I love holidays. You can get as cranky as you want about the Christmas decorations coming out on the day after Halloween, but I kind of like it. I love Christmas carols and Christmas cards, and wrapping paper and stockings. In our new home, it’s a little strange for me to see giant ornaments coming out when it’s still 80 degrees outside, but I’m not complaining. I know that there will be a gazillion articles hitting the Internet any minute about how we don’t need more “stuff,” and how we all need to scale back. I can see their point, but I also don’t see anything wrong with buying something special for the people you love. Of course, you want it to be the *right* something special, and not just any old thing that you picked up at the Megalomart. In the spirit of scaling back, I usually spend one week of Advent cleaning out closets and donating toys, books and clothes that we no longer use. Another week is spent finding toys for Toys for Tots, and picking out some special groceries for the food pantry. I don’t think that scaling back and thinking of others have to be mutually exclusive from doing something special to the people close to your heart. If it’s something that they love and that they’ll actually use, all the better.
If one of the people close to your heart happens to be a foodie, I’m here to help. Now, a word of warning. If your beloved person has any sort of ambivalence or resentment about being the family cook, DO NOT BUY THEM SOMETHING FROM THIS LIST. It’s a land mine of familial woe, and I’m not about to aid and abet that kind of disaster. No way, no how. I’m also here to save you from buying trash bag liners and a new paper towel holder. Just because things appear in the kitchen does not mean that they are welcome gifts. I have a friend whose (now ex-)husband bought her 99 cent kitchen tongs and some mints for their anniversary. The “tongs and mints” incident of 2004 will go down in the history books as one of the worst decisions in the history of marriage.
However, if your beloved person is like me, and I’d like to think there are a few of us out there, you might find some helpful hints on this list. Keep in mind that I can be practical to a fault. For not one, but two, of our wedding anniversaries, Neil and I bought each other a new vacuum cleaner, without resentment or bitterness. And so, you may want to take my list with a grain of (flaky, sea) salt. A lot of these items may already be present in your kitchen, but need to be replaced every so often, or might need an upgrade. Most of these items can be found online, but if you have a favorite locally owned kitchen shop, you can probably find them there as well, and some can even be found in a good hardware store.
Today, I’ll be covering stocking stuffers, and in future posts I’ll be writing about cookbooks, larger gifts, food gifts, and “medium” gifts for that awkward office gift exchange or your new boyfriend’s grandma. These are in no particular order, and I do advise snooping around the kitchen drawers before spending any big bucks on these. But these are tools that I have found really useful, or would like to find really useful, in my house, and they can all fit in a Christmas stocking! Well, not all at once … but at least some of them could be squeezed in there together. Happy shopping!
Stocking stuffers – for the baker
Rubber spatulas – you really can’t have too many of these, and the novelty ones are kind of cute. I’m partial to the red, because they don’t stain.
Wooden spoons – these are indispensable, and mine tend to get cracked and split with overuse. I like the long-handled ones for things like chicken stock, but I also like shorter ones for balancing in a small pot or bowl. Did you know that if you rest a wooden spoon in a pot of boiling water, that it’s much less likely to boil over? The more you know… These are admittedly the least exciting item on the list, so don’t you dare buy them alone. Pair them with something pretty or fancy or festive, or you’ll become a cautionary tale for holidays to come.
Offset spatula – I use this for everything from frosting cakes to releasing stubborn cupcakes or muffins from their pans, to a “helper” tool when flipping eggs and pancakes. I have a plastic one, so I don’t have to worry about scratching nonstick surfaces with metal.
Silpat – I tend to prefer parchment paper, but you can get these nonstick liners in a variety of sizes, and they roll up nicely for a stocking. I saw some at Costco the last time I was there.
Oven thermometer – This tool is different than a meat thermometer or a candy thermometer, and it is used to make sure that the oven is set to the temperature it says that it is. (A really nice gift-giver would accompany this tool with a note promising to read the owner’s manual for the oven and adjusting the heat settings if the thermometer says that it’s off.) You can probably even find one of these at your local hardware store.
Ceramic pie weights – not incredibly exciting, but they need to be replaced from time to time, especially for someone who likes to bake a lot of pies. These would be nice with a beautiful pie server, like these from Cost Plus World Market:
Cookie cutters – the possibilities are endless here. A word of caution: make sure the cookie cutters match the recipient’s interests, and not necessarily your own. On that note, did you know that they make cookie cutters in the shape of a church? Likewise, make sure the recipient actually likes making cut-out cookies, because they’re kind of a pain.
Timers – you can’t have too many of these, either.
Index cards with beloved family recipes – this is especially nice for someone who is new to the family, or new to cooking and baking. You can print some with your home printer, of course, but I really love handwritten recipes, and I will always treasure the ones written by my grandma, my mom, and my sister and sister-in-law. There’s something about a handwritten recipe that’s so special. Of all of the wonderful cookbooks I have and love, I treasure family recipes (from my own family or someone else’s) above all of them. Here are some cute blank cards to get started.
Oven mitts, or the Ove Glove. For the mitts, buy the sturdiest ones that you can find. The flimsy novelty ones are really not worth it. I have some from Pampered Chef that go halfway up my forearm. I’ve been using them since the year we were married, and they are still in excellent shape. They hold up well in the wash. Don’t scrimp, you cheapskates of the world. Get some nice ones.
Candy thermometer – useful not just for candy-making, but also jams and jellies, and pretty much any time you need to measure the temperature of a liquid. Mine bit the dust while I was making marmalade.
Pastry brush – I prefer silicone because it doesn’t fall apart in the dishwasher. This can be used to brush pastry (like pie crusts and croissants) with an egg wash, but it can also be used to brush marinade or sauce onto meat or chicken, so that’s why I like it to be dishwasher safe.
Stainless steel scoop for muffins, cupcakes, and cookies – they come in a variety of sizes, and they’re really handy to make sure you get a uniform amount in each scoop.
Stocking stuffers – for the cook
Meat thermometer – I prefer digital models, and I burn through these like you would not believe. It doesn’t hurt to have an extra. They are not expensive, and they are a great gift for a food safety geek.
Fish spatula – these are not just for fish, although they are obviously great for flipping and even skinning fish. They are thin and delicate enough to flip even the most delicate foods, but strong enough to handle a little weight, too.
Kitchen shears – I have a couple of pairs of these. Get a dishwasher-safe pair. I use them for opening packages and snipping herbs, and I really like the ability to throw them in the dishwasher for sanitizing after using them to open up a package of raw poultry.
Kitchen twine – if you get it with a nifty holder, it makes it seem more gifty somehow. I always run out of this, which is why you won’t see it in a lot of my blog photos.
Potato ricer – get this for the person who loves mashed potatoes, or someone who’s always wanted to make gnocchi.
Tongs – nice ones! Not the 99 cent ones! I like the silicone-edged ones, for use with nonstick surfaces. We use them so much that they tend to fall apart after a few years. If you’re shopping for someone who grills a lot, be sure to get some that are extra long.
Salad tongs: please do not get these as a diet hint. That will not be well received. However, if your beloved gift recipient just loves serving salads as a first course, find something pretty, like in olive wood.
Silicone whisk – I got ours at IKEA
Herb seed packets
This spatula – I have two, because one is almost always dirty.
A spider strainer for dumplings and wontons – especially for someone who likes to cook Asian food. Don’t worry – it’s not for actual spiders.
Stocking stuffers – for any lover of food
Microplane grater – this is equally useful for cooking and baking. I use ours all the time.
Pretty kitchen towels. You can find these virtually anywhere – from IKEA to Target to fancy kitchen and linen stores. Over time, they get stained and worn down, and fresh ones are always a really nice way to start the new year.
Reusable shopping bags – for the farmers’ market, gift-giving, and general toting things around. The Container Store has some really pretty ones that can be folded/rolled into a really nice compact size.
Fancy ingredients – fleur de sel, coffee, chocolate, grits. Find something that the recipient can’t pick up on his or her regular grocery run. My favorite places for these kinds of treats are international markets and spice stores, or the checkout lanes at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Phoenicia and Central Market in Houston have tons of goodies, and in Minneapolis I’d be heading to Kramarczuk’s and Surdyk’s for unusual treats.
Corkscrew – because who can find one when they need one? Somehow this is a more acceptable gift than a can opener.
Fancy hand soap: you can find it at Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table, but you can also get some really nice (and beautiful) soaps at Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, and Trader Joe’s. I’m partial to citrus scents, because they tend to kill the garlic or onion smell that can linger after a day in the kitchen.
A restaurant gift card to take the resident chef out for dinner, and give that person a break from kitchen duties for a night.
Food-themed Christmas ornaments. Some of my favorite ornaments are in the shape of s’mores. Sur la Table even has one in the shape of a plate of deviled eggs!
If you’re truly desperate and the recipient is very, very practical, put together a kit of freezer tape, a sharpie permanent marker, ice cube trays (for freezing pesto and stock) and chip clips, and volunteer to help organize the freezer. This could backfire, so tread with caution, but you may also win big with this one – who doesn’t need more freezer tape and sharpie markers?
OK, foodies – what have I missed? What would you like to find in your stocking this year?