I do believe this may be the first ever A Sweet Spoonful Gift Guide. And I’m excited to share with you a few things that are making me happy right here right now, and that may make a few of your loved ones smile as well. Gift guides are kind of a funny thing, aren’t they? They’re from a very particular point of view and perspective, so you’ll notice that mine are heavy on the treats and books. Shocking, I realize. Before we get started, have you ever stopped to think about what makes a really good gift? Something relatively unique that you don’t necessarily find in every big-box store. Something that will make people smile–that will indulge the senses or the imagination or the mind. I think you’ll find one or all of those things here. Happy gifting!
Blue Chair Fruit’s Jam Club! I first discovered Rachel’s brilliant jam at a festival in Oakland last summer, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Her seasonal jams use the very finest Northern California ingredients, and her jam club allows you to give the gift of morning happiness! The membership, available in 6 or 12 month increments, ships 3 jars of jams and marmalade every 2 months.
Jme Tea: Jaime Oliver does it again with his amazing packaging; these teas run the gamet from classic English breakfast to Mango & Passion fruit. When it comes down to it, I’m just a sucker for that little tin.
Monthly dessert subscription from Tell Tale Preserves. These folks are in my backyard and I’m a big fan of the innovative sweets they’re putting out there, and the fabulous idea of having a monthly dessert bag delivered to your doorstep. Yes, please.
Kitchen & Home
Julia’s Genius Throw from Anthropologie: this is the kind of blanket I’d have draped on my couch if I lived in a Berkeley craftsman. But I think, wherever you live, this would be a cozy addition. I love its haphazard patches and muted colors.
Russian doll measuring cups from Seltzer Studios: Russian dolls make me smile. My grandma collected them. These would be a perfect gift for folks who have limited space in the kitchen or for the friend who has everything.
Red Studio Mug Pair from Heath Ceramics: I know, I know. I’m biased seeing that I work at the shop part-time. But from the second I saw these guys, I couldn’t stop staring.
Flour Sack Tea Towels: from the House of Bouton’s Etsy shop. Her designs fluctuate, so check back often–A great way to dress up the table!
Books & Magazines
Canal House Cooking Collection: Does Canal House really need an introduction? In short, these are visually stunning little quarterly cooking tomes organized by the seasons. For the holidays they’ve bundled the first 3 in a sweet little box. If you jumped on the Canal House bandwagon a bit late like I did and don’t yet own the first 3, this is your chance. Order soon–they’ll sell out.
Alice’s Cookbook by Alice Hart: I’ve been hearing quiet rumblings about this book for a few weeks now and for good reason. Quadrille Press is putting out a new series of books focusing on undiscovered talent and Alice Hart is leading the way. She’s actually in her 20’s, so this would make a great gift for someone just starting to get into cooking but really, Alice’s book is lovable in its simplicity and distinct point of view. I’ve fallen for it, and am looking forward to trying her dhal soup, sweet potato samosas, and stickiest gingerbread.
One Big Table by Molly O’Neill: This has been a banner year for cookbooks and there’s so many I could name and recommend for you here. However, I’ve chosen One Big Table for the 2010 Gift Guide because it will appeal to a broad range of folks from more advanced chefs to bakers to occasional dabblers. Molly spent nearly a decade traveling the country and gathering recipes and stories for the book mostly from everyday people like you and I. The result? 600 pages of truly exciting American recipes (and photos), proving, as Molly intended, that cooking is a living art. Standout recipes (for me) include Nora Ephron’s chocolate cream pie and Flo Baker’s yellow cake (book not pictured above).
Lines and Shapes is a great little art and design collective, putting out books and other more impromptu publications with a visual aesthetic that I fall for each time. They’re great. And they’re bundling some of their lovely books together for holiday gift-giving. I recommend Sundays are for Lovers and Brooklyn Diary.
Remedy Quarterly is a great food-ish magazine by stylish blogger and savvy writer, Kelly Carambula of Eat Make Read. For the holidays, Kelly is bringing together the first three issues in a nice little gift bundle. Support small publications this year!
Ecote Canvas and Leather BackPack from Urban Outfitters: Rugged, bookish, and roomy. Sold.
The Pro and Con ring from Sundance: For us type-A worriers this is a great find. One piece of it (the pro side) is raised while the other piece (the con) is recessed in a complimentary divet. Symbolizes tough decisions … but really, just looks pretty great.
Photo calendars by my blogging friend, Lecia Phinney. If you’re not familiar with Lecia’s blog, A Day That is Dessert, she’s a fantastic photographer and has turned 12 of her favorite images into a charming yearly calendar.
Personalized note cards or stationary from Brooklyn-based letterpress gurus, Sesame Letterpress is sure to impress. You can choose their ready-to-buy modern graphics or have your own stationary printed. Here’s to sending handwritten letters in 2011!
Love this designer portable digital FM radio from Orla Kieley. I think no matter what station it was tuned to, I’d be happy just listening along.
Booze aficionado in the family? Delight them with one of these pretty flasks!
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)