Holiday Gift Guide 2015 Part I – Food and Beer

Last year I did my first ever “gift guide,” and was surprised at how much folks liked the post. I admit, I hadn’t been sure people would be interested in my suggestions, but I decided to put them out there in case it was useful. This year, knowing it was well-liked last year, I’ve been paying a bit more attention to possible suggestions.

It helped, frankly, that Bill and I moved across the country and had to decide both what to get rid of entirely and what to put into storage for the next nine months. The toaster oven made the moving cut, but not the storage cut, for example. The electric kettle in that post, however, remains a part of my day to day living.

So, without further introduction, here’s the set of things in the food and beer categories in my life that have made me really happy over the last year (or more), or are things I intend to pick up for myself after the holidays.


I’m going to start with the book, Hands on Home, written by my friend and fellow food-blogger Erika Strauss. I only picked up this in October, so it hasn’t been in my life all that long. But I’m very much enjoying her calming style, clear writing, and sensible partitioning of what to do when. I don’t know that I’ll ever transform into the organized disorganized person Erika seems to embody, but I feel like this book is going to help me get closer.

Focus is on the book

Another recent entry into my home is the Oxo Good Grips food mill and I basically cannot figure out why it took me so dang long to get one. I have had a potato ricer for years and only used it a few times because mashing potatoes is fairly easy and cleaning that ricer was not really worth the improvement in quality. This food mill, though, has been in my life about two months and has already been used to make cranberry sauce, work on recipe development (more on that in future posts), and generally improve my life. I think I’m averaging using this thing once a week. And, if you do make a canning kit for a newbie canner this would be a good addition to it, if you wanted to go a bit bigger.

An OXO Good Grips Food Mill over a plastic lid.

While the Joseph Joseph scoop colander would also make a great add-on item for a canner kit, it is good for so much more than that. Particularly good for your favorite college student or new two person household, this thing is capable of straining a lot and easily. I bought it for canning peaches and tomatoes, and it works really well for that. But I have ended up using it at least monthly for the last three years. I use it largely for things like tortellini and ravioli (much easier to scoop pasta out than lift a big pot full of boiling water), and then canning season hits and I am so pleased with this $10 impulse purchase during canning season years ago. It looks like there is an updated model, and I can see in the photos the improvements. It’s marginally more expensive, so go for whichever speaks to you the most.

Finally, about this time two years ago, Bill and I finally splurged on a 12″ ScanPan brand skillet, the CTX line because we were so fed up with making eggs and other very sticky items in our Calphalon Commercial Hard-Annodized pans. No matter how hard we tried, it was impossible to prevent sticking enough to make clean-up easy. I use metal utensils on it, sometimes forget to start it on low heat and two years later, there’s some light scratching on the ScanPan, but no other evidence of use. It remains completely non-stick, and I love it. I do not use it daily and I hand wash it exclusively. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes to it’s non-stick properties, though the reviews on Amazon indicate those may be important. Bill and I are planning to slowly add more of these pans in the future, though probably not before we move out of our currently tiny kitchen.


For those of you who have a pal who’s considering getting into homebrewing and you’d like to give them a nudge, I like the smaller one gallon brewing kits. It’s less expensive, both the kit itself and the ingredients, than a five gallon kit, and they can experiment more often. One gallon gives about 10 bottles per batch, which isn’t enormous but is a great amount for sipping some and sharing some. And if your buddy wants to move up to a larger size later, some of the parts will still be useful. And if they do that, then they can have a “pilot system” in the one gallon system, which all the cool and pro brewers have.

If you’ve got a fairly serious beer geek in your life, consider springing for The Oxford Companion to Beer. It’s a pretty book, and chock-full of beer information. Not only is it a solid encyclopedia, if the beer geek in your life is interested in history or working on their Cicerone Certification, they’d do well to have this book.

Now, here’s a couple I want, but haven’t managed to get for myself. Subscriptions to various beer-related magazines. Specifically, I’m going to get myself subscriptions to Draft Magazine and All About Beer Magazine. I pick these up from time to time and always enjoy them; it’s simply that I’m easily distracted that has me not putting the cards in the mail or something similar to subscribe. Well, until now. Now it’s that we’re in “can’t buy anything for myself” time of year. (Note: All About Beer just tweeted that if you subscribe TODAY (3 Dec 2015) the most current issue will arrive within three days. After that, it will be roughly February before someone sees an issue.)

Finally, I can’t recommend enough a simple set of silicone stoppers. A great stocking stuffer with a lot of use. I picked a single one up on a whim in 2011 on Bill and my honeymoon for wine bottles. And, sure, it works great there. But, more importantly, it does a great job of keeping the pressure tight in an opened beer (or champagne) bottle. I just discovered a bottle stoppered with one of these shoved to the back of my fridge that I’d opened over a month ago. It wasn’t super carbonated, but I was amazed that there was still a tidge of fizz left in that beer as I dumped it out. Definitely works well for something you’ll drink in the next two days.

A stoppered bottle of champagne in the foreground with a background flute half full of orange juice.

The above photo is a bottle of sparkling wine we opened on Sunday, November 29th. Two days ago, I unstoppered it and used about a cup of the wine in bologense sauce. Today, for this guide, I unstoppered it again and poured the glass of sparkling wine below.

A 3/4 full glass of sparkling wine.

Not as fizzy as the day we opened it, but for five days of being open, plus having been depressurized once in between, it’s quite good.

My next post will be up tomorrow or Saturday, and will be all about Science gifts and “other” gifts. This year, honestly, the “other”/”blather” ideas are where most of my ideas are. Also, there will be photos of Happy the Dog in sweaters. See you soon. ETA: It’s up now! Click here for science & “blather” ideas!

Note: All Amazon links above are affiliate links. This means I get a tiny percentage if you buy the linked items or other things via Amazon after clicking. Your purchase price won’t change. And if you do for charity, they stack. Still without changing your purchase price. Thanks!