First, a mortar and pestle, something I've desperately wanted since savoring the sauces my roommates would whip up with one in Spain. Second, an incredible array of spices and flavorings from Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods in Inman Square, including everything from dill seed, to star anise, to sumac. (What is sumac? Neither of us have any idea, which is part of the fun!) The final piece of this gift puzzle is perhaps the most brilliant of all: The Flavor Bible. The book, which bills itself as "The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs," is an incredible kitchen reference, perfect for those who love to cook (and eat) but don't have the patience for long, elaborate recipes and perfect measurements (that would be me). Essentially, its a giant index where you can look up whatever ingredient you have on hand, from cheeses, to vegetables, to salts. Under each entry, you can learn a little bit about your ingredient, as well as peruse an extensive list of complimentary ingredients, compiled according to chefs' recommendations. So, next time I'm looking to try something new with my winter parsnips or a precious celeriac (or my new spice collection!) I have a wealth of improvisational possibilities right there at my fingertips, drawing from a deep well of culinary experience.
I have yet to sit down and absorb the full wonder of this book--I had to run off to New Jersey just hours after receiving it--but I cannot wait to peruse it when I get back home. The second introductory chapter, in particular, holds great promise: "Great cooking = Maximizing Flavor + Pleasure by Tapping Body + Heart + Mind + Spirit: Communicating via the Language of Food." This, after all, is what truly great cooking is all about. It is also a wonderful reminder of the greatest treasure of the holidays: gathering around the table with friends and family to share a meal that's been cooked together.
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and lucky New Year!