Thursday, December 9, 2010

What NOT to buy a cook for Christmas

Now, I should probably mention I'm Jewish, even though this is a Christmas post.
This is for a few reasons: Hanukkah is over as of tomorrow and I figure any useless 'foodie' gifts for us Jews have been given already. Also, I know we're in the minority here (it's kind of our thing) and the majority of you will be celebrating your holiday a few weeks from now.
I figure, for some of you, there is still time to save yourselves and the ones you love.
Saved, from giving and getting stupid, useless crap that will eventually be sold in a garage sale.

This is the time of year where many people shop in desperation, and stores respond accordingly. If you are or have cooks and food folks in your life, you'll find a wealth of incredibly stupid crap to tempt you as possible presents.

RESIST THE URGE, shoppers. There are plenty of gifts out there that are in a similar price range and actually will be used by the recipient.

I preface this list with the following: obviously it is the thought that counts on any gift, whether you'll actually use it or not. If you happen to get stupid crap for Christmas this year, YOU ARE STILL REQUIRED TO SMILE AUTHENTICALLY AND SAY THANK YOU. And possibly send a note afterwards if your family does that sort of thing.

That said, here goes:

What Not To Get a Cook for Christmas

These are the bane of many a cook. It's sooo easy to mindlessly give one of these as a present. They are objects that say, 'I have a vague idea of your interests, so here is this thing, that is bright, colorful, possibly made of silicon and not too expensive.' They take up counter and drawer space, and are rarely used. A lot of the tasks these things claim to do can be accomplished just as easily with a good kitchen knife or an item they probably already have. So unless the person in question pits a WHOLE LOT of cherries, like, ALL THE TIME, they don't need a cherry pitter. 

Everything Pretty much everything on the gadget wall at William Sonoma and/or the bargain bin at Sur La Table.

If you insist on getting some kind of kitchen gadget, go for something that the person will find a use for, every day. Wooden spoons, paring knives, a nice digital scale, good microwave and dishwasher safe mixing bowls. On the more expensive side, everyone loves a heavy (and oven safe) skillet, like the kind Le Creuset makes.
I prefer a good 10-12 incher. (That's what she said?)

Here's a few I like that are in the same price range as unitasker crap:

This is a tricky one. Cookbooks are a lot like regular books; on one hand, the recipient might have his or her world opened up to a new author or genre they had no idea they liked; on the other, if they have professed their hatred of romance novels in the past and you get them a romance novel, chances are they'll never read it.
Reviews are key here, as is a slightly deeper understanding of the person you are giving the cookbook to.
Is that Rachel Ray cookbook REALLY going to fit the gourmet adventurer in your life?
Also, cookbooks are difficult because there is the possibility they will have that one already.

I really don't like to give or receive cookbooks unless there has been some sort of communication involved about what is expected, however discreetly.
There's just too wide a range of taste. I have an informal wishlist of cookbooks I really, really want, and I expect most other cooks do too. There really is no reason to make a shot in the dark on this; if you plan on buying someone a cookbook for Christmas, go ahead and find out what's on that list and not waste your money. 
Or, I guess you could get them a gift card, although that's kind of a bullshit gift in my opinion. 

Unless the food product in question is REALLY, REALLY cool - like a whole truffle, or a slab of himalayan pink salt, or something - I feel like giving someone food for Christmas is kind of the ultimate 'meh' gift. 
It says, "Hey, I don't really know what to get you, or care that much really, but I know you like food, so here's a summer sausage/tubofpopcorn/boxofchocolate, you fatass."
Food baskets are a really easy thing to send someone who lives across the country or that you don't know very well, and everyone loves those catalogues with boxes full of fruit and crap, but, really? Spend that money on something good, even for someone you don't know all that well. 

The exception to this is wine, or other large bottles of booze. Unless they don't like booze or are in AA, in which case it's not a good idea either. 
The other exception is things that are handmade, since that means you put more than a moment of thought into the gift. But a tub of popcorn from Costco or 20 dollars worth of random food from Trader Joes is a lame present, any way you cut it. Even a gift card to said store would be better. 

So, what DO you get a cook for Christmas?
A good gift. A gift that had more than 30 seconds of thought put into it. Or, hell, just ask them, as people do with gifts in my family. 
Ask yourself, even if  you don't really cook: would *I* enjoy having this? Would I use it on a regular basis? Would I be interested in this?

Lets save ourselves from stupid crap this year, shall we? Give with with heart, and mindfulness, and everyone will have a happier holiday. 


Tiffany said...

This post made me laugh. A lot. My family is pretty good about only giving me cooking stuff I've actually asked for, but this is still SO true.

And don't write off the whole "gadget wall" at Williams Sonoma! There's a lot of stuff on there that I do actually want.

And the easiest solution ever: wishlists. Has saved me a whole lot of fake smiling over weird/useless Christmas gifts.

Sonja said...

This is a hilarious rant! I mostly agree. I have to say though, that I love unitaskers but probably because I have the space to store them. I mean, wouldn't you love to get an ice cream maker or waffle iron?

That being said, you are spot-on about cookbook gifts. Also, food gifts. I get lots of bottled sauces and rubs...which I never end up using.

Foodbat said...

I actually have both an ice cream maker AND a waffle iron ;) And a deep fryer, and a rice cooker, and any manner of unitaskers in my home. And except for a few times a year, they gather dust. Well except for the rice cooker.

The point is I don't need any more ;)

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

OK, there's one thing on the gadget wall at WS that I absolutely love: the mixer spatula. It is seriously like a windshield wiper for your bowl - I can get at least 1, if not 2 extra cookies/cupcakes out of my batches with what it scrapes down.

The banana slicer, on the other hand, is probably the most worthless tool on the planet.

annelies said...

One food gift I would be HAPPY to get for Christmas is a three month subscription to foodzie. That would count as rocking my face off. I totally agree with the unitaskers- with one exception. My tomato spoon sure does see quite a bit of action. Nothing like a small spoon ridged with sharp teeth!

Ayn said...

My mother-in-law gave me a cute set of colorful prep bowls this year. Win!

Jenni said...

I got a chestnut cutter thingy one year. Underwhelming. Want it? ;)

I also have a whole section of my store dedicated to what not to buy--cherry pitter, cucumber deseeder, pineapple corer, etc.

Foodbat said...

Heh. Jenni, that sounds a little're selling things you've told people not to buy? ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a chef and this is hilarious.