Dana Cowin
December 01, 2010

Does it make me seem superficial if I admit that I like the holidays because they give me an excuse to shop for pretty things? And does it make me seem selfish if I also confess that I make mountains of food gifts because it helps get me out of chores like folding laundry? Maybe I could hide my naked impulses and just say, "I'm testing recipes for the magazine." Which would be completely true.

Whatever your motivation, you'll find that this issue is full of fantastic gifts to make and buy. I could sit down with a notepad, write my list and get all my planning done: Compass Box's Flaming Heart whiskey for my husband; Altamura Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for my wine-focused brother; Christmas cookies for my kids' teachers that I'll bake with recipes by Top Chef winner Kevin Sbraga (that's me in the photo at right with Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio at a party for the Season 7 finale). And I'd buy a Nesco food dehydrator for me—it's OK to get myself a present, isn't it?

For a less materialistic approach, I would point you in the direction of "A New York Chef's Global Christmas." Scott Conant's delicious menu is the culinary equivalent of a family get-together: a slow-roasted pork loin with a balsamic-molasses glaze that reflects both his Italian and his Yankee heritage, an eggplant-and-phyllo pie that symbolizes his wife's Turkish roots. Plus a Dominican cake, simply because he loves it.

Of course, for some people, December is less about celebration than it is about taking a midwinter break. If that's the case, by all means follow our awesome travel editor, Jen Murphy, and hop a plane. She went to northern India and came back with the stories of a lifetime—plus amazing recipes, jewelry and dresses. Which reminds me: I need to put Indian spices on the list of gifts for myself.

Where I'm Coming From

From My Expedition to Sonoma:

The Fremont Diner
Spicy fried chicken, milk shakes, arugula salad with tiny orange tomatoes—all were spectacular. The general-store atmosphere was irresistible, too.

I was mightily impressed by the ingenious pairing menus at the Wine Center, including one with a mini dessert flight.

Alexander Valley Bar
The team behind Medlock Ames winery has created a place to get a great cocktail, have your picture taken in a photo booth and admire a beautiful garden.

Follow me on Twitter @fwscout.

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