Peanut Butter and Julie’s Favorite Things 2008

BaconPopcorn   There are two great American traditions that are designed to help kick off the holiday shopping season and (especially this year) stimulate the economy.  One of these traditions occurred yesterday, Black Friday.   As early as 4 a.m. in some locations, bargain hunters were lined up with hopes of scoring at least one discounted Guitar Hero bundle package and a flat screen T.V. that is too large for their living room.  I've never had even the slightest desire to fight these crowds, and after days of preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, my aching legs probably wouldn't hold out long enough anyhow.  Thank goodness for the Internet

The second "great tradition," mostly in the eyes of American women, is the annual episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show during which Oprah reveals her top gift picks for that year, or "Oprah's Favorite Things."  Dubbed by Ms. Winfrey as "the hottest ticket in television," lucky audience members are presented with all of the items on the list, often creating a crying, screaming, and fainting frenzy usually associated with a Jonas Brothers sighting.  From a manufacturer's standpoint, having one of your products featured on this list to end all lists can cause your sales to skyrocket, your web site to crash, and your wallet to fatten overnight.  Last year, when Peanut Butter and Julie was barely 1 month old, and I had about 2 readers, I published "Peanut Butter and Julie's Favorite Things," inspired by Oprah.  While I'm not nearly influential enough to stimulate the economy, my goal was more to stimulate gift-giving ideas for those who, like me, decided to avoid the malls on the days following Thanksgiving.

This year, I have a new list, filled with items that I have discovered which I think are worthy of a recommendation.   Because Oprah focused her 2008 list on lower cost items, I have tried to keep everything under $50, with one exception.  Many of these are foodie-centric, but there are a few non-culinary gifts thrown in as well.  As a disclaimer, I have not been asked by anyone to "promote" their product.  Each of the items on the list is my own personal selection.  Enjoy!

  • As I have mentioned in numerous posts, I have a weakness for shiny new cookbooks jam-packed with unique recipes and glossy food photography.  Ina Garten's recipe Fresh collections have never failed me in the past, and her newest set, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, is one of her best yet.  Cowgirl Cuisine, by Paula Disbrowe, focuses on contemporary Texas Hill Country cuisine.  Fresh Every Day, my friend Sara Foster's second book, is chock full of southern-inspired seasonal recipes,  many of which are served at her popular store, Foster's Market (her Fosters Seven Pepper Jelly would make a great stocking stuffer.)  Martha Stewart's Cooking School is perfect for someone who wants to learn the fundamentals of cooking at their own pace and without the burden of paying back culinary school student loans.   Bread guru Peter Reinhardt's Whole Grain Breads, a gift from my parents last year, approaches bread baking from a scientific standpoint, explaining the hows and whys via hundreds of diverse recipes. 

  • About a year ago, I discovered Johnny Cupcakes, a Boston-based t-shirt company with a  Pinkfrostinggirlsthumb serious cult following.  While some of their cupcake-themed designs are a bit too avant-garde for my taste, the  Pink Frosting Cupcake shirt was right up my alley.  I have my eyes on the Fuchsia Gingham one next!

  • Something that I enjoy practicing is my cake, cupcake, and cookie Confetti kids decorating skills.   Friends and family know that they can always come to me for their special occasion celebration confections.  Although I doubt that I will ever be as remarkably talented as Elisa Strauss, owner of Confetti Cakes in New York, I find her book of the same name to be incredibly inspirational and just plain fun to gawk at ("You mean that's a cake?")  From Manolo Blahnik pumps to trays of sushi, there is nothing that Elisa can't replicate with one of her cakes.  She recently came out with Confetti Cakes for Kids, with Pajama Sleep-over Cookies, Willy Wonka-esque cakes, and "Burgers and Fries" cupcakes.  Step by step directions are included for each design.
  • According to both my husband and brother, everything is better with bacon.  Apparently,BaconBarthey are not alone.  Bacon is no longer only a suitable partner for eggs or lettuce and tomato, and the number of innovative bacon-based products available to consumers continues to grow.  Famous gourmet chocolatier Vosges makes a surprisingly delicious Mo's Bacon Bar, a mixture of sweet dark chocolate and salty bacon bits (honestly, it's darn good.)  For serious bacon fanatics, there's a Bacon of the Month Club. Bacon Salt, Loveless Cafe Bacon Popcorn, and Bacon Brittle are three more unique and mouth-watering options.  You can even wrap the gifts up with Bacon Gift Wrap,  but if you have dogs, I would refrain from putting them under the tree.  Oh, and for those bacon lovers who might be watching their weight, there's an aromatic Bacon Candle.

  • There is something very satisfying about making your own ice cream.  I bought my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker in 2000 for about $60 (it's a bit more now), and it has more than paid for itself, especially with the rising costs of groceries.  Have you noticed that the tubs of ice cream are 25% smaller now, but the prices are still the same??  I suppose that manufacturers thought, or hoped, that consumers wouldn't notice!  An ice cream maker is a great gift for families–something everyone can enjoy, whether via making the ice cream or eating it.

  • If you're looking for unique, humorous, or quirky stocking stuffers, then venture with  BaconBandAids caution over to Perpetual  I say "venture with caution" because you could easily spend an hour or more perusing their eclectic selection of novelties.  For the foodie in your life, check out the Lucky Charms Lip Balm, Edible Candy Cane Shot Glasses, or the Bacon (yes, more bacon) and Egg Band-Aids (for the accident-prone foodie in your life.)  Get free shipping with orders over $75.

  • For the adventurous  and well-traveled foodie, 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die is sort of like a culinary bucket list.  With photos that will make your stomach growl along with culinary history and facts, this could also be a perfect coffee table  reference book and conversation starter. 

  • I won't be doing the title of my blog justice unless I recommend at least a few of my favorite   PB&J-themed finds.  Peanut Butter & Co, producer of such flavors as "White Chocolate Wonderful," and "The Bees Knees,"  offers The Big Six, featuring six unique blends. Order $30 worth of products and get a free jar of "Mighty Maple" (enter code MM888 at checkout.)  Ornaments to Remember has a really fun Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich ornament in addition to hamburgers, chocolates, tacos, sushi, and hundreds of other non-food themed designs. 

  • Coffee, Tea, or Cocoa?  When you don't know what to get someone, can you every really go Tea forte  wrong with a set of holiday teas, regional coffees, or gourmet cocoa blends?  At the very least, the recipient will have something impressive to serve guests when they entertain.  I've been a fan of beautifully packaged Tea Forte for several years now, and they have just come out with a Holiday Gift Collection, featuring their signature pyramid tea-bags in festive flavors.  Harney and Son Holiday Teas are another favorite, with tins of 20 in both White Christmas or Holiday Tea varie-teas (ha!)   For coffee, I have been a fan of Porto Rico Importers ever since my brother introduced me to them when he lived in Greenwich Village.  Operating since 1907, their coffee is roasted daily, they have weekly sale specials, and inexpensive shipping. Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate is perfect for those who like their cocoa with a kick.  Inspired by the Aztecs, Xocolatl (pronounced choc-o-lot-ul) is organic dark chocolate mixed with bits of chili, for a spicy-sweet finish. 

  • This year, Eric and I adopted a second dog from the Nevada SPCA, a rambunctious goldenlab named Fenway.  Marley and Me is a must-read for any dog lovers out there, especially ones who, like us, have dealt with less than obedient and often destructive pups.  Wrap the book up along with a small donation in the recipient's name to your local SPCA.  Not a big reader?  The movie version of Marley and Me,  starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, comes out Christmas Day.

  • I am not one of those fortunate individuals who falls asleep as soon as their head hits the Mangiacotti pillow, so I am always on the lookout for ways to expedite my journey to dreamland.  A few months ago, I found a bottle of Lavender Linen Spray, made by Mangiacotti Florals, and I decided to give it a try.  Lavender is said to help relax you, so I spritz a bit of this fresh, floral spray on my pillow every night.  Mangiacotti also carries some items that are great to have in the kitchen: hand soaps, lotions, dish soap, laundry soap, and soy candles, all in beautiful packaging.  In addition to lavender, try the holiday cranberry balsam, clementine (my mom's favorite), or pomegranate scents.  Spend$50 and receive free shipping! 

  • Don Draper might just be the coolest character on T.V. today.  This year, Eric and I took notice of a little show called Mad Men after it received accolade after accolade from various hard-to-please critics.  Witty, smart dialog, engrossing story lines, retro-60's style, and a well-developed cast of characters, led by the smooth and dashing Madison Avenue ad-man Don Draper, make this show a must see.  If you haven't seen it, curl up with Mad Men: Season 1 on a few cold winter evenings.

  • There are certain gifts that only a cook could love.  I know that if I presented my husband a box full of Penzeys spices or 100 sheets of parchment paper from the Baker's Catalogue, he would start trying to figure out what he did that was so awful to deserve such a gift.  But fill a foodie's stocking with goodies like vanilla bean paste, a new Microplane, saffron, or a small vial of white truffle oil, and they will know that they were on Santa's "nice" list.


  1. says

    Wow, that’s a lot of research to put together this list! I have opened new tabs on *several* items and will probably spend most of the morninig looking at them! Thanks for a great post!

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