Monday, December 02, 2019

Gift Guide 2019


Hellooo, my loves! I am writing you from snowy New England with a few of our annual thoughts on gifts, especially gifts for kids, teenagers, gamers, and book lovers! As always, let me start with gifts lists from the past, because I need every single thing in my life to be a crazy refractive house of mirrors:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here--and also there is a list of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years.
  • The year before that are here.
  • The year before, here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • Some long ago thoughts (i.e. for little kids) are here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.
And also as always, let me mention that these gift guides involve Amazon links, and that's because I will earn a commission, and then I'll donate all the money I make from them. In other words, this is a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping in a normal, effortless way! As always, we'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade (last year we donated almost $3000 from gift-guide revenue). But if you'd prefer to shop locally and donate to PIH directly, that would be win-win! The link is here.


I am starting off with these two sets of sticky notes: the color dots, and the color flags. You will be like, wait, am I just getting one of these colors when I order them? And I'm here to say: No. You get the whole color-gradient set. What? Yes! I take my god-given role of Jew-Santa-stocking-stuffer very seriously, and so am in stocking stuffer heaven with these little sets. 



I got my VERY ORGANIZED LIST MAKER this daily planning pad, and I feel confident that she will love it. I think this sloth one is actually cuter, but I worried that the whole procrastination theme wasn't quite right for my particular person. 


We got this book, A Field Guide to Color, a couple of months ago, and we love it so much.


It's filled with color exercises that you mostly do with watercolors, and we have based entire evenings around various delightful activities. (We've also turned most of what we make into thank-you cards, so win/win!)

If I were giving it as a gift, I'd give it with a gorgeous set of watercolors, like this. (I'm getting this one for Ben, since he doesn't have his own set at college.)

Although you could also just add a set of metallic paints to whatever bigger set you're currently using, and it makes a fun, smaller gift set. This is a good, basic, and relatively inexpensive watercolor pad. Also, if anyone in your house would like a new set of colored pens, we recently got these, and completely love them.

Okay. Onto the games! First up, a game that is new to us since this past Thanksgiving, i.e. three days ago, but which we loved so much we insisted the friends who'd brought it over to play LEAVE IT WITH US, along with the leftover salted chocolate pie. (Thanks, guys!) It's called The Mind


and it's like a cross between a card game and a Ouija board. You have numbered cards in your hand, and you and the other players are trying to lay them out in numerical order without communicating verbally or gesturally. It is very Vulcan mind meld. Very eye-contacty and wonderful and surprisingly, thrillingly possible. There's a little more to it, but not much, and the play is quick and anyone can learn it.
Speaking of. I'm just saying. 


Next up: Cheating Moth, which we first learned in its German form (Mogel Motte) from drunk Catalan speakers at a fabulous wedding in Spain. It’s a really fun cheating game, and a perfect game to play with people who already cheat at games, because they’re cheating anyway! It’s all just sleight of hand—with no bluffing or strategy in particular. And it's really fun to play drunk with people you can't really even totally communicate with. This, and The Mind, are both small, inexpensive games that are relatively easy to learn and could be stuffed into a stocking as a stuffer.
I recommended Azul (pictured below on our dirty carpet) last year, even though we had never played it. And if you got it on my advice, then you will understand what an excellent gamble that was. It's a simply wonderful game, and we've played it dozens, possibly even hundreds, of times in 2019. (It is probably tied with Splendor and Qwixx for most household play this calendar year.) The pieces are heavy and lush and look like Starburst candies, and the game play is totally straightforward and yet, in the way of all great games, constantly evolving. (I have also not yet put a piece in my mouth absentmindedly, which I find nearly miraculous.) We haven't taught it to anybody who hasn't loved it. So this year I am giving another stand-alone game from the same folks: Azul Stained Glass of Sintra (pictured above), which gets fantastic reviews on both Amazon and Board Game Geek. 



We learned Arboretum in a bar with friends (see below) and it is another aesthetically perfect game that feels simple enough when you're learning it, but then that simplicity turns out to be a little deceptive. You are basically building a grid of gorgeous trees, and it's all fine and good, until the scoring, which is insane--like, you thought you were playing Go Fish, and then it turned out you were playing Go Fish on another planet in a colorful forest and someone slipped you a roofie. Anyhoo. Super fun, super-pretty, and nice and compact for playing out of the house. Like, at a bar, say. 


My kids are appalled that I have never mentioned Stone Age here on a gift guide.


And is it true? Have I really never? This is one of our most consistently played family games of all time. Aesthetically, it's a little like our very beloved Agricola--with the cardboard tiles and the lovely wooden meeples and pieces--and then, in terms of game play, it's also a little like Agricola, but with all the crazy stress and panic sanded off the edges of the more basic elements of placing tokens and gathering resources. It appears to be $70, which would make it a big investment. But, then again, that's just under the cost of 2 movie-theater movies for a family of 4, and we've played it probably 50 times. So.


Wingspan is the big present we're giving Ben and Birdy this year, so 1) Shhhh! and 2) I can't report back just yet. But it is winning all kinds of prizes and gets almost ridiculously good reviews everywhere and, I'm sorry, but look at those wooden eggs and the bird house and the bird tokens and the pretty dice. I mean, not to be a totally annoying aesthetic snob, but I'm so much more likely to play a game that's beautiful. Gameplay gets compared to Azul, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Dominion, all games we have and love, so I feel confident. I will report back after we play!



This is the puzzle we did over Thanksgiving, and it is TWO-SIDED! Right? It's even clear which side is which, because one side is shiny. So beautiful. And we did this puzzle too. And this one. (I really love Galison puzzles.)
Okay! Onto the books. If I were going to recommend a single gifting novel in this moment, I think it would have to be this


I always love Ann Patchett, but this book offers just the most vibrant, deep kind of reading pleasure I can remember experiencing. I mean, it reminded me of reading all those absolutely pitch-perfect Joan Aiken books when I was 10. Give this to your readers and they will love it. Other great giftable novels include Ocean Vuong's poetic, absolutely gutting, and occasionally filthy On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (like, don't give it to your grandma unless she's queer or super open-minded), and, on the fully other end of the spectrum, Nina Stibbe's delightfully buoyant and Englishly laugh-out-loud Reasons to Be Cheerful. Also, not to typecast your old people, but Henry Himself is a really good and funny book for your old people (I am 50 and loved it; my parents are in their 80s and loved it).


The book I have given the most number of times this year is Good Talk by Mira Jacob. In fact, I had to use a stock photo, because I can't even seem to keep a copy in the house. I gave it to graduating teenagers, to people in the hospital, to birthday friends, and to houseguests who picked it up while they were here. It is a graphic memoir about childhood and parenting, coming of age, and the particular, peculiar experiences of race and identity in the United States. It is so funny and good and everybody I've given it to has loved it. Another possible gift memoir is Chanel Miller's Know My Name, which I just finished and found staggering, enraging, lovely, and hopeful. What a beautiful person she is. You could give that book along with the fabulous, utterly shocking She Said as a kind of Feminist Rage Party Pack. 


Okay. Onto the cooking people. I feel like giving someone an Instant Pot is like giving someone a puppy. Like, you better make sure they're ready for it, and have the space for it and time to train it. (Or at least to read the instruction manual.) That said, my brother gave me one, after checking with Michael, and I use it a lot. That's why it's so gross and greasy in the photo! I like the way it's got the speed and the bean-cooking capability of a pressure cooker, but with the stay-warm-all-day convenience of a slow cooker. What I mostly make in it, and I make a lot of it, is Indian food. It really lends itself so perfectly to dal and chickpea curries and other long-simmered, vibrantly spiced legumes. If I were giving it as a gift, I would give it with this book


which is attractive, small, and super-usable, and which I cook from at least once a week. (Her green chutney recipe also happens to be perfect.) But, then, while I'm revealing my obsession with making Indian meals, I have to recommend another great book for giving:


Indian (-ish) is the kind of cookbook that I check out of the library, read cover to cover, cook from, and then renew until I can't renew it any more and then I re-request it and repeat and, finally, return it and actually buy it. The recipes are uncomplicated and kind of crazily drool-able. Also, this cookbook taught me about the spice blend chat masala, which is the funkiest, savoriest, craziest spice in the world, and which is now the only thing I put on my popcorn. A fun gift pairing would be this book with a box or jar of chat masala (I like the below brand, maybe because "Chunky Chat Masala" sounds like a crazy flapper dance). Or, if you felt kinda crazy, with this amazing set of spices.
I like giving dish towels as presents because they're useful and fun, and because you can never have too many of them and they don't take up a lot of space. This is my current favorite (there are other good ones at that same link).


And it's made by the same company that made the socks I got Birdy this year! For some reason these sweet, optimistic monsters make me want to cry. #menopause


Finally, I know I don't post a lot of tech or gadgety things, what with my analogue lifestyle and all, but I gave the kids these charging blocks at some point, and they remark quite regularly on how useful they find them. 


They hold a lot of power, and we love them for camping and big trips and for long days out of the house. That's such a weird note to end on. "I'm a Marxist board gamer, but here--buy this weirdly expensive technological gadget! Happy holidays!" Ha ha ha. Sorry! 

Mostly, I hope that you light candles and put on Leslie Odom Jr.'s Simply Christmas album (sigh) and peel clementines and sing and crack nuts and dust off your menorah and kiss your pets and give it away, give it away, give it away. As much as you can. To Partners in Health or Immigrant Families Together or Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. To an organization that is fighting Trump, fighting injustice, fighting for health and human rights and safety for all of us. Our wish for 2020. xo

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Prep of one kind and another


My loves! Come follow me over at Instagram if you haven't already, will you? I can't remember my handle, but you'll find me. Ha ha ha. Okay, wait. It's @catherinewman. I think! Then you will get to see my parents peeling another 10 pounds of potatoes *this* year! Which they will definitely be doing, even if they think they can just quietly work on the jigsaw and crossword puzzles all day. Poor things.

Oh, is Ben home? I hardly even noticed! [clutches heart weepingly during Silver Bells]
I am really just checking in from the chaos of multiple gravies (vegan! turkey! gluten-free!) and stuffings (gf! not gf! with mushrooms! without!) and pies (vegan cranberry cheesecake! gluten-free pecan!) to say that despite my long, unexplained absences, I will be posting a gift guide this year, probably early next week. But if you have any advice, please feel free to share it: I use the amazon postings to generate revenue, which I donate all of (usually to Partners in Health, but sometimes to a mix of places), but I hate to support Amazon in particular and world-destroying billionaires in general. Thoughts? I'm wondering if it would work to have links to independent sites, and then to have a button for donating, like a little charitable tip jar... or if that's going to be too complicated, and the good of the huge donation outweighs the bad of the Amazon links. Anyhoo. Just thinking out loud, it seems.


Some T-giving-ish recipes, in case you don't have them from years past (plus mashed potatoes with and without copious amounts of sour cream and butter and/or Earth Balance and creamed cashews):

  • Basic Brined Roasted Turkey
  • Turkey Gravy
  • Vegetarian Brown Gravy
  • Herbed Goat Cheese
  • Wild (or not-so-wild) Mushroom Pate
  • Boursin-Style Cheese Spread
  • Holiday Crudités with the best-ever Green Dip
  • Butternut Bisque
  • Sparkling Cranberry Centerpiece
  • My Mom's Cranberry Sauce
  • Butternut Galette
  • Parmesan-Rosemary Butternut Gratin
  • Classic Pecan Pie (but with this gluten-free pastry)

  • Also, I have some lovely new low-carb holiday sides up at diatribe, if low-carb is your dietary family of origin or choice. 

    If you need a psychological palate cleanser, please read Chanel Miller's exquisite book and visit https://native-land.ca/ to acknowledge whose territory you are living on. 

    In unrelated news, did I mention my new book? I mean, I see it over there in sidebar, but I am so excited about it that I am going to remention it here! It comes out in May, but books basically live and die on preorders, so if you would, I would be so grateful. Amazon here. Indie Bound here.

    Illustrated by the amazing Debbie Fong, whom you can follow on Instagram!  @pommopress


    The menfolk in my household were BAFFLED by this page.
    I mean, who doesn't want to learn how to vacuum?
    Can you see the blurbs here, or do you have old-lady eyes like me? They are from Jess Lahey and Lisa Damour, and I love them so much.

    Sending you warmth and courage, my darlings. xo



    Monday, September 16, 2019

    Blackberry Cardamom Cake (Gluten free! Or not!)

    Oh, hello, my loves! I am writing you from the crying pit of vipers otherwise known as September. Did your children go to college and leave you? I'm sorry! They suck. And even the ones at home still are probably off all day at high school, like assholes. Sigh. I am now the person who leans over, all melty and wobbly and weird, to speak to people at the store with babies in their shopping carts. "Ooh, lucky!" I like to say, because I can't remember how much it sucked to be scouting out a ripe cantaloupe while someone in a single zippery piece of clothing started to make the prewailing warning sounds of naptime misery.

    I made Ben play one last, gloomy game of Booby-Trap with me before he left.
    I will admit, under duress, that the second year of Ben going has been easier than the first. Even though he was home all summer and all any of us could do was drape ourselves over him in loving,  smothering relief. Birdy spent the first few days after his departure lying angrily on the floor and announcing, "Benny went back to college like a stupid fuckhole. Jesus FUCK." #theappledoesntfallfaretc

    Back in the summer, we were laughing!
    Anyhoo, I wrote some things since last we met! A piece about leaving for college here. Lots of recipes here. A little something about kids and chores here (scroll down for the more actionable piece of the article). Something totally weird here.

    I also read some things. Lots of things. Some so incredible I may read them again: this and this and this and this, for example. And this.

    And I did some baking. Onto the recipe portion of this brief missive.

    I should mention that the berries will sink to the bottom. At least mine did!
    Blackberry Cardamom Cake
    For the past seven or so years, I’ve worked a weekly shift at our local survival center, serving lunch to hungry folks. Mostly I do this because I get a kick out of my own helpfulness, as well as out of the sustaining friendships I’ve been treated to there, and the many men who call me sweetheart and darling in what has become, in this, my 51st year, the last bastion of flirtation in my life. (I am lonely a lot during the week, and I am never lonely there.) Plus, Ben, whose college is nearby, works the dinner shift after I work the lunch shift, and during our 5-minute Thursday car transfer we gossip about everybody we saw. And also I like getting free food, which I do from the fresh foods distribution, where they give away lots of gorgeous produce from local farms and markets, everything only slightly dinged and dented—nothing you wouldn’t still call sweetheart or darling. We refer to it as “used food,” at my house, and admiringly so. “Ooh, are these used peaches from the survival center?” Birdy will ask. “They’re so good!”

    So, with a half pint of used blackberries that were just a little past their bowl-of-berries-and-cream prime, I made this cake. Weirdly, I first thought that I was recreating a macaron we’d had in Paris years ago. Blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom! I remembered, incorrectly. In fact, the macaron has been raspberry lychee, and rose, which, wow, was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. Nonetheless, blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom baked simply into this cake you will recognize from it being the same cake as the plum cake, is a marvelous thing. We are strictly gluten-free around here these days, so that’s what I’m offering—and the texture is, I unhumbly submit, absolute tender, buttery perfection. But feel free to swap in white flour. Or, better yet, 2/3 cup white flour and 1/3 cup spelt flour, like my old glutinous self would have.

    1 stick butter (I use salted), softened
    ¾ cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon)
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/3 cup gluten-free white flour (with xanthan gum in it—or add 1/2 teaspoon)
    1/3 cup almond flour or meal (with or without skins)
    1/3 cup gluten-free wholegrain flour (I make my own blend from equal parts brown rice, teff, sorghum, and oat flour, thanks to this book) OR more regular gf flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon fresh, fragrant ground cardamom
    ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
    1 heaping cup (a half-pint container) of blackberries
    Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

    Heat the oven to 350.

    Use an electric mixer (if you have one) to cream together the butter and sugar—or do this all by hand, which is fine. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, and add the vanilla too. Beat in the flours, which you’ve either sifted or whisked together with the baking powder, cardamom, and salt, and mix until the batter is well combined.

    Now scrape the very stiff batter into your pan: I use an 8-inch spring form pan (and don’t grease it), but you could butter and flour a regular cake pan and use that, need be. Use a rubber spatula to even it out.

    Dot the top of the cake with the blackberries, pressing them in slightly. Now sprinkle the cake with a tablespoon of sugar and pop it in the oven to bake until it looks nice and brown and doesn’t jiggle anywhere when you, uh, jiggle it—this seems to take about 35 minutes in my oven, but check it at 30.

    Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or plain. 

    Wednesday, May 01, 2019

    Gluten-Free Yay It's Wednesday Cake! Donut Cake


    What? All of your favorite things rolled into one? I know! Festivity, gluten-free-ness, and donut cake, in honor of Wednesday. (For more on the "Yay, It's Wednesday Cake" Cake tradition, please visit this or this.)


    How are you, my darlings? We all have teenagers and kids leaving and not leaving, and life is a whirlwind of missing things, if you know what I mean. Ben's absence has been hard for our family. It's gotten much, much better, for sure: he's happy, for one, which we're thrilled about, and Birdy is a delightful person to live with. But boy do we miss that Ben all the time. It's the end of the longest chapter of my life, during which I was a mother with two kids at home. As a friend's daughter once said, after she was weaned, "You used to make milk for me! Now your body just makes poop and pee for nobody." Sigh.

    This is the kind of good child who will never go to college! Yay, Birdy! La la la la. Don't talk to me about it.
    But I do still get to cook for Birdy, thank god. Like this cake! Which she was delighted to come home to last week, partly because of the festive sign, and partly because it is so, so good: moist and a little gritty and just the right amount sweet and nutmeggy. A perfect cake, and an especially perfect gluten-free cake.

    Meanwhile, I've written for Family Circle here, and for Real Simple this month--a weird little essay in addition to my usual etiquette column over there. (I think it's only in the actual magazine, not on the online.) Plus, you can follow me on instagram here! Where it's ALL MENDING ALL THE TIME.



    Gluten-Free Donut Cake
    This is the best cake I make, and it's a debased riff on the justly famous Busy-Day Cake of cookbook author and local-food pioneer Edna Lewis, which I originally wrote about here. A note on the flour: I recommend half almond meal and half gluten-free all-purpose flour (the kind with, as I like to say, Xanax* in it.) Not only that, but in the one cup of almond meal I use half of the pale floury kind of almond meal and half of the kind that is skin-on and a bit rougher. And not only that BUT I secretly use half regular gf flour and half of this weird whole-grain blend from (the wonderful) Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: equal parts, by weight, of oat flour, sorghum flour, teff flour, and brown rice flour. You're welcome. You know what else you can do? Use all of whatever your favorite gf flour is! Seriously. It will be totally good and fine. 

    * Xanthan gum

    1 stick butter, at room temperature
    1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    2 cups gluten-free flour (see headnote)
    2 tablespoons cornmeal
    3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ideally freshly grated
    1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

    Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour (I use almond flour for this) a 9-inch springform pan, and set it aside.

    Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, and add the vanilla. You may want to periodically scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

    Meanwhile, whisk together the flour(s), cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding next, but don't over-beat it at the end. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top.


    Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes (Honestly, I just push the top gently with my fingertip and make sure it seems inclined to spring back). Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally with lightly sweetened fruit (I added about a tablespoon of sugar to a pint of sliced strawberries and two sliced nectarines) and whipped cream. And don't be dismayed if the cake sinks significantly upon cooling: it might, and that's fine.