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A Birthday Bonanza

Cuddly ham. Who knew?

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I was one lucky birthday girl last week. For starters, I had an amazing dinner at my favorite restaurant: incredible grilled calamari over white creamy white beans, toothy bucatini tangled among fava beans, and a whole plate of to-die-for profiteroles. The next day I had folks over for an eccentric array of nibbles (a head-spinning menu of fish tacos, gado-gado, marinated goat cheese with crackers, and unadorned Chandler strawberries), and my friends also showered me with wonderful foodie gifts that showed just how much they “get” me. I’m sharing a few of them with you – who knows, they may be useful for your own gifting needs!

When Susan handed me her gift, she simply said: “Who else but you could appreciate this?” When I pulled away the layers of tissue paper, I burst out laughing. A fleecy stuffed ham! The only thing better than a real ham is one that’s cuddly and doesn’t need refrigeration. I cradled the tan and pink wedge in my arms as if it were a baby and nuzzled my face into it. I think we bonded.

Another food-shaped objet d’art came from Terril, who is a designer at the SFMoMA. She gave me a clever glass vase in the shape of a half-pint milk carton. I’d use it for real milk, but I think it might be too hard to clean. For now, it’s a whimsical holder for a few vibrant posies.

And what good is milk without coffee? I’m a big believer in single-brew coffee, but until now I’ve been using an unglamorous plastic cone filter. My boyfriend Tyler gave me a much classier setup. Made of wire, the filter basket (containing a cloth filter) is suspended over a ceramic base. Now I don’t have to hide my coffee maker in the cabinet – instead, it holds a proud place on the counter.

I am a huge fan of edible gifts, and Sayzie’s gift of blood orange olive oil falls squarely in that category. It’s not something I’d necessarily buy for myself, but now my mind churns with all the things I might do with it. I’m giving it a test run tonight as a finishing drizzle over the Jamaican curried lamb I’m making. But it might easily become a salad dressing, too…or a sophisticated topping for vanilla ice cream.

Finally, my kitchen comrade Morgan gave me a gift that I know I’ll use for years: a commercial-grade, carbon steel skillet. I’m just starting to break it in – it needs to be seasoned like cast iron does – but it worked great when I made sweet potato home fries this morning. I love the pan’s heft and the angle of the extra-long handle, which not only helps it stay cool but also gives you lots of gripping options when you flick the pan to toss its contents.

Of course, I know that birthdays aren’t just about presents. But I have to say, knowing that my friends put such careful thought into the presents they gave me…that’s a gift in itself.

I’m curious to know your favorite food-related gifts, whether edible or functional. Do tell!

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