IT’S THE season for spending. I’m not even talking about Christmas gifts and getting yourself something nice to reward yourself for a year of toil and labor, but paying off loans, property tax, bonuses for household staff, and stuffing all the envelopes from newspaper couriers to water delivery boys that are insinuatingly empty and wish you a very, very merry Christmas.
For parents of children following a three-term year, it’s also time to hunt for loose change under the sofa to make up the tuition fees for students. So by the time I get to the fun part, my bank balance is usually in the red.
Thank goodness for credit cards, then. With the extremely generous credit limits being bandied around and all the tie-ups for zero-interest installment payments, my family and I could be racking up bills in the hundreds of thousands if we actually went and bought everything that we wanted. There’s probably some evil capitalism scheme in letting us buy whatever we want and giving 24 months to pay it off, but when the tinsel and lights are up and our wallets are empty, next year’s debts belong to next year’s problems.
Since everyone is running around buying presents, I thought I would put together a list of things that a foodie would love to find under the Christmas tree. And by foodies I actually mean myself, if anyone is feeling generous.
1) A good kitchen knife. Notice that I didn’t say knife sets; these usually include a couple of useless and cheap items that no one really needs.
What anyone who cooks can’t have too many of are the usual 7-inch and 5-inch chef’s knives. The curved German blades are more popular in this country than the straighter French geometry; but lately I have developed an addiction to the Japanese santoku knives, which are even straighter. But these are simply own preferences.
What I’m not so fond of are the traditional Japanese one-sided blades, which are angled only on one side; aside from being “handed” (left-handed people need a blade that’s angled on the other side), they are fiendishly difficult to sharpen. “Damascus” steel has become something of a cult, but most modern blades are welded compromises of some sort; the aim is to reproduce a compliant blade with a hard edge that keeps its sharpness.
Unscrupulous companies have been producing Damascus-looking blades by using laser etching on the side of the knife; don’t fall for it. Real forged steel, especially tamahagane, is expensive.
2) Anything that will add to or start a collection of honeys, teas, vinegars and salts. I’ve pared down my honey collection these days; or at least, someone in the household with a sweet tooth has been paring down my honey collection for me.
Aside from Scottish heather honeys and Palawan green honey, I have a particular fondness for urban honeys, and while living in Fulham I used to give bottles of honeys from the local apiaries to my friends. Really, who doesn’t like honey? In a properly sealed jar, it lasts forever, like a diamond.
3) A pressure cooker. I have a sous vide machine, and I’ve played with the professional ones belonging to my chef friends. But after a brief flirtation, I’ve found that if you’re not running a professional kitchen, it’s a bit of a bore, just bubbling away in a corner, and when you’re ready to cook your meal you find that the maid has unplugged it and it reset itself.
Pressure cookers are exciting; the constant risk of explosion only adds to the suspense. For Indian cooking they’re unparalleled, of course, but I feel that they’re an unjustly forgotten appliance from the mid-20th-century, and a modern one with good gaskets and a safety valve will transform your kitchen.
4) Cookbooks and magazines. I have to admit that I get most of my recipes off the Internet these days, and when I need help with a particularly tricky technique, you can’t beat an online video.
Cookbooks these days are more for reading rather than referencing. I’m not about to embark on a journey of cooking the dishes from the likes of the Alinea or Fat Duck cookbooks, but they make great reads. Like Kinfolk, they’re more about making you feel a certain way and seeing food and gastronomy through their eyes than for actually using.
This year’s bumper crop includes a new addition to the food reference library, the “Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets,” Bee Wilson’s “The First Bite,” Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Nopi” and the delightfully wrong “Mission Chinese Food Cookbook.” Over on the continent, Yannick Alléno finally has a book out, “Ma Cuisine des Bistrots,” and Alain Ducasse’s “Nature” has a second volume.
5) Macarons. The macaron craze is over; long live the macaron. No need to say much more than that.