Saturday, December 01, 2007

Obsessor's gift guide

Ok it is December, I am no longer in denial about the speed with which major holidays are approaching. For those of you in search of a gift for an obsessor in your life, or putting together your wish list to noodge those giving you gifts in the right direction, here are some ideas. This is stuff I'd like to receive if I didn't already have it--I don't think there is anything here over $20 and many are appropriately sized for stocking stuffing:

  • Good tongs--I can't tell you how many times I've been at the house of a good cook and found that they somehow survive without a pair of tongs.
  • Roasted walnut oil (or hazelnut oil if you have a hazelnut freak on your hands. Me, I'm a walnut girl.) Makes the best vinaigrette dressing ever. I like the stuff from La Tourangelle and recently saw some of it hiding on a shelf at TJ Maxx of all places.
  • Pastry cloth and rolling pin cover--for making pie crust. I love this thing. Cook's Illustrated recently disparaged it--they prefer parchment paper--but with a thorough flouring of the cloth and cover, I have never had pastry stick to it. Of course Cook's Illustrated also mentioned that they wash the covers every time they use them to which I say--Ha! You don't have to worry about rancid bits of pie dough festering away on the thing between uses if you flour it thoroughly enough that the dough never gets a chance to stick. I sometimes do give mine a shake out the back door to get rid of excess flour before I fold it back up and store it in its ziplock baggie. But wash it? Too OCD for me.
  • Microplane zester--I've been contemplating getting a second one since I use my current one so much and sometimes have to wash it three times in an evening when lemon zest, Parmesan, and nutmeg all need to be produced. And for God's sake, get the one with the handle so your favorite cook doesn't grate off their palm.

  • The Hummingbird's Daughter (in paperback!)--I raved about this book here.
  • The Welsh Girl--I raved about this book here.
  • The Goose Girl--And this one I think I forgot to rave about, but it is for those of you who are nurturing a young reading freak. I've always liked retellings of the classics and this one takes a Grimm tale and turns it into a compelling story about a young woman who learns to define who she is, rather than let others define her.
  • If your recipient can handle potentially tragic/depressing, yet really beautiful, literature as a holiday gift--some people are not so grateful to get a book that will make them cry--there is Half of a Yellow Sun and Flight.

  • A skein of Crack-silk haze is a luxury that can be used in many ways. There are 33 colors and enough yardage in one skein to make a wispy scarf, or use it to make an ethereal trim on a chunkier sweater.
  • A subscription to Craft magazine or Interweave Knits--if you have a crafter who isn't addicted to the web then these paper magazines are pretty great. Not really so necessary for we blog addicted types...
  • Bias tape maker--this little thingy is fun! You cut strips of fabric on the bias and feed it through this gadget and it comes out ready to iron into perfect bias tape. Now I'm trying to think of what exactly I plan to do with 10 yards of bias tape....

For chrissake just give any writer in your life a little time. That's the only gift that I'm asking for from my Mother in Law. She has been kid-tending while I take my Friday pastry class this autumn; as I'm not taking any cooking classes next semester, I'm hoping she'll keep kid-tending while I use my Friday to write. God knows, other than this blog, this year has not been a productive one on the writing front for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Thanksgiving dinner went pretty well--the kids ate a little of the food I made (though Ian insisted on a cheese omelet for dinner...), the crunch factor helped me enjoy the meal, and best of all we didn't burn down my parents' house or burn ourselves with the deep fried turkey:
I made him wear the face shield...and yes, our turkey was rather wee.

But rather than dwell on a meal that even at its best is never going to be my favorite, I'd rather talk about a meal that is way more my kind of Thanksgiving, namely what we ate at the latest meeting of my book group:
We got together the week before Thanksgiving to discuss The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea and eat Mexican food. First off, the book is wonderful and I'll be sending it to British relatives for Christmas this year (since The Welsh Girl--the book I had been planning to gift--was nominated for the Booker Prize I'm pretty sure my relatives will have already read it.) Urrea has the unique ability to write about religion, mysticism, and miracles without getting the least bit pompous or excessively reverent in tone--not an easy thing to do in in a book chock full of commentary on leftist politics, class, revolution, national identity, faith, and love. It helps that the book is over 500 pages so it can pack in a hell of a lot, but the thing that struck me even more than many instances of lyrical beauty of the writer's prose, is the humor in the book. I'm having trouble remembering the last time a piece of literary fiction made me laugh out loud as much as this one did. And a lot of the humor is centered on the stupid things that men do. Urrea makes his male main characters sympathetic, flawed and hysterical at the same time and the female characters, particularly Huila, powerful, warm and cantankerous.

There is plenty to say about magical realism and history (the main character, Terisita, was a real woman and also the author's great aunt) but what struck me most about the book was the number of times that I thought we were headed to a somber scene and instead finding myself surprised by laughter. I doubt that anyone can read the letters between Terisita and the self-proclaimed "Pope of Mexico" and not crack a smile.

Enough of your blathering, Kate! Get to the food!

We started out with a large quantity of guacamole and some homemade roasted tomato salsa (adapted from Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's version) that I brought along with wonderful tortilla chips from Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory (available at both Morgan and York and Arbor Farms), and Lea brought out some (non-Mexican but really tasty) green olive and pomegranite tapenade with pita chips:Then we had some creamy-spicy butternut squash soup that Ami picked up from Prickly Pear Cafe,followed by chicken with pumpkin seed mole sauce, rice, tortillas, plantains, and salad.For dessert we had coconut sorbet, two kinds of ice cream (dulce de leche and chocolate) and pineapple with chile powder.The pineapple with chile came straight from the book--Don Tomas buys paper cones of tropical fruit sprinkled with chile a number of times--and each time I read it, I wanted to try it. And the result? Terrific! Something so simple, but really lovely. You could swank it up a little if you made a pineapple, mango, papaya salad and topped it with slivered mint and chile powder, but for ease simply cutting up a ripe pineapple and sprinkling on a little chile powder can't be beat. I highly recommend stocking the house with pineapple and chile so you can snack on it while reading the book.