I like believing in the fantasy that people actually take my advice on things even to the point of spending money in the process. Accordingly, here is a list of suggestions of things to buy for people you know who enjoy food and drink or to talk about meaningfully within earshot of people who might possibly buy them for you. In the common parlance I believe this genre of post is known as a “gift guide”. I have opinions on many other genres of things that you could spend your or other people’s money on but I will restrict this to the categories that are likely to be of interest to people reading this blog: food and drink.
This is a slightly longer list than I furnished the last time I did one of these. As with the last list, please be aware that any purchase links to Amazon will earn me a few cents. The good news is that the suggestions are good even if you don’t purchase them from Amazon—and in the case of books available in the US I also include links to our town’s excellent indie bookstore, Content, who ship all over the US. Okay, let’s get to it.
- Lagavulin 16: Available everywhere this classic is always excellent and always an excellent fit for the person in your life who enjoys smoky whisky. Do they also enjoy Parks & Recreation? If so, get them a bottle of the recent Lagavulin 11, Offerman Edition that spends some time in Guinness casks (this may not be as widely available as the Lagavulin 16). Either will set you back between $80 and $100, depending on where in the US you are.
- Evan Williams Single Barrel: Also widely available despite the bourbon market having gone insane in the last two years, the Evan Williams Single Barrel—a Heaven Hill brand—is also almost always dependable. It’s also a lot cheaper than any Lagavulin. It used to be easily found in the $20 region but even with the bourbon market having gone insane you can probably find it for about $30. Good as a casual sipper and in cocktails.
- B.G Reynolds Lush Grenadine: I recommended this in 2019 and will recommend it again for the cocktail maven in your life. Give it to them with a printout of a recipe for the Scofflaw cocktail. [Purchase at Amazon; affiliate link.]
- Flavours of the Spice Coast, Mrs. K.M Mathew: This Kerala classic is one I will never stop recommending. Not an exhaustive list of recipes but every one a winner. [Purchase at Amazon; affiliate link.]
- Annapurni, Sabita Radhakrishnan: This funkily formatted cookbook brings together dishes from various communities from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Lots of great meat, fish and vegetarian recipes here. [Purchase at Amazon; affiliate link.]
- The Essential North-East Cookbook, Hoihnu Hauzel: Okay, so you’re unlikely to cook from this but it provides a rare window into the cuisines of North East India which are very different from what most people—including most Indians—think of as “Indian food”. [Purchase at Amazon; affiliate link.]
Books on Food and Drink
- Calvados: The Spirit of Normandy, Charles Neal: Perhaps you know someone who enjoys Calvados or other fruit brandies. Perhaps you like them enough to spend $60 to buy them this magisterial, coffee table-ready tome that covers the ins and outs of Calvados history and production and provides overviews of nearly every farm producer? [Purchase at Amazon; affiliate link.]
- Taste Makers, Mayukh Sen: I’ve only just gotten started on this book by Mayukh Sen—one of the very best young food writers going—and am enjoying it very much. Sen’s well-researched account of the lives and careers of seven major immigrant women food writers and chefs is stimulating and timely. [Purchase at Content. Purchase at Amazon—affiliate link]
- The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks; Toni Tipton-Martin: African-American foodways are central to American food culture. Alas, as with so much other African-American knowledge and practices that are central to other American traditions, they are mostly at best under-recognized or, at worst, erased. This makes Tipton-Martin’s annotated survey of these cookbooks all the more essential. [Purchase at Content. Purchase at Amazon—affiliate link]
Newsletter and Magazine Subscriptions
- Whetstone. A relatively new, quarterly magazine published by Stephen Satterfield—who gained greater prominence recently as host of Netflix’s High on the Hog—Whetstone is an essential corrective to the mainstream food media’s insistent focus on white bourgeois readers. Unsurprisingly, they don’t have huge advertising dollars behind them—so please consider an annual subscription.
- From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy. Not a print magazine but a newsletter on Substack, Kennedy’s newsletter is also located at some distance from mainstream American food media and its interests. Kennedy begins with the assumption that food is always political but unlike almost everyone in food media who repeats that phrase, she actually follows through on the premise. Always interesting, often challenging. You can subscribe and receive two pieces a week for free over email but the Friday entry is only for paid subscribers. You want to be among them.
- Vittles, Jonathan Nunn, Ed.. The pandemic-birthed Vittles is a UK-centered (though not exclusively) affair but is essential reading for anyone interested in food anywhere. Nunn is himself an excellent and incisive writer; he also commissions excellent and incisive writing by other people. As with the previous, to get the entire weekly package you have to subscribe.
These are all things I own and use on a near-daily basis.
- Knives. Truth be told, I wasn’t planning to post a gift guide this year until I read another that recommended a $150 chef’s knife by Wüsthof. As I said on Twitter, there are far better Japanese knives available for far less money. I will recommend three that I own: a Shun Santoku, a Shun paring knife and a Misono chef’s knife that also makes for an excellent poultry carving knife. [These are all Amazon affiliate links]
- Poultry Shears and Scissors. This set of spring-loaded poultry shears from Oxo [affiliate link] has made my life extremely easy both when cutting up the whole chickens I purchase from a local farm (or, for that matter, when spatchcocking turkeys) and when cutting of fins etc. off whole fish. Don’t risk chips to your good knives by using them to cut through bones; and don’t break regular kitchen scissors by trying to do things they’re not meant for. Buy these instead. And speaking of regular kitchen scissors, I like this pack of two for less heavy-duty kitchen tasks [affiliate link]
- Pots and Pans. I will here recommend pans made of three different materials.
- In stainless steel, this is the All-Clad pan I use more than any other for everything from stir-fries to sautes to braises [affiliate link].
- In carbon steel, the Sonora Small Pan from Santa Barbara Forge is perfect for omlettes, for toasting spices and for searing a single steak or pork chop or piece of fish.
- Finally, in cast iron this 12″ skillet from Lodge is perfect for stove-top or stove-to-oven cooking of steaks, chops, roasts and whole birds; also excellent for frying asparagus and greens and for making parathas [affiliate link].
Now you’re probably wondering what you can buy me. It’s very nice of you but just downloading a free copy of the bean recipes booklet I wrote for Rancho Gordo will be enough to make me happy.