Holiday gifts for foodies

Chindōgu and practicality

By Jim Duncan

Holiday gift giving provides opportunities to indulge every kind of whim, from the gratuitous to the farcical. An American version of the holiday dilemma states “What do you give the person who has everything?” The implied answer is never “nothing.” The book “101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions” is a best seller in Asia every time a new edition is published. It is packed with things that hardly anyone but the inventor would ever think necessary, like umbrellas for high heels, head holders that attach to subway walls (for napping inconspicuously), baby mop onesies (so babies can clean the floor while learning to crawl), and bath body suits (for aquaphobics who want to swim without actually contacting water).

The Japanese even have a word for such things — Chindōgu, which translates to “weird tool” or “unuseless” in an ironic way. Many Chindōgu inventions apply to preparing and eating food. Japanese inventors, who rank second only to the Chinese in number of patents per year, have produced such household Chindōgu as fish head masks (which reduce the trauma of the person cleaning and gutting the fish), butter sticks (which double as toast spreaders and lip balm), household dusters that double as cocktail shakers, battery operated fans that attach to chopsticks, and a pink lion mane face mask that keeps one’s hair from dipping in one’s ramen. Barnes and Nobel and Amazon have several editions of “101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions,” including one called “The Bento Box of Chindōgu.” You decide if the adjective in the title is ironic while probably learning something about yourself.

The latest in inventions

Smarter coffee enables coffee lovers to experience their favorite beverage with a high-tech twist.

Each year public relations agents send numerous press releases about the latest inventions in kitchen ware. Some have Chindōgu quality appeal. For instance, Microplane has introduced kitchen gloves that they call “cut resistant.” Chef’n brought out stylish new “strawberry hullers.” Crate & Barrel now sells “melon ballers” and OXO is marketing a “fat separator.”

Grill Sergeant is a cotton apron that transforms a patio chef into an action figure in a video game. It features nine multipurpose pockets, a built-in bottle opener, and a six-can bandolier and “will easily stow a handful of grilling tools, sauce bottles, spice jars, tongs, lighters, and spray bottles.”

The gift shop at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is probably the most Chindōgu purveyor this side of Japan. They offer an array of crazy kitchen stuff. I would wager that the person who has everything on your holiday list does not have a toilet paper breakfast tray. “Toiletpaper” is a picture-based magazine founded in 2010 by artist Maurizio Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. Over the years, photos published in the magazine have been applied to a variety of products by Seletti, the Italian design company best known for its mouse lamps. Its collaboration with Toiletpaper “explores the multiple possibilities for images to live beyond their original format.” Other fabulous stuff at the Walker includes herb scissors, tea infusers shaped like a slice of lemon, axe-shaped bottle openers (this is Paul Bunyan country), bird-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and “Greek” coffee cups.

Considerably more practical is the Smarter Coffee and Smarter iKettle. These products, sold online and at Best Buy stores, enable coffee and tea lovers to experience their favorite beverage with a high-tech twist. Instead of going through many steps to brew the perfect cup of coffee or tea, now a simple tap of a finger on an app or a voice command to Alexa or Google Assistant will do it for you. Smarter Coffee has a grinder and water reservoir, so one just adds water and beans and brews remotely on demand. You set your preferred coffee strength and flavor. iKettle allows the tea brewer to set water temp to the exact degree best for every kind of tea leaves. You aren’t restricted to
160 degrees or 185 degrees like all other electric tea kettles.

Food books

Not your parent’s kosher cookbook.

The most practical holiday gifts for food lovers are books. There is never a shortage of new publications in this category. Restaurateur and food scholar George Formaro says his favorite new book is “Pok Pok: The Drinking Food of Thailand,” by Andy Ricker. That cookbook includes 50 recipes for Thai drinking food — an entire subset of Thai cooking that is largely unknown in the United States. Formaro also recommends “Cheers to the Publican, Repast and Present: Recipes and Ramblings from an American Beer Hall” by Paul Kahan, “Night + Market” by Kris Yenbamroong, “F#ck that’s Delicious,” by Action Bronson, “Sweet” by Yotam Ottolenghi, and “Taste and Technique”
by Naomi Pomeroy.

Our favorite new books are similar. “Real Life Kosher Cooking” by Miriam Pascal is not your parents’ kosher cookbook. It’s filled with recipes for multiethnic dishes such as Mexican omelets, London broil schwarma, Hawaiian
roast salmon, and deconstructed apple pie with lotus ice cream.

“Soups, Stews & Breads” by Gooseberry Patch is a primer on its subjects, with 350 recipes for both quick fixes and crock pot slow cooking. “A Taste of Latin America” by Patricia Cartin includes eight recipes from each of 10 countries including her native Costa Rica. Her Argentine locro is a meat lover’s cousin of pozole, with pork ribs, beef short ribs and chorizo, chickpeas, limas, and hominy. Fish and seafood recipes from these mostly coastal countries are enlightening and the book is gorgeously photographed.

“Cocktail Chameleon” by Mark Addison provides 12 variations of 12 cocktail classics. He tantalizes with molecular mixology to create the Anti-Gravity, reinvents the beloved Bloody Mary with sake, and invokes the famed royal rose garden with the Versailles.

“If You Are What You Eat Should I Eat a Skinny Girl?” by psychotherapist Nathalie Botros provides a carefree “bon vivant” diet for failed and tortured dieters. As the title suggests, this book is hilarious. A section on avoiding things that make you look fat includes mirrors, photographs and scales.

“Pantry and Palate” by Simon Thibault is an exploration of 50 Acadian classics. If you have ever been to those parts of Canada and Louisiana where fricot (stew), rhubarb custard, fring frangs (potato pancakes) and molasses cakes are common treats, you probably long for more. This is a cookbook plus a 100-year-long family narrative. There’s even a section on how to render the best lard. ♦

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