Megan's (and My) Holiday Kitchen Gift Guides

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UPDATE: three one-click, non-food, guilt-absolving suggestions below. Of course, you've bought and made all your holiday gifts already. Of course, guidance and suggestions are utterly superfluous, because you've checked everyone off who was on the list you drew up before Thanksgiving. Of course, you're nothing like me.

So, for those who are just starting to consider who gets what and who's supposed to get something in the first place, we've got Megan McArdle's annual kitchen list, this year in a Wedding Deluxe version. I take the greedy liberty of reposting it in its entirety, because it's particularly meaty and full of delicious writing this year.

Of course, I take some issue with it, because I'm nearly as opinionated as Megan, and like her I'm always right. So I'll completely agree that fancy salt should be saved for finishing, and I too can't stop myself from buying new kinds—just yesterday I bought a brand of Guerande fleur de sel, even if my first love is Portuguese flor de sal, which after I wrote about it in the magazine appeared in Whole Foods. It's a bright white, unlike the gray French fleur de sel I guiltily realized I had one packet and one jar of still in my pantry. I do use it every night, though—and use either kosher salt for cooking, whatever Megan says about that (she did grow up celebrating echt Christmas, after all) and however suited it might or might not be to a container called a "pig." And I'm partial to a fine-grained Sicilian sea salt my spouse bought this summer. (Re "pig," the marvelous collection of Julia Child-Avis De Voto letters edited by Joan Reardon, which I review in the New York Times Book Review a week from Sunday, has De Voto, Child's earliest and most enthusiastic champion and a great letter writer herself, referring to the newfangled garbage disposer as her "pig.")

Then there are the gifts people treasure—the kind you make yourself, and deliver.

Of the many I-second-thats, I second her recommendation of kitchen shears that come apart and go into the dishwasher or your sudsy hands, to avoid creating "your very own bacteria farm," a phrase I plan to steal. And of course a burr coffee grinder—I started the fashion, I say haughtily, with my Joy of Coffee, which, I slyly add, makes a great gift too! And Cuisinart countertop ovens are, as is rarely the case, worth the countertop real estate. I haven't gone as far as she in giving countertop space to my Sodastream, which I fell in love with too after my stepdaughter gave one to us last Christmas—one of the best gifts ever. Those weirdo sugar-soaked flavor packets that come with the seltzer maker, though! I wouldn't dream of trying one, even if I gladly mainline sugar, including as I write this.

As for silicone mats, though—two will do, and carry you through many batches of Christmas cookies. (You, of course, have already bookmarked our terrific, easy collection of Christmas cookies from our partners at Eating Well—and go through 'em all but the best is last, dark-chocolate meringues.) I've gone as overboard buying silicone products (no remarks please) as I have buying fancy salt, and they have the disadvantage of being harder to store. So I might end up sending one of my too-many extras to Megan as a thank-you gift.

Knives, to which the wedding-inundated Megan gives a lot of space in this year's edition: I use a Shun knife every day, too. But for an original and beautiful gift, don't overlook hand-honed, extremely cool knives from Adam Simha, Cambridge craftsman and subject of a piece I wrote with accompanying video and my own recommendations for the top three must-have knives.

And then there are the gifts people treasure—the kind you make yourself, and deliver. This weekend's project, if you can stay home and avoid making frantic shopping rounds, should be either those dark-chocolate meringues or the fantastic caramels I luckily got to share a bag of when Carol Moehrle, a district director of public health in Idaho, gave to my spouse, John Auerbach (a public health commissioner in Massachusetts). The plain wax paper wrapping is both charming and moving, especially when you read what a multi-generational tradition making them has been in Moehrle's family. And, as you'll discover if you buy some corn syrup and a candy thermometer (the rest is easy), they're much, much (much) better than any caramels you've ever taste—fresh, sweet, deeply butterscotch, wonderfully chewy but vanishing, well-mannered, after a blissful minute or two.

UPDATE: Last night, on his nightly MSNBC show The Last Word, my friend Lawrence O'Donnell ran an inspiring filmed report of What I did on my summer vacation last night. What he did was give chairs and desk to a Malawi schoolroom. Link to video, in which Lawrence modestly but forcefully says why sitting up and not on a concrete floor makes a difference to how and what students learn, here, and link to give chairs and benches to one of 172 Malawi schools in a UNICEF program here: $24 buys a chair, $48 a desk and a bench.

Closer to home: I've written about the great Thanksgiving pie fundraiser run by Community Servings, a group I actively work with that supplies home-delivered meals for people in eastern Massachusetts with life-threatening illnesses. Pies are good, but meals year-round to people too ill to make them for themselves and their families are better. Give in honor of a family member or friend! Or yourself! Link right here.

Closest to home: give the greatest gift of all—a subscription! As James Fallows, our most effective everything reader-rouser, said only a few days ago:

A carefully laid-out print magazine is one ideal vehicle. Let's say it together... subscribe!

NEXT: Megan's gift extravaganza

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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