With over 300 pasta shapes available to cooks, choosing the right one for a sauce or a dish can be daunting. The basic rule of thumb is if you know the region of a pasta shape, chances are the regional sauce is a safe bet. To make pasta fun, though, chef and British restaurateur Jacob Kenedy and graphic artist Caz Hildebrand have produced the smart and appealing The Geometry of Pasta: The Perfect Shape + The Perfect Sauce (Quirk Books; 2010; $24.95). This cookbook, arranged in alphabetical order, contains over 100 recipes and histories of each pasta. Strozzapreti or "priest stranglers" is rolled pasta served with squid, broccoli, anchovies, garlic and chili flakes in a white wine sauce. Hildebrand has illustrated each pasta form in arresting black and white designs.
• Simple seagrass bread baskets and containers from Bangladesh (from $8), a red starburst basket from Uganda, and inexpensive handmade silver metal napkin rings ($4 each) from India are among the finds at Ten Thousand Villages. The cobalt blue and white ceramic chip and dip set from Vietnam features a wicker rim woven into the holes in the ceramic base ($45). This nonprofit shop is devoted to "fair trade" and represents artisans from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East as part of a Mennonite Central Committee program. (Ten Thousand Villages, 300 S. Sharon Amity Road in the Cotswold Village Shops, 704-365-0010.)
• Cooking with a tagine is all about slow, and the stews of northern Africa are cooked in this special pot. A hand-painted cookable tagine ($84) by artisans in Tunisia comes with an assortment of serving plates including an elongated olive tray ($34), large bowls ($70 and up) and square bowls ($34). (Pura Vida Worldly Art, 3202 N. Davidson St., 704-335-8587. Note this shop moved from Plaza Midwood to NoDa and closes for siesta in the afternoon.)
• Objects in the Bechtler Museum store are the perfect combination of form and function. A large white kitchen timer has the size to be noticed and is stylish enough to want to be ($38, $34.20 for museum members). (Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Store, 420 S. Tryon St., 704-353-9200. Museum admission not required to shop.)
• Black chopsticks never go out of fashion, and the hand-carved 10" ebony chopsticks with the cocobolo holder ($28) by Davin & Kesler are stunning, especially when set on the 13" by 7" cool tone of the bird's eye maple Sushi Board with cocobolo side handles. Also at the Mint store is a dazzling collection from diverse clay artists of North Carolina, including bowls, trays, and baking dishes ($15+). (Mint Museum Uptown Gift Shop, 500 S. Tryon St., 704-337-2000. Museum admission not required to shop.)
• Every serious cook needs good knives — not just for preparing food, but for the occasional serving piece or as utensils. Claude Dozorme knives and serving pieces — available at Maddi's Gallery — are handcrafted in Thiers, France, a long-established center of the cutlery industry, and sport the "made in Laguiole" bee on the handle. The 18/10 stainless steel serrated tomato knife has an acrylic curved handle in a variety of gorgeous colors, or utilitarian pearl or tortoise. Steak knives are sold as a set in a gift box or individually, as are cheese knives and small spoons. Also at Maddi's is Charlottean Nancy Murray's stemware. Once a customer at Maddi's, Murray became fascinated with glass and now makes her own marbles, which she fused into the stem of red ($35) and white ($30) wine glasses. Each glass is unique. (Maddi's Gallery, 1530 East Blvd., 704-332-0007.)