Monday, December 27, 2010

Kiss 2010 Goodbye with Fish Eggs!

Yes, caviar on New Year's Eve is a cliche. But cliches are cliches for good reason; sometimes there's impeccable logic behind them. Caviar, with its shady past, salty taste that's not for everyone, and silly price tag, is simply a must on this most overrated of holidays.

The Toad did some online sleuthing, of course. And she discovered that caviar, while easily available via overnight shipping well in time for the holiday, is also ridiculously priced. Ironically, the one source she though would be the priciest, Petrossian, is actually fairly reasonable. And she knows from experience that it's good stuff. Plus, Petrossian is dedicated to sustainable goods, so you can slurp your sturgeon in good conscience.

Prices, of course, vary wildly. The caviar pictured above is $110, but I saw some for as low as $49. You might want to throw in some blinis, too, since they're a pain to make from scratch. And you can forget about all the other so-called toppings, since if they're good eggs, you won't need anything to gild the lily (well, maybe some icy cold vodka shots). Go to Petrossian and check out this true cliche for yourself.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Keep Calm and Light Up

Congratulations! The holidays are officially behind us (except for New Year's Eve, anyway). Today is the day of recovery. Recovery from relatives and bad family juju, recovery from eating twice your weight in cookies, recovery from the three bottles of mediocre red wine you drank two days ago.

Unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to recover. Once worked into a frenzy, the adrenalin keeps pumping for a good long time. For instance, all my relatives are now gone, but my kitchen floor is encrusted with a combination of ragu sauce and poundcake crumbs, there's leftovers everywhere that I will never eat, and there appears to be tape attached to the cat. The Brits, in that now sadly ubiquitous poster, say "Keep Calm and Carry On." But I say, light up this Jonathan Adler Earl Grey Tea candle and settle in with some music and a good book for the afternoon instead. Screw the ragu, and let the cat figure out her own body issues. You need a break, and this heavenly, relaxing scent will help, I promise.

You also could pick up some of these candles for New Year's Eve hostess gifts; I think they're just the ticket for dealing with the demise of 2010. Find them at Jonathan Adler and breathe deep.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Forget the Fruitcake

The holiday clock is ticking, and you need some last minute gifts that are sure to arrive before Christmas. To whom do you turn? How about that old standby, Zingerman's?

Zingerman's has holiday treats aplenty, but I think nothing quite fits the bill like the Gingerbread Coffeecake. Forget Gingerbread Men. This is a dense, moist, slightly spicy cake, perfect for Christmas dessert or a brunch (even a midnight snack for Santa). Because it's so dark, spicy and luscious, it's ideally suited to the long nights around the fire that Yuletide offers. Also, frankly, it beats the hell out of fruitcake. Don't get me started on fruitcake. Fruitcake is what you send a giftee you can't stand; this Gingerbread is what you send a giftee with love and affection.

Prices range from $25-$50, all shipped for a flat rate. If you're not a fan of Gingerbread, any of Zingerman's coffeecakes would do. They're all simply scrumptious. Click on Zingerman's and start noshing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Gift, Good Deal for Next Three Days

So what was that? You haven't been holiday shopping all year, storing choice gifts in a magic closet? You're not DONE? What's wrong with you???

No worries. There's still time to shop for holiday gifts, even online (although the clock is ticking on that). Some online venues are still offering free shipping, too. Like Filson. Filson is a totally old school hunting and fishing gear catalog. The company also makes truly indestructible bags; I think their bags make Land's End bags look like plastic baggies. For men, a Filson bag (like the Field Bag briefcase pictured here) is a fabulous gift, the perfect blend of utility and cool. Buy the guy one of these and it'll look the same for years and years. These bags aren't cheap; the one pictured is around $175, but if you compare that to other, less well designed but trendy messengers online you'll see it's really a bargain.

For the next three days, Filson is offering FREE shipping. And the present will be delivered by Christmas. Go to Filson and read all about it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Infinite Options for Inspiring Jewelry Makers

Buying gifts for girls seems easy, but it's not. The winds of pre-pubescent trends change daily, so those Silly Bandz or Japanese erasers that were such a hit just months ago are just, like, totally OVER now.

Every girl (and some boys, too) loves to create jewelry. But so often those kits involve string and beads and glittery things, which all involve a certain amount of adult supervision, when really you'd rather be unconscious on the couch in a post-holiday haze. This magnetic jewelry kit is a fabulous solution. Consisting of three cylinders filled with super strong magnets in different shapes, the Klik Klik jewelry kit offers infinite objects of adornment. There's no strings or glue, just the power of magnetic forces and your kid's ingenuity (the kit gives examples of easily fashioned baubles). And when the created masterpiece is no longer treasured, it can be transformed into yet another piece. It's sort of like those beloved Bucky Balls, but with more shapes and many more pieces.

At $75, this is more of a major gift, but it provides so much amusement that it's probably worth the bucks. Find it at Klik Klik Jewelry.

Artisanal Football

In case you've been living in a cave (in which case, why are you online right now?), you'll have noticed that football season has been going on for some time now. In fact, football season appears endless and eternal, as much a part of the holiday season as the tree and latkes, except with lots of yelling and more gas.

Here's the downside of football season: men on the couch. Unmoving. Well, maybe they move a little, like glaciers sliding slowly from the kitchen to the bathroom and back to the couch again. The idea that watching sports isn't the same as playing sports is lost in the heat of the battle and the body-sized sofa indentation. So what holiday gift might stir this sports spectator to life? Try this really cool artisanal football. The thing is handmade; no two are alike. It's designed to be played with and abused (which is good, since the couch can't take much more). And it fits with the football theme of the season perfectly.

This beautiful piece of sports equipment is $115, but can be passed down, eliminating the couch potatoes in your tribe. On the other hand, any injuries obtained while playing will only result in more lounge time, so tell him to be careful. Find it at Kaufman Mercantile Store.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Go Nuts for the Holidays

So here it is: the semi-homemade present. No, I am decidedly NOT channeling Sandra Lee (a black mark on the art of cooking if there ever was one). I'm just saying, even if you plan to make something yummy and give it out as gifts, you'll still need a nice way to present it. Forking out a few bucks is not something the gifter ever escapes.

So take a look at this Marimekko Tin. It's holidayish, but still could be left out on a kitchen counter year round. It holds a respectable amount of goodies, and when the goodies (which you provide) are all gone, the tin can store tea, or inferior treats, or even a lifetime supply of cotton balls in the bathroom. Buy some of these tins, fill them with something good that you make, pop a bow on the top and call yourself done.

As far as a delectable homemade treat goes, I'm making it easy by offering you one that's always been an enormous hit. I grew up in one of those anti-sugar 1970s households (carob instead of chocolate, anyone?), so when my mother would suddenly start making these cinnamon nuts for the holidays, they spread more than the usual amount of good cheer. These nuts originate from the From Noodles to Strudels cookbook, and there's something deeply ironic about giving them as Christmas presents, but whatever. Make a bunch of these, because they're the homemade treat equivalent of crack cocaine.

Noodles, Strudels, and Toad's Cinnamon Nuts

2 cups of whole nuts, any kind you like (almonds and pecans are good, but only because I'm allergic to walnuts; Trader Joe's is a good place to purchase nuts)

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon good vanilla

Mix sugar, evaporated milk, cinnamon, and salt in a 4 quart pot. Stir over heat until dissolved. Boil to 238 degrees (medium soft ball; you'll need a candy thermometer for this). Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

At this point, add vanilla and nuts and mix well. Spread out on a sheet pan lined either with a Silpat mat or parchment paper to dry. Break up into smaller clumps and watch them vanish down your family's gullets. Make another batch.

Find the tin for $17 at Finnstyle. Buy enough and you'll have a bunch of $20 gifts to give. Not bad.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Charge It on the Run

While I like to err on the side of impracticality when buying gifts (figuring that people won't ever indulge in that fancy product or funny shirt for themselves), there are times when practicality is in order. Especially if you have a constant traveler on your gift list.

Travel is now so complex (airport body cavity searches aside) that it's amazing anyone ever leaves the house in any state of grace. There's always something left behind. This on the go charging station and carrying case might help relieve some of that travel forgetfulness. Holding up to three electronic items (like an iPod, a phone, and a Nintendo), this handy case consolidates the charging cords, creates a three outlet option, and keeps the things all upright whilst charging. It's pretty genius. And did I mention that it also holds all these devices securely, so it's easy to see whether they've been packed or not; a centralized location is always preferable to stuff scattered about a briefcase.

This charging station is inexpensive (at around $25), but it fulfills such noble purposes that it could be listed at twice the price. Find it at G.U.S. (Great Useful Things).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Local Shopping Alert: Beverly Blvd. Block Party, TONIGHT 5-8

Yes, I know it's last minute, but that gives you an even bigger kick in the behind to get yourself over to Beverly Blvd (roughly between Poinsettia and Sweetzer) this evening from 5-8 for a shopping block party.

I've written about various Beverly Blvd. stores on Toad, and many are featured in my Shop Local Gift Guide. I know for certainty that there will be discounts to had, specifically at one of my favorite gift stores ever, Ige. Owner Helene Ige has an incredible eye for fun objects, and her prices are already good. Go tonight, have a drink, some nibbles, do some affordable holiday shopping, then hightail it over to Buddha's Belly or Angelini or any number of great restaurants for a lovely dinner. What a wonderful world it is.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bake Cheese, Not War

When it comes to diets around this time of year, you might as well declare war on them and just go to town. This could mean suffocating on a bushel of cookie crumbs, or drowning in the vat of nog present in every holiday party corner.

But I have a better way. If you're going to blow the diet to hell, why not add some nutrition to it? I'm talking some hearty, heavy, gloppy good baked cheese. Hear me out: cheese has important things a body needs, like calcium and protein, that you won't get from those sugary treats. And you lactose intolerant folk can chill out, since cheese, being fermented, contains NO lactose (power of suggestion much?). There's ways aplenty to enjoy melted cheese, but these "farm country cheese bakers" are most effective. You can choose between a goat cheese or a brie version; just slap the whole cheese in the crock and toss it in the oven for an easy holiday starter.

At just $29 each, these bakers make terrific hostess gifts. Combine it with a good hunk of cheese and a loaf of superior bread, and you could just be the life of the party (or the cheesiest guest). Find them at Napa Style.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some of Their Beeswax

The holidays are here! Whether it's the first night of Chanukah or the beginning of the chocolate filled Advent calendar, the holidays have arrived. From now until after the New Year, you will be in a flurry of activity, either through parties and family revelry, or just dealing with your bored kids off from school.

This is a gift that will give you some peace, and put the little pests to work. This Beeswax Candle Rolling kit offers a wholesome activity that's relatively no fuss, no muss. With supplies for making up to 24 colorful candles, your kids (or someone else's kids) can help contribute to the holiday table settings AND do something that doesn't involve a remote control or going to the freezing cold park. The directions do say there needs to be adult supervision, but the Toad suspects it's minimal. And just think: nothing to spill!

At just $20, this is an excellent way to spend a quiet hour or two over the holiday season. At Magic Cabin.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deep Dish of Fat

No, I'm not referring to the entire holiday season with that headline. I'm talking about ordering a regional specialty that is so sinful and special and scrumptious that it's worth breaking every diet just to cram it down your face.

Meet Lou Malnati's Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. It's the real deal, with restaurants found only in the Chicago area. The pizza is... remarkable. A buttery, almost biscuit-like crust that's crunchy on the outside and moist inside holds a bounty of goodies ranging from sausage or pepperoni to spinach and veggies. The big construction difference on this deep dish is that the cheese is stuffed the middle and slathered with tomato sauce on top. They come frozen, shipped to your door, and they keep really well in the freezer. Plus, there's no fancy pizza oven required; 450 degrees at about 30 minutes should do it.

With all the mid-west transplants, there's sure to be someone on your list who would simply kvell to receive such carb-loaded bounty. Go to Lou Malnati's and order a bunch for a real taste of Chicago.

Miss Moneypenny

For those guys old enough to remember the real James Bond films (Sean Connery was the ultimate), Miss Moneypenny the sexy flirty secretary will strike a note of yearning nostalgia. And you can keep that nostalgia alive with this witty little gift.

Normally, I'm very careful about giving guys housewares items, basically because they rarely get a kick out of them unless they're extremely domestic or a home design freak. This Miss Moneypenny bowl, however, is a great exception to that rule. This sculptural trough sits on a dresser and holds change or keys from the day, corralling it in one handy place. And the shape makes it easy to empty back into a wallet or pocket. Plus, it says "Miss Moneypenny" on the inside. Really, the sleek polished aluminum looks like a Bond secret weapon, anyway.

The jewelry oriented man could even store his gold in there, creating a "Goldfinger" atop "Miss Moneypenny" dresser statement. Oh, the fun he'll have. At Momastore for just $38.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Portable Scent Solution

You know what I've always found puzzling? The perfume "recommendations" in magazines or on beauty blogs. Scent is so intensely personal that unless you know precisely what someone wears, buying a giftee a random scent is too big a gamble. Especially since I loathe almost all perfume, sans one which I consistently wear (and which, I admit, I have recommended on this blog, figuring that if a fusspot like me could stand it, so could others).

So forget buying perfume. But, you could buy a giftee something to take perfume on the go. I've tried various portable atomizers and have never been impressed. This portable perfume vessel is different. It's designed as a tiny roll-on (like Bonne Bell), and is so small and sleek and stylish you'll want to carry it around. Choose from a bunch of colors and give them out to your girlfriends. They'll love you for it.

These streamlined anti-spritzers are just $38 a pop, which is a pretty decent price point for a unique and stylish gift. Find them at Mollaspace. And, just in case you're interested in what a scent-a-phobe can tolerate, I wear Menthe Fraiche by Heeley (sort of smells like minty green tea).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

iPhone: Doing it Old School

I've been waiting and waiting for an iPhone case fun or cool enough to feature on Toad. Most of them have just been a shrug. Then again, I suppose the iPhone 4 is also a shrug... or a curse. Mine is a curse. I have saddled it with an unprintable name, and the thing is always making my life miserable by hanging up on people and spontaneously dialing other people without my direction, permission or knowledge.

But just because my iPhone 4 is evil doesn't mean they're all bad. I'm sure there are some which behave beautifully. And, after all, all the 4s do need cases or they don't get any reception. After much searching, these retro iPhone 4 cases are the best and wittiest ones around. Featured at right is the cassette tape version, but they're available in other equally archaic forms, like Nintendo. They do what every iPhone 4 case is supposed to do: protect it from harm, allow the antennae to work, and keep dirt off the back. At $45 bucks a pop, they're a bit pricey, but you're paying for pure Japanese style here, so I guess sucking it up is in order.

You can find these classic tech cases at Gizmine. I will not be purchasing one, since I'm afraid that sometime soon that $&#*R will be thrown from my speeding car, exploding upon impact with Beverly Blvd.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Cutest Mail Ever

Every year around this time, the packages and cards come flying in. Most of the cards look the same: photographs of the usual suspect with printed messages (we try to say something funny and bizarre every year).

What if you could send something that really stands out? Check out the World's Smallest Postal Service from Leafcutter Designs. These lilliputian letters are sent directly from the site to the recipients (they'll do bulk mailing for your holiday cards as well as service to select people). They are, as you can clearly see, absolutely adorable. If you don't mind skipping the bragging rights picture, this could be the right holiday card/message solution for you. Plus, they offer tiny packages, too (brown paper, tied up with string). You choose the tiny toy and message in the box, and they send it out. How cute is that?

Go to the Leafcutter site and check out this tiny mail. It's the most adorable way to cut down on paper resources and cut down less trees.

Monday, November 22, 2010

For The Eye Roller

You know exactly who I'm talking about. The eye roller on your holiday list.

Buying a gift for an eye rolling adolescent is virtually impossible to do well (unless you just give cash, which will at least evoke an appreciative grunt or two). They're usually so uncommunicative, so contemptuous, so utterly lost in ennui that it's hard to find something that holds appeal. I say forget it, and go for a gift that gives it all right back. This Eye Clock tells the time literally by rolling its eyes. The left eye is the hour, the right eye positions the minutes. Sometimes they'll roll up, sometimes down, and sometimes they'll even cross (5:35, anyone?). While the teen might stare uncomprehendingly, the adults will enjoy the irony fully. Who said the holidays were just for kids?

This clock doesn't have an alarm. For that, I'm afraid, you'll have to purchase the rolling alarm clock or the helicopter alarm clock. At Uncommon Goods for just $35.

Pictures in a Snap

It seems like every child I run into these days is interested in photography and video. Even little kids. The idea of documenting and displaying reality (or manipulating it, thus turning them into little con artists) holds great appeal for the youngsters, and it sure beats grandma following everyone around with her camera.

So I very much like this digital camera, not just because it's easy to operate, but because it's so specifically kid themed. I mean, come on, it looks like it's been built out of Legos. How cool is that? The effect is at once playful, iconic, and delightfully geeky. After all, we all know an adult who's held rapt by a Lego set. Give this camera to a kid, and they'll be occupied all the way through the holidays. And since an adult is presumably in charge of the computer, it should be easy to weed out those embarrassing shots the child is sure to capture (you stepping out of the shower, for instance).

This camera, at $75, is a bit pricier than some other kid models. But it's about a hundred times cooler, too. Find it at Fred Flare.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Announcing the FIRST EVER Toad Discount Promotion!

I've never done any sort of promotion on Toad, mostly because I was worried it might create a conflict of interest. But, in the interest of supporting fantastic local LA shopping (as in independently owned boutiques), I've decided start a small promotional push of sorts.

So here it goes: mention Find A Toad at Noni on Larchmont Blvd., and you'll receive an excellent 15% off. Noni was just mentioned in my gift guide, and I've handily reprinted that write up for you below. Besides fabulous accessories, Noni boasts local and cutting edge designers. The store's merchandise is great and the owners, Elaine and Megan, are awesome.

Happy shopping, and enjoy your discount!

Noni: A totally favorite local store, Noni offers lots of local designers at pretty affordable prices. The jewelry can be edgy and fun. There are handbags by vegan designers Matt and Nat. The scarves are on point, trendwise, but at lower price points than other stores. And the clothing, if you're so inclined, is really great. Plus, co-owner Noni girls Megan and Elaine are just so cool and nice (a real rarity in this snooty city). Pay them a visit and find the fashion forward friend a gift.
225 N. Larchmont Blvd.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Chemistry

I remember reading Harriet the Spy and totally idolizing the chemist Janie. The idea that she was going to blow up the school (or was it the world?) held such great appeal. Of course, I had no chemistry skills and no chemistry set.

What I would have given for this little item! This introductory chemistry set won't encourage your young scientist to blow stuff up, but it will teach basic chemical principles through some fun (and harmless) experiments. Many of the exercises are disguised as "magic tricks" to share with an audience, guaranteeing lots of live entertainment long after the holidays have ended and dark winter has resumed. This set is fairly serious (some of it involves flames), so it's really for kids 10 and up (unless you have some genius seven year old who's very neat and trustworthy). Overall, this is a far better way for kids to spend time than vegging out in front of the tv for the remainder of holiday break.

At around ninety bucks, this set isn't cheap. But it was very highly rated as one of the best science toys around. Buy it and watch the science aptitude soar. At Museum Tour.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MORE of Toad's Shop Local LA!

Now we're going to get to the skinny. Let's talk about food and drink, obsessions in LA rife with irony in this weight conscious land. Food and drink are holiday necessities. Everyone appreciates them. Parties demand them. And here's where in LA to obtain them.

Get Stuffed This Holiday Season

Joan's on 3rd: Joan's is an LA institution. The food is very good (the baked goods are heavenly; check out the nuts at right), there's an excellent assortment of gourmet items for sale, and it provides great people watching while you shop. What it doesn't provide? A smooth shopping experience. Naive that I was, I supposed that its chaotic check out system was due to cramped conditions. However, the selfsame chaos continues even after its extensive remodel, so what do I know? Still, a selection of food toted to someone's house over the holidays is sure to get you major points.
8350 W. Third St.

Surfas: This emporium of all things food is a combo gourmet victuals outlet and restaurant supply house. Its selection of cheese, charcuterie, olive oils, vinegars, pasta, and frozen goodies (incredible ice cream, butter, and appetizers all come to mind) are unparalleled. Plus, you can pick up baking supplies for the most rocking holiday cookies in town. Seriously, this place has just about everything. Plus, ample parking. Plus, a cafe where you can buy an excellent lunch for yourself. What's not to like?
8777 W. Washington Blvd, Culver City

Saveurs: The French know how to cook, and the couple running Saveurs amply prove that point. Saveurs pops up at farmer's markets around town, proffering imported merguez sausages, real macarons, plus homemade deliciousness to satisfy the Julia Child in you (you know: the Julia Child in you who just wants to eat French food, not prepare it). From pate and quiche to savory stews and sides, Saveurs offers copious holiday offerings. And if you order online, it's even easier to keep you and yours supplied with yumminess for the holidays. Did I mention they deliver? Go online NOW and check it out.

Andrew's Cheese Shop: Out on Montana, there's a powerful amount of dairy waiting for you. Andrew's  (that's Andrew himself pictured at right) is a newer addition to LA's love of the fromage, and it's a good one. They're generous with their time and knowledge. And the selection is first rate.
728 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills: Yes, it smells. Actually, that's an understatement: it stinks. But it stinks so good in there, like a medley of age and mold made into culinary art. Cheese this good isn't for everyone, but for those who crave it, the olde Cheese Store is a great place to get it. Bring an assortment to a party. And ignore the complaints of the tiresome lactose intolerant. Let them eat plain crackers.
419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

Wally's: There must be revelry during the holidays, and nothing says revelry like booze. Luckily, no one does booze quite like Wally's. Its baskets, assortments of alcoholic and digestible offerings, are the stuff of legend, excellent gifts for friends and acquaintances alike. While I normally think of these baskets as being best for clients and other business, I'm sure you can think of someone who'd like a basket of Super Tuscans, or a Tequila sampling, or perhaps some champagne for the new year. Advil for the hangover is extra.
2107 Westwood Blvd.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Shop Local LA Gift Guide Part III

As you read this, Black Friday is approaching. That's the day when apparently all these poor, hapless shoppers run out the day after Thanksgiving, get trapped in the mall, and cry. But there's no need for that if you live in LA. Here at Find A Toad, there's plenty of great shopping destinations, and NONE of them involve a mall!

We've already explored stuff for the home and accessories. Now, it's on to the more personal side of gift shopping. Beauty and health are of paramount importance in this most shallow of cities, and luckily LA offers a plethora of options for giftees to look and feel their very best.

Beauty and Health

Healing Hands: This mini massage chain is an excellent resource for good, competent massage in a clean setting. They tout different styles, but I've mostly had swedish with maybe a little deep tissue thrown in. The staff is unfailingly professional. And it's usually easy to obtain a last minute session. Did I mention the prices? $55 for an hour is a great price. Buy a friend a session or two for the gift of relaxation that'll last through the year.
303 S. Crescent Heights Blvd, 323-782-3900
414 N. Larchmont Blvd., 323-461-7876

Olympic Spa: The korean spa is an LA institution, really a must have experience. True, it's not for the shy or faint of heart, since everyone is stark naked. Women wander in various states of undress. A popular treatment here involves you or your giftee naked and face down on a slippy bed, being scrubbed to within an inch of your life by an older korean woman wearing a black bra and panties. It sounds far kinkier than it is. The result is the cleanest you've ever felt. Every bit of nasty old dead skin is gone, leaving you and yours with an entirely fresh epidermis. Plus, you get access to the many pools and saunas. A gift certificate from here is always appreciated.
3915 W. Olympic Blvd. 323-857-0666

A Facial from Arielle: Arielle at Club Prive gives the best facial in LA. Her methods are up to date in terms of using oxygen to refresh and electric pulse to disinfect, but she's not jumping on every skin trend bandwagon. See, she doesn't have to. Arielle has the hands, and these hands massage and coax tension from your face, while encouraging much needed lymphatic drainage. It's basically 90 minutes of bliss. Even the extractions are quick and efficient, so that you can move on to the heated mitts to moisten your hands while you lie under a mask and nap. Buy someone a facial from Arielle and you'll have a friend for life.

Scentbar: Perfume for someone else can be a tricky proposition, but the selection at Scentbar might make it easier. This utilitarian yet luxe white space offers virtually every cult scent in the universe. You'll find none of that department store nastiness here. Some of the brands can be found other places (Barney's comes to mind), but the help at Scentbar is so excellent and attentive, I don't see why anyone would purchase perfume anywhere else. And if you already know what you're looking for, have it sent through the website.
8327 Beverly Blvd.

Larchmont Beauty: Time after time, this crammed little beauty supply receives serious accolades. If there's a new hit product, chances are it's already on the shelves. It's very easy to fill a beauty basket for someone in a matter of seconds (and just as easy to empty your wallet in the same amount of time). With entire lines of Bliss, Ole Hendriksen, Hauschka, Fresh, Nars, and Stila, both body and face are beautifully served. A word of warning: self control is hard to come by in there.
208 N. Larchmont Blvd.

Fred Segal Beauty: The Santa Monica locale offers a huge beauty section, packed with cult products and lovely ways to wrap them. The products cost what they cost, although I always suspect there's a price increase just for the store. Still, it's such a pleasant shopping experience. An excellent westside option
500 W. Broadway

Exercise Gift Certificates to Pure Barre, Pilates Plus, or the Bar Method: I've tried all of these classes. They all work just fine, boast various and convenient locations around town, and work for both beginners and experts alike. Relying on isotonic movements, they have a fairly decent learning curve. It's difficult to hurt yourself in these classes, which is good since you'd probably prefer that your gift not cripple someone. A great New Year's gift for a person who really keeps her resolutions.

The Gift of the Circus: For the fitness enthusiast in your life, a gift of Aerial Fitness and Conditioning classes at Cirque School LA just might open the door to a whole new world of exercise. Taught by true circus pros in an incredible lofty space in Hollywood, these classes combine old fashioned skills like rope climbing and sit ups with basic trapeze and fabric moves (pictured at right). This class whips you into shape FAST, and prepares those who've caught the Cirque bug for dedicated trapeze (Cirque du Soliel style, not flying) or fabric classes. Seriously, it's a blast. Sign up online and GO!
5640 1/2 Hollywood Blvd.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Toad's Shop Local LA Holiday Gift Guide Continues!

I've always been of the mind that putting together a basic outfit is easy, but accessorizing is hell. Still, I personally love it when people give me accessories, and in my experience most giftees feel the same way. Of course, most great accessories aren't cheap (and why would you give something crummy, anyway?), but they are necessary, since a beautiful scarf or hat or belt often makes an outfit. Plus, buying someone really special an equally special Comme des Garcons wallet might cost you, but that gift's guaranteed to last them for years.

In this Accessory category, I've included jewelry, too. And keep in mind: jewelry doesn't have to cost a mint to make an impact.

Local LA Accessory Shopping

Ten Over Six: This wonderful boutique totally filled an LA shopping hole. Artsy, edgy, and dog friendly, the designer/owners have filled this store with cult brands like Rachel Comey, Lizzie Fortunato, Comme des Garcons, and their own fabulously inventive labels. It's so carefully curated that they even stock a few cosmetic items from hard-to-find brand Rodin. Does any of this come cheap? Not really. But if you need to please that fussy fashionista on your gift list, you could do no better than Ten Over Six's Document Clutch (pictured at right). It's total genius.
8425 Melrose Ave.

Lost and Found: I warned you. This string of stores on a Hollywood block pretty much covers all the bases, and thus might be mentioned in most categories. Featured today is the amazing selection of gorgeous scarves, wallets, handbags, and jewelry, many made by local designers. To browse through the scarf selection is to appreciate the fine art of accessorizing; they come in every colorway and size. The bags and wallets, many by Italian designers Il Bisonti and Sissi Rossi, are super expensive (you've been warned) but are classic and gorgeous. This is stuff for the discriminating woman who keeps her style classic. But, there's also strings of African beads and fun beaded bags to be had for far less.
6414 Yucca St.

Noodle Stories: This store is the snottier, even more upscale version of Lost & Found. Located in an all white, gallery-like setting on Third St., this boutique has upscale accessories aplenty. It's simply awash in silk and cashmere, and everything is impeccable. This is not a store for the youth-oriented. No, this is how I would like to dress in later middle-age if I had a ton of money to spend. Still, if you need to buy an incredibly tasteful gift for an older, super classy woman (who's partial to the style of Margiela, Yohji, or Urbanati), this store would be my go-to destination.
8323 W. Third St.

Persimmon Handpicked Objects: Hardly anyone knows about this store. Pity, since so many one-designer dedicated jewelry stores have closed up (Me and Ro comes to mind), and Persimmon carries the goods. Ten Thousand Things, Jamie Joseph, Melissa Joy Manning, and other brands are all featured here. You know, Barney's carries a lot of the same designers, but they're far nicer at Persimmon. And you don't have to spend an absolute fortune here. This so fashionable and of the moment Joseph Brooks black tiger's eye bracelet is $80 (pictured at right), and seems superior to much of the other similar dreck available in bulk around town.
310 Flores St. (off Beverly Blvd.)

Kitson: So, speaking of similar dreck... yes, I know, Kitson is obnoxious and odious, a palace devoted to celebrity ass-kissing of the worst sort. But it's also useful. It's just so crammed full of accessories that it would be irresponsible of me to not give it a mention. Sure, it's trendy and full of the most empty headed sales help ever. Yes, the paparazzi are always stationed outside. But it is a local store. Really, it is, like it or not. Need a few doodads for a teen? Go to the Robertson location midday on a weekday and pick up a couple of things. It'll be a hit, I promise.
115 S. Robertson Blvd.

OK: Already mentioned for its housewares, OK features a lovely, very modernist jewelry selection. It also has plenty of personal accessories, many of which are quite minimalist and appropriate for just about anyone with a pulse. Wallets, key chains, and well designed portable tools are all on display here. And again, there's the jewelry. Much of it is recycled gold and conflict free diamonds (the emphasis here is on "conflict," the "free" has nothing to do with the prices). While much of the wares by such designers as Sarah Graham (her earrings are pictured at right), Pippa Small, and Zara Schofield (among many others) don't come cheap, there are inexpensive surprises like the $35 "Wish" necklace crafted from 14k gold and red thread.
3303 W. Third St.
1724 1/2 Silverlake Blvd

Fred Segal: An LA institution, the two Fred Segal outposts are actually completely different entities. No matter: for our purposes they are the same. One is in West Hollywood, one in Santa Monica. The Santa Monica one is bigger. Both carry tons of stuff, with less obnoxiousness than Kitson. I suppose you could get all your shopping done at either store, although it would be an expensive holiday season, indeed. From beaded baubles to hot handbags to cult cosmetics, Fred offers it all. Plus, there's always lunch to be had.
420 and 500 Broadway, Santa Monica
8100 Melrose Ave.

Bead Boutique: Give the ultimate personal gift and make people jewelry. At least, that's the main goal behind Third St.'s Bead Boutique. There are other bead stores, but they're quite crowded and unpleasant. This store offers an edited variety of bead, chain, and jewel choices. They'll help you out. And, they offer ready-to-buy creations that are lovely and quite reasonably priced (many under $100). Alternatively, you could choose and create a beaded jewelry making kit for a child on your list, so they can make their own accessories.
8313 W. Third St.

Noni: A totally favorite local store, Noni offers lots of local designers at pretty affordable prices. The jewelry can be edgy and fun. There are handbags by vegan designers Matt and Nat. The scarves are on point, trendwise, but at lower price points than other stores. And the clothing, if you're so inclined, is really great. Plus, co-owner Noni girls Megan and Elaine are just so cool and nice (a real rarity in this snooty city). Pay them a visit and find the fashion forward friend a gift.
225 N. Larchmont Blvd.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Toad's Fabulous and Selective Shop Local LA Holiday Gift Guide

Whew, now that's a headline. Once again, I present my very edited, very opinionated, very particular guide to the best gift stores in Los Angeles. I make no apologies for my preference for the eastside, although you'll find recommendations for all over L.A. proper. If you live outside of L.A., this guide could still prove useful if you visit this smoggy city (plus, many of these stores have online shopping, anyway, so please don't feel left out).

So, without further ado...

House and Decor

A+R: Somehow, A+R always has something interesting and different. Over the last two years I've posted many things found on its site. The store specializes in mostly modernist gifts, many of which are quite useful and beautiful to boot. Even the jewelry is quirky and interesting (a broken quail egg lined with gold and hanging from a fine chain was a standout). Remember great products like the Pantone mugs, Joseph Joseph kitchen products, and the Peace vase? A+R had them first. And it offers a decent price range, too. (At right, Eco-Fuel Lamps)
1121 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Happy L.A.: Happy is a newer store on a hip stretch of Hollywood Blvd. in Los Feliz, just east of Vermont. It's carefully curated for hip, sometimes edgy, and reasonably priced gifts for just about everyone on your list. Kids might appreciate the Dreamlets dolls or the colorful and classic wooden toys. Adults like the edgy Fred line of smart ass house and office ware. And, if you're looking for affordable art, check out the intimate gallery space upstairs, where works on paper by known LA artists are available for affordable prices.
4675 Hollywood Blvd.

Heath Ceramics: Heath's a big deal. It's been around since 1948, and its tile and tableware are classic, classy, and mesh seamlessly into just about any decor. Its fabulous flagship store is a wonderful spot to find vases and decorative pieces that could become heirlooms. Best of, the SALE runs November 19-28, which means you can pick up many gifts for less. So excellent. (At right, Ruby Red vase)
7525 Beverly Blvd.

Ige: This sleek boutique is one of my favorite stores. Owner Helene has a fabulous creepy cool aesthetic, and fills her space with wonderful mobiles, pillows, and other decorative wares designed by her. She was one of the first storeowners to stock John Derian in L.A., and she also boasts curious and charming vintage pieces (the china animals are standouts) you just won't find anywhere else. Please, shop here!
7382 Beverly Blvd.

TableArt: Ok, I've previously stated that the goods at TableArt make the housewares section at Barney's look like sale day at Walmart, and I stand by that statement. This store has, by far, the nicest china, flatware, and table accessories I've ever seen, anywhere. Yet, amongst the outrageously priced Ted Mueling and Meissen vases, there are wonderful affordable items. Don't be intimidated. The staff is great, and the gift wrapping job (using fabric) is truly luxe.
7977 Melrose Ave.

OK: Have modernist sensibilities, or know someone who does? Then OK is the perfect place for your gift shopping. Iittala, Alessi, Dansk, and other fabulousness is available. Plus, every holiday season OK stocks wonderful smaller items, many of them both edgy and practical, which are often pre-wrapped and ready to give. This store makes shopping a snap. And, it now has a 3rd St. and a Silverlake location, for even more convenience. If you're feeling particularly flush, check out the jewelry selection. So pretty. (At right, cast iron hammer bottle opener/ice breaker)
8330 W. Third St.
1724 1/2 Silverlake Blvd.

Gary Gibson: Gibson's studio is where he works on his interior design business. It's also a wonderful, airy curiosity shop. Trying to locate a vintage pencil sharpener, old globes, vintage tools, or other collectibles for an interesting giftee? Just take a leisurely browse through Gibson's store. You're sure to find something (you'll probably find something for yourself, too; you've been warned).
7350 Beverly Blvd.

Inheritance: Another store along the same vintage lines as Gibson, but with a smaller sensibility. Mixing old and new items, Inheritance has a wonderful barware selection. There's also one of a kind items like brass ashtrays, sterling silver cufflinks and tuxedo sets, and lovely newer plates and vases. It's small, it's intimate, and it's reasonable.
8055 Beverly Blvd.

Potted: Head over to Atwater Village for one of the greatest outdoor decor stores anywhere. Yes, there's lots of pots. There's also a fabulous succulent selection, tons of garden accessories, quirky fountains, and the most wonderful women to help you (the Garden Tarts). They also make stepping stones to order, using vintage tile pieces (I actually have these in my yard, and can attest to their excellence). You can even design and create your own arrangement for the green thumb on your list. (At right, exclusive to Potted Circle Pot)
3158 Los Feliz Blvd.

Rolling Greens: Another temple of gardening fantasy. With both an enormous Culver City and smaller West Hollywood location, this store caters to all things plants. Culver City has an insane orchid selection, from which you may cherry pick and turn into an amazing one of a kind living arrangement. Plus, there's tons of pots and accessories, making this more than just a gardening store. Not as quirky as Potted, but perfect for the more formal giftee.
9528 Jefferson Blvd.
7505 Beverly Blvd.

Lost & Found: This store fits into many categories, mostly because it's about four stores in a Hollywood Row. Owner Jamie has impeccable taste and an eclectic sensibility, and her housewares include wonderful pillows, Missoni blankets and throws, interesting table accessories, and lovely art. Is it cheap? Well, no. But you might find things here you just won't find anywhere else.
6413 Yucca St.

Tortoise: Located on the ever hip stretch of Abbot Kinney, Tortoise is devoted mostly to Japanese items. Many of them are quite lovely and special; a handmade tea canister is particularly lovely, if a bit dear at $175. Not everything, however, is quite that costly. Tortoise makes perfect sense for classic asian devotees.
1342 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Next up: Accessories!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shine A Little Golden Light

Part of being a great gift giver is giving people things they just won't buy for themselves. There are so many items out there that look wonderful, but seem an indulgence. And that's where the wily gift giver can really make a splash.

This Etch candleholder is a terrific example. It's lovely and just the right size for a single candle. And while its frothy surface of etched pattern could be frumpy, its geodesic shape gives it a modernist flair. This piece would look perfect gracing a formal or casual table, and the warm brass benefits both modernist and more classical tastes. Plus, all those little holes let the candlelight play in a beautiful way, casting light and shadow throughout the meal. While these candleholders would look great in groups (and indeed are designed to link together), a single one would work wonders when combined with other items in a playful dining montage. It would even look nice on a bedside table.

At $55, the Etch isn't a super bargain, but it's a quality piece (and not something most people would buy for themselves). Find it at Design Within Reach. And shine a little light for someone you love, or at least like.

A Pretty Squirrel Necklace

The holidays are about to hit you right between the eyes. Are you ready? The Toad's here to help you shop online, shop affordably, shop creatively, and make the most of this frenzied time.

Jewelry buying is always a hard one. I'm not talking about fine jewelry your significant other might buy you, I'm talking about more quirky stuff for a funky friend or aunt, someone whose taste runs to the ultra cool or bohemian, and isn't going to be happy with anything found at the mall (then again, if you read this blog, you're probably not happy with much at the mall, either). I'm rather partial to Haoshi's Animal necklaces. Each pendant is cast in resin, then beautifully wrapped in a black box decorated with mini black roses. The squirrel is featured here, looking ready to find every nut (and you know there's a ton of those gathered at your house for the holidays). There's other animals, too, like elephants (for a Republican?), giraffes, frogs, and a delicate deer.

This is an unusual piece of jewelry that's also impervious to punishment. You could even match the animal to the giftee, as an animal totem of sorts. Find this little zoo at A+R.

Good Stuffing

Yes, I know you were hoping for some fancy or famous Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, but you're SOL. I like to cook, but I'm not a Thanksgiving food fan. All that famine food still tastes of Pilgrim desperation to me, no matter how much you dress it up, gourmet style.

No, I'm talking handy and useful stocking stuffers here. Stuffers for kids are easy: throw in a marshmallow gun and a couple of candy bars and you're fine. Adults, though, require some attention. Items should be useful but still well-designed, things grown ups might use and appreciate, though wouldn't think to buy. This year, Container Store has turned out to be an excellent source. Take these bag caps, cleverly designed to corral all the open bags of food you have in your pantry, keep them fresh, and make them easy to pour (for super simple access to those christmas M&Ms). Or, a fingertip holder clip for yanking those hot plates out of the microwave (yes, I know those plates aren't supposed to get hot, but try telling that to the person who just burnt their fingerprints off on a microwaved plate). And, if the fingertips do sizzle, an old-fashioned ice bag soothes and heals (and I bet these bags work better than that bag of frozen peas that gets slapped on every wound over here at Toad Hall).

Any of these things would be a great stuffer, eventually much appreciated by an adult. Add a good book or too, and you're done with the good stuffing. Check out all the possibilities at The Container Store.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Act Like a Child

In today's bizarre parenting universe, expectations of children have gone haywire. Either we indulge in "self-esteem building" exercises and praise everything they do, or we give them the crowded agendas of fully grown adults and expect them to cope. Neither is correct.

So, here's a guide to being immature. Seriously, it's The Encyclopedia of Immaturity, devoted to silly childish activities embraced everywhere. Requiring very little fancy equipment (most immature tricks are self-powered), this book encourages kids to practice the fine art of getting a grass blade to squeak, faking a creditable sneeze, and other ridiculous (and maybe annoying) past times. Feel free to participate in the action yourself, or close the door and leave them be. It makes a killer birthday present for a child who perhaps takes life just a bit too seriously.

The charms of this book, of course, depend on your tolerance for silliness too. I mean, in my household we find farts funny, so I guess we're pretty immature already. This guide to goofiness is just $19.95 at Young Explorers. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A House We Can All Afford

One of the great holiday traditions is making a gingerbread house. Unfortunately, I've never participated in this great tradition, since my baking skills are only so-so, and my construction skills are at a rudimentary preschool block level.

But, my inadequacy shouldn't deny my child one of the holiday season's offerings, right? I was flipping through the King Arthur Flour catalog (yes, they do sell flour, lots of flour, but they also sell all things baking), and I came across this Gingerbread House Making Kit. And get this: there's NO baking required! It's the ultimate cheat, with pre-baked and shaped gingerbread, a special tray to hold the structure steady, and tons of icing and candy. Because you know, your kid doesn't care about the shaping and baking part; he just wants to dress it up and eat the candy.

You won't need to take out a second mortgage for this house. It's just $16.95. That's a bargain for a full afternoon of messy, sugary fun. Find it at the venerable King Arthur site.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Toad Says "Boo" to the Switch Witch

Parenting in L.A. means putting up with a lot of helicopter parents. They mean well, they really do, but their collective issues, fears and stuff mean that they try to control every little thing in their kids' lives.

Take Halloween, for instance. It's already been somewhat ruined by the idea that kids in masks might get abducted by creepy adults in masks (a completely debunked fear; Halloween was recently named the safest night of the year for kids). Now, parents trail after their children, controlling the trick or treating on every level. Who will TP the neighbor's house? Who will experience the blast of being sans parents, outside, at night, for a brief 45 minutes. Not our kids. Sad.

But you know what's even sadder? Now the parents control the candy consumption through a bogus new myth called the Switch Witch. The idea is that the kids can eat candy up through Halloween, but after that must leave their hard earned sugar on the front porch, for the Switch Witch to whisk away and replace with a toy. Huh? Really? Whatever happened to just letting the kid keep the candy? What's the worst thing that could happen? Sugar highs? A few spoiled dinners? Halloween candy consumption is not only a childhood tradition, but it's an excellent way to find out if your child can delay gratification. My kid, for instance, will stash the stuff and dole it out to herself over weeks. What's wrong with that? And why, really, would I ever take the candy away from her and replace it with some crappy toy made in China?

And you know what's really at the bottom of this Switch Witch nonsense? Parents who can't control themselves. Yep, the Switch Witch is simply an extension of their sugar-craving, chocolate-seeking, food-issue suffering tendencies. The parents want the candy out of the house so they won't eat it. That's just so pathetic. So I say "boo" to the Switch Witch. You want to get rid of that candy? Show some character and have your kids donate it to the troops overseas. God knows they could use a little sweetness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bad Idea

Sometimes, there's a fashion item that's just so bad, I have to comment. Last time, it was the "harem pants" jeans, a slouchy crotched pant that was guaranteed to be unflattering on everyone. They were the great fashion leveler, and the only reason I could think of to purchase them was if you needed a little extra room for jumbo-sized Depends.

But these pants make me shudder. Produced by Marc Jacobs (a designer I think is fairly overexposed), these "Relaxed Cropped Jeans" manage to combine some of the worst fashion of the last forty years. I mean, jeez, check them out! It's as if a pair of super high waisted pleated khakis worn by a fifty-something midwestern man mated with the most heinous LL Bean mom jeans, to produce the most heinous pair of pants in history. Think about it: these jeans are modeled on a fourteen year old girl who only ingests romaine lettuce and Ex-Lax, yet they still manage to make her look like a walking dump. Just think what they'd look like on you.

Obviously, this is not a recommendation, so there is no link. There is no reason to purchase these, unless you know a cross-dressing fifty-something midwestern man who might appreciate them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Irresistible Forces

There's all kinds of wild games and toys out there, involving batteries and outlets, assembly and parental cursing. But what I've found is, in the end, nature's forces often deliver the most interesting toys.

I'm a big fan of magnetic toys, for instance, and so is my daughter. Bucky Balls (that collection of tiny magnetic balls) have been a hit around here. But this magnetic putty has definite possibilities. This picture makes it look like a rock, but it's actually a moldable putty. It's accompanied by a very powerful magnet; hold the square away from the putty, and watch the putty "reach," tentacle-like, to try and join it. Fascinating. Of course, the putty's good for all the usual magnet tricks, sending paper clips rocketing toward it, getting it stuck to the fridge, etc. Just don't get it near your credit cards, or I have a feeling they'll be permanently de-magnetized.

Find this very animated "rock" at Uncommon Goods. At just $14 a pop, it's a pretty cheap elemental thrill.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Call It Macaroni!

There always reaches a point during the weekend when the kids start whining. You think, "What can I do with them?" And then you curse your sheer laziness of not looking through the paper, or searching online, for stuff to do with kids in Los Angeles.

Well, it's not your fault. You're busy. So you know what you do next time you're stuck with screaming, dissatisfied progeny (besides screaming back)? Look up Macaroni Kids Pasadena. This brilliant site has done the legwork for you. Publisher Lauren Albrecht finds the best events and activities in the east L.A. area (an area which, by the way, has the richest cultural events in the Basin, at least in this humble Toad's opinion), writes them up, and sends them out for you to peruse. You can set up your own list of events on the site, read through the well-written, well-researched write ups, or just click on the calendar (or This Week's Picks) for immediate info, fast. And holidays are given special attention: you'll find a guide to Halloween pumpkin patches and festivals, just an easy click away. Lauren even writes about projects you can do with your kids at home. Plus, the site delivers the latest museum free events. It's such an excellent resource.

So, there's a lot to love about Macaroni Kids Pasadena. Check it out here. And then plan a whine-free weekend (or vacation for visiting little people), absolutely effortlessly.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Brush With Success

As I have repeatedly stated, this is not a beauty blog. But, if I run across a beauty product that's superior and is therefore gift-worthy, I write about it.

So, take a gander at this Denman brush. My kid has the thickest head of hair ever; when properly brushed she looks like a Breck girl, when tangled saying it's a rat's nest would be kind. We've tried all kinds of brushes. Many, including those super expensive Mason Pearson models with the boar bristles, get an epic fail. These brushes only reach the top layers of hair, smoothing them and disguising the nightmare underneath. By the time the tangles are discovered, the hair's been washed and the tangles are wet, creating a kicking and screaming situation (if you've ever tried to detangle your own hair, you're familiar with the pain). But this Denman brush with plastic bristles, a sturdy handle and a red rubber base, cuts through the static (literally, it's static fighting) and renders even the thickest hair gleaming and smooth, all the way through. No small feat. Another bonus: the base slides off for easy cleaning, because nothing's worse than finding a Sasquatch living in your fancy brush, with no easy way to evict it.

These brushes are under $20, making them an excellent stocking stuffer or part of a beauty basket gift. Find a wide assortment at Ball Beauty. And may you and yours be blessed with successful brushing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pantone, The Toad Loves You

Around when I started this blog, I posted about the Pantone mugs (I believe I was one of the first to do so, although of course I cannot prove this, so you'll have to take my amphibious word of honor on it). Next thing I knew, the mugs were everywhere, the darlings of product media (and no wonder, since the media is surrounded by graphic design and anything Pantone makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside).

Pantone has, of course, extended its product line since, to include things like wallets, but they never really took off. These fabulously Pantone hued tin boxes, however, are a real winner. Can't you just see a stack of these on a desk, holding various supplies? How about using them as fabulous gift boxes for homemade cookies or candy (hell, just buy the candy and stuff it in the box, who cares?). They're soooo pretty. And if you know anyone with a graphics or publishing background, they're a surefire hit.

At $28 a pop, they're not super cheap, but as I said above you can put just about anything in one and it makes a jiffy quick gift. It took me forever to get gifted my own set of Pantone mugs (thanks, Jane), but I think this time I'm gonna gift myself a stack of nifty boxes. So there. At A+R.

Easy Herb

No, not Herb as in Uncle, but herb as in sage, parsley and mint. Herbs are always a perfect way to add kick to bland cooking, and the Toad is always looking for easy ways to prep them.

Sound lazy? Yeah, well, maybe. Toad has knife skills, but herb chopping is, frankly, a drag. Half the stuff sticks to the cutting board or ends up destroyed by my madly hacking blade. I'm always forgetting to chop them until the last minute, so I do a half-assed job, anyway. Although many would view this Microplane Herb Mill as a silly kitchen unitasker, I beg to differ. Just shove herbs of your choice into the mill, close and twist the top like a pepper mill, and out comes perfectly chopped, not bruised and wounded, herby goodness. Plus, it's made by Microplane, a brand that understands choppage and grateage for sure.

This would make an ideal housewarming or hostess gift. It's just $25 for an item friends and family might actually use and appreciate. Find it at Sur La Table.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Before I get started on this rant, let me just say that I fully understand the importance for children to emulate adults. But this has gone too far.

Lately, I've noticed some newer miniaturized toys (all of which are, of course, marketed to little girls), which seem to stress the housewifely arts. Just look at the pictures here! One is a tiny Dyson vacuum cleaner, which apparently works and picks up teeny tiny specks of carpet gunk. The other item is a "mini" donut maker (there's also a cupcake version). This kitchen uni-tasker creates lilliputian baked goods, which presumably little girls adore. Now, far be it from me to discourage neatness or cooking aptitude in children; as I stated above, I'm all for it. But, instead of spending bucks on these inferior child models, why not just teach your kid (notice I didn't just say "daughter") to vacuum using the real vacuum (easily done if you have a canister model), or make baked goods in the real oven. And don't give me the "safety" argument, either. I, a former sucker, bought my kid an Easy Bake oven. That thing got hotter than Hades. Burnt her arm. Made crappy cakes. Was one of the unsafest items in the house.

So, teach your kids to really bake. Or, teach them to really clean. It could be fun. It's free labor. And free is always better than spending $34.95 on a tower of ineffective plastic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hot Pocket

Yes, it's still toasty in some parts of the world, but the weather is turning more unpredictable. And, for cold-prone people you know, nothing's worse than getting caught in chilly weather without a heat source.

So, check out this totally ingenious down shawl. Sure, it's basic black (goes with everything, don't you know) and slightly more stylish than that Land's End down vest stuffed in my car trunk, but that's not what makes this accessory a standout. The brilliance is in the fact that it stuffs down into its own pocket, forming a tidy heart shaped package that easily fits in a glove compartment, purse, or carry all for instant use. You have to love the practicality.

For $98, this "shawl" isn't super cheap. But it is, literally and figuratively, HOT. Find it at Athleta.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Toad Gets Press!

Last week, the Larchmont Chronicle wrote a piece about Find A Toad. And, here it is!