By the chimney with care

Henri shows us how to stuff a Christmas stocking

CHOCOLATE DELIGHT<br>Abby Dunham displays some of the homemade candies at Shubert’s Ice Cream.

Abby Dunham displays some of the homemade candies at Shubert’s Ice Cream.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Mon père, Alain Etienne Bourride, loved Christmas almost as he much as he loved food and American movies, and when it came to giving, no one was more generous. Discretion, on the other hand, was a different matter.

On Christmas Eve, the year I turned 9—as the sweet scent of spiced cider wafted in from the kitchen—I sat for hours cross-legged in my cozy feet pajamas in front of the tree, eyeing the piles of brightly wrapped packages, silver-bowed and shiny red-ribboned. A new scarf for the cold wait at the bus stop? The new Judy Garland biography? A pair of black slip-ons by Buster Brown? And the stockings hanging empty in front of the crackling fire! Tomorrow they would be filled with treasure.

I awoke Christmas morning and padded down the stairs in the dark just as Father stepped out of the kitchen, Cognac in hand.

“Coffee cake will be ready in 10 minutes,” he said, plugging in the tree lights. He knelt down by the fireplace, poked at the embers and put another log on.

Soon Nat King Cole was caroling from the hi-fi, and la famille Bourride was gathered around the tree. As was our tradition, Father pulled the stockings from their nails on the mantle and delivered them to us one by one: to Mother, sipping coffee from a mug held in cupped hands, her legs tucked into her robe on her rocking chair; to Colette, under a blanket on the couch; and, finally, to little Henri, barely able to contain his excitement.

But what was this? A pasty little Army-capped head sticking out of my stocking? Little camou-ed torso hanging from little arms reaching out over the top?

Father’s eyes were hopeful. “It’s a G.I. Joe,” he said. “All the boys want one.”

I nodded and smiled as best I could, pulled my new action figure out of the stocking and moved his little plastic-booted legs back and forth.

“See, you can make him march.” He looked at me, then down, and took a breath.

Then, bless his coeur, he took my new G.I. Joe in his hands, set it over by the tree and picked up a package, which he handed to me. “Go ahead. Unwrap it.”

I did, slowly, peeling aside the tissue to reveal a stunningly gorgeous red woolen scarf. I looked up at him, and he was smiling, a bit awkwardly. “You like it?”

I stood and hugged him, and he held me more tightly than he ever had—or ever would again.

So, of course, I think of Father at Christmas, especially this year, Colette’s first in Chico, and we’ve made a deal: We’re exchanging stocking stuffers only, and everything must be food- or kitchen-related. The other evening, I did some planning.

The three best places to shop for culinary stocking stuffers are Collier Kitchen Supply, Zucchini & Vine, and the Galley, all of which have huge selections of traditional and innovative gadgets and utensils: whisks, wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, coasters, exotic spices, cutlery, garlic presses, peelers, lemon zesters, cheese slicers and spreaders, nutcrackers, shellfish forks, meat thermometers and pastry brushes.

Chocolates and other sweets also make for excellent stocking stuffers. The truffles and homemade candies from Shubert’s Ice Cream will satisfy the most discriminating sweet tooth, and the new Powell’s Candy Store has a mind-boggling array of candies, including Jelly Bellies and M&Ms in bulk (in more flavors/colors than you knew existed), as well as chocolate bars from Lindt, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger and Perugina.

Gift certificates also make for great stocking stuffers, particularly from local restaurants: 5th Street Steakhouse, Red Tavern, Caffe Malvina’s, Spice Creek Café, or 33 Steaks, Booze & Jazz. You can also create personalized gift certificates. I’m giving one to Colette good for a meal cooked solely with Saturday Farmers’ Market ingredients, which she gets to choose.

Before everything else, though, I’ll drop down into the toe of her stocking the sweetest, most delicious seasonal food available: a local Satsuma mandarin.

And on Christmas morning, before we exchange stockings, I’ll propose a toast, raising a glass of Courvoisier to our father.