It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe this is the third annual NEAROF! gift guide. Every year, it’s getting harder to write this thing, probably because I’ve included all sorts of great stuff in prior years. Be sure to check out the 2010 guide, as well as the 2011 guide.
But let’s soldier on, shall we? In the spirit of the holidays, I’ll even put on Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas while I write this.
The New Food Lover’s Companion: If you plan to own one reference book about food, the Larousse Gastronomique is probably what you’re looking for. But if you don’t have a C-note to drop on a tome the size of two telephone books*, your best bet is The New Food Lover’s Companion. This cheap ($19.99 in Canada, $16.99 in America), comprehensive volume (830 pages) is packed full of definitions of kitchen, food and cooking terms that are concise yet thorough. I was introduced to this lovely book by a chef who thought highly of it, and it’s easy to see why – it’s a practical book, with loads of fantastic info that gives you all the facts you need without going overboard (or providing recipes, a la Larousse). There’s a hardcover version available for a bit more coin, but I like the easy-to-flip paperback format. It normally lives on my office desk, so I had to bring it home to shoot pictures. It’ll be back again within a few days. I’ve only owned it for a month, but it’s become an indispensable tool for writing about food.
The Baker’s Manual: When I worked in newspapers, we’d get the strangest books for review. Amidst the bins of glossy, photo-filled cookbooks I found this modest, unremarkable book that’s the opposite of its flashy counterparts. The Baker’s Manual (by Joseph Amendola and Nicole Rees, now in its fifth edition) is a cookbook for the baking nerd on your list who wants to perfect their craft. From working with a poolish to the finer points of baking with steam, it’s more textbook than pretty coffee table book. The price ($44.95 in Canada, $29.95 in America) reflects this. While I don’t recall having made a single recipe out of the book just yet, I’ve used it as a reference to make my other favourite bread recipes better. There’s even a great yeast conversion chart, in case you want to start messing around with fresh yeast. (Do it.)
Cook’s Illustrated: Much like The Baker’s Manual, this magazine is for the cook in your life who treats kitchen work like a science. The print edition is eccentric in its black-and-white plainness, but the iPad edition is much more pretty to look at, and includes helpful videos and photo galleries. Some magazines run recipes of dubious quality next to beautiful food shots, but Cook’s is all about the recipes and the process.
Coffee from an exotic roaster, either local or foreign: We all have our favourite coffees, from the run-of the-mill daily morning sippers to the more exotic beans that wake us up on lazy Sunday mornings. Why not give the coffee lover on your list something curious to shake up their taste buds? When giving the gift of coffee, think backstory. Where is it from? Did you spend a memorable trip there together? Is there a story behind the coffee that makes it special enough to give someone as a gift? You can play this one as wildly or as conservatively as you like. All sorts of roasters have online shops, so ordering from beyond your city is perfectly doable, as long as you don’t mind the shipping charges. But whatever you do, don’t give the gift of Folgers; for a coffee lover, that’s no better than a lump of coal.
Christmas sweets: Can you go wrong with a Toblerone? Not really. Now available in everything from pipsqueak to Paul Bunyan sizes, finding the right fit is easy. Your local grocery store (or corner store, or pharmacy, or … ) is likely brimming with edible festive stocking stuffers. For something different, maybe try a peppermint tree from Aero. Think Peppermint Aero, but shaped like a tree! Neat!
Cooking class: Allow me to declare my vested interest in this, like a good recovering journalist: when I’m not blogging about curious food at NEAROF!, I work as a writer and digital communications specialist at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen, a fantastic organization that, as part of its range of services, offers cooking classes. If you’re in Calgary, BFK classes are totally worth giving as a gift. If you’re elsewhere, look into nurturing a young chef’s creativity in the kitchen with a cooking class that matches their interests. Classes in fundamentals are also great – knife skills, say. Internet videos can teach you a lot about cooking, but there’s nothing quite like being able to ask questions and watch along as a pro shows you how it’s done.
*For anyone under the age of 25, a “telephone book” was a large glue-bound stack of paper that contained all the telephone** numbers for a specific city, listed in alphabetical order.
**For anyone under the age of 18, a telephone is that app on your iPhone you use to talk to your grandparents. You’d know it if you saw it.