Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa!

This has been a very special year for me since The Diva Runs Out of Thyme was released. I've met such lovely people and had a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who was so supportive!

I'm thrilled to say that The Diva Takes the Cake will be released in very early June -- just in time for Hannah's wedding to Craig.

The Diva Dishes will be on vacation until January 5th, 2009. Be sure to check in then, since we'll be featuring some money-saving ideas.

Until then, I wish you all a joyous holiday. Remember, it's about being together and enjoying your loved ones, not about the perfect dinner. None of us are perfect, so relax and enjoy your family and friends. May the New Year bring you good health, laughter, and happy times.

And with that, I wish a Merry Christmas to all --

And to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You Still Haven't Finished Your Shopping?


For the diva or gourmet on your list, consider a subscription to Cook's Illustrated. It's a fabulous magazine for those who love to cook. There's no advertising! It's full of serious articles on cooking. I love that they tell you what worked as well as what didn't and how they came to their conclusions. Full of tips and and picks on cookware and foods, this magazine is unlike any other cooking magazine.

Five Cupcakes!

If Cook's Illustrated won't quite do the trick, there's still time to go the gift card route. Many of your favorite stores will send the recipient an email gift card notification. Check their rules. But, in this economy, choose judiciously to be sure the company will still be around after the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Last Minute Shopping

Don't have time to get into stores? Not a problem. On-line shopping is hot and lots of retailers are offering expedited shipping without an inflated price. I can't promise they'll get it to you on time, but these retailers claim they can!

Improvements
FREE upgrade to 2-day shipping with any order of $75 or more
Order by noon on Monday, 12/22 and use our FREE 2-Day Shipping Upgrade
Order by 5 pm on Tuesday, 12/23 and pay for Next Day Shipping
http://www.improvementscatalog.com/home.do

Coldwater Creek
Last day for guaranteed Christmas delivery, only $5.00 extra.
http://www.coldwatercreek.com

Williams-Sonoma
Extended standard shipping. Order online –until 10:00 am PST, Monday, Dec. 22
http://www.williams-sonoma.com/

Apple
Free express shipping through 12/22 on iPods.
http://www.apple.com/

Endless.com (shoes and handbags)
Free overnight shipping, free returns.
http://www.endless.com

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Gift That Gives Back

PAPER WOMAN, Suzanne Adair's debut historical suspense/mystery, won the Patrick D. Smith Literature Award from the Florida Historical Society. THE BLACKSMITH'S DAUGHTER and CAMP FOLLOWER continue her fictional ventures into the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. For more information, visit her web site (www.suzanneadair.com) and blog (www.suzanneadair.typepad.com).

Every diva knows a version of that French kitchen wisdom: "The first crepe is for the cat." The assumption is that you, a diva, have a privileged puss (or pooch) that can benefit from your throwaway crepe.

If you have no such culinary mascot, and you're mulling over adding an animal friend to your life, consider purchasing from your local shelter instead of a breeder. Shelters are packed with cats and dogs, a great number of them purebred, giving the impression that pets have become as throwaway as first crepes. But this holiday season, the family pet has become another victim of the mortgage crisis. The bank takes the house, and Felix and Fido go to the pound.

Adopting a pet can be pricey, over $100 in some areas. Then you have to keep your pet safe and healthy, more money. It's almost as expensive as raising a human kid. But many shelters offer gift certificates. Drop some hints.

Or maybe all you need to do for that first step is put the energy out there, and your animal pal will come to you, because it turns out that someone you know must part with his or her pet. That's what happened to us.

Here's my purebred beagle, Annabelle, sprawled on my kitchen floor. Note that she isn't asleep. Anyone who lives with beagles knows that they never sleep while people are in the kitchen handling food. Instead, they bide their time, quietly. Annabelle's waiting for me to forget she's there and leave the kitchen a moment so she can steal food. (She especially likes crepes.) In March 2007, my first beagle, Calypso, was nearing the end of a long, productive career of food theft, and I wanted another beagle before she died. Almost as soon as I started talking about it with neighbors, the lady across the street told me of an acquaintance who had a beagle that needed a good home. Within a few days, Annabelle was enriching our lives. And reminding us to store food a good deal farther back on the counter.

We've added two more pups to our household after adopting Annabelle: Isabel, a foxhound mix, and Chester, a purebred rat terrier. In both cases, we happened to intercept an owner who was searching desperately for a home for the dog before heading to the shelter. (Snuggled against my older son from bottom to top in the picture: Annabelle, Isabel, Chester.) We're at maximum capacity for dogs now and count ourselves blessed with these three. And yes, Isabel and Chester hang out in the kitchen, too, expecting the crepe to fall.

Odds are that your special animal friend is waiting to connect with you this holiday season through an acquaintance or a shelter. Put the energy out there. Let the universe surprise and delight you.

Happy holidays to divas everywhere!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Silicone Baking Mat


Peggy Ehrhart is the author of Sweet Man Is Gone, a blues mystery featuring a blues-singer sleuth and a dead guitar player. She also bakes a blues-themed pie every month and posts a photo and recipe on her website: www.PeggyEhrhart.com .

It’s called a baking mat and it can be used to line cookie sheets so the cookies don’t stick. But its other use is the one that makes me love it: it’s the perfect surface for rolling out pie dough. Any surface can be used for rolling dough if you have a mat--you don’t need to clear off space on your kitchen counter. And you can sprinkle as much flour as you want without worrying about cleanup.

I had a similar mat, but made of flexible plastic, long ago. I got it at the one and only Tupperware party I ever attended. It served me well for a few decades but finally developed huge cracks and I had to throw it out. Then for years I relied on a pastry cloth, searching for a replacement mat and complaining all the while.

So one day my sweet husband turned up a “KitchenAid Silicone Bakeware Baking Mat” at HomeGoods. It works just as well as my Tupperware mat, maybe even better, because it clings to whatever surface I put it on and doesn’t shift around as I roll out dough. It can be washed in the sink and it’s also dishwasher-safe. Then it rolls up and goes back into its box for storage.

HomeGoods doesn’t have an online store, and stock varies from season to season and location to location--but if you Google “Silicone Baking Mat,” many online sources will come up. Just make sure you choose one that’s at least ten inches in both directions—you’ll need that size to accommodate a pie crust. (The mats are sold in smaller sizes for people who just want them to line cookie sheets.) Mine is 15.5” by 23.5” and it’s perfect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Springtime in a Bottle


L.L. Bartlett, author of the Jeff Resnick Mysteries, is guest blogging today. Of her latest book, Dead In Red, Booklist said: “Bartlett’s hero is complicated and mesmerizing, making for a gripping and energizing mystery.” For more information, check out her website LLBartlett.com and Writersplot.typepad.com.

The holidays always have me pondering what to get someone close to me--even if they live far away. Do I just rush to the mall to buy ANYTHING, stuff it in a box, and run to the UPS Store?

Not me. I try hard to find a gift that will fit the person. And one person on my Christmas List is getting the gift of springtime.

What? In late December? Yes. My sister-in-law hasn’t lived in Western New York for many years, and besides Weber’s horseradish mustard, the thing she misses most is the scent of lilacs in the spring. It just so happens, that here in my hometown of Rochester, Highland Park is full of lilacs. In fact, we’re well known for our annual Lilac Festival held in early May.

So this year I’m getting my sister-in-law Highland Lilac perfume. The scent is marvelous. Alas, it’s only available online http://www.highlandlilac.com/ and at local Bank of America locations. (In fact, the bank keeps the perfume locked in their vaults!) I have a feeling this might just be her favorite gift this year. (Unless her hubby gives her diamonds, of course.)

And by the way, she’s getting the mustard, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teuscher Champagne Truffles

Chocolates are a time honored holiday tradition. But Teuscher Champagne Truffles raise the simple gift of chocolate to new heights. The creamy champagne center is simply unequaled by other truffles. The outer shell is dusted with powdered sugar and each bite is heavenly. Made in Switzerland and flown fresh to their US stores each week, these sinfully delicious confections are the ultimate chocolate gift. http://www.teuscher.com/home.html

In my family, a trip to New York always required a quick stop at Teuscher's for the ultimate in chocolate. They now have a smattering of stores from Portland to Atlanta (http://www.teuscher.com/locator-north-america.html), making this treat more readily available. They also take orders and ship. http://www.teuscherfifthavenue.com/ourshoppe.php

Alas, the price is as sinful as the truffles are delicious. If you're lucky enough to live in a city with a Teuscher store, the two truffle box for $6.75 makes a nice stocking stuffer. A gift box of 16 champagne truffles weighs in at $39.00. A lovely gift, though, for the gourmet who has everything.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Have Yourself a Chocolaty Christmas

Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition in 2007. Her book POSED FOR MURDER, will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in February 2009. She blogs at www.thedebutanteball.com

I love chocolate--any kind of chocolate. And since spend most of the winter shivering, I’m also a huge fan of hot chocolate.

Several years ago, my husband had a studio in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is actually not named after the oh-so-famous elephant, but it’s called DUMBO because it’s “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” It is an old industrial neighborhood sandwiched between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge, with amazing views of lower Manhattan.

In the last couple of years, the neighborhood has become inundated with luxury condos and has also become home to some very upscale retailers, including Jacques Torres. My husband strolled over one day and sampled his hot chocolate. Completely floored by the flavor, he promptly bought the mix for me for Christmas.

All right, so maybe you don’t live in Brooklyn and can’t stroll right over. But you don’t have to these days in order to get the same stuff as the locals. It’s all available on his website, with all sorts of other heavenly chocolate treats.

Jacques Torres’ hot chocolate mix is a great present for a chocolate lover. It’s incredibly rich and delicious, and you’ll never be able to go back to Swiss Miss after you taste it. He’s even got two kinds: classic and wicked. How’s that for a stocking stuffer? The wicked is spicier, and it’s definitely going on my Christmas list this year. And maybe I’ll be able to give some away, too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pens

Jeri Westerson is the debut author of a new medieval mystery series that has a decidedly darker bent than traditional medieval mysteries. Veil of Lies; A Medieval Noir from St. Martin's Minotaur, features a hard-boiled protagonist, a disgraced knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London. Veil of Lies is in bookstores everywhere, and you can read more about it as well as Crispin Guest, her hard-boiled hero, at Jeri's website www.JeriWesterson.com


I started out life as a graphic artist. I was drawn to it (so to speak) through calligraphy and then typefaces and my fascination with them, how to use them and how to create them. In those days, we didn't have computers. We had ruling pens, crowquill nibs, and Rapidographs. And so my fascination with pens in general began.

I have a collection of silly pens—pens that are shaped like things—and those wonderfully kitschy floating action pens—souvenir pens with a little diorama inside with something that floats by. But these are the bastard children, the waifs of the streets as compared to my true love, the mighty fountain pen.

Introduced in 1881, the fountain pen became the staple of student and clerk alike. There is nothing like free-flowing ink through an elegant nib to give a wonderful line on a page. If you get a calligraphy nib, then you can make wonderfully sculpted lines—the thin and the thick—rolling off your fingers. Nowadays, you have your choice of ink filling: dipping the pen, sucking it up with a lever, or using an easy cartridge. A pen is a wonderful gift for the bibliophile or the writer in your life. There are still those who prefer paper and pen over bits and bytes in an email.

Being an author who pens medieval mysteries, you might think that I'd prefer a quill, and though I do own some, I just like the heft and the wonderful feel of writing with a fountain pen.

There are many brands to choose from, but if I were to choose a pen as a gift (for me, perhaps?) and without choosing the most expensive in the world, I'd go with a nice traditional tortoise shell style. My pen of choice is the True Writer (don't you love the name?) and has a 22K gold-plated nib and gold-plated details. Ah, what a wonderfully, sensual experience writing with a pen like this! Yes, we email a lot, but a thank you note or a lovely letter or even a signed copy of one's book is all the better for using such an amazing instrument.

It comes in at $88 so it's obviously not something you'd throw in the bottom of your purse, and I'd certainly shy from loaning it to anyone even to write down a quick phone number for fear I wouldn't get it back. No, this is a special pen for a special purpose. And you can obtain one online at my favorite writer's toy store, Levenger's, home of the Page Points—little wonderful metal place holders for the discriminating researcher.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Priester's Pecan Pie

Marilyn Levinson is the acclaimed author of popular childrens' books. No Boys Allowed, And Don't Bring Jeremy, and Rufus and Magic Run Amok have delighted children and adults alike.

Now that the holiday season is upon us, we divas are busy baking cookies and candies to send to those we love. But when a diva's bogged down with deadlines and other mundane chores, she has the wisdom to resort to her true-and-tried list of food specialty companies on which she can depend. My favorite is Priester's Pecans.

Some years ago, while my husband and I were on a cruise, we met a nice couple from Alabama. My husband proceeded to tell them how, when he was in Alabama for his Air Force basic training, he'd discovered pecan pie, and he'd eat it morning, noon, and night. The nice couple exchanged glances and smiled. A few months later, we received a package from them -- two pecan pies from Priester's Pecans. They were athe best pecan pies we'd even tasted, and we finished them both off in a matter of days.

I can't think of a nicer holiday gift than a Priester's Pecan Pie @$23.99, unless it's a chocolate pecan pie, for the same price. Of course, you might want to send those very special people in your lives two pies @ $39.99 plus shipping. They've lots of other delicious items: cakes, nuts, chocolates, candies. And remember, pecans are seasonal, so these goodies are available only a few months of the year.

You can call Priester's Pecans at 1-800-277-3226 or order online at: www.priesters.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

iPod

Terry Hoover, a Malice Domestic grant winner, has been writing for local, regional and national publications and corporate clients for 20 years. Double Dead, a finalist in the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press contest for Best First Traditional Mystery, is the first book in the Steve Harlan series. Hoover, a native of Charlotte, NC, where Double Dead is set, is a member and former President of the Guppies, and the Tarheel Gumshoes chapter of Sisters in Crime. To learn more, visit her website at www.hoovermysteries.com.


Sometimes the best Diva gifts are things you didn't even know you wanted, perhaps because they attest that someone close to you has been paying the attention deserved by a Diva.

I'm not very musical. Okay, I'm tone deaf and can't carry a tune in a bucket. My gift to friends and family is not singing Happy Birthday. I suffer from a condition I was recently comforted to learn is not as rare as I'd feared (though you'd think such a common condition would have a name, wouldn't you?). I sing beautifully alone in the shower or in my car with the windows rolled up. It's only when other people are present that some weird germ or bacteria they carry interferes with my ability to warble like Alicia Keyes or Sarah McLachlan. As far as I'm concerned, music is for dancing.

My husband, who is musical, insists that life should come with a soundtrack, that we should each have a "theme song" that plays as we walk down the street. His is the theme from The Pink Panther. As a Diva, I'm all for this concept. But I'm an ADD Gemini and my "theme song" varies as often and as rapidly as my moods. Because he is a consort worthy of a Diva, he surprised me with a gift last Christmas that changed my life and, as befits a Diva, allows me to manipulate the world around me ( i.e., fit the music to my mood or more important for those close to me, to manipulate my mood with music.)

It's the iPod, a miraculous little invention from Apple, the same geniuses who give us those wonderful, reliable, intuitive computers that never go "Diva" and freeze up on us. They'll pry mine out of my cold, dead hands.

It plays only the music (and/or video on most models) you choose (as, of course, it should) and best of all, you listen to it through tiny little earphones that allow you to shut out those too oblivious or self absorbed, such as children and that rude woman holding up the line by yakking into her cell phone, to recognize your Divahood.

Stuck in annoying traffic? Feeling a little short for my weight today? I switch to my "dance" playlist and mentally choreograph an Argentine tango with my hot Latin dance instructor. Not really motivated for the Stairmaster? A few swing tunes from Brian Setzer and his big band will take care of that. Dirty dishes and toilets demanding my attention? Michael Buble', take me away.

And because YOU choose the music, your playlists are as private and sacrosanct as your vote. Nobody has to know Copacabana is one of your guilty pleasures. No taunts from your teenagers about the soundtrack from Chicago.

These marvelous little gadgets are available anywhere consumer electronics are sold, from Target to the Internet, and start at $49 for the simple iPod shuffle. They're tiny enough to fit in the slimmest pocket without marring your Divaish silhouette or you can purchase cute little armbands for them that allow you to whistle while you work anywhere. For less than $10, you can purchase a cable that allows you to plug your little darling into your car's sound system and turn your minivan into Planet Diva fill-in-the-blank. It's okay. As my husband assures our children, they know us there.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Panini Maker

Have a cheese monster in your life? Nothing melts cheese in a sandwich like a panini maker. The basic concept is fairly simple. You brush the outside of sandwich bread with butter, fill the inside with your favorites, like ham, mustard and cheese, insert the sandwich and close the panini maker. Both sides are heated simultaneously and within minutes, the cheese has melted and a delicious hot sandwich is ready to be savored.

It seems like all the small appliance companies have at least one or two models. The bells and whistles vary but, in my opinion, the two most important features are an unhinged back (you want the top to come down flat on the sandwich, not squish the rear) and removable grill plates for ease of cleaning. I was surprised to find that mine didn't have a temperature control, a fact that made me very nervous in the beginning. But once I used it, I liked the fact that it knew what to do and I didn't have to fuss over the temperature. They vary in price from about $30 to $150, with a huge selection coming in at the $50ish mark. Be careful about overbuying one of these, some of those bells and whistles just aren't necessary. But once you have a delicious panini, you might want a panini maker for yourself, too.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cashmere Socks

Kate Flora is the author of eleven books. Her latest are Stalking Death, her seventh Thea Kozak mystery and The Angel of Knowlton Park, her second Joe Burgess police procedural. Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, co-written with a career police officer, was a 2007 Edgar nominee. The story was filmed for Court TV and Psychic Investigators. She is currently researching a new true crime and plotting a light-hearted series. Flora's stories have appeared in the Level Best anthologies, in Sisters on The Case, an anthology edited by Sara Paretsky, and in Per Se, an anthology of fiction. Flora teaches writing for Grub Street in Boston.

Divas may try to believe that they've above mundane things like winter and cold. Perhaps many divas are fortunate enough to winter in LA or Palm Springs or Palm Beach, flexing their bare toes and admiring their polish. But if work, or family, or some other dreary obligation forces a diva to spend the colder months in crueler climes, you might consider gifting her with cashmere socks.

My husband and sons recoiled when they asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few years ago and I said, without a second's hesitation, SOCKS. I expect they thought I was being practical. I'm only a diva novice and do exhibit those tendencies. But not this time. What I meant was cashmere socks, than which there can be no finer gift. Forget diamonds, which you have to
worry about losing or having stolen. Forget that luscious mink, which always runs the risk of being splattered with paint or subjects its owner to catcalls from the PETA crowd. No animal died in the making of cashmere socks and they are utterly decadent, luscious, pleasing and warm.

From the first moment you slip on a pair, their cloud-lightness and pillow softness affirm that they are diva socks. And that first pleasing sensation will be reinforced as long as she wear them. They're thin and fine, so you can wear them under boots. They're twice as warm as wool, so your diva can venture out on snowy city sidewalks, chic in tall black boots, and not suffer chilly toes. And they're washable and durable, so the gift will last a long time and give your own special diva multiple occasions to appreciate your thoughtfulness.

So yes, cashmere socks, or even a nice cashmere blend. And you can get them at snarky stores like Ralph Lauren, or at J.Crew.

I buy mine at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx and they're still name brand, still wonderfully warm and soft, and they're affordable. But as we know, divas like drama and divas like presentation. So if you've got a diva you want to seriously impress, here are the trimmings. Go to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store. Buy a basket for 99 cents. Get a can of gold or silver spray paint for a few bucks. Spiff up the basket. Line the basket with a gorgeous Thai silk tie-dyed or batik scarf--less than ten bucks on e-bay. Then add the cashmere socks, some divine lavender salt scrub from Trader Joes, a cute wooden file to scrub away calluses, and some lavender scented lotion. For less than thirty bucks, you've got a Red Carpet giveaway basket fine enough for the most discriminating diva. And loads of brownie points.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Apple Peelers

Sarah Atwell writes the Glassblower mystery series. The latest, Pane of Death, has just been released. She also writes the Orchard mystery series under the name Sheila Connolly. The first in the Orchard series is One Bad Apple. Visit Sheila at http://www.sheilaconnolly.com/ or http://writersplot.typepad.com/ where she blogs every Monday.


How many times have you thought about making a nice apple dessert, then looked at that pile of apples and said, "forget it–too much work"? Welcome the new "old" machine: the apple peeler. These have been around for a long, long time. There's a whole list of patents for them dating from the nineteenth century, with all sorts of Victorian frills and gimmicks, but most of them follow a basic pattern: something to hold an apple against blade and a way to rotate the apple, usually with a crank. The biggest difference among them is that some are really big (if you're feeding a large family plus the farm hands, you've got to peel a LOT of apples), and many are small.

And, luckily for us, they're still around. If you're going to make a batch of pies all at once (say, for the holidays), they're a blessing. Stick an apple on the prongs, turn the crank, and presto–your apple is peeled (with a nice long single peel). If you want, it's also cored and sliced, and ready for those pies.

What's more, it's fun! If you've got kids around, let them try it, and those apples will be done in minutes. As an added bonus, you can use it for peeling potatoes.

There are multiple models available now in specialty cookware stores, but it's worth visiting the website www.applesource.com where you can order a peeler and replacement parts. You can also order wonderful apples from the same site, including samplers of heirloom varieties you won't find in stores.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Radio-Controlled Clock

Every year, right about this time, I move my radio-controlled clock for Christmas decorations and am completely astounded by how much I rely on it. I received it as a gift several years ago and I can honestly say I use it daily. Many, many times every day. These clocks are automatically set by a radio wave. They run on a simple AA battery, which lasts about a year, but the beauty is that they always have the correct time and never have to be reset.

Have a family member who is inclined to set the clock ahead? Do you hate resetting the clocks when the electricity goes out? You never have to set a radio-controlled clock. When you put in the battery, you select your time zone and the rest happens like magic. By the next morning, the clock shows the correct time. Mine shows seconds as well, which I find helpful for recipes that say to simmer and stir for 45 seconds.

They come in all shapes and sizes. Check out http://www.atomic-clocks.com/ or http://www.clockstyle.com (select atomic clocks) for a big selection. QVC has a nice black and white one for a very reasonable $20. http://www.qvc.com and search using the terms LaCrosse radio controlled.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Yes To Carrots Lip Butter

Darlene Ryan is the author of the memoir, A Mother’s Adoption Journey, as well as three young adult novels: Rules for Life, Saving Grace and Responsible. Her fourth novel for teens, Five Minutes More, will be published early in 2009.

Growing up my mother insisted eating lots of carrots would mean I’d always have perfect eyesight. I’ve been wearing reading glasses for years.
In retrospect I should have been more skeptical. This is the same woman who told me that if I ate all my sandwich crusts my hair would get curly.
It didn’t.

I didn’t end up with 20/20 vision—or a head full of bouncy curls--but I have discovered carrots are great for soft lips, thanks to Yes To Carrots lip butter. I’ve tried dozens of kinds of lip protection, everything from chocolate flavored balm, to sticky gloss that acted like a magnet for every bit of dust or dirt that blew by, to a cream that was created to protect horses’ feet.

Did you know many lip balms contain phenol which can actually make lips drier—one of the reasons you feel like you need to keep applying lip protection. Yes To Carrots lip butter contains beeswax and shea butter and other natural ingredients to protect lips from drying out and chapping. Mint and Citrus are my favorite flavors—fresh with no medicinal taste or smell.
You can find Yes To Carrots lip butters and other products at Walgreens and Target, or at Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canada.

As the weather gets colder I’m saying Yes To Carrots a lot more. (I’m still waffling on the sandwich crusts.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chestnut Knife

In my family, roasted chestnuts have always been a holiday tradition. But the little devils are hard to get into. Before roasting, you have to make an "x" on the flat side of the nut. When roasted, the heat causes the shell to burst open, making it easier to shell them.

If there's a chestnut lover in your family who is hard to shop for, a chestnut knife might be a wonderful surprise. They run about $10.95 and make a difficult chore much easier since they have a hook on the end that's designed to get into those tough shells. http://www.chefsresource.com/lamson-knives-tools.html

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lemon Olive Oil, Pistachios and Chocolate Covered Cherries

Elizabeth Zelvin’s debut mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, was published by St. Martin’s in 2008. The sequel, Death Will Help You Leave Him, will be out in late 2009 or early 2010. Two related short stories won an Agatha nomination and an honorable mention in the Crimespace First Annual Short Story Contest. Liz’s author website is www.elizabethzelvin.com. She blogs on Poe’s Deadly Daughters.


Krista’s call for a guest blog on appropriate gifts for domestic divas immediately brought to mind the goodie basket I’m planning to give my son and his wife for our family’s ecumenical Christmas/Chanukah. While my daughter-in-law worked as a computer programmer before my granddaughters were born and will probably go back to it, she definitely has the diva gene. Example? The table centerpieces for my younger granddaughter’s christening party at a country club near where they live looked like two-tiered white wedding cakes trimmed with blue ribbon. On closer inspection, they turned out to be made of Pampers—and the many guests with infants and not yet potty trained toddlers got to take them home. Yep, she made them herself. I rest my case.

I thought it would be nice to fill a basket with luxury gifts that I enjoy myself and that I know they’ll like. One big success last year was Meyer lemon olive oil—not just flavored oil but with Meyer lemons (smaller, sweeter, and more refined than regular lemons) and high-grade olives crushed together. They reported back enthusiastically that they loved it and used it on everything. My favorite pairing is the Meyer lemon olive oil tossed sparingly with fresh pumpkin pasta and fresh grated parmesan. It’s also great with balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing on fresh greens, tomato, and avocado with a little sea salt. I originally found it at a farmer’s market in Manhattan, and later bought more from the maker, a small business on Long Island. I couldn’t reach them by phone or email this year and suspect they’ve gone out of business. So I went online and found several sources. My three bottles just arrived from Katz and Company in Napa, California. You don’t think I’d give some to the kids without getting some for myself, do you? (Krista’s Note: Katz and Company appears to be sold out but you can try
http://www.pennmac.com/page/148 or
http://www.chefshop-gourmet-food-store.com/6455.html or http://www.cooksshophere.com/products/oliveoil.htm)

Since I started traveling to promote my mysteries, I have become known in the family as someone with perfect sales resistance—until I’m in the airport headed for home. Then I absolutely have to get that moose in Minneapolis or whatever the local specialty is. The kids loved chocolate covered cherries from Seattle. They come in mixed, bing, or Rainier cherries, milk, dark, or white chocolate, and red or pink candy coating or a dusting of cocoa. I got mine from Chukar, the brand they carry at the Seattle airport. Why mess with success? http://www.chukar.com

The Vermont Country Store carries a true luxury item: shelled pistachios from Arizona, in one-pound bags or two-pound plastic tubs that make a great storage container when the nuts are gone. Pistachios are my favorite nut, but no diva wants red-stained fingertips or broken nails. Now she can indulge without any threat to her manicure. http://www.vermontcountrystore.com
The Meduri catalog introduced me to superb dried fruits that, like Italian gelato, really taste like the fresh fruit itself. I’m giving the kids a tin of the Sweetglow apricots—and one for me, of course. I may even put the pink grapefruit slices, which I haven’t tried yet and which cost the earth, on the wish list I give my husband. http://www.meduriworlddelights.com/

I plan to include two mugs decorated with my best pictures of the grandchildren. Not sure what else I’ll add, but it’s already a present I’d love to get myself. And now I’m looking for the perfect basket.

 
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