« Pineapple (Recipe: Love in pieces) | Main | Diced tomatoes with green chile (Recipe: Mexicali meatloaf) »

Gifts for food lovers: From travels near and far (Recipe: Suspiro de Limena)

Part Three of an eight-part series.

A strip of edible seeds of the Andes, from a market in Peru.

When I was growing up, my parents loved to take me to the theater.

Not the movie theater.

Broadway shows, and off-Broadway, and incredibly-far-off-Broadway, in unfamiliar neighborhoods and alternative spaces like the room behind the room behind a restaurant, or an empty warehouse with some folding chairs, or an elementary school auditorium or church basement. Going to the theater was an adventure.

In the years before there were half-price ticket booths, there were twofers. Two, for the price of one.

Scoring those twofer tickets required cunning and good luck, and when my parents found a twofer, we looked on it as a gift from the theater gods.

For the food lover in your life, a gift from your travels -- near or far or armchair -- can be a twofer, too.

There's the gift, of course, and then there's the story behind the gift. Two gifts, two adventures, for the price of one.

Perus poons

The two spoons in the photo came with the gift of this story, from Ted's recent trip to Peru:

The market in Pisac manages to retain the Andean village feel, even with bustling tourist activity. Sunday is the big market day, with local people coming in from miles around to sell and barter their produce. There are lots of stalls with every imaginable souvenir, too -- I bought a shirt of the local Cusco soccer club -- but in the vibrant and colorful food market, I saw many varieties of local produce, and more kinds of potatoes and corn and beans than I knew existed.

I was looking for presents for Lydia when I saw a wooden spoon seller. Perfect! The spoons were all plain and practical and hand-carved, so I picked a large spoon with a deep bowl that I thought would work well for the refrigerator-dump soups that Lydia makes on Sundays.

The price was 8 soles (about $2.40) and I handed the seller a 20-sole note. She had a 10, but no coins, and started asking the neighboring stalls for small change. I told her not to bother and wandered off to see more of the market. A while later, I passed the spoon lady again and she rushed over to give me a tiny spoon -- for the change I had turned down. How wonderful!

I admit I was very excited to add the spoons to my collection (advice to gift givers: every cook loves wooden spoons, so check out Jonathan's Spoons or Basil's or Bambu), but I was equally excited when Ted brought home these two spotted bowls from a Boston flea market. You don't have to travel far from home to find great gifts for food lovers! Ted knew exactly what these bowls were, because I'd been buying melamine bowls like this on eBay for a few years before Rachael Ray dubbed them "garbage bowls" and made them popular on her cooking show.

Two Brookpark melamine bowls, from a flea market in Boston.

For the gift of armchair travel, choose a beautiful cookbook, from the series with the same name (China, Italy, France, Mexico -- just some of the beautiful cuisines you can "visit"), and build a basket of foods around it. With so many great online sources for international ingredients, you can give the gift of almost any food culture, to any food lover, anywhere.

Cookbook from a shop in the Lima airport.

Oh, and those edible seeds? Far and away one of the coolest gifts I've ever received. The strip is three feet long, and hangs in my kitchen. There's a story that goes with it, too.


Remember to give the food lover in your life a twofer -- the gift, and the story.

[Next Tuesday: Gifts of art and crafts]
[Last Tuesday: Gifts for kids who love to cook]
[Previously: Think outside the box]

Sighs of a lady from Lima (Suspiro de Limeña)

Another recipe with a lovely name, this one comes from Peruvian Cooking: Basic Recipes, by Annik Franco Barreau, which my friend Bev brought me from her trip to Peru a few years ago. If you love dulce de leche, you'll love this dessert. Serves 6.


1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small glass of port
1/4 cup sugar
Powdered cinnamon


Empty contents of both milk cans into a heavy nonstick sauce pan, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon over medium/low heat, watching carefully to avoid sticking or burning. After 20-30 minutes, when milk thickens and coats the spoon and bottom of the pan can be seen while stirring, remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Add vanilla and beaten egg yolks, stirring briskly, until smooth. Pour in individual dessert glasses or ramekins. In a separate small sauce pan, make a light syrup by melting sugar and port, swirling pan until sugar is completely dissolved. Beat egg whites and gently pour syrup in a thread until meringue holds stiff peaks.

Top individual servings of "suspiro" with meringue, sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon, and serve at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Dulce de leche
Quinoa salad with tomato, feta and parsley
Potatoes a la Huancaina
Mexican chocolate pots de creme

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I love your spoons! And those bowls...I'm definitely pining over your bowls. The colors are gorgeous!

I know I've already said this, but you are so lucky to have a wonderful husband like Ted -- he buys you perfect gifts!

This is an impressive dessert! I really like the idea of a port syrup meringue. I'm not a sweets-gal, but I'll have to try this one!

Your hubby really puts in a lot of thought and he has good taste in buying gifts ^_^ After reading your gift series, I told my hub that I want a cookbook for xmas hehe

Wonderful story. Not surprising that she felt the need to give him another one to make up for the change. Very sweet. And suspiro! I have yet to make it myself as I always find it too sweet, but I am hoping to get to it soon. Thanks for sharing about Peru!

More really good ideas -- thanks!

You're so right the gift and the story. Makes it much more personal. I meant to comment or send you an e-mail ages ago. Re-reading the list of non recipe food books jogged my memory. One book that should definitely be on the list is - The Food of Love by Anthony Capella (It's a love story set in Italy - it's a really good read. My husband loved it too.) I've just started reading Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs, it's enjoyable so far but only started yesterday.

Another great gift post. The spoons and the bowl look great...its only after taking photo after photo of my food on a white plate in a white box that I've come to appreciate good looking serving ware. As for the dessert, that sounds like something my wife and I would absolutely love. And its a funny coincidence, I've had dulce de leche on my mind lately...

Such a beautiful name! And the stories...all charming, my dear Lydia!

I love gifts that are so thoughtful and personal! I feel like I always stumble upon gifts that I think would be perfect for someone when it's months away from their birthday or the holidays. I tell myself I'll save it to give them on an occasion but I end up getting too excited and giving the gift right away!

This is a lovely story and lovely gift idea, Lydia.

What a wonderful story, and such a great idea. I do love wooden spoons, actually my very large ceramic crock is currently overflowing with beautiful spoons, many were gifts, and I love and remember each and every one and the person that gave it to me. When I use these very special gifts I think of that person while I'm cooking.

Ted is a great gift finder. The spoons and the bowls are both wonderful.

This dessert sounds so wonderful, Lydia! We'll definitely be trying this out!

Those spoons would put a smile on my face!

I would love to hear the story of the edible seed strip- it looks so interesting!

April, I'm guessing I have more than 200 wooden spoons, and perhaps 40 speckled bowls!

Julia, Noobcook, Julie: yes, Ted is a great gift finder. I'm always surprised with the variety of wonderful things he thinks of. He really thinks outside the box.

Gretchen, Ted truly enjoyed his trip to Peru, and I'm having fun learning about some of the foods he ate there.

Mae, Warda, Susan: Thank you. Stay tuned; there are more gift ideas to come every Tuesday until the holidays.

Amanda, thanks. You remind me that it's time to ask the Bookworms to update the reading list. Will do that early next year.

Mike, I'm finding the same thing with photography, and trying to vary my settings a bit. Ted has really helped by finding some great little bowls and plates for me.

Maris, I'm exactly the same way! I hate to put things away for months and months; I want the person to start enjoying it right away.

Jason, isn't that the most fun of all? Most of my spoons have a story attached, or were a gift, or were made by someone I know, so I feel that all of those stories are right there in the kitchen with me.

Michelle, hope you like it. I've found a few recipes to try in the Peruvian cookbook.

Aimee, me too. I have to tell you that the large one is really large, and the small one really small. They look quite cute together.

Kate, one of these days I'll ask Ted to write more about the seed strip. It's hanging in my kitchen now, and I love looking at it. The very last compartment, though, is not a seed -- it's a coca leaf!

Your husband is right - all cooks love spoons! I started collecting them when I was about 20 or so and found a beautiful one in Brazil. I have it to this day, along with ones I've collected from everywhere in the world.

Lovely post, Lydia. Now about that "seed" strip....;-)

I loved your blog,and the photo of spices from Peru! What a great packaging idea. I have a similar spice package from Spain, you're supposed to keep them in the dark, but mine is hanging on the kitchen wall, good talking point though! :0)

I love the edible seeds too, I think that is a fantastic gift. Thanks for making these lists!

You've got to tell us about the seed strip. And the suspira--about how much port is that? I have a bottle in the bar...

I too want to know more about the edible seed strip, for planting? decoration? identification? And the dessert sounds great. I guess the name gives that away!

Toni, I collect spoons from all over the world, too. Together with the spoons I've received from friends from their travels, my spoon collection really comes from everywhere.

Lesley, I couldn't bear the thought of keeping them hidden away in the dark! I love seeing the seeds hanging in my kitchen.

Veron, it's really one of my favorite gifts. But I do love the spoons, and the bowls. And cookbooks....

Andrea, I'd start with a small glass, 4-6 ounces.

Callipygia, for identification. Ted said that over the course of his trip he ate many of the seeds -- and chewed a bit of coca leaf, too!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.