Santa’s knee

Dec. 03, 2013 @ 10:36 AM

When I was 4, my family went to a Christmas party. The adults were in the living room, and the kids were in the rumpus room. I was just getting ready to go to the restroom when a surprise visitor showed up. It was Santa Claus!
I tried to sneak away to the loo, but was told to wait, so I could talk to the jolly fat man.
I waited. When it was my turn I settled onto his lap, to tell him what I wanted under the tree — and promptly wet my pants.
So, I have some advice.  Do sit on Saint Nick’s lap and tell him what you’d like, no matter your age. But first, make a potty pit stop.
My darling child was born a little different than many other children. The Kid does not possess the gimmee gene. Never once have I been presented with a list of wants. Visiting Santa was a photo op and an earnest lecture from our toddler to take care of himself during this busy time of year (“Make sure you get plenty of rest and are eating right”).
I guess it comes from Petey. He also has a hard time asking for things for himself.
I, on the other hand, would hand out annotated, notarized lists with tables and diagrams on Oct. 1. These days I’m a little more subtle (I tell myself), but I still have no problem reciting my wish list to anyone within earshot.
In case you fall into the reticent category (and even if you don’t), I have some suggestions for gifts that you will be thrilled to own.
First, stocking stuffers.

Vanilla beans are the gifts that keep on giving. After scraping the caviar from the inside, throw the empty pod into your sugar canister, or add a few to a pint of golden rum for homemade vanilla extract. 
Nielsen Massey chocolate extract is perfect for adding a chocolate punch to anything. I add it to brownies, cookies, and frosting. And, it’s really chocolate, nothing artificial.
Instant espresso powder is a powerful coffee flavor that’s great to amplify chocolate in recipes, or jack up an anemic coffee drink.
Tools and supplies:
You can never have enough prep bowls. There are a million uses for them, from dressing on the side, to storing ingredients after prepping for dinner. Bobby Flay has some genius aluminum cups with lids that are sold at Kohls. But I also have a large assortment in ceramic and glass.
If you can keep from grating your knuckles on them, microplanes are terrific for quickly grating hard cheeses, nutmeg, and garlic. I use mine all the time.
For under the tree:
I have quite a few cutting boards. There is always one or two acrylic ones in the dishwasher (never put wooden in the suds machine). You can never have enough.
My big brother lived in Alaska, and one year gave me a native tool called an ulu. It confused me until I began cooking in earnest and realized that it’s what is known as a mezzaluna. It’s a small curved blade with a handle that Alaskans use for skinning meat. I use it for quickly chopping herbs, and slicing pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Next to a big steak, a pot fork and meat slicer is a carnivore’s best friend. A slicer’s the wavy edged knife you see on the prime rib station at buffets. A pot fork is a lethal-looking two-pronged fork that can pick up a pony. You can get a great slicer for less than 40 bucks. But splurge on the pot fork. A good one will last forever.
The last suggestion is my new favorite kitchen toy — an infrared thermometer. It looks like a ray gun, and all you do is point it at the food and pull the trigger. It’s indispensable for deep frying, chocolate tempering, and candy making. I feel like Jean Luc Picard when I use mine.
So when you see Kris Kringle at the mall, don’t shy away. Go ahead and ask after the elves, but don’t be afraid to give him an idea about what you’d like to find under the tree (are you paying attention, Kid?).

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is