Last weekend, in a moment of sheer madness, we decided to walk the baby over to Rockefeller Center and pick up a few gifts. Oh, lawsy, the CROWDS, the tourists, the shoppers, all elbowing each other and trying to snap selfies with the Tree, the Tree, the Tree!!! My holiday panic officially set in. In case you’re feeling similarly, here are some thoughts on gifts, all of them my favorite discoveries of 2014, and all of them available online :) Happy holidays!
I miss my local Paris fromager on pretty much a daily basis, so I was thrilled when I discovered the brie fermier (pictured above, center) from Murray’s Cheese. Gooey, salty, creamy, with an earthy, mushroomy savor, it’ll trick you into thinking you’re on a picnic in the Champ de Mars. Murray’s ships nationwide so you can send a wedge to your favorite fromage-o-phile.
Murray’s also ships vieille Mimolette, a salty, dense, shocking orange cheese with lovely sweet, caramel notes that’s produced in northern France near the Belgian border. As I wrote in this post, Mimolette is one of the only cheeses that uses mites as part of its aging process. Because the mites are considered an allergen, the FDA banned the cheese last year. Happily, rules have softened and discreet imports are being allowed once again. Send a chunk along with a magnifying glass for peering at the moving “crumbs” (which are actually cheese mites). Hours of fascinating (if slightly disgusting) fun!
I read this novel in a fever, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was longing for it, and when I finished it, I turned to page one and started all over again. It’s about an English girl named Ursula, the middle daughter of a middle class family, who is destined to live her life over and over again. It’s sort of reincarnation, except Ursula keeps returning as the same person, born into the same family and period, teetering on the brink of WWII. Each new life gives her the opportunity to make small (or large) adjustments until she fulfills what she believes is her soul’s purpose. It’s a very sophisticated premise and I don’t think I’m doing it justice. But I loved everything about this book: the language, the characters, the writing, the flashes of humor, the little clues dropped in with a nod and wink, the shifting perspectives—it’s masterful.
I’d buy this cookbook for the amazing vegetarian moussaka alone (which takes a whole afternoon to prepare and is TOTALLY worth the time and effort :) I also love the piroshki—little pastry pockets stuffed with mushrooms and mashed potato—which I keep in my freezer and throw in the oven to pair with soup for a fast weeknight supper. I often keep cookbooks for just one or two recipes, but this one is filled with so many hearty, vegetarian, freezer-friendly dishes that it’s quickly become one of my favorites. And there’s a whole chapter devoted to casseroles! Be still my heart.
For years I resisted buying a steamer because… I’m not sure why. I hate clutter? I don’t steam? Anyway, when I started cooking for my lovely, toothless baby daughter, it quickly became clear that I needed to buy one. I am absurdly pleased with this silicone version, floppy and green like a lily pad, which fits in even my smallest pot and is a snap to store and clean. Bonus: I also use it to reheat tamales!
I spent four years as an expat in Beijing, China. I can scarcely believe that this year marks the SEVENTH anniversary of my departure. If you’ve ever lived in China, you know that life is forever divided into before and after. The city changes so quickly, you are marked as both survivor and witness. Val Wang’s terrific new memoir, Beijing Bastard, brought me back to China with a jolt, swallowing me up in dirty air and delicious food, expat angst and belligerent (sometimes hilarious) taxi drivers. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy for a blurb. Here’s what I said: “Val Wang spins a rollicking tale of misadventure in Beijing, wonderfully engaging, filled with astute observations of modern China, and edged by a sharp wit that left me laughing out loud on the subway even as I concealed a tear at the last page.”
I probably write (and think) about Russ & Daughters way too much. But their cured fish is so delicious, it’s easy to develop an obsession. Everything they sell is exceptional but I have an especial weakness for the Scottish smoked salmon, cut into gossamer slices that whisper of a highland bonfire. This year, I’ve also discovered their smoked whitefish salad. Russ & Daughters ain’t cheap, but it is the ultimate, decadent, holiday treat.
This gripping memoir from Chris Hill tells the real story of an American diplomat, from his post-college years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, to wars in the Balkans, to the brutality of North Korea, and the endless wars in Iraq. Hill has served as US ambassador to Macedonia, Poland, South Korea, and Iraq and his tale is one of adventure, physical danger, tragically killed colleagues, high stakes negotiations, and imperfect choices. Anyone who cares about foreign relations should read this book. (Full disclosure: Ambassador Hill is also my husband’s mentor and former boss, but even if I’d never met him, I’d still think this was a great book.)
This novel is at once a spy thriller, history lesson, and ugly tale of anti-Semitism—and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. In 1895, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason and imprisoned on Devil’s Island. But was he really a spy for Germany—or did anti-Semitism play a role? This is a fascinating portrayal of l’Affaire Dreyfus—one of the defining moments of French history—and a detailed look at the cowards and courageous of l’armée française of the late 19th century. For anyone who loves France, despite its flaws, this is a must read.
I’m thrilled that Mastering the Art of French Eating is now in stores as a pocket-sized paperback. The book tells the story of the year I spent traveling through France discovering the true story of ten classic dishes, from steak frites to soupe au pistou. It’s a great travel companion and would make a terrific gift for the Francophile food lover in your life. I still have a limited number of book plates, so if you would like give a personalized copy, please drop me a note via the contact form and I’d be happy to send you one in the mail.
Wishing you a delicious holiday season! What are you hoping to give and/or receive this year?