Having made lists and checked them twice, I’m back with more lists. This time with some readables and a bunch of good things to eat. And, continuing my crusade to make every holiday a chocolate holiday, I’ve got one list devoted to nothing but chocolate.
I’ll be moving on to cookies next week, but please – pipe up with all your holiday gift ideas. The season is still young(ish).
Lead image by Maciej Nicgorski / EyeEm (Getty)
Even though chocolate is as personal as perfume, I’ve never met a chocolate-loving baker who wasn’t thrilled to get a bar – or a bag of fèves, galets, palets, pucks, pellets, chips or chunks – as a gift. A new chocolate brings the possibility of a new favorite. Here are some of the chocolates in my stash.
Valrhona Fèves: Fèves means “beans” in French and it’s the way the French chocolate company, Valrhona, refers to their flat, oval shaped pieces of chocolate. Some of my favorites from their many types of chocolate are: bittersweet Guanaja and fruity Manjari; Jivara milk chocolate; and their cocoa powder, which is such a gorgeous color.
If you’ve baked with me, then you know that I always have chips on hand, but that I like to chop my favorite chocolate for cookies and cakes and toppings. Offset serrated knives – the kind with gently scalloped serrations – are the best tools for this job and for years I’ve been chopping merrily with this very reasonably priced knife. And then Michael found this gorgeous knife from Shun. He bought it for bread (he’s the artisan-type bread baker in the family), but I grab it for chocolate – it feels good in my hand and goes through a hunk of chocolate with ease. It’s a splurge ($145), but a practical one.
You can never go wrong with chocolate as a gift. Here are some of my favorite chocolatiers who ship.
Stick With Me Sweets: These are the chocolates I buy for gifts, the ones I buy for special occasions and the ones I hope people will give me. They are as phenomenally delicious as they are exquisite. If you’re in NYC, you should make a little pilgrimage to the shop and see Susanna Yoo at work.
Food, glorious food, dropped at the doorstep – these are a few of my favorite things. (Sorry, I think I just merged lyrics from two Broadway musicals that were never meant to go together.)
Fly by Jing: To say that I use their Sichuan Chili Crisp on just about everything is only a slight exaggeration when you consider that I swish it through my oatmeal every morning and, following Jing’s suggestion, spoon it over vanilla ice cream. A gift pack would be great for the holidays: Take a look at Lucky 88 spice pack ($88) or the Triple Threat ($42).
Seed and Mill: If you know someone who loves halva, sweets made from pressed sesame seeds, then you know someone who would love the seasonal mix of halva from Seed and Mill ($45). And anyone who’s cooking their way through recipes from the Middle East and the Mediterranean will adore the Brooklyn-based company’s organic tahini. I really like the one with za’atar.
Booneville Barn Collective: Chiles, chiles, chiles, farm-to-jar chiles. The Collective in Booneville, California grows several kinds of chiles, but I became interested in them because they grow chiles from the seeds of Espelette peppers (piment d’Espelette) from France’s Basque region. The chile powder is pungent, mildly hot, slightly sweet and brilliantly colored. They call their chiles Piment d’Ville, a tribute to Boonville, and I was so taken with them that I wrote about the co-owner, Krissy Scommegna, in my New York Times column. And I created a recipe for a galette using their chiles (that recipe requires a subscription).
I know that I’m not the only one who loves France in general and Paris in particular – I hear from so many of you and it makes me happy that we share this affection for France and its food. Here are some gift ideas that can bring France to you, your family and friends, even if you’re not traveling now. And a couple of gifts to use when you do travel.
Two of my most favorite things to do in Paris are to take a food and wine tour or a cooking class.
Paris By Mouth is my all-time favorite food tour group – you won’t find more knowledgeable guides or better planned tours anywhere. I’ve taken cheese tours with them - twice (which puts me one up – insert “wink emoji” – on the writer Ruth Reichl, who did the cheese tour with her friend Nancy Silverton) – and I’ve gifted food tours with them to friends. That every tour ends with a grand tasting – and great wines – is just a small part of what makes seeing Paris with PbM so memorable.
And La Cuisine Paris is the hands-down best cooking school in Paris. Their instructors are French, their classes are all in English and I’m sorry I didn’t save pictures of the croissants that Michael, my husband, made in one of their classes – we ate them too quickly. If you’re longing for Paris right now, make sure to follow La Cuisine Paris on Instagram – their videos always make me dream – and sign up for their newsletter.
Mysteries set in France
Louise Penny’s All The Devils Are Here is the only novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache series that’s set outside of Three Pines, the fictitious village in Canada that everyone who reads the books wants to move to. The story unfolds in Paris, starting with dinner at one of my favorite bistros, Juveniles. If you’ve never read a Louise Penny novel, be prepared: once you start, you’ll do nothing but read it to the end. Have snacks on hand (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
M.L. Longworth’s Provencal mystery series is a delight. Judge Verlaque has exquisite taste in food (wine, cigars, art and vintage cars, too), law professor Marine Bonnet is whip smart and Aix-en-Provence is dreamy. Verlaque and Bonnet are excellent companions, so it’s a good thing that there are now nine books in the series (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Brittany mystery series is a romp on the rugged Western coast of France with Commissaire Dupin, a man you don’t want to meet until he’s had his third espresso of the morning. Bannalec is a pseudonym for the German novelist, and I was delighted to discover the name on a road sign I passed when I was traveling in Brittany this summer (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Other favorites set in France
Devoted Julia fans will also love As Always, Julia, a book of letters exchanged between Julia and Avis Devoto when Julia was in France and working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When I finished this book, I was sad for weeks: I missed these two extraordinary women (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
My Place at the Table by Alexander Lobrano. A coming of age story by an American who found a new life and his truest work in France. That it happened almost by accident, makes the story more tempting. From a Connecticut childhood of all-American food to the tables of France's best restaurants, we follow Alec on his path to becoming a food critic of note in the country he's now called home for most of his life (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah. When Ann’s husband was transferred to Paris, she imagined a life together exploring their new home. But soon he was called away for a year in Iraq and Ann, a wonderful writer, was left to explore on her own. In that year, she traveled the regions of France, discovering the culture through each area’s most iconic dish. The stories are as delicious as the recipes (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Drinking French by David Lebovitz. Even if you’ve never considered a cocktail book, you’ll want this one for its gorgeous photographs – they’ll transport you to France instantly – and for David’s clever writing. And while the majority of the drinks are alcoholic, there are great recipes for hot chocolate and tea and plenty of recipes for things to nibble with drinks (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Paris in Stride by Jessie Kanelos Weiner is a small treasure, a collection of watercolors that walks us through of the artist’s favorite places in her hometown. (buy from Amazon or Bookshop). For 2022, Jessie has illustrated The New Victory Garden calendar – it’s cheery enough to chase away the clouds from a gloomy Paris sky in January.
I’ve always liked the idea of “armchair travel” – a term coined to describe being carried away to another place by reading about it. But I like the idea of kitchen-counter travel even more. Think of it as cooking your way to another place. Also, learning about another culture through its food. Also having some delicious fun. Here are just a few cookbooks – really only a few; there are so, so many - that can carry us away.
At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips. A memoir of life and love in Taiwan, of family and language, art and inspiring food – and yes, there are recipes. Philips, an American, is a lovely writer, a culinary historian and an artist – her illustrations are such a delightful part of the book (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).
Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes from a Lifetime of Travel by Claudia Roden. Now in her 80s, Claudia Roden is an international treasure, and has been since her first book, A Book of Middle Eastern Food became a bestseller in 1968. If, like thousands of us, you love the flavors in Ottolenghi’s food, then like Ottolenghi, you can thank Roden for introducing us to them (buy from Amazon or Bookshop).