Monday, December 1, 2008

Irene's Unofficial Holiday Gift Guide

I knew Thanksgiving was over when the only songs I heard on the radio this morning were about Rudolph, I walked into my building to a huge and beautiful Christmas tree and the temperature was down to -- oh, wait, it was still up in the 70s, but this is LA and we drape Christmas lights over palm tress and Corona bottles around here. Not that I'm complaining, mind you!

The point is, 'tis definitely the season, and if there is one thing I love more than receiving gifts, it is actually giving them. And that part has gotten easier and easier throughout the years. In fact, ever since the invention of online shopping, I like to avoid huge lines and have my purchases come to me, instead of the other way around. Here are a few things on my list this year that I either have tried out for myself or would love to try out and that I think would please even the most discerning recipient.

For The Chef

Once Upon A Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau. New from Alibris, $12.84 (or from Amazon for about $15). I just got this cookbook myself (I ordered a used copy for $5 including shipping, whoo hoo!) and I've already fallen in love with its intuitive layout and inventive recipes (and boy, there are a lot of recipes!). The authors are successful owners of a great cafe and bring their different backgrounds (French and American) into perfect harmony in the dishes they create. Personally, I love buying (and getting) used books because I feel like I give them a new home, but for the price tag of just under $13 for a new copy, you can't go wrong.

The Sweet Life: Desserts From Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman. New from Alibris, $9.50 (Seriously, $10? This is a steal. You'd better get this quick because I have an itchy credit card finger). Beautifully written and beautifully illustrated, this book has a special place in my kitchen. There is something a little extraordinary and very special in each of Kate Zuckerman's creations (maple ginger ice cream, anyone?) and I have no scruples in giving this book my full and warm endorsement.

For The Entertainer

Stemless Wine Glass from Crate and Barrel, $1.95/each (or, a decanter set with four glasses for $19.95!). I used to think stemless wine glasses were an abomination, but then I left behind my wine snobbery and actually used one. They are awesome for everything, including wine, cocktails, juices and even desserts like mousses or trifles. I've said before that in my small kitchen, everything has to do double and triple duty, and these glasses more than aquit themselves. And for $2 each, if someone (*cough* me) drops a glass, I can say "mazel tov" and not worry about it.

Bamboo-Porcelain 3-Section Serving Tray from Sur la Table, $29.95. Undoubtedly, this is the most used serving dish at Chez Irene. In fact, I would put it near the top of my "things I can't live without" list. Here are some of a myriad of combinations: salami, cheese, olives; roasted peppers, roasted eggplant, sundried tomatoes; cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, herbed yogurt dip; salted peanuts, wasabi peas, cheese twists; smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes, capers; guacamole, sour cream, salsa; blueberries, raspberries, almonds; truffles, truffles, truffles... you get the idea. Functional and pretty, what more could anyone want?

Polka-Dot Dessert Plates, $27.99/six at Brentwood Kitchen. What party would be complete without tid-bit plates? Officially, these are called "dessert" plates, but their small size and lollypop colors make them perfect for any kind of entertaining. And because the owner of Brentwood Kitchen is a close friend of mine, all Confessions of a Tart readers will get 10% off any purchase from now until January 1, 2009. Just enter the code TART at checkout. It's good to have friends in high places!

For The Tea Lover

Tea from Lupicia, about $7.00/tin or 10 teabags. For my last birthday, I was lucky enough to get a box of tea from this Japanese company. I love exploring new flavors of tea from different regions like China, India and Africa and since I tried Lupicia tea, I've been a big fan. They have so many imaginative flavors that I'm often at the store for at least a half hour before I can pick anything out (thankfully, their salespeople are very patient), and their tea is fantastic. If I had to pick only three flavors, I would go with Apricot (a fragrant black tea), Jasmin Mandarin (a green tea that has the most wonderful Jasmine smell) and the Momo Peach Oolong.

Bird Teapot, $13.95 at Crate and Barrel. This would make an adorable gift for anyone who drinks a lot of tea. I love its classic curves, the little bird on top and the fact that the handle actually has a grip for your thumb. Made of white porcelain, it matches perfectly with anything in my tea cup collection. I loved it when I received it as a gift from a thoughtful friend.

Harvest Cup & Saucer, $26.99 for a set of 4 at Wrapables. I can imagine myself having a quiet cup of tea in the afternoon, looking out of my window onto a gray, winter day, and feeling warm and cozy at home with my tea and something little and sweet. I can also imagine sharing this cup of tea and a laugh with friends and family (although they would probably fight me for the dessert...). I really like this pretty, delicate set.

Well, I hope you've had fun going on a virtual shopping trip with me! If you have a favorite gift that has made you smile, leave it in the comments, I am always expanding my list!


nadia said...

what a wonderful list!! i am headed to amazon now !!

Happy cook said...

Wow that baking book is really a wonderful buy at that price.
I just ordered a another baking book otherwise i would have bought this one.

Eileen said...

I purchased Once Upon A Tart on Amazon several years ago and just love it! Great list... I especially like the polka-dot plates.

Ingrid said...

Thanks for the tips! Those stemless wine glasses are great looking! I need new glasses too. I would leave this open with a post note on the moniter but my Honey would still probably miss the hint! LOL!

Irene said...

LOL Ingrid, mine is just like that. You have to almost hit him over the head with it. Men! :)

Y said...

What a great list. I certainly wouldn't mind getting any of those as a gift!

Bonbon Oiseau said...

what a fantastic list irene..i would like a bird teapot and teacup please!

Alanna said...

Those polka dot plates are so cute! Thanks for posting them... now I know what to get for my hard-to-buy-for friend!