May 21, 2019

Looking for ideal gift? Don’t underestimate book value

‘Tis the season I dread.

And it’s not only because of cheery, cider-swilling carolers. Nor can I blame the bell ringers who simultaneously annoy-slash-guilt you into surrendering loose change. My deficit of holiday spirit is due to the exhausting search for the Perfect Gift. As a visceral reaction, I’ve often resorted to Gap gift cards hastily purchased on Christmas Eve. Happy Holidays.

This year, things are looking better for those on my list. No, my gifts won’t be trips to Vegas (sorry, Mom) or new cars with oversized bows, as being me isn’t exactly a lucrative gig. But what my surprises lack in monetary excess, they make up for in originality. This Christmas, I’m giving customized cookbooks.

I stumbled upon this idea while trolling on For under $40, you can write your own hardcover cookbook through a partner site, This is a gift that won’t force feigned gratitude. Who wouldn’t want to be privy to my wisdom, in glossy, full-color pages and spiral bound?

It starts with picking out a cover. Disregard morally superior people; you can judge a book by its cover. So I skipped over the photo of fresh cranberries as I’m not a New Englander and my index lacks chowder and fiddleheads. Same for the images of tamales and Hanukkah cookies. I liked the simplicity of the farmhouse dinner table, but it’s too rustic to grace a book intended for my recipients. Idyllic, whitewashed farmhouses aren’t their style.

There remained many iconic images from which to choose. The glasses of wine seemed appropriate, as did a colorful tomato salad. But I settled on a pasta machine, rolling out lines of linguine. Along with arguing and pretending to dance the tarantella, crafting and consuming pasta is what my family does. So the cover features perfect pasta which looks nothing like ours.

After I settled on a photograph, it was time for a title. I immediately thought “Shut up and eat!” – a favorite term of endearment during our deafening dinners. “I’m starving, feed me!” was clever, but too wordy for the allotted space. I decided on “Mangia! Mangia!” (Eat! Eat!), a common phrase in our house, second only to “Quanto cost?” or “How much does it cost?'”

Now it’s time to fill “Mangia! Mangia!” with recipes. For those less-imaginative types, the template offers suggestions, which I promptly deleted. Mostly I added family favorites like pasta fagioli, braciole, ravioli, biscotti, and struffoli. I also peppered it with some entries from my online recipe box, edgy offerings they’ll never try, like chili and lemon bars.

After a little organizational fine-tuning, all that was left to do was enter that pesky credit card info and complete the purchase. Just like that, “Mangia! Mangia!” was fantasy made flesh. No longer am I just a hack photojournalist posing as an impossibly sexy food goddess. Suddenly, I’m the author of a published cookbook. What do you think of that, Rachael Ray?

While there are a few suggestions I’d like to make to the creators of, overall it was so simple that I am already conjuring up ideas for my next publication. It’s tentatively titled “Make Mine Extra Spicy: The Real Life Misadventures of a Part-Time Kitchen Vixen.” Sure to be a classic, “Extra Spicy” will drop in plenty of time for next year’s holiday shopping season.

And if you’re marginally nice, good-looking, and bribe me with spiked eggnog, I may even sign a copy for you.

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