Monday, December 17, 2012

Perfume for Dessert Lovers

It's a lemon cookie, pudding, souffle and pie, all stuffed inside this pretty bottle. Attract fans with a single spray.
I rarely push any sort of scent here on Toad, mostly because I'm notoriously picky when it comes to perfume. Most of it, frankly, makes me either wheeze or eventually cut off the limb I sprayed the stuff onto. My nightmare is entering the Bloomie's in NYC, where a gauntlet of aggressive perfume sprayers guards the door, liberally covering every poor schmuck who enters. There's nothing like a combo of nasty patchouli, musk, cedar, rose, and literal scented poison to make me run screaming from a building. And elevators? Don't ask.

However, there are exceptions. The amazing site Lucky Scent offers a wide range of cult perfumes, many of which are far more subtle and refined than department store offerings. One such scent, Menthe Fraiche by Heeley, has been my go to for years; it's light with mint and green tea notes, and fades pleasantly without that powdery afterscent that reminds me of the geriatric set. Recently, I found a new scent (a miracle, really). Called Nuvol de Llimona by Roca Perfums, it translates as "Lemon Cloud," and that pretty much sums it up. Lemon Cloud smells like the best lemon based dessert you've ever had, with a sharp citrus note followed by sugary, almost custardy finishes. It's delectable and delicious, yet fades becomingly. This does not smell like Lemon Pledge. It simply allows you to smell like food in a highly acceptable way. And men respond more favorably to food smells than anything else (to hell with Poison or that foul Carnal Flower); there's nothing like the smell of baked goods and sugar to drive a man wild.

As perfumes go, Nuvol de Llimona is reasonable at just $80. Plus, the round minimalist white bottle is adorable, and it's wrapped in bright yellow tissue, just like a lemon drop. Share a little sweet this Christmas and click on over to Lucky Scent.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Birchbox is Beauty that Keeps on Giving

It could be shampoo, or lip gloss, or the greatest moisturizer ever. Order and find out!
Time's ticking away here, and you're getting down to the gifting wire. Between the crowds, traffic, and shipping deadlines, you might be tempted to scrape the bottom of the barrel, at least gift wise. Resist!

Order a giftee a Birchbox subscription instead. I actually tried out Birchbox myself (I became a member so that I could order myself an ongoing subscription. Here's how it works: every month that you pay for (I pay by the month, but you could sign your giftee up for three, six, or even a merry twelve months) your giftee receives a little box filled with beauty samples. It's sort of like getting the Needless Markup's Beauty Event in the mail every month. Now, is every item stellar? Of course not. There's some dogs in there, I won't lie. But, I've also tried some new products and really enjoyed them, plus they're all tiny so they're perfect for travel. Plus, there's something wonderful about getting a mystery package in the mail, and Birchbox ships pretty little boxes with festive tissue. There's nothing not to like about this gift.

Both women's and men's boxes are available, and the boxes range in size and cost; my subscription is just $10 a month. Go to Birchbox and send someone the gift that keeps on coming. It'll make you memorable all year long.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Presents That Present

When in gifter doubt, here's a suggestion: go for the kitchen display item. A well made and elegant tray makes a gift most will love. The reason? Trays are versatile items. Currently, I have a tray under my coffee maker and grinder to corral any mess, a tray under three little pine trees I picked up as holiday decor (thanks, Trader Joe's), and a tray holding various items on my coffee table. The genius of this is, in a matter of seconds, I can switch them over to holding cheeses for a party, organizing incoming holiday cards, or as part of a buffet. Trays are hard workers.

Here's the best trays (and cutting boards, which do double duty as trays) I've found.

A Marimekko tray: It's Finnish, or Swedish, or something Scandinavian anyway. And those people have taste. This one is both clean and modern, yet folksy and woodsy. Plus, the plastic makes it super tough. The price isn't bad, either. At Finnstyle starting at $28.
It's a peaceful woodland scene, right on the dining room table.

Kaleido Tray: This isn't just one tray, it's a whole spectrum of them. These range in price from $16-$78, depending on size, so you can design your own configuration. So pretty! These are powder coated steel and not intended for food, so scrap the fromage plans. At A+R.
Use your creativity to create your own display puzzle.

Lostine Bagette Board: For some reason, these look vaguely nautical to me. Or, they look like something designed to paddle unruly British schoolchildren in the days of old. Whatever. Fashioned in Philadelphia of sycamore and food safe milk paint, these rustic yet clean lined boards are the ultimate bread and cheese display items. At Home Remedy NYC for $108.
Break bread or paddle unruly children: your choice.

Wud trays: Made of either walnut or maple with your choice of colored edges, these David Rasmussen Wud trays morph styles from Craftsman to post modernist. And they're totally food safe. I could see one left out on a table, holding some persimmons. At The Shop in East Liberty for $62.
This Wud does not include a woodchuck. Sorry.

Teraforma Anise Serving Board: Asian inspired, this double sided serving board gives you a neutral and a dark side to match decor and mood. Made of laminated Swedish birch wood, again food safe. At YLiving for $38.
Add some Wabi Sabi to your holiday cheer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Psychedelic Toile

What are these noble people doing in the vivid Francoise woods?
The Toad is always hopping around looking for the strange and unusual, especially when it relates to home decor. And one of the hardest things to find for a home is a really good, really different throw pillow, one color and verve but lacking prissiness.

Speaking of prissiness, I've always felt toile, with its snooty French origins and sedate color ways, falls into this category. I'm always impressed when someone, like Richard Saja, for instance, finds a way to elevate a traditional design material like toile into a fun piece of decor. Thus, I present the Frankentoile pillow. Each pillow is pieced together from different toile elements and colors (some traditional, some decidedly not), and turned into a rather psychedelic French country tableau. I simply love it, particularly because each Frankentoile pillow is unique. Throw this puppy onto a modernist couch or sectional and up the design ante considerably.

Frankentoile (I just love writing that) is an 18x18 pillow for $160, putting its price point in line with items of far lesser quality; I think it's something of a deal. That being said, it's still a luxury item, so buy for a giftee with caution (or just buy it for me). At The Future Perfect.

Monday, November 26, 2012


We all scream for tagine!
There's always some culinary wunderkind on your list, the one who knows how to use those grains of paradise in your spice drawer (I'm still waiting for this information), and who makes preserved lemons from scratch (pretty easy, in fact). This person is a beloved food source but not the easiest of giftees.

If your budget allows some busting, let me recommend this uber modernist Revolution tagine by Revol. Unlike other, more fragile or fussy versions, this tagine withstands everything from induction to oven to microwave, freezer, and dishwasher without complaint or worry. It'll turn humble chicken, olives, spices and that annoyingly homemade preserved lemon into a masterpiece. Plus, its super sleek design means it'll look good just sitting on the countertop.

What's not to love? The price. At $300, it's steep. So this isn't a casual acquaintance type of gift, because you want to be invited to all the dinner parties this tagine inspires. At Dwell.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Give Art Objects to Arty Friends with Artware Editions

Happy holidays, people!
I have a fair number of arty friends, but generally art is too pricey, and too subjective, to give as gifts. Enter Artware Editions.

This wonderful site features mostly useful ( or at least interesting) objects designed by real artists. Take, for instance, the coasters and placemats by art legend Louise Bourgeois that would look smashing in modern or craftsman homes alike. How about the funny cat head vessel by one of my favs, Kiki Smith (this item, at over $600, has been on my personal want list for years, but to no avail). For a more affordable option, give these cocktail napkins by Nancy Dwyer (the General Malaise theme is perfect for nursing a New Year's Day hangover). And where else can you find a beach towel designed by Yoki Ono?

Browse through Artware Editions and find art to suit just about anyone, unless they're primarily a fan of paint by numbers. Then, you're on your own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Toad's Super Indy Store Holiday Shopping Guide

Yes, every year I deliver you a list of the best online shopping sources I can find. I always try to think local and shop independent stores; I'd rather give some small interesting token than a mass produced t-shirt from Target. Sometimes the cost is about the same, but the impact, on both the giftee and the little store making some money, is far greater.

This list is heavy on the Los Angeles based stores, because I'm an Angeleno and have a great fondness for our style sense. As always, there's an emphasis on spareness, modernism, and a bit of a minimalist bent. You won't find chintz here, unless it's the edgiest chintz in creation. I've tried to just give an overview of each store without specific gift recs, although I break my own rule every now and then (there's no fun in making rules unless you can break them, too).

Shop early, shop often, and shop indy this holiday season!

Hemingway and Pickett: This fairly new store in Silverlake, right on the Echo Park border (and next to the yummy Food Lab, in case you're shopping in person and need lunch), is a gift giver's dream. With an emphasis on Australian goods, H&P stocks some stuff I've never seen before, like charming yet sinister resin rabbit boxes (see pic). With a ton of reasonably priced leather pouches and jewelry, it would be easy to organize a one of a kind grab bag gift. They also have funny profanity laced cards. Browse and find a bevy of choices here.

Store secret and sinister things in this not so innocent bunny box.
Reform School: Charming and weird, Reform School is a storefront that exists in spite of itself, but I mean that in a good way. The goods lean almost crunchy at times, and are intensely curated. There are funny prints if you're into giving affordable artwork, lovely block sets for toddlers (alas, made of wood, not foam rubber, so give to the kid and then step back fast), and odd camping gear that seems designed for the backyard survivalist.

New High Mart: I'll be the first to admit that New High Mart isn't really my style. It has a hippie vibe, if the hippie in question were a millionaire. The purposefully rumpled shirts and sweaters here look like they've been prechewed by organic mice, but are actually very high quality. It's sort of the ideal gift source for your elegant but artsy aunt. On the less spendy side, there's some pretty nifty knit socks and awesome brass key chains, plus groovy knit hats for bad hair days.

A+R: If you follow this blog at all, you know what a fan I am of A+R. I consider it the single best modernist goods store in the country. If there's something interesting, functional, graphic, and unusual (and maybe Dutch), A+R is the first to have it. From fairly classic to highly edgy, this store offers something for anyone who likes clean lines and maybe some splashes of intense color. The jewelry is always interesting, the Pantone mugs are plentiful, and they even carry larger items like chairs and lighting (for you, not your relatives. There's limits to generosity). Plus, they carry exclusives like the Zepplin seasoning shakers pictured above.  If there's one single site to visit for holiday gifts, I'd be hard pressed not to pick A+R.

Shake up a dinner party with these spice shakers: exclusive to A+R!
Mohawk General Store: Upon first glance, Mohawk looks similar to New High Mart: neutral colors, slightly urban forestry vibe, but that's as far as the similarities go. Mohawk goes for understated elegance. You'll find Rachel Comey shoes and boots, Commes de Garcon wallets, and Aesop toiletries.  Oh, and if you want to buy gifts for people other than yourself, the store has other things, too, like scarves and Santa Maria Novella soap.

Of A Kind: This is an exclusively online store that only sells goods made exclusively for it by some established and some up and coming designers. All the items, ranging from accessories like jewelry and bags to all sorts of clothing, is limited edition, virtually guaranteeing that the fashionista giftee on your list gets something special. One of the site's latest offerings is a jacket by one of my favorite leather designers, Veda. Prices range from around $50 on up to the hundreds. Just remember: if you see something, snag it, because these pieces go fast and they don't make any more after they're snapped up.

Perfume that scents your skin, not stinks up your purse.
Mollaspace: Fun and weighted heavily in the personal accessory and homegoods categories, Mollaspace offers small but practical gifts. There are little planters shaped like concrete buildings (just fill with succulents of your choice for the ideal green thumb gift), tons of different portable iPod speakers, and weird solid colored decks of cards (a funny stocking stuffer. The standout, for me, is the perfume stick roller that's tiny, elegant, and fits in any bag.

Plastica: So, there's plastic like the kind you see not rotting in people's yards (aka, outgrown kid's toys) and then there's plastic that's practical and stylish and you'll never throw away (which is good, because, as I previously mentioned, it does not biodegrade). Plastica sells the latter type of plastic. This site and store is bursting with amazing household items and toys for kids and pets alike. Tubtrugs recycled rubber baskets are fantastic and can serve just about any purpose, and you can stuff one with goodies for a present bonanza. The store also sells cardboard items like the shipped flat Casa Cabana, a kid sized cardboard house they can scribble on. It's also a good source for the MYdrap disposable cloth napkins and placemats (wash and reuse up to six times), which come in easy to tear rolls (an ideal hostess gift).

ThinkGeek: This online only store is the absolute best place to pick up the geekiest hardware around. It's perfect for gifting your Star Wars obsessed kid and your Dr. Who obsessed grown up alike. Plus, this site has all sorts of dorky practical joke items, like a device that surreptitiously changes the channel on any TV (perfect for amusing oneself during layovers in the airport sports bar). There's also an entire Caffeinated Goods section for the perpetual up all night student.

This Is Why I'm Broke: Basically a blog, this site gathers the weird, the offensive, the hilarious and the ridiculously overpriced together in one over the top catalog. While you might find a Free Willy submersible boat on sale for a cool 100 grand, there's also ten dollar items for stocking stuffers. Try the glow in the dark Uranium soap for a science nerd. Or the handy "Baby Mop" for the new mom. This site is full to bursting with immature items for the sophomoric at heart. Be sure to indulge, if just to get a good giggle going while online shopping at work.

Lost and Found: Behold, a collection of the most understated yet high quality goods available. The taste is elegant yet earthy, the materials are luxurious yet casual, the vibe is tres L.A., and the prices are astronomical. Yet, this collection of stores in the heart of Hollywood always beckons me back, if just to tease me by dangling some shiny object just out of financial reach. The children's clothing is also fantastic. Rest assured, you'll find something to purchase here. Then you'll need to take out a loan.

The most elegant way to crack open a beer.
OK: One of my favorites, OK just keeps on trucking with excellent modernist wares, hard to find art books, lovely jewelry, and a wonderful holiday selection. If you visit the store around the holidays, you'll discover that OK has pre-wrapped affordably priced gifts you can simply snatch up, pay for, and deliver. It's one efficient little store, and most of its goods are available on its site. Shop for Heath Ceramics, brass Japanese bottle openers, gorgeous votives, and much more.

Behold: a humiliated squirrel.
Jonathan Adler: There's no question this upscale pop cultured ceramics studio store is no longer a tiny indie entity. But, Adler's cheerful Palm Beach style and wit is always appropriate, especially when doled out in small, controlled doses. Maybe a funny banana pillow here, or a ceramic animal lurking around. I like his bathroom accessories, too, even the ones more R-rated for grown up holidays. My favorite this year, though, is the super affordable $10 giant purple squirrel eraser. It's perfect: first, Adler humiliates the curly tailed rat by making it purple, but then he renders it useful rather than a simple pest. I love it.

Not for holidays at Grandma's house.

Home Remedy: This New York based store sells things I haven't seen before, like deer antlers covered in stripes of colorful acrylic paint (announcement to anyone reading this: the Toad wants one), or the completely mismatched china by Seletti, making a dinner party into a mad hatter endeavor. Are these things too edgy and useless? Try the paddle shaped cutting boards instead. One of those will turn any cheese selection into high dairy art.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another A+R Excellent House Warming Find

These Zepplins are the seasoning bomb.
Every once in a while, I put something up on Pinterest and people go crazy over it. Yesterday, I found these Zepplin seasoning shakers at my favorite source, A+R, and pinned it. It was liked and repinned repeatedly all night. Thus, these Zepplins have just earned their own post.

I'm often on the hunt for great, affordable house or hostess gifts, so these shakers spoke to me. Designed by Czech ceramicist Daniel Pirsc, they go beyond salt and pepper (those kinds of shakers tend to be too cutesy for me) and into the interesting object category. The hostess could easily make these shakers part of the tabletop tableau. They also look like they'd feel good in the hand. They're sold individually, and one could be given as a coffee accessory, filled with good cocoa or high quality cinnamon for sprinkling atop cappucinos. Another option? Give a Zepplin with a tin of smoked chipotle powder, or Hungarian smoked paprika. See? Endless possibilities.

The Zepplins are an A+R exclusive, which means you won't find them in catalogs or at Target. Good. They're also just $28 each, which makes them ultra affordable. And in three finishes, you'll be sure to find one that matches the existing decor. At A+R.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Buy Some Banned Books for Your Literary Friends

If it was banned, it must be a seriously good read.
Guess what? The American Library Association is celebrating Banned Books Week this week. It's sort of a dubious celebration, the need to have this label on this week at all, since it's due to intense controlling stupidity, but that's just human, I guess.

What Banned Books Week does offer is a chance to purchase some banned books, and give them as gifts to the literary minded giftees in your life. A few recommendations include (with pithy commentary on perhaps why the banning; who knows what the censors were thinking):

The Great Gatsby: No book should ever be banned, but seriously, why this book? I just want an explanation.

To Kill A Mockingbird: Maybe the Anti Pork League got mad that Scout was dressed as a ham?

Lolita: For some obvious reasons, I guess. Don't give this book to a precocious 12 year old. On the other hand, one of the greatest, wittiest books I've ever read.

The Lord of the Rings: Could it be the presence of magick???

Lady Chatterly's Lover: With teen girls proudly toting 50 Shades of Grey around with no self consciousness, I think it's time to revisit some really well written smut.

In Cold Blood: Violent, yes. But perhaps the best piece of long form journalism ever.

Tropic of Cancer: See Lady Chatterly's Lover above.

Beloved: The combination of ghosts and condemnation of slavery makes this one a censorship slam dunk.

This is by no means a complete list. For that, go to the ALA site. Then, hit your local bookstore and buy 'em out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Front Door of Perception

I moved into a smaller, more modern, and utterly different house about four months ago. Since then, improvements have been bumping along. We repainted the interior, removing the blinding and clashing color palette (marigold yellow and hyacinth purple, anyone?), and replacing it with a more beachlike, neutral paint job. Changing out the doorknobs from cheapy brass apartment style ones to slightly more expensive stainless steel globe knobs made a sizable difference (such a little change, such a big impact).

Before we get started on the kitchen (by Ikea. We need clean and affordable, not custom and fancy), I decided to fix something that's eaten at me since the day we bought the house: the front door. Here's what the front door looked like before:
Yes, those are paint chips taped to the front door.

Doesn't this fit right in?
Ugly, pedestrian, and most certainly doesn't jibe with a modern, clean lined house. Here's the old doorknob:

It's yea Olde Knob.
I had plenty of ideas for a new door (and the new door project was funded by my grandmother, who demanded that her generous housewarming check not be used for moving expenses; she wanted to see her gift in action). After endless online searching, I found Crestview Doors, a small company based in Austin, TX that makes modernist doors with strategically placed windows. I fell in love with the Burbank, and realized that Crestview offers a Doorlite door window kit you can buy to turn any plain door into that modernist gateway of your dreams. So that's what I did. We ordered the kit, bought the door, had the windows installed, the door hung, the hardware purchased from Rejuvenation, and finally painted the whole thing one screaming bright shade.

I'm so happy with the results!
The shape of the cut out windows evokes the shape of the living room windows.

Yes, it's bright. It's making us smile every time we come home.

We added classic mid century modern star power.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Got Your Kid's Goat

He looks all innocent, but he'll gobble your pantyhose right off the line.
I spend a far amount of time every Fall looking at Halloween costumes. Mostly, they don't change too much from year to year: there seem to be myriad ways to tart up daughters and superhero sons.

But then I saw this Goat costume, and it all changed. I think this is ideal for a toddler, because it feels like jammies to them, but is just cute and ridiculous enough for you. I have a thing about goats (no, not in a creepy way). I think they're adorable, and fairly personable, and I'm a big fan of their fromage. I have this fantasy that someday I'll live in a place just rural enough to have a little goat of my own. She could eat the grass in the yard, and menace the cat, and be allowed in the living room for short periods when Mr. Crab is out (this scenario doesn't please Mr. Crab at all). Since we are very urban people, this fantasy isn't a possibility. But, dressing my little niece up as a goat for Halloween might suffice.

This head banger of a costume can be your child's for just 40 bucks from Chasing Fireflies. C'mon, admit it: the costume's not baaaad. Now I'm going to go giggle for about three hours.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Something REALLY Scary for Halloween

Watch out boys, he'll chew you up!
I grew up in a very healthy household. As a result, Halloween, with its endless candy troll for one magical night, was like a dream come true. And, the day after Halloween, my mother would try to wheedle the candy away, with promises of higher quality candy "replacement." I never went for it. A few pieces of See's were nothing compared to a pillowcase full of mini Snickers. My mom didn't raise a fool.

My daughter is 11 now, and is suddenly not interested in trick or treating anymore. I suspect it's partially because sugar is more available to her, and literally not much of a "treat." I have accepted that it's probably the last year of costumes for my girl. But if I had a dog, this hammerhead shark costume would be a winner.

Why dress up the dog? Why the hell not? The dog looks way cuter than many older children. Best yet, you get to choose what the dog wears! There's no arguing with about the appropriateness of being a "Sexy Ghost," or banning the wearing of a cleaver through the noggin. Rather, you get to dress your Dachshund up like a loaded hot dog, your Chihuahua as an iguana, and your pit bull (yeah, I know the pic is a pug, but please) like a man eating shark. It's awesome. They have to wear it. And since you have to walk them anyway, you might as well make the evening walk a Halloween event.

Find all these costumes and so much more at Baxter Boo. Now, if only my cats were as pliable...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Scent Bar Targets Luxe for Less

The sophisticated fragrance of Scent Bar at a Target price point smells pretty good to me.
By now you probably know that I'm extremely fussy about perfumes, in fact about scented products of any kind. I've had a difficult time finding any I could tolerate for any length of time, until my friend Franco Wright's store, Scent Bar, opened in Los Angeles years ago.

I worked with Franco an age ago, when he was a very young graphic designer, and I was an almost as young copywriter. We went to lunch a lot. We lunched late. And we chatted about everything from advertising to design to our nebulous futures. It didn't surprise me that Franco started the site LuckyScent with a partner. And it didn't surprise me a little later when Scent Bar first opened on Beverly Blvd. Scent Bar was the first dedicated perfume store that stocked incredibly hard to find cult fragrances. It's where I found the scent I wear to this day, Menthe Fraiche by Heeley. When it comes to fragrances, Scent Bar knows its stuff (just try to find the lines they stock in any department store, I challenge you).

So, when I discovered that Scent Bar has a collaboration line at Target, I was thrilled. Priced at just $8.99, this Sunswept scented body wash, mist, lotion smells like a yummy citrus summer. In Italy, no less. It's incredible quality for the masses, so that everyone can smell fantastic instead of synthetic. Order it online at Target, because it's turning into a bestseller pretty fast.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Coffee Break Present

Oh, deer... you're alone for the first time in three months. Drink up!
Sometimes I see something I wouldn't normally like, but I'm drawn to it anyway. That's the case with this mug, so I've thrown together a gifty package for it, something to give your favorite mom or dad whose child just (thankfully) went back to school.

The silence that comes with the beginning of school is deafening, but in a really good way. After the heat and constant activity of the summer, it's kind of amazing to have a silent peaceful home. And what goes better with a silent peaceful home than getting all ramped up on a great cup of coffee? This new Marimekko mug has "peaceful" and "silent" all over it, from the calming blue hues to the innocent doe eyes of that lovely fawn. This is a mug with no irony. That's why I can't believe I like it.

Anyway, the mug is just $22, and is very good quality. Add to the mug a pound of excellent coffee (Intelligensia's blends come to mind, or order Hawaiian coffee through Coffee Gallery), and you have the ideal parental coffee break kit. Put it together for your best friend and help her welcome fall into her home. Find the mug at FinnStyle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Work Trekker, Meet the Pivot Bag

If a William Gibson character carried a bag, the Pivot would be The One.
It's no secret that I appreciate a well made work bag. I don't get too excited about fancy corinthian leather, or snotty overpriced cult labels (Henry Cuir, bite me), but I do get excited when a bag is basically so impervious to, well, everything, that my laptop or iPad or whatever is snug as a bug in a rug.

I've featured many work bags before, but none as tough as this Pivot bag made by Defy Bags. This Chicago company puts thought, energy, and American labor to work, and the Pivot is a prime example of this devotion to detail. The basic black beauty (hey, it goes with everything) is made of practically bullet proof Cordura fabric, its strap of super tough 2 inch auto seatbelt material, and its two Austin Alpin quick release Cobra buckles are good enough for Special Forces, so I think it'll hold your paltry stuff. There's even a rubber coated water resistant zipper pocket, so that all those spilled lattes don't ruin your day. And, if you actually do make a sojourn with this bag beyond hauling your laptop to the local Starbucks to work on your screenplay, rest assured you'll be well prepared. Apparently, it's also very lightweight, so at least your shoulder won't separate from your body while carrying that MacBook.

At $262, this is, alas, a bit over the Toad price point. But I still think it's a bargain for what you get. Seriously, this bag will outlast you and your progeny, I promise. At Defy Bags.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Giving the Smoke Alarm The Bird

Hey Birders: identify this bird's song.
I know that smoke alarms exist for our safety. I understand they are invaluable and save many many lives and blah blah blah. But my smoke alarm makes me angry. The thing is positioned in such a way that any (and I mean ANY) smoke or fumes caused by my cooking in my open kitchen sets the puppy off. It's annoying and disruptive, the exhaust fan has no discernible effect, and it always makes me want to unceremoniously knock the thing off the ceiling with a baseball bat.

Feeling that way every night while making dinner isn't so good (ok, yes, perhaps I shouldn't make quite so much smoke and fumes? Maybe cook with less gusto?). Then I saw this absolutely adorable Chick A Dee smoke alarm. Rather than looking like a white disk containing apparently radioactive materials, it looks like a white radioactive birdie. What an improvement. It also appears to be movable. What a novel concept. This is such a cute and practical housewarming gift. It screams: I value your safety, but honor your style, too. And if the giftee hails from Portland, well, you just put a bird on it.

Find this smokin' Chick A Dee at A Plus R.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sneaker Punch: What Kind of Fashion Fools Are We?

The humble Adidas teams up with Opening Ceremony... for $235. What a bargain!
So, this post isn't a gift idea, unless you're one generous and frivolous gift giver. This is more a rant about the latest fashion trend, one which is currently making the high end fashion rounds, but will inevitably filter down to lowlier brands.

This Golden Goose pair has been pre-chewed for you by specially bred hamsters... only $535!
Only fashion designers could take the humble high top sneaker, uniform of punk rockers, street kids, and basketball players everywhere, and render it both outrageously priced and uncomfortable. The whole point of a sneaker is that it's comfy, right? You can move in them, walk miles in them, hurl yourself into a mosh pit wearing them. Well, not these sneakers. These sneakers are ultra high end, mostly over three hundred clams a pair. And, wait for this: some of them, actually the majority of them, boast wedge heels hidden in the sneak's inner architecture.
Just because they're French doesn't mean they're good. Isabel Marant sells you style for just $675.

Now, wedges might be considered the most comfortable category of heel by many (although I have enough horrible wedge filled nights on record to dispute this), but adding a wedge to a sneaker intrinsically changes the nature of the sneaker. I would argue that the addition of a wedge transforms a sneaker into a high heeled boot, albeit a puffy, stiff high heeled boot that makes the wearer look like she has developed massive cankles.

So, if you have over 300 bucks to burn and a desire to fall off your sneakers, these choices above are for you. Except for the Golden Goose pair above. I just included those because I couldn't believe that anyone would shell out that kind of money for something that looks like it's been run through a garbage disposal. Maybe I'm wrong. At Barney's.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This Bag Will Not Make Your Arm Fall Off

I'm the first to admit that a purse is a very personal subject. Some women like status bags and spend big bucks. Some like a huge bag for schlepping their complicated lives around. Some of us would like some style, and would like some quality, but would rather not handicap either our bank accounts or our bodies for it.

This very functional bag comes in primary colors and classic brown, too!
I've been hauling around this medium sized bag all summer. It's from a lesser known cult brand, it's white, and it holds a lot. It really holds too much. I know this because my arm started to hurt from hauling it around. Yet, when I looked inside it, I realized that I don't need half the crap that's in there. It was just ridiculous, the amount of loose change and extra glasses and loose receipts I had rattling around in there. The only solution, I decided, was to force myself to downsize. One smallish cross body bag should do the trick.

I found this bag at Coach, of all places. Yeah, I know... it's our mother's purse store, even though I realize it's tried to be more stylish for years. In a way, Coach's striving for hipness made it even stodgier; it was trying so, so hard. This Legacy line, however, is different. They went back to the '70s, to the archives, for classic, streamlined bags. Then they added new colors and, like the one I purchased, color blocking. Somehow, this bag is transformed from stodgy to classically ironic. Although it holds only the essentials (a wallet, a phone, some keys), I've been managing just fine without carting around the contents of a filing cabinet.

At about $278, this bag is a bit over the Toad maximum, but not by much. And, for a quality bag that will probably never truly be out of style, it seems like a bit of a bargain. At Coach.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Best Designed Tote EVER!

So many ways to schlep your stuff!
Every once in a great while, I run across an everyday object that's been truly redesigned. This seemingly ordinary tote bag is a perfect example of this rare phenomenon.

Antiatoms is a design company in Spain that delights in redesigning, indeed perfecting, ordinary bags, totes, and other methods of object transport. This tote bag is a case in point. Constructed as a tote version of a Mobius Strip, the bag can easily hold a bunch of stuff from your local farmer's market (the main reason to have sailcloth tote bags in the first place), keep your sweater you schlepped "just in case" in the center, hold a paper, magazine, or even bunch of flowers horizontally on the outside, and still feel comfortable. The thing is perfect. It would make an ideal gift for either a constant farmer's market lurker or a New Yorker who's forced to carry her life with her everywhere.

It's a Spanish company, so you'll be paying in Euros, roughly 39 of them. That's not too bad for a tote bag that can hold an entire morning or afternoon in one small totable space. At Antiatoms.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This Planter is Perfect for The Purple Thumb

This planter and a camel have one thing in common.
Yes, I have a purple thumb. That means that I buy plants and care for them with the best of intentions, but their survival is still hit or miss. Perhaps I'm a bit neglectful in terms of weeding or watering? I do my best, but when it comes to growing little seeds, The Toad needs help.

I've looked at many different self watering planters, but most of them seemed ugly or just faultily designed. I have high standards; I want live plants that have stylish homes. This self watering planter from Joey Roth delivers the goods on both counts. Made of lovely porous ceramic, it operates very simply. Plant around the middle cistern. Fill the cistern with water. Forget about it for a while. The plants will happily grow as the water seeps through into the soil. And they will do so while looking simple and modernist. It works for me.

Planted with herbs, this planter would make one killer hostess gift. It's just $45 at Joey Roth, and might turn that purple thumb a lovely shade of green.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Keychain to Sanity

It's pretty, pink, and secure.
Perhaps this headline is a tad hyperbolic. A keychain can't really help you maintain your sanity, but an ineffective keychain might help you lose it.

Case in point: my keychain I've carried (and written about for this very blog) for the last two years or so. It's a Bisoni black leather and brass model, and it's quite stylish yet utilitarian. It seemed like the perfect design, until it developed flaws. Like, one side unscrewed seemingly under its own volition, dumping my house key somewhere in or around my car. I was not pleased. In fact, that's putting it mildly. After several more of these annoying incidents and close shaves, I've decided that Bisoni might be baloney. I'm going with this Baggu keychain instead. It's like a mini leash for your keys, but in bright pretty colors. I can stuff it easily into my purse, and find it easily, too. And, apparently, the keychain can be used as a strap attachment for Baggu's cute little pouches for a casual evening out.

At $18, I think this keychain might indeed save my sanity, or at least retard my journey down the road to lunacy. At the amazing Silverlake store, Hemingway and Pickett.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thumb Drive As Currency

These coins' currency is your info. Don't spend them at Starbuck's!
I know: you're wondering what the hell is so exciting about a thumb drive. I could argue that information is the most valuable currency on the planet (at least some information; the US magazine variety could be consigned to the garbage without the world losing out). And for you and yours, your own information might be the most valuable of all.

While I know all about Google Docs and the Cloud, there's still something comforting about having physical possession of your information. The ubiquitous thumb drive gives you just that. Sure, you can go to Staples and purchase any number of stylish, plain, and downright silly renditions of the thumb drive, but I like this Lacie drive best. Shaped just like a coin, the Lacie is easy to carry in a coin purse or pocket without the poking of sharp edges into your tender flesh. They have a certain spy like appeal; this is the thumb drive Bond would use, without question.

At 20 bucks, the Lacie isn't too horribly expensive. My daughter needs a thumb drive for school, and I'm considering getting her this, as long as she doesn't accidentally spend it at lunch. At Here Is Object.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Best Scrub Cloth EVER!

It doesn't look like much, but this is a magical cloth.
I know, I know: it takes almost nothing to get The Toad excited. But, as we enter the dog days of summer, our skin starts to build up crud. Old tan, old sunscreen, dryness, irritation, all of it leaves our late summer skin less glorious than it should. I'm always on the lookout for a product that will tame the scaly.

This Hydro Exfoliating Towel by Earth Therapeutics is the best body scrub aid I've found. Given to me by my product fiend friend Alison, it worked its magic almost immediately. Simply squirt on some creamy body cleanser (Alison strongly recommended the creamy kind for extra slip and moisture), and then scrub away. Scrub everything. The towel's extra long length allows for the all important back access. After using this towel in the shower for a couple of days, my skin was about as soft as after one of those brutal Korean spa scrubs administered by a no nonsense Korean woman (in black bra and panties), but without the price tag (or, alas, the milk and honey rub down).

The best news of all is that this vital skin aid is just nine bucks. That means you can purchase them for hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, or bridesmaid favors and not break the bank. Or break your skin. I recommend a good lotion post scrub, like Goe Oil. At Amazon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talenti Sea Salt Caramel Gelato: The Most Evil Hostess Gift

This is a little tub full of sin.
It's summer party season. And you know that a great hostess gift is mandatory. But what about an evil hostess gift?

I'm talking about something so scrumptious, so mouth watering, so absolutely delicious that it renders one speechless. I'm talking about Talenti's Sea Salt Caramel gelato, possibly the meanest dessert ever devised. Many sea salt caramel gelatos and ice creams lack the true unctuous mouth feel of real caramel; they're simply cold with a tangy salt hit at the end. Not so with this stuff. The wicked food scientists at Talenti use Argentine dulce de leche and excellent salt, for a gelato that reads, in your mouth, somewhere between ice cream, mousse, and candy confection. If that weren't enough, there's also little chunks of sea salt caramel truffle lurking in there, forcing you to dig for them like the greedy candy crazed child you really are. It's evil stuff. Luckily, gelato has less fat than ice cream, although (note to self), that's still not an excuse to consume the entire container standing up in the kitchen with a soup spoon held like a shovel.

If you're not a sea salt caramel person, Talenti offers an excellent chocolate and a host of other flavors. Bring this as a hostess gift and watch her (or him) bury it in the bottom of the freezer for a little "alone time" after the guests have left. Go to Talenti to find suppliers; I know it's unfortunately at my neighborhood Gelson's.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Bittersweet Father's Day

This bag spits at baggage handlers.
Before I even begin what is going to be undoubtedly one of my more personal posts, I just want to get the official Father's Day gift idea out of the way (since that's, presumably, why you read this thing; it can't just be because you find me so endlessly amusing).

Anyway, I've chosen a most durable and practical gift idea, one that embraces the whole outdoorsy, macho, "maybe I'll blow my best friend's face off with a shotgun" vibe, but is still cool enough for corporate air travel or a grubby road trip. I'm talking about a gift card to Filson, that revered house of hunting, tracking, and shooting accessories that makes the best man bags I've ever seen. Seriously, I bought one for Mr. Crab (who, while crabby, doesn't actually shoot anything except photographs), and it travels with him everywhere, holds everything of value, and looks virtually the same as when he first was gifted it. It's a workhorse, way nicer than those Land's End bags, not at all twee like Jack Spade or Varvatos. Plus, a good solid carry on bag can be had for a hair over $200. Give your dad a Filson gift card and watch him go, but don't be surprised if he orders a flak jacket in camo instead. Some small fantasies are worth fulfilling.

Now, for the personal. My dad would love to go on some trips. I think it's one of his fondest wishes. But I don't think it's going to happen. Illness has taken this wish away. So what do you give a father for Father's Day who used to have everything, and still sort of does, except for his health? I can't give him health, or energy. I can't offer him fifty pounds of muscle to make him walk miles and do yoga. Giving the man a Filson bag right now would be a sad reminder of a unfulfilled wish.

He used to love to eat, so I'm going to cook for him this Father's Day. We have a long California tradition of spicy stews, meals in a bowl that restore most of us to health. I have no illusions that anything I prepare will give him his health back, but perhaps it'll give him the taste of family, and togetherness, and the joy we all took in being pigs together. Thus, I give him (and share with you) my Chicken Posole.

Not So Traditional Chicken Posole
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 boxes chicken stock, preferably organic
3 cans white hominy
2 cans whole potatoes (sounds weird, but canned potatoes hold shape better in soup)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped

Step one: Saute, in large heavy soup pot, the onion and garlic in a bit of canola or light olive oil. Once translucent, throw in the chicken breasts and add all the stock. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Let simmer about 20 minutes, then remove chicken to cool on plate. Shred chicken. Add potatoes, chopped, and the hominy. Slide shredded chicken back in and leave whole cauldron at a simmer.

Step 2, for green mix:
In Vita Mix or food processor bowl, arrange:
1.5 pounds tomatillos, husks removed (you may use canned if there's no fresh available)
1/2 chopped onion
one whole bunch cilantro
about a handful of dried Mexican oregano (it really does need to be Mexican)
2 or 3 dried chiles
Either 3 pasilla chiles, charred and skinned, or a medium can of fire roasted green chiles
2 jalapenos, chopped
a few pieces of Romaine lettuce, if you have them lying around
Blitz into a green liquid.

Step 3: Pour all the green liquid into soup pot, and cook on medium low for 20 minutes. The pozole is now ready, to be topped with:

sliced radishes
shredded cabbage
chopped cilantro
a squeeze of lime
Queso Fresco
fried corn tortilla strips (slice tortillas, gently fry in non stick pan, tossing until moderately crispy but not burnt

Enjoy the Father's Day Pozole love.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Casa for Your Kleenex

Your nose should feel extra special using a tissue from this modernist manse.
Now that I'm done painting (pictures coming soon), I'm busy sort of tarting up the joint. One wonderful thing about moving is tossing a bunch of outdated stuff you accumulated and never liked much, and replacing it with stuff you've handpicked. I'm not talking wasteful accumulation, but lasting replacement, so please, don't get all green on me.

And speaking of green (this is The Toad, after all), check out this full on green house for your tissue supply. Called the Casa, this streamlined neon residence covers up a square box of tissues in your bathroom or bedroom, and the lovely white tissue streams out the chimney like the purest of smoke. That's one stylish way to dress up potential snot rags, especially when you consider what the usual boxes look like (I once stood in that Kleenex aisle, staring at the "designer prints," and wishing like hell for a basic black or white box. Now that would really be "designer"). Plus, since it's allergy season, we have boxes all over the house. They could all use a makeover. Now, if there was only a device to instantly transport the used tissues to the trash.

This Casa makes one awesome house warming gift. Want to know what else is awesome about it? How about the price tag: just ten bucks! Buy 'em in bulk and hand them out like party favors. At Fred Flare.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Wolf In the Door and Installed in the Kitchen

The Bertazzoni Maserati we didn't pick. 
I'm continuing this trend of departing from The Toad's original gift finding goals to discuss my new kitchen. Please forgive this self indulgent transgression.

We moved into this new house and discovered one shitty stove. I mean, it had to be decades old, or at least it looked decades old, and it pooped out a Bic lighter's worth of gas every now and then. I did manage to boil a pot of pasta on it, but overall I was not even remotely impressed. The reason why is: I had a Wolf.

A Wolf stove is sort of the epitome of at-home professional level appliances. It blasts out an incredible 16,000 BTUs of gaseous flame per burner, yet has the gentlest simmer setting available. If you love to cook (and I do, although at this point it's hard to remember actually cooking anything of note), an awesome piece of machinery like this makes true cuisine possible. I'm willing to forgo many kitchen features to have a Wolf; there will be no custom cabinetry, marble countertops, or Sub-Zero fridges in my new kitchen. Sacrifices must be made.

So Mr. Crab and I sojourned to Pacific Sales to check out excellent stoves. We hoped to save money by buying a less status conscious brand (what Mr. Crab brilliantly terms "the second shitty," the first shitty obviously being the current stove we're planning to throw off the nearest cliff), but the helpful sales guy convinced us otherwise. That absolutely stunning Bertazzoni stove? "It's like a Maserati. It's pretty, but you don't want to drive it every day," Mr. Stove Expert told us. How about a Viking? "They had problems in the past. They've fixed them, but you're not saving that much by buying a Viking instead of a Wolf." Second shitty, indeed. Finally, Mr. Stove Expert told us it was the last day of the Wolf special deal (we saved about 500 bucks). Sold!

The little Wolf that could. This is not my kitchen, by the way.

So there it sits, the Wolf stove. It's a little one with big cooking potential. It has the pretty red knobs. It can sear anything to a crisp. We're grateful to have it. And The Toad recommends it heartily, even though we will be eating Mac and Cheese out of the box in order to fund it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is Little Ruby a Free Range Chicken?

Here's Little Ruby, shaking her hand felted tail feathers right at you!
Sometimes I'm just farting around online and come across something that's not exactly right for Find A Toad, but entirely too weird not to mention. I think Little Ruby here qualifies.

Little Ruby is a footstool in the shape of a stuffed chicken. Now, I suppose you could use any sort of stuffed chicken you could find as a foot stool, but this is the first created just for resting your feet (and good luck with that multi purpose stuffed chicken search, by the way). Little Ruby is hand crafted in Lyons, Kansas (she has an actual farm girl pedigree) from fallen logs, hand felted alpaca, and possibly hand mined bronze (for her feet and beak). While your first instinct would be to place Little Ruby in a country home, please resist this temptation, as she would look so much creepier and quirkier in a modernist environment, plunked down in front of a Womb Chair. And you know, Little Ruby longs to be quirky, because she's one funky, handcrafted kind of chicken.

Did I mention that Little Ruby has a big price tag of $700? That's why she's not exactly right for the Find A Toad $200 price limit. Talk about putting pearls before swine, this is cash before chickens. Or something like that. Find Little Ruby and the rest of her flock at The City Girl Farm.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Remove Minty Fresh Feeling From My Kitchen

Green space is nice, but not in your kitchen. Unless you're the Easter Bunny.
Here we are with another update from the reno on the Toad Abode. This time, it's the new home's kitchen, a decent space with a bad dye job.

Seriously, nothing makes food, people's complexions, and just about anything else look worse than green paint. Especially this thick, viscous, minty green shade chosen by the color blind former owner. The color robs one of joy on a deeply institutional level; my painter calls this shade and flesh pink the painting "no no's" because they were consistently used in hospitals (why??? Didn't patients feel lousy enough already?). A fix of neutral paint is a must, and fast.

Although we have plans to change up this kitchen, we realized that we needed to live with it as is (although sans feeling green), before we could possibly understand what we really require in terms of storage and cabinetry. There's nothing, as far as I can tell, really wrong with the kitchen layout: the work triangle is good, there's lots of counter space, Mr. Crab and I can work in there without knifing one another. Plus, we have to get the contents of our kitchen off of our balcony, because the disarray is driving us batty.

So, there are two parts to this kitchen redo. Soon, you'll see it with new paint, new appliances, and a new sink and faucet. Then, in perhaps six months, we'll bite the bullet, live in chaos once again, and put in those new counters, cabinets, and cork floor tiles that we truly want. Delayed gratification, maybe, but I think it'll produce superior results. I'm currently investigating commercial stainless steel single basin sinks and sprayer faucets, so the kitchen fun's just begun. And I highly recommend Benjamin Moore's Ben and Aura lines of paint; there really aren't any fumes to speak of and the coverage is good.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Maps for The Young and Clueless

This is what your child sees from the booster in the back seat. 
Here's an unhappy side effect of keeping kids in the backseat forever and never letting them walk anywhere: they have no idea where the hell they are. On top of that, once they turn fifteen or sixteen, they will be allowed to get in the car and drive, even though they've never developed any meaningful navigational skills.

So what?, you might say. They'll just plug in the car's navigation system, or ask Siri for assistance, or even call me for help. Well, I say that's just ridiculous. Personal navigation skills are vital, and can't be taught from the back seat. That's why a kid needs a map of her city, preferably mounted on foam board, hanging in her room. Purchase a good street map (we live in LA, so I chose one with detail but not every single street). Mount it on thicker foam board using rubber cement and a plastic smoothing device found at your local art supply store. Hang it on the wall and break out the push pins. Show your kid where the house is, where the school is, the grocery store, the grandparents' house, the best friend's adode, and anyplace else of interest. Pin these places, and I don't mean Pinterest. Trust me, the kid will study it, learning the lay of their land in an entirely new way.

You can find a vast variety of wall maps (rolled, not folded) at And this gift idea would work for any child, in any city. It's one easy way to teach some very valuable life skills.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Espress Yourself: Even MORE Ways to Drink Espresso

Does this look familiar? It's a sippy cup, sans Dora the Explorer.
We all like to delude ourselves, with our sustainable free trade coffee and fancy machinery, that we are sophisticated adults when it comes to coffee culture. But that's just not true. We're actually big adult babies in the morning (or the afternoon, or midday, or whenever you have that caffeine deprived slump), jonesing for that first cup of joe the same way an infant needs a bottle. It's sad, but maybe it's best to just admit it.

No Slip Til Brooklyn has done just that with its Espress Yourself project. It features five different artists who had just two months to take an espresso cup concept from imagination to completion. That's no small feat, and the results are very pleasing. Naturally, my favorite is the Sip, a grown up take on a kiddy sippy cup. It's also white (all the cup sets are) and lovely in its modern simplicity. I would love to own this cup, if only I could locate my espresso machine from the multitude of boxes stashed on my balcony.

The whole cup collection would make a fabulous wedding gift for some lucky couple. Or, as a housewarming gift (hint). All I know is, we need a lot of coffee around here. When we realized that we hadn't moved with a coffee maker, and we would be exactly one morning without immediate coffee, our daughter said, "Uh oh. I'm not talking to either one of you tomorrow morning." From the mouths of babes, indeed.

Find all the cups at No Slip Til Brooklyn.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Change Up of the New Toad Abode

This paint job must die.
As I've written before on this blog, we moved to a smaller, modernist space in a much hillier part of town. There's been adjustment (cat pee on Missoni shams, anyone?), but since the nightmarish colossal move (seriously, just throw out everything you own now and save yourself a ton of work) it's been pretty smooth sailing. Except, perhaps, for the ugly factor.

This ugly factor is best illustrated in the pictures of my new living room/loft, which look like the Lakers had a party and left their color scheme behind. I'm convinced that this marigold yellow and deep purple paint job in the main living area is the reason we got such a great deal; literally no one could stand to be in the room for any length of time. Add the bilious green kitchen and bath into the mix, and the house of many colors starts to pulse into your brain (they say that yellow creates anxiety, and now I'm inclined to believe it.

It could be cool... but not yet.
I have the almond bowl. Peanuts work, too.
So, I've decided to follow in the grand tradition of design blogs like Remodelista and Apartment Therapy and post my own "Before and After" series. Is this really gift oriented? Well, you might not think so at first, but have no fear: I'm still editing and scouting and repurposing things, so there's plenty of products to croak about. I've already transformed an Areaware bowl from a purely decorative piece on my old mantel into a beautiful resting place for keys upon entry. Not bad.

So enjoy these heinous "Before" pictures. Be grateful you're not living in my kaleidoscope world. And prepare to be amazed (or at least not disgusted) by the transformation.

There was a disco ball and laser light apparatus too. Party down!
By the way, those are indeed blue lightbulbs burning inside those Ikea paper lanterns in the living room. Just another aspect of the former owner's design sense that makes me ponder, "WTF???"