Henri’s gift suggestions for the holiday season
Henri has been amazed at the amount of correspondence he’s received in recent weeks beseeching him for advice on culinary and gourmet gifts for the approaching holidays. So, with his best wishes and season’s greetings, here are Henri’s suggestions for gifts that should satisfy that special someone—naughty or nice—on your list.
$1,000: A wine-and-dine weekend in the wine country—granted, a splurge, but you get to go along, so pourquoi non? And winter’s the perfect time to visit—L. and I flew out from New York three Januarys in a row. The grape vines have been cut back, and the stark rows ribbon over rolling hills like thousands of miniature Christo’s Fences, bright-yellow wild mustard growing between them.
In fact, the Napa Valley Mustard Festival, which runs late January through early April, offers many special events, including art exhibits and wine and food tastings (www.mustardfestival.org).
Among Henri’s favorite restaurants in the area: Ristorante Tra Vigne in St. Helena (www.travignerestaurant.com), in an old ivy-covered stone building with 30-foot ceilings, wood-fired ovens and a Old World-style courtyard; and Della Santina’s Trattoria in Sonoma (www.sterba.com/sonoma/santina), an intimate local favorite just off the downtown plaza.
Be sure to stop by the Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves on Highway 121 south of Sonoma (www.gloriaferrer.com) for a glass of brut on the hillside patio overlooking the Sonoma Valley vineyards.
For pampered-plus lodging, stay at the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa (www.fairmont.com/sonoma), built in 1926 and offering a wide array of spa and massage packages.
$250: Though not a particularly romantic gift, a good food processor is guaranteed to provide a sort of delayed gratification: years of wonderful dishes that themselves will lead to romantic evenings.
Prices vary, but Henri prefers a large-capacity (10 to 12 cups) and lots of attachments. The KitchenAid Professional 670, which retails for about $250, is your best bet, while Cuisinart’s Prep II Plus is also good ($200).
Under $100: Custom gift baskets. Think themes, either regions or specific foods. A natural, of course, is a basket of Chico-area products: Sierra Nevada mustard, Lodestar olive oil, LaRocca wine, University Farm beefsticks, California Mist marinade or salad dressing, Chico Spice Company herbs and spices, Lundberg Farms gourmet rice, locally grown nuts and of course Shubert’s truffles.
Other possible themes: appetizers (cheeses, nuts, crackers); gourmet spices (saffron, Thai curries, Chinese gingers, peppercorns); decadent snacks (biscotti, pistachios, gourmet chocolates, toffee). Or get really creative and build a basket around a favorite film (Chocolat, Babette’s Feast, Big Night, Some Like It Hot).
Under $50: Henri says books—cookbooks as well as books about food and eating. Among my favorite of the many excellent new cookbooks are those in the “Best Recipe Classic” series published by the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, including Steaks, Chops, Roasts, and Ribs; Baking Illustrated; and American Classics.
For books about food and eating, you can do no better than the grande dame of American food writing, M. F. K. Fisher, many of whose books have recently been reissued. Start with The Art of Eating: The Collected Gastronomical Works of M. F. K. Fisher, which includes classics such as Consider the Oyster and How to Cook a Wolf.
Stocking Stuffers: (all under $15): A stocking stuffed with cooking and other kitchen items is guaranteed to please the chef in your life. The following are fail-safe: rubber and wooden spatulas and spoons, measuring cups and spoons, meat thermometers, whisks, napkin rings, cheese knives and spreaders, garlic presses and peeler tubes, corkscrews, wine-glass charms, wine-bottle stoppers, and cookie cutters.
I also recommend a good pair of swimming goggles, which Henri wears—the little rubber strap stretched around the back of his chef’s hat—to keep from weeping when he cuts onions.