I was turning 21 for the first birthday I spent with my husband (then boyfriend).  Twenty-one wasn’t a big deal.  After all, in NYC and New Orleans “legal” didn’t mean much. I was more excited to be with someone I loved and to go hear some music (The Eagles, Giants Stadium- yes we’ve been together a long time) with my sister and her husband (now ex). I’m not a total present person but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind what my bday present from Marc would be. On the morning of my birthday Marc handed me a large present. I unwrapped it eagerly and saw a box with the name of one of my favorite stores.  I opened the lid, three shirts. Aside from shirts not being the most romantic of gifts, there was something worse. The shirts were a medium. There is nothing wrong with medium but I ‘m short and small and happen to wear an XS from this store. Knowing something was wrong Marc said “you can return them if you don’t like them.” “I like them but they’re a medium” I said. “ I described you to the salesperson and this is what she suggested.” Harsh. 
As bad as that present was it was the first of many gift missteps for Marc. A few years later he discovered the gift certificate and after many years of marriage I removed the element of surprise and would just say flat out “I’d love a ________  for my birthday” versus the annual birthday bitterness.  This year, we were in San Francisco for my birthday. I was so focused on the trip it honestly didn’t occur to me that my birthday was coming until I made a dinner reservation the week before and said the date aloud. Prior to the trip Marc asked what I wanted for a present. I said, “nothing, a card is fine.” He pressed a little and said the kids would want me to get something.  Tuesday morning, the boys came into the hotel room with grins clutching paper in their hands. I opened two beautiful cards with a lanyard each inside. Marc (incredibly more romantic years later) handed me a manila envelope, the large size with the clasp. With zero expectations I opened it. I saw William Sonoma and my pulse rate increased; I pulled it out and read All Clad Stainless Steel.  Perfect present.
You buy yourself new shoes or a new bag; you don’t always buy new pots and pans. First, they’re expensive and second they last or appear to last a long time. The truth is I have very few pots and pans because I was once the owner of nonstick pots and pans. I tossed those when I read about the bird deaths. Do you know about the birds? EWG reported years ago about pet birds dying due to a chemical in Teflon pans. The chemical they pinpointed is perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA. The makers of these pots and pans defended their products as safe unless heated to high temperatures. Both EWG and Good Housekeeping performed tests and in minutes pans were hot enough to emit toxic chemicals. I’m so tired of manufacturers saying products or additives are “safe at certain levels” or “safe unless…” Saying a pan is safe unless overheated is like saying you don’t need your seatbelt unless the car is moving. Cars move and pans heat. Nonstick pans are even more likely to emit chemicals when chipped or scratched. In 2006, DuPont was pressured by the EPA to phase out PFOA in their pan coatings by 2015. However, there’s some speculation that the replacement chemical is no better.
I recently asked Alexandra Zissu, author of “Conscious Kitchen” for her cookware choices. She said “Le Creuset is fantastic (cast iron covered in a layer of glass basically) but $$$. Cast iron is cheaper and equally safe. Stainless steel, the real deal, is also great. I would avoid the things with aluminum cores. I use all three; I have a big stainless frying pan for sautéing all veggies, I use cast iron frying pans for searing meat and transferring it to the oven and a big Le Creuset for everything else.
Those are all good options. I’m not sure if Marc knew the Stainless Steel pots were “safe” or if he just looked at a couple of the All Clad I already had and went with the same thing. Either way, pots and pans, dinner at Nopa in San Francisco and salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery (many people were deeply concerned I wouldn’t have a birthday treat) made for a terrific birthday. I know I’m screwed next year.
What type of pots and pans do you use? Have you switched recently? What’s the worst present you’ve ever received?

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