What to pack, how to prep when you're a food-allergic traveler

The thrill of travel is my siren song. I used to dream of filling a passport before it expired. Never happened, but I did manage to get to many great places. Machu Picchu, Xi'an, Tulum. Life can throw you one curveball after another, some good, some not so good. Layoffs, pink slips, food allergies. My high-flying life came to a decidedly more earthbound home. For several years I had time to travel but not the money.

The bitter and the sweet

As we get older, we begin to appreciate that one is enhanced by the other. Fast-forward several years and I am slowly building an entrepreneur's life. This means we swing from one trapeze landing to another, sometimes the grip is so tenuous, the next check so long in coming. But we learn to live with the anxiety that would have done us in before and push on, move forward. Grab and let go. Let go, grab.

This week I'm preparing for my first trip to Europe since my flight through de Gaulle to go to Mali but the last visit when I stayed and explored was a media trip to Valencia, Spain. That was wonderful, too. Both trips like evanescent dreams. Wonderful memories.

New opportunities, new challenges

I'm getting on a plane again 48 hours from this moment. I'm off to Brussels to work with the fabulous Nathan Fong on behalf of sustainable, delicious British Columbia seafood. After our success at  Seafood Expo North America (#sena2014) - stir-frying with the Trade Minister! We're bringing the dynamic duo to the largest seafood expo in the world, Brussels! Now I'm dealing with multiple food allergies. Looking at the food there, dairy is definitely going to be a problem. I won't have time to shop all over and my Flemish is pretty weak. I think I've got this one down though: "Aangenamen Kennismaking" (Nice to meet you) it's just plain fun to say, isn't it?

It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have food allergies. But imagine you're somewhere unfamiliar, and you literally cannot risk eating food because you may end up in anaphylactic shock. And traveling in a professional capacity, you don't want to make every group meal a tiresome litany of your issue and allergies. "Who knows Flemish for 'allergy'?"

Moules Frites? Waffles? (butter, dairy) Carbonnade? Waterzooi? (butter, cream) Food, glorious food. It's what I live for, what I organize my life around, what I share with friends, family and clients. But the prospect of being unable to find anything to eat made me realize I now have an extra list of travel prep tasks: researching, prepping, baking, planning. Even the flight to Belgium is a problem. Special diet meals include vegetarian (with cheese, nuts) Asian Vegetarian (may include dairy); Vegetarian (dairy). So what can I eat during the flight? Grab and go in the airport? Can you trust the labels on pre-packed foods? The fast food training? Erm, no. Basically, there was not one option that I could choose that was both free of dairy and free of tree nuts. Swiss International Airlines announced an "allergy friendly" service but to me it sounds like only a baby step further than what other airlines do.

Chips? (made in a facility that also processes nuts) etc. It's impossible!

Luckily, I'm a good cook. And I have good friends. And a very caring husband. He has turned into the best food sleuth!

My goal was to find things easy to pack and dense with protein to keep me going in the worst case scenario.


1. Research, research, research. What are the typical foods in your destination? What capacity does your hotel have to accommodate your allergies? (Or even, to speak English?) Check with TSA and your airlines.

2. Pack pouches. Really good tuna, quinoa cereal, and terrific peanut butter all come in these easy-to-pack pouches. Thanks Doc!


3. Bake ahead. Energy Bites; Crackers, Apple-Quinoa Cake.

choco chunks, fruit

rye crackers

travel snack

4. Try to order Allergy warning cards in the destination language. I ordered cards from Allergic Traveler - hope they'll arrive in time!



The energy bites are great pre/post workout snacks. I love that they're not overly sweet and they're super easy to customize. This is based on Kim O'Donnel's original recipe from her Washington Post days. Her Lulu's Cookies became my Choco-fruit Energy Bites.

Choco-fruit Energy Bites


  • 1 1/2 C of a combo of: sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sesame seeds (I omitted sesame and used a combo of peanuts, bran, amaranth for the third 1/2 C.)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds.
  • 3 C flour [I used 1 C Irish Wholemeal flour +1 C White Whole Wheat + 1 C AP flour]
  • 2 cups rolled oats [I used rolled instant] + 1/3 C brown rice crispies + 1/4 flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried fruit - cherries, prunes, apricots
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3/4 C coconut + canola oil
  • 3/4 C honey + golden syrup
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks (free of 8 major allergens and made in an allergen free facility)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast seeds on a baking sheet about 8 minutes, or until the seeds turn a golden color. Be careful not to burn seeds.
  2.  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
  3.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt.
  4.  Soak dried fruit in hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain, but reserve soaking water.
  5.  Add dried fruit soaking water to dry mixture, plus oil and honey. With a rubber spatula, stir until combined. Add cooled seeds and stir to combine, then add fruit and chocolate chips. Don't over-mix.
  6.  Form teaspoon-sized patties onto a cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper.
  7.  Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Don't over-bake; the cookies will turn into rocks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

I love that these are like two bite energy bars without all the overly sweet, highly processed ingredients. These are like bites of shortbread chunks of sweet dried fruits and chocolate.


What are your tips for traveling with food allergies or intolerances?

Next up, the apple quinoa cake!

Eat Your Vegetables - Adding to, not Subtracting from, Our Food Joy

The notion of plant-based food being meals-minus-meat always rubs me the wrong way. Call me a glass-half-full omnivore. I've had my vegetarian phase and am now happily an eater of most everything. But the resistance of some to "give up meat" strikes me as fundamentally the wrong way to approach it. As a friend once put it "when someone hears I'm a vegetarian, they always frown and think how sad, imagining that I am eating buns without burgers or something." Listening to my friend Joe Yonan read from his new book Eat Your Vegetables the other night at Trident, I was struck again by how charming and thoughtful and funny he is. "Is it time to stop mocking mock meats?" he asks. And while his book buying fans, vegetarians and veg-curious, (some of whom went home empty handed due to a sold out inventory!) munched on kimchi deviled eggs (p.146) and poblano tapenade (p. 151) and chips, the reading was classic Joe: I had to take notes, I had questions, I was curious, I laughed. And that tapenade, sweetie, is to die for.

Joe Yonan at Dewey Square Farmers' Market

Feeding Others, Feeding Ourselves

The past week has been a tough one for us here, work challenges for both of us, sinusitis and migraine for me, anniversary of my late Grandmother's birthday, etc. (you don't want to know about the etc., trust me.) So we're looking forward to the holiday weekend even though I'll have to work. Try taking a day off when you're a loft-dwelling freelancer. Let me know how that works out.

Yesterday evening was an example of why we, Me and Doc, work. How we work. In any relationship, clients, family, partners, you have moments when you are wise to hold your tongue and do the opposite of what you're feeling. Give rather than ask, compliment rather than criticize; after all this person at whom you may feel like lashing out against probably cares for you and probably is not intentionally being difficult.

On good days, we can take a deep breath, a step back, and remind ourselves of that. On days when we've had crushing pain in our head for nearly two weeks, we can find that reservoir of kindness dry. "We" have been having that sort of time lately. Of course, I mean me.

cookie jar

Digging deep, and feeling very sorry for Doc after a night of watching him clean up others' messes, all night, I decided to fill his cookie jar. This is a cookie jar I got for Doc for Christmas. Since I cannot afford the sorts of gifts he'd prefer (a new Land Rover, a Jaeger le Coultre watch) I have to go with more humble gifts. This is one of those. It reminds him that I love him. It reminds me that I don't have to do extravagant expensive things to make him happy. I can, in the simple gesture of filling a cookie jar, show him he is cared for.

Yesterday, I thought he needed that. I made these cookies from Joe's great book. Carl's Chocolate Chunk Cookies comes with a headnote about caring for his then new boyfriend who was under the weather, first by making him soup, then by making him cookies. Who wouldn't feel better after that?

Joe's lovely book is a reminder that food, whether it's meat centered or not, vegetable laden or not, free of mock meat or not, food is something we can use to comfort and value ourselves and others. As he reminds us, the seatbelt warnings on airplanes "place your own mask over your nose and mouth first..." we must care for ourselves first, then we're fortified and able to respond to the needs of others. Fill your own cookie jar!

Doc came home with a surprise for me, too. A giant ciabatta from Panzano's - I immediately tore into it, sliced up a Purple Cherokee tomato and was in heaven. We take care of each other in these small but important ways.

cookie trio

The Book Itself

Because Joe has written "for the single cook", one might think the recipes are only for single cooks. Let me assure you this book is perfect for a couple as well. As many of us have come to find out, at a certain point, our weight does not respond the way it once did to simple interventions. I once used to eat anything I liked, in any quantity I wanted, and never gained an ounce. I have never forgiven my body for the betrayal of losing that capacity.

As a cook, I find it hard to cook in smaller proportions and these recipes help. Make a couple of them for a small plates or tapas style dinner, or double one up for two, or add a salad or a grain.  Do we really need two dozen or four dozen cookies all the time? Not always. Here we have ten perfect, giant cookies. A healthy, portion-controlled indulgence.

More good news:

  • Recipes that are straightforward, use simple ingredients and they work. They are also delicious.
  • Headnotes and longer essays interspersed between recipes will have you nodding, laughing, and thinking.
  • Particularly useful are the notes about scaling recipes, about using up ingredients, storing things. His relaxed manner should set even novice cooks at ease.
  • Helpful sidebars throughout give even more advice to help you cook once, eat twice and so on.

So I do urge you to Serve Yourself and to Eat Your Vegetables and to remember, if you're single and you don't value yourself enough to feed yourself well, don't you think that others will take their cue from that? Whether you're single or not, pick up one or both of Joe's books and I promise you, your cosmic cookie jar will overflow. Now, go forth and cook!


New and Improved (and Dairy-Free) No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Back in the good old days when schools believed cooking is actually a life skill, and we had classes called "Home Ec" we learned to make cookies called "Raggedy Robins." Miss Mosser was my Home Ec teacher and I owe her a lot, actually. She was a very petite young teacher with an older personality. She was fun, too. She instilled good kitchen habits, like cleaning the kitchen after the dishes were done, and making sure even the sink was dry. She also knew that the days when we made tasty treats there might be guys hanging around the door and she was a good sport about it.

These are exceedingly easy and a good call for a sweet treat when it's too hot to heat up the oven, since they are truly no-bake cookies. I recently got the notion that we could make a better version with just a few tweaks.

Raggedy Robins

I have no idea about the origin of the name or the cookie recipe itself. If you Google the name Raggedy Robins you'll find an unlimited number of sites offering the same recipe with no attribution.

Here's an improved version. I decreased the sugar by 1/4 C, used dairy-free ingredients, added flax seed for minerals, fiber.


Raggedy Robins

Madecasse VanillaThe idea here is improve on this super easy cookie by adding some nutrition to it, and upgrading the ingredients. This is my favorite vanilla, it's super rich and the company goes beyond "fair trade" to improve the economic opportunities for Madagascar.

Madécasse Vanilla - extracts are crafted using the "two-fold" extraction method resulting in a concentrated, deep vanilla. It comes from Madagascar where 85% of the plant and animal life on Madegascar exists no where else on earth and only 10% of the original forest still exists. Madécasse is working to bring delicious products to market while preserving the local economy and biodiversity.



  • 1/4 C soy milk
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/8 C unsweetened cocoa (we use Ghiardelli)
  • 1/4 C EarthBalance margarine (you could sub butter if you like)
  • 1/2 C peanut butter ( I love Justin's)
  • a good pinch of salt
  • 1 TBSP Golden syrup (avail. at Whole Foods, fantastic for holiday pies, too.)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 C rolled oats
  • 1/2 C Kamut flakes (OR brown rice cereal)
  • 2 TBSP ground golden flax seed (omega 3s and lignans, plus fiber)
  • 2 TBSP coconut flakes (I like Let's Do Organic brand)
  • 3 TBSP chopped roasted peanuts


  1. Line cookie sheets with parchment (be sure that they'll fit in the fridge!)
  2. In a heavy saucepan, over medium heat, melt soy milk, sugar, cocoa, and margarine. Bring mixture to a boil and stirring a few times to combine.
  3. Once it comes to a boil, let it boil a full 90 seconds. (When we made them in junior high school they always came out too sweet and grainy, probably we rushed this stage.)
  4. In a medium bowl, combine oats, crisp rice cereal, ground flax seed, coconut flakes, peanuts. Mix to combine.
  5. When the cocoa-sugar mixture has boiled, pull the pot off the heat, dump in your peanut butter, salt, vanilla, golden syrup, and whisk it to smooth it out.
  6. Pour mixture over dry ingredients  and stir to combine.
  7. Use a small ice cream/cookie scoop to drop balls onto parchment. Refrigerate for at least an hour.


Better ingredients and better technique made for better cookies. Thanks Miss Mosser!

No bake ragged robins


Can't tell you how many this makes because they disappear as they're chilling in the fridge and so soon after, I've never rememberd to count the full batch. These are also good ones to make with kids, just be careful with the hot cocoa-sugar mixture. Otherwise pretty simple.


Spoonful of Ginger Celebrates 9 years of Progress in the Fight Against Diabetes in the Asian Community

Monday March 18, in the beautiful Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Joslin Diabetes Center's Asian American Diabetes Initiative will gather to honor key supporters. Nationally recognized local chefs including Joanne Chang, Andy Husbands, Ming Tsai, and Jasper White will share gourmet bites in this eagerly anticipated annual fundraiser. The Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI), strives to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, as well as working with Joslin in their commitment to finding a cure.

With an incidence of diabetes far higher than that of the general population (nearly twice the rate in the general population and we're gaining faster than other minorities in acquiring it), the Asian American community is especially at risk for this disease, making the work of the Joslin and AADI even more crucial.

Visit the Joslin website for tools, tips, recipes and more.

Living with Diabetes

Living with Diabetes doesn't have to mean living with boring food loaded with artificial sweeteners and substitutes. Here's a cookie recipe from Sue George of Harvard Sweet Boutique, who has Type 1 Diabetes herself, and following it, a meatloaf recipe from Ming Tsai. Both have been approved by the nutritionists at Joslin as diabetes-friendly.

Lo Carb Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Low-Carb Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Sue George, owner of Harvard Sweet Boutique

Nutritional information: 12g carbohydrates per 1 oz. serving

Yields approx. (36) 1 oz. cookies.



  • 8 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 c peanut butter (creamy)
  • 1/2 c light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ c flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 c semisweet chocolate chunks



  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper
  3. Cream butter, peanut butter, light brown sugar and sugar with mixer
  4. Add egg and vanilla and mix well
  5. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt and whisk to mix
  6. Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture and stir until just blended
  7. Add chocolate chunks and mix well
  8. Bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown

Peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

Ming Tsai's Chicken-Onion Meatloaf with Sambal-Worcestershire Gravy

 Honoree Chef Ming Tsai also shares a recipe for this savory meatloaf.

Chef Michael Schlow, Chef Ming Tsai, Me

Chef Michael Schlow, Chef Ming Tsai, and me at the Farmers' Market one rainy day.

Says Ming: "Everyone loves meatloaf—when it’s done right. This meatloaf recipe features dark chicken meat, which not only delivers great taste but is better for you than the usual beef. The gravy is flavored with Worcestershire, an underused condiment that’s a tart foil for the sambal. I often make this dish just for the leftovers—a sandwich of the sliced loaf on toasted bread with crisp lettuce and hot Dijon mustard will make you very, very happy."

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon
  • canola oil, plus more for oiling the pan
  • 3 large onions, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 pounds ground dark chicken meat
  • 1 cup cooked brown or white rice
  • ½ cup chopped parsley, plus about
  • 12 leaves for garnish
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon sambal or other chile seasoning
  • ¼ cup organic Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups fresh chicken stock or low-sodium bought
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil is hot, add the onions, season with salt and pepper, add the garlic and sauté, stirring, until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer two-thirds of the mixture to a large bowl and let cool.
  3. Add the chicken, rice and parsley, blend and season with salt and pepper. Test the seasoning by sautéing 1 tablespoon of the mixture in a little hot oil or in a microwave for 20 seconds on high power. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the pan without packing it tightly and pat the top smooth. Bake until cooked through, about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes, then unmold, and slice. Transfer the slices to a platter or individual plates.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the pan with the remaining onion mixture over medium-high heat. Add the 1 teaspoon of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the celery, season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the sambal, Worcestershire sauce, stock and meat drippings, bring to a simmer, and cook to reduce by one-quarter, 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in three-quarters of the cornstarch slurry in a thin stream, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until lightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the meatloaf, garnish with the parsley leaves, and serve.

Ming’s tip:

The recipe directs you to test the loaf mixture for seasoning by cooking a bit of it. This may seem fussy, but it’s really necessary to ensure best flavor.

To Drink:

A spicy California Zinfandel, like Ridge East Bench.

© Simply Ming in Your Kitchen: 80 Recipes to Watch, Learn, Cook & Enjoy by Ming Tsai with Arthur Boehm, Kyle Books, 2012.

Spoonful of Ginger Fundraiser

WHEN: Monday, March 18th, 2013 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Art of the Americas Wing 465 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02115


Call 617.309.2512, e-mail or visit:

Tickets are $250 each.

Snow is Falling, but (Home Made) Summer is Here!

Home Made Summer

Agog really.

Open this beauty up and you are transported.

You can feel a warm breeze on your skin. You thirst for a cocktail, a salty little nibble, and you smile.

You squint just a bit from that sun.

That sun!

Soon, very soon, we will be sharing the warmth of Yvette's book and her smile, right here in Boston. Until then, why not use the last of your winter citrus in something delicious and sunny.


Lemon Thins

From Home Made Summer, by Yvette Van Boven; Photographs by Oof Verschuren. Stewart, Tabori & Chang, April 2013.


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 C plus 2 TBSP (125 g) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or 2 tsp vanilla sugar
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 TBSP (85 g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 C (85 g) all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer for 5 minutes, until nice and foamy. Beat in lemon zest.
  3. In another bowl, beat the butter until light and airy. Alternately stir the butter and the flour in small batches into the egg mixture. Stir in a tiny pinch of salt.
  4. Using two teaspoons, arrange small mounds of batter on prepared baking sheet at least 2 inches apart (they'll spread).
  5. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.
  6. Let the cookies cool on the pans for a few minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer them to a rack to cool completely.


❧ ❧ ❧

Warmth from the oven will carry us through these last days of winter.

Close your eyes and nibble a taste of the sun.

Stack of Lemon Thins



April 13, ICA Boston Eat Boutique Luncheon: Ticketed event. Info here.

April 13, 4pm Brookline BookSmith, Boston Booksigning + little presentation & tasting [free event, just walk in] 279 Harvard St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline 617.566.6660

April 14, 2-5pm  Kitchenwares event, Boston Book signing & tasting event [free event, just walk in] 215 Newbury St  Boston, MA 02116 617.366.4237

April 16, 7pm Trident Bookstore Café, Boston Little demo and tasting event [free event, just walk in] 338 Newbury St  Boston, MA 02115 617.267.8688

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies - Leather District Gourmet Style

The appeal of cookies is perhaps not as newsworthy as the frenzy over cupcakes. You never hear anyone declare "the cookie is the new bacon." Orange Cardamom Oatmeal Raisin cookies

I'm going to make the argument that the humble cookie has much to recommend it.

  • First, they are quick and easy to make (most of them, anyway).
  • They can easily be customized without too much worry over the chemistry of them (like cakes).
  • They can be crispy or chewy.
  • They can be delicious, even when made dairy-free.
  • No fancy equipment is needed.
  • For such a little thing, they can make people pretty happy.

Oatmeal Raisin Cardamom Cookies

These cookies are the perfect example. You can make oatmeal cookies from the back of a Quaker Oats canister. You can do fancy ones from bakers' sites. They can be made with butter or non dairy substitute. With or without nuts, with or without raisins. And beginning to end, you're basically eating them in about half an hour. You can even bake a small batch and refrigerate the remaining dough if you don't trust yourself to not eat the whole batch in one sitting.

I used to make them with butterscotch chips but then I realized those things are so packed with nasty trans-fats that they lost all their appeal. (Really, they are nasty little heart-attack morsels.)

So here's a beautiful quick oatmeal raisin cookie recipe for you. Enjoy with a glass of milk, soy milk, or nice cup of tea - Earl Grey would be my tea of choice.

Chewy Cardamom Orange Scented Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


  • 1/2 C butter or butter substitute, softened (I like Earth Balance buttery spread in the green tub)
  • 2/3 C light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp orange flower water (if you have orange zest, that would be great, too!)
  • 1/2 C All purpose flour and 1/4 C light wheat (Or 3/4 C AP)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom, generous measure
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 C organic rolled oats (I used about 1/3 C other flaked grains)
  • 3/4 C organic red flame raisins
  • 1/2 C walnuts or pecans (we were out, pecans would have been excellent)
  • 1/2 C flaked coconut (I love the Let's Do Organic brand)



  1. Preheat oven to 350° convection or regular bake.
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, egg, vanilla and orange flower water until smooth. I use my old reliable Black and Decker hand mixer, (see Ode to a Hand Mixer) but you could also use a wooden spoon or fancy stand mixer.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix flours, oats, baking soda, spices, salt. Measure nuts, raisins and coconut  onto parchment of one of your lined sheets. (If you love doing dishes, go ahead and use another bowl, but really, why?)
  5. Add dry ingredients to butter, sugar mix, combine well and mix in raisins and coconut and nuts if using.
  6. Drop by generous spoonfuls onto parchment lined sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

There you go. Could they be any easier?

Stack o' cookies

Holiday Gift Ideas 2011

In our family, we draw names at Thanksgiving for the "grownups" to each get one other "grownup" to get a gift for. We decided after my niece and nephew came along, that it was more fun for us to buy gifts for them and none of us really needed more stuff. I like that idea more as time goes by and we re-think what is important. Who needs more stuff? The myriad ways that we take care of each other during the year are more precious to me than any item someone may purchase with hard-earned dollars in an uncertain economy. (God forbid you risk pepper-spray or stampedes to get a popular item for someone! How is THAT in keeping with the spirit of the holidays?)

This year, my family, like many others has our share of challenges, financial and otherwise. We drew names and have begun asking others for "wish lists." I never have one, really. It occurs to me that not only would this be helpful to the person who drew our names, but that the ideas I may have about what make a useful, thoughtful gift might be helpful to anyone shopping for friends and family at this time of year.

So there may not be anything earth-shattering or newsworthy here, but I'll bet there's one or two things you may not have heard of, or hadn't thought of. I hope it helps you choose wisely, give well and enjoy the giving.

Remember, it's not about checking items off the list, it's about bringing a smile to someone you care about.


Homemade Gifts:

How about some easy-peasy Orange Pecan Bourbon chocolate truffles or a hand-blended spice rub in a pretty jar?

Five spice powder on left. Thanksgiving spice rub on right.

Both of these hand-blended spices have multiple uses (pork, chicken, turkey) and the reusable jars will last and last. I love my homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder.



Get a pretty tin they can reuse, or just stuff any old box with pretty tissue paper and wrap a batch of cookies inside. Try these Snappy Gingersnaps.


...or these Monster Cookies from Robin Asbell's Big Vegan cookbook (Vegan cookies my husband loved!)


How about a big jar of homemade granola? Delicious and healthy - this DIY Granola with a touch of chocolate - would be a welcome gift.


  • Reminder: when giving food gifts, please have a list handy of the ingredients, you never know when an allergy might have developed and it could really ruin the surprise.


Practical gifts:

Get Organized: Who doesn't love the Container Store or your local independent hardware or kitchen store? I bought those cute little jars above at the Container Store. I also installed a sliding rack to access deep cabinets. Oxo storage bins, and other organizing tools for any spot in your home make this a go-to destination for obsessives on your list. Gift certificates make it easy.

New Babies/Growing Families: Have a new Mom on your list? Why not give Oxo measured baby food storage containers. Slip a "free babysitting" coupon in an empty container.

Gifts for Cooks: Support independent stores like KitchenWares on Newbury St. and get your favorite cook a new kitchen gadget. Think of pairing a small tool like a melon baller or apple corer with a cookbook like Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. New silicone spatulas, or Oxo tools would be appreciated by any cook. (Remember if you give a knife for gift to also give a penny for luck!)

Tea, Please: I love the idea of a proper cup of tea in a china cup. Why not find a lonely survivor of an antique set at your local vintage store. Buy it and give it along with a sachet or tin of a new tea.



Homemade treats, cookies and spices are great for everyone who loves to eat, right? Other consumables make great gifts, the real cooking enthusiasts on your list:

Real Southern Cooking: Virginia Willis has developed fragrant spice blends (Pecan Smoked Salt, Quatre Epices and more), local artisanal grits, brownie mix and so on under her "My Southern Pantry" label. You could get any of these for a lucky person on your list and if they've been extra good - pair it with one of her books: Bon Appetit, Y'all or Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

Hit the Turmeric Trail: Raghavan Iyer has just come out with Turmeric Trail spices. While I've not tried them yet, you can rely on this recommendation, as his 660 Curries is splattered and dog-eared proof of his reliable and friendly introduction to Indian cuisine at home. We have enjoyed so many terrific meals thanks to Iyer's guidance. So many different dishes will come together easily with the addition of his new spice blends, and this Thanksgiving I began to ruminate on how lovely Indian spices are with so many traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Oil and Vinegar: Next up on the consumables gift list are oil and vinegar. An artisanal vinegar or oil will elevate most any meal. Katz Vinegars are a favorite around here and Pasolivo makes lovely pressed olive oils with old Italian varieties of olives. These are so well-crafted they stand head and shoulders above anything you might find in the grocery store.

Gourmet Foods: This Thanksgiving we were hosting an extra-large group and I was delighted to put out some D'Artagnan pâté. One of our guests brought a D'Artagnan ham that was so good it disappeared before I got a nibble! Locally we buy our D'Artagnan hams from Panzano in Sudbury. Panzano also carries a lovely selection of artisanal products from various parts of Italy as well beautiful cookbooks and of course, great wines.

Fennel Pollen: A unique gift any cook would enjoy experimenting with - then quickly find indispensable. Try Fennel Pollen Ranch.

A gourmet pantry: stocked with giftable ideas: The Earthy Delights site ships chef quality specialty ingredients to you. I remember how wonderful my harissa was, using their dried peppers. Must. Make. More.



Explore: Give a parks membership like Friends of the Reservation membership which includes entry to Crane Beach. Or, how about a Children's Museum or New England Aquarium membership? Long after the baby outgrows the onesies everyone gave them, the expectant or new parents will be thanking you for giving them a gift that helps the new family share an adventure.

Excite: "Museum" sounds dusty and ossified. A favorite thing to do is to visit the ICA Institute of Contemporary Art when a new exhibit comes to town. They also have dance performances, guest lectures, and classes for a wide range of interests and ages. This cantilevered ice cube hovering over the harbor is like a giant gift box you can open again and again. Even gift certificate for the super cool gift shop would be great. (Hint to Mom: I love this swirly leaf candleholder.)

Expand: The Museum of Fine Arts, with its soaring new wing and dedication to improvement, have made a good museum even better. Spending time there was truly one of the highlights of going to Northeastern Law School across the street! Classes, exhibitions, concerts in the courtyard and films are bringing record crowds to the MFA. Free days exist but a membership affords one the luxury of enjoying the museum without the crowds.


How about a Terrarium? Bring a little green promise into a friend's winter by creating a terrarium in a reusable vase or hurricane vessel.


Thanksgiving Cookies: Snappy Gingersnaps

The perfect pumpkin pie begins with a good crust, lined with a combination of crushed gingersnaps and pecans. These Snappy Gingersnaps are SUPER easy to make and can be made ahead frozen, made partially (wrap the dough in a log and freeze or refrigerate) and they go so well with cider, milk, coffee. I modified a King Arthur recipe to make them dairy free.

One thing I love about these, is how spicy and crisp they are. If you wanted to fill them with something like pumpkin cream, then substitute butter for the shortening and bake for slightly less time. That should do the trick, but I have to admit, since my dairy allergy, I've stopped baking with butter.

I love this idea though. Won't someone try it and let me know?

snappy gingersnaps

Snappy Gingersnaps

Dairy-free and dead easy, these are delicious all year-round but are particularly welcome when there’s a cold snap in the air.


  • 1/2 C  soy butter substitute - for baking (I like Earth Balance)
  • 1/4 C coconut shortening
  • 1/4 tsp 5 spice powder
  • 3 generous tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
  • a few grinds of white pepper, to taste
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 lg egg
  • 1/3 C molasses
  • 2 1/3 C All Purpose flour (This recipe is easy to sub in some healthier flour, try 1/3 C white wheat or sprouted spelt)

Coating sugar:

  • 1/4 C sugar (turbinado is great)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 375, line two baking sheets with parchment. If you don’t have parchment paper, do get some. It makes clean up a breeze and who likes to “grease a cookie sheet” anyway? Yuck.
  2. Bloom spices with 1/4 cup of the butter substitute in a small shallow pan.
  3. Pour fragrant, spicy melted shortening into solid shortening/butter substitute in a medium to large mixing bowl.
  4. Beat shortening with sugar, salt, baking soda.
  5. Beat in egg, then molasses.
  6. Add flour, beat to incorporate fully, into a stiff dough.
  7. Drop teaspoon size balls of cookie dough into cinnamon-sugar mix, roll to cover.
  8. Then, space onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 11-13 minutes - (13 will produce a nice snappy snap.)
  9. Cool on pans, on racks then store in airtight container when fully cooled.

Thanksgiving Tips and To Do Items:

  • Do your last big housecleaning, put away things you won't need out, like that stack of magazines on the coffee table. Take out your platters and bowls and platters, clean. Label with sticky notes so you know what is going to go in what.
  • Pie doughs, cookies, breads can all be pulled together and baked or frozen today.
  • Make a Thanksgiving Spice Blend and mix with butter for bird.


Why not try these Golden Pumpkin Spice Rolls?