Pim’s 2010 Holiday Gift Guide
Monday, December 6, 2010
Come to think of it, I probably should call it Things-I-Love-And-Use-Myself-That-Will-Also-Make-Great-Holiday-Gifts Guide. I know it’s long and cumbersome, but it tells you so much more about the things that go into this guide I’ve put together for you. But before we even get to the guide itself, I’m going to introduce you to something else rather useful. It’s an image-tagging service called Thinglink.
Thinglink-ing chez Pim
Thinglink, from the brilliant minds of my friends Ulla-Maria and Jyri Engeström, makes image-tagging super simple. Any image on Chez Pim with Thinglike icon (4 black dots) on the top left corner has Thinglink tags in them. Roll over the image and you’ll see more dots popping up inside the image. Each dot is a link, on a thing, get it, Thinglink? Pretty brilliant, no? Point at one of those dots, you’ll see a small pop-up that tells you what the thing is and where to go to buy or learn more about it. Now images on Chez Pim help me tell stories and help connect you to useful things.
These are not advertising or sponsored links, by the way. Except for a small percentage of Amazon Associate Fees I get when I link to products on Amazon.com, I don’t make any money from these links. I simply point you to where I myself would buy or learn more about these items.
P.S. If you’re reading this post via an RSS feed, I’m sorry but Thinglink doesn’t work via RSS, so you’ll have to click through to Chez Pim to read and see the links on the images.
Now, let’s get on with my list, shall we?
Fiesta’s “Head Chefs” line of silicone kitchen tools for kids
I’ve only recently discovered these adorable kitchen tools, and now every kid in my life will get one (or more) as a present this holiday. I think one of the keys to get kids to eat well is to get them interested in food and in cooking, and what better way to do it than making it fun? Auntie Pimmie is going to be so popular with the kids this holiday, I can tell you that.
Tiny but not wimpy cameras
I am asked all the time what camera I use on the blog and when I travel. Here’s my answer, my absolute favorite camera, the one I carry with me pretty much all the time, is this Panasonic Lumix GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 lens. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a camera more, and I’m sure I’ve never spent money better than when I bought it. The Micro 4/3 format basically allows DSLR cameras to shrink to this size, which is just a bit bigger than your tiny point/shoot. This camera let me geek out all I want on a shot, by manually doing everything, or just set it to Auto and have the camera do the thinking for me. And with a lot of the controls on the outside – knobs and dials and things – it’s actually quite quick to switch from one mode to another.
The GF1 is the first small camera that made me leave my big Canon 5D-Mark II at home when I went to Japan and Australia earlier this year. That’s how good it is, and how confident I am with it. Panasonic just announced the launch of the next model Panasonic Lumix GF2 in January, so you might want to check that one out instead. I can’t vouch for it since I haven’t used it myself.
Shooting with the fixed 20mm lens will take some getting used to, especially if you’re accustomed to the point/shoot with 10x zoom or something. But the lens is so fast and so awesome that it’ll be worth it. If this still doesn’t sound like a good idea, you could buy the GF1 with a more flexible 14-55mm lens.
I’ve been poo-pooing pocket point/shoot cameras for a long time now. No matter how well they advertise their “low light” ability, it’s just never adequate for me. The new CMOS sensor that recently came on the market changed my mind completely. The quality difference between shots made with the old CCD sensor and the CMOS sensor is truly night and day. Pun intended. I’ve been playing a bit with the Nikon S8100, another pocket camera with CMOS sensor, but the one that I really, really like is this Canon SD4000IS. The guys at dpreview like it a lot too. (I hope he doesn’t read this but that’s what you-know-who is getting for Christmas.) If you take photos of food when you go out to a restaurant, then get one of these and put aside your massive, embarrassing DSLR for other occasions.
Mid Century dinner wares and serving pieces
I’m always trolling places like Etsy and eBay for vintage things. My current obsession is Mid Century dinner wares and serving pieces. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of them used in my photos right here on the blog. My particular obsession is pieces by the American designer Russel Wright, like the gorgeous brown carafe in the photo. I know this one is a bit steep at ~$300, but you could also find his more utilitarian but no less interesting pieces on eBay for not very much money at all. Just don’t go bidding on the ones I want, deal?
Another source of lovely Mid Century pieces here chez moi is a local shop here in Santa Cruz called Stripe Design. They’ve been loaning me some pieces to use as props, and in return I link to their Etsy shop directly from the images. So if you want a cake stand just like the one you see here, you could actually buy it. Stripe is my favorite shop in Santa Cruz so I’m so happy to be able to share it with you on my blog too.
My favorite scale, plus a lite version
If you’re looking for a gift that the intended recipient still has got, try giving them a scale. I think everyone should have a scale, and every recipe should include ingredients listed by weight. I use it all the time. Measuring by weight is not only so much more accurate, especially for baking recipes, but it’s also not as messy. I measure all the ingredients directly into the bowl I’ll mix it in. No washing a cup, a 1/2 cup, and a 1/4 cup and three different sizes of measuring spoons just to get to through a recipe.
The one on the left occupies a permanent space on my countertop. It not only measure by grams and ounces, but it actually lets you measure by the usual cups and spoonfuls. It’s quite handy to use since most recipe books still list ingredients by volume, so, while the industry still catches up with this idea, this particular scale is super helpful. I should warn you that to measure by volume you must key in the product code, all-purpose flour is 29, sugar is 52, and so on. This is so that the scale can do the conversion for you. That means you need to keep the little booklet it comes with nearby so you could look up the code. I have a workaround for this, I keep a list of ingredient codes I use most often right on my blackboard by the fridge.
If you think the volume scale is a bit spendy ($62), you can buy a simpler version of that scale without the fancy volume measuring feature at under $25. It works just as well in grams and oz, and it comes in all kinds of colors!
Time to get an immersion blender (or time to get a new one?)
Hand blender, immersion blender, stick blender, no matter how you want to call it, it’s an absolutely indispensable tool in my kitchen. I haven’t even seen my regular blender in I don’t know how long. I use it to my hand blender to blend soup right in the pot I’m cooking with. I use it when I’m making a larger amount of salad dressing or I want a tighter emulsion. I use it when I want to whip just a small amount of cream, just enough for a couple servings of dessert without having to dirty my big stand mixer bowl. I use it all the time. I think everyone should have one in their kitchen.
The middle one, by Kitchenaid, is what I’ve been using for the past three years. I love it. The sleek Cuisinart on the left is perhaps not as powerful, but it wins on the looks department and also the cheapest one of the lot. The one on the right is the fancy Bamix blender, I’ve used it, it’s pretty awesome, but it’s also quite spendy. Your choice. Just get one of these, you’ll thank me, or the lucky friend/family who got this will thank you.
Well-curated little shops
Amidst the cacophony of the web, I rely more and more on strong, independent voices to help guide my purchasing decisions. I don’t need or want a store that sells 100 different kinds of soy sauce. I want one that carries just a handful, but only the ones whose quality I could rely on. Harris Salat put together just such a shop, Everyday Japanese, where he not only brings you quality Japanese products, but also helps demystify each one in his friendly, approachable, and imminently enjoyable tone. Your food lover friends or loved ones will definitely enjoy receiving a present from Harris’s shop.
For two years now, I look forward to a pound of coffee a month sent to me by Mal Sterns of Citizen Bean. I can’t remember a time when I was less than satisfied. Some of those coffees were a bit tricky, requiring me to fine-tune my pull or my grind to fit its exigent demands. Sometimes it took me to the last shot before I got it right, but hey, I enjoyed the whole process. Mal is not a roaster, he is a coffee curator. Each month he selects a different independent roaster from around the country to feature in this subscription club. A present of 3 or 6 month subscription, longer even, will sure be loved by your coffee geek friends. And because they won’t be stuck with getting beans from just one roaster, this is particularly great if the coffee lover in your life has got a bit of a commitment issue. I’m just saying.
Food52 shop is another one I browse often. Amanda Hesser and her team does a great job of putting together a fantastic resource to independent food artisans from around the country. I’m sure you could find something that’ll fit your fancy there. Go check them out.
My very own artisan jams and marmalades *new
Some of you probably already know that I make jams and marmalades. If you follow me on Twitter you might have even bought some. If this is the first you’ve heard of this, let me tell you a bit about this little adventure of mine.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been making very small batches of jams and marmalades for sale. I’m inspired by the beauty of the products I have access to in this area, like stone fruits from Andy Mariani’s legendary orchard and exotic citrus from a secret garden atop a scenic hill in Watsonville. The secret citrus garden belongs to our good friend Gene Lester, a retired engineer who has dedicated his life to his passion. He’s cultivated a magical garden of at least a couple hundreds varieties of exotic citrus. For years I’ve been visiting Gene’s garden to help David harvest citrus to use at Manresa, and one day I gave in to the mesmerizing calls and started making my own marmalades. I’ve been doing it each citrus season since.
You won’t find an “Orange Marmalade” in my collection, instead, you’ll find ones with poetic names like Bouquet des Fleurs, Sanguinello, and Rangpur. Each batch is made in the classic bitter marmalade style, from a single varietal of citrus to showcase its own unique flavor and perfume. Jeffrey Steingarten, an early (and loyal) fan of my jams and marmalades, calls them “unparalleled”.
My jams are made in much the same way, inspired by the amazing heirloom stone fruits from Andy’s Orchard. I make them in very small batches, with only pristine fruits, minimally processed sugar, and never with commercial pectin. Pectin is just for the meek. Where acidity is called for I use fabulous Meyer lemons from Gene’s garden. Each season Andy keeps some of his best heirloom fruits for me, like my favorite local plum the Elephant Heart and the heirloom white peach Silver Logan, which dates from the time bright acidity hasn’t been bred out of them. Andy also has French varietals otherwise difficult to find, such as the little-plum-that-could Mirabelle and the fantastic Reine-Claude.
All my jams and marmalades are made in small batches, in my treasured copper bassines à confiture I hauled back from France. I only have very limited quantities, no more than 40-50 boxes (12 jar each) each year, I usually sell them out at the end of each season. This holiday is the first time I still have them for sale, because I was so busy at the end of summer I didn’t get around to putting all of them up for sale. So, if you’d like to try some, or give some away as gifts to your jam loving friends, you still have a chance, just mosey on over to my Etsy shop and get some while you can.
Because a food lover is never complete without wine*new
And now, to round out my gift guide this year, I’m adding two fun gift ideas especially for the wine lovers. When one of my readers asked me why I had no wine gift ideas on my list, I had no good answer for him. I supposed it’s because if I were to start on wine I’d have to write an entire list for them alone!
There are so many fantastic ideas for wines. You could give your wine-loving dear ones a fine Burgundy she or he couldn’t normally afford. You could sign them up on a fantastic wine voyage known as the Dooniverse. But then two ideas came to me and got me so so excited I had to add them to my gift list this year.
One is some great value and lovely wines at Dee Vine Wines. David and I are very good friends with the owner Dade Thieriot (read:disclosure) so I follow him on Twitter. Lately I’ve been seeing some wonderful deals he tweeted about, so I went to check his online store. There I found 7 pages of lovely Rieslings, all under $20! Dade imports wines directly from the producers, and he only brings in wines that fit his taste. Knowing Dade, I can tell you his taste is fine indeed. So, this is a personal recommendation. Try some of those fantastic value Rieslings from his list, I’m sure you’ll love me for it. (If you’re planning on cooking Dorie’s French Supper from my Dinner @ 8, the wine I recommend for the meal is a Riesling Kabinett, and you can find some lovely ones right here at Dade’s shop.)
The second wine recommendation also came from a friend. Our dear friend Keiko Niccolini brought two of these ingenious Govino wine glasses to our pig roast (for which we asked friends to bring their own eating/drinking vessels, long story) and forgot to take them home. Instead of returning them to her I greedily kept them for my own use (read:busted). David and I love to sail, and these shatterproof Govino wine glasses are perfect for our sailing trips. Gone were the days we drank good wine out of cheap supermarket plastic cups. Now we drink them out of these stylish Govino glasses – they’re like your usual stemless wine glass but with an indentation that fits your thumb so you could grip the glass (without having to cup it like you’re a wine heathen or something.) I think they’re just brilliant. Back then they were only sold to wine professionals to use at tasting events, but now you could get them at your local stores or on Amazon. I think a set of these glasses will make just about any wine-lover among your dear ones very happy this holiday season. (read: dear my own dear ones I could use more of these!)