertoire. A piece on Heated from Bonnie Benwick, recipes editor of The Washington Post for 30 years, helped convince me that this must change. They’re great for sifting, straining, and more. Consider purchasing a pack of different sizes — like this.
Alcohol-free bottled cocktails from Curious Elixirs: I enjoy special drinks, whether or not they have booze. A friend turned me on to alcohol-free Curious Elixirs, where you can order delicious concoctions like the booze-free spin on a Negroni ($35) or the marriage of a Dark and Stormy and a pineapple margarita. Consider the Curious Cocktail Club, a variety pack of 12 bottles/24 cocktails or 4 bottles/8 cocktails per month.
Sichuan ingredients from the online Mala Market: I’ve been cooking through Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan books and always appreciate ingredients that make dishes better. That’s why I’m looking at Mala Market’s Sichuan Starter collection with Sichuan peppercorns, bean paste, dried and ground chiles ($59) or the complete Sichuan Pantry Collection ($125) with chile oil, handcrafted vinegars, and more.
A donation: I’d be thrilled to have a gift-giver donate to Adrian Lipscombe’s 40 Acres and a Mule Project, an effort to preserve black foodways; Black Girls Cook, a Baltimore program that teaches girls how to grow and cook food; or the National Black Food and Justice Alliance.
Since many of us won’t be traveling for the holidays, I’ll be sending my far-flung loved ones something special from my neck of the woods — the Pacific Northwest, where we have a lot of awesome food. Perhaps you’ll want to pretend you’re spending some jolly time up here with us Sasquatches and ship yourself some treats as well as to those on your list. Or maybe this theme inspires you to support your local food economy and seek out gifts from wherever you call home.
Salt of the sea: Using the boil, brine, and flake method, Jacobsen Salt Company has been turning seawater from Netarts Bay, Oregon into salt since 2011 and is the first commercial salt operation in the Pacific Northwest since Lewis and Clark in 1805. Besides the different styles of coarse flakes, Jacobsen blends fantastically imaginative “infused” seasoned salts. And they sell honey, too.
Not just any flour: Sending someone who loves to bake a few pounds of amazing flour that they’ve probably never tried is a fun surprise. And fortunately, Cairnspring Mills is now shipping retail-size bags throughout the United States. Located about an hour north of Seattle in the gorgeous Skagit Valley, I first heard about CSM last December and was lucky to tour the place — and the nearby Washington State University “Bread Lab” — just as new stone mills were being installed. Who knew? Apparently, lots of professional bakers. But fear not. The web site will help you sift through the varieties, extractions, and uses.
Some fishy things: Lucky us who can shop local grocers for SeaBear oysters and frozen crabs and smoked salmon from this regional monger. Lucky you who can get your paws on this awesome seafood, too. Especially the canned smoked oysters, which are almost impossible to find from places other than China.
Fueled by words: We at Bittman Inc are sustained by good food — and good words. That’s why this year I’m once again touting Olympic Peninsula-based writer and artist Anna Brones. That and because we need her art-as-balm thinking now more than ever. In addition to the notecards and postcards from last year, she’s offering the seasonal “Digital Advent Calendar: 24 Days of Making, Doing, and Being” to bring light into all of this winter’s dark corners. Then there’s the 2021 postcard calendar, which features her “Women’s Wisdom Project” papercut collection (also available as prints).
More mushrooms: I just can’t help myself. For the third year in a row, I must repeat-recommend another OP vendor, Adam’s Mushrooms. Only this year he’s got a new-and-improved web site for ordering lots of foraged and cultivated culinary and medicinal dried fungus products — including mushroom seasoning blends. Adam’s porcini are truly extraordinary.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.