When I am askedand that's not nearly often enoughwhat I want for Christmas, or my birthday, I usually fumble for an answer. What I really want can't be bought or put in a box: more time, more sleep, more help, less stress, less discord, healthy and happy children, peace on Earth, goodwill to all men and women.
Still, if someone were to insist that I submit a list of things I wouldn't mind finding under my Christmas tree or in my stocking, I can turn Material Girl. Limiting myself to gifts that relate to food, drink or entertaining, I've managed to come up with a few suggestions that might also prove helpful to last-minute shoppers who have an epicure on their own list.
♦ Beverly Bartsch looks perfectly sane, but what kind of crazy woman would open a brand-new shop specializing in glass and tableware smack-dab in the middle of a construction zone? "Well, it's been challenging," the slim blonde says with a smile. "But people are finding their way to the door, even if they have to walk across rubble to get here."
Thankfully, the rubble is so far confined to the torn-up streets and sidewalks of the commercial strip of 12th Avenue South between Halcyon and Linden, in the 12 South neighborhood. The city is spending a tidy sum to upgrade the area, to make it more attractive and accessibleeventuallyto residents and visitors. The sidewalks are now nearing completion, and all that will be left to do is repave the bumpy road. In the meanwhile, those who do manage to beat a path to the door of Sadie b., the shop Bartsch named for her grandmother, are rewarded with several rooms full of beautiful and unique tabletop items and gifts.
Though I admit I am not a big fan of Nigella Lawson (OK, I'm jealous), her gorgeously simple yet elegant bowls, platters and other items caught my fancy. Bartsch carries other distinctive lines, including Jonathan Adler and Tracy Porter, whose hand-painted service ware includes soup tureens, pitchers and cake stands.
Bartsch also points out a table full of mix-and-match dinnerware in eye-catching solid colors like raspberry, lime, aqua and orange. Luminarc is priced for everyday usedinner plates are $6, bowls, salad and dessert plates just $5 apiece. And, she says, it is virtually indestructible. She should know. 2309 12th Ave. S., 297-3800, www.shopsadieb.com.
♦ By press time, the sidewalks in 12 South should be completed, so a stroll south will lead to the relocated 12 South Mercantile. Proprietress Theresa Lauzon carries a terrific selection of vintage tablecloths and linens in excellent condition, as well as some unusual barware and service pieces right out of Grandma's sideboard. 2511 12th Ave. S., 297-3339.
♦ Williams-Sonoma stocks an affordable and large selection of contemporary dining room and kitchen linens with an old-world look. But I found myself drawn to the Tulip Collectionbeautiful wooden bowls, chip and dip sets, a baguette holder, and a fabulous lazy Susan for the center of the table. The Mall at Green Hills and CoolSprings Galleria.
♦ The retail area of Viking Culinary Arts Center in The Factory at Franklin is small, but the quality of its inventory is exceptional. From the most humble rubber spatula to the most coveted knives of the trade, I simply can't help myself from picking up and fondling every single item. The majority of the space in the store is devoted, however, to instruction, either hands-on in the Viking-equipped kitchen, or in the cooking theater at the rear. Viking offers a tremendous, year-round curriculum of cooking classes and demonstrations for kitchen novices or accomplished home chefs. The "Culinary Basics" classes make a great gift if you are not sure where on the spectrum your giftee falls, as everyone can use an introduction to, or a brush-up on, the basics. The hands-on workshops are limited to 12 students, and participants must be 17 years of age or older. All students receive a Viking apron, canvas tote or kitchen towel with the class, and "Three-Day Culinary Basics" students get their very own chef jacket with the Viking logo. For a complete list of classes, go to www.vikingculinary.com and click on the Franklin location.
♦ If that special someone has really been niceor naughtyreward him or her with a luxe stay at Blackberry Farm in East Tennessee. "America's No. 1 Small Hotel" (as rated by Zagat) is a world-class culinary and wine travel destination, and its annual Food and Wine events are renowned for gathering some of the world's finest chefs, vintners, importers and culinary professionals. Proprietor Sam Beall and executive chef John Fleer have put together a baker's-dozen roster of classes, wine events and culinary celebrations. For a complete schedule and costs, log on to www.blackberryfarm.com.
♦ If your tasteand budgetleans more toward country ham than caviar, or you want to send a taste of home to displaced Southerners, fatten up friends near and far with hams, jams and much more from the legendary and totally rejuvenated Loveless Café. Order from www.hamsandjams.com by Dec. 22 to assure Christmas delivery.
♦ Healthy eaters will be pleased to find a package from Plumgood Food, Nashville's new online organic and natural foods grocery store. Gift selections range from under $20 to over $150, and include everything from gourmet caramels to artisan cheese samplers, fresh fruit and certified natural Angus steaks. Among Plumgood's standard baskets are the "Juicer's Basket," "Salad Days Basket," "Wine Tasting Basket" and "Pizza Night Basket," but customers can also design their own gift baskets for delivery (throughout most of Nashville, Brentwood and Franklin), festively packaged with a gift card enclosed. Visit www.plumgoodfood.com to peruse the selections and place an order.
♦ Everyone loves a home-cooked meal, particularly when someone else is doing the cooking. Chefs' Repertoire, owned and run by Susannah Callaway and Amy Hakola, offers a variety of services, among them home meal replacement and delivery, combining soups, breads, entrées and sides already made or cooked in your home. A dinner of salad, entrée, side and dessert runs about $25 per person.
Their newest venture is Savory Cheesecakes in four flavors: five-herb, sundried tomato and basil, mushroom and fontina cheese, and smoked salmon and dill; a sampler pack with 5-inch cakes in every flavor and spicy crackers can be shipped. Contact Chefs' Repertoire at email@example.com or call 391-3775 or 353-4049.
♦ Chocoholics will get their fix in a box of boutique browniesoffered in nearly a dozen flavorsfrom locally owned Simply Brownies. Contact Doug Bethel or Brett Leinard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ Plenty of celebrity chef, high-end and just plain practical cookbooks are in bookstores just in time for Christmas. Some that look especially delectable are Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook, Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way, Culinary Institute of America's Gourmet Meals in Minutes, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, Emeril's Potluck, Barefoot in Paris (from the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten), and Nigella Lawson's Feast: Food to Celebrate Life.
One that should appeal especially to lovers of regional cuisine is Frank Stitt's Southern Table, a beautifully photographed collection of recipes and "gracious traditions" from the chef/owner of Birmingham's acclaimed Highland Bar & Grill, Café Bottega and Chez Fon Fon; author and noted Southerner Pat Conroy contributes the foreword. If France is your region of choice, invest in the new cookbook from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller, Bouchon, which compiles recipes and photographs from his acclaimed new restaurant in Vegas.
Gourmet magazine gets the last wordor at least the most wordswith the highly anticipated and hefty, 1039-page ultimate collection of recipes from six decades, The Gourmet Cookbook ($40). Editor in chief Ruth Reichl and her staff sifted through more than 50,000 recipes to find the 102 best hors d'oeuvres and first courses, more than 120 vegetable dishes, hundreds of dinners, definitive versions of classics like chicken Kiev, crème brûlée and bouillabaisse, and more than 300 desserts, including the nine best chocolate cake recipes Gourmet has ever published.
♦ And last, but certainly not least on my list, Village Wines owner Hoyt Hill has made a list, and you won't have to check it twice to find something that will appeal to any wine lover. Among the suggestions and services:
A starter wine collection in your designated price range, focusing on the type of wines you request. Hill and his staff will assemble a case of hard-to-find and great-value wines.
Wine of the month; designate a price range again, and the lucky recipient can drop by the store in Hillsboro Village once a month to pick up his or her bottle.
You don't need a basement to have your own cellar; Hill will design and construct a wine cellar from an unused closet or corner. 2006-B Belcourt Ave., 383-3102.
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