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.