Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy Casserole Maker

Yes, we're still in wedding season. High wedding season. And as the season progresses, the gift choices become more and more "wifely" in tone. Thus, casserole dishes!

These, however, aren't just any casserole dishes. Fashioned by hand by Heath Ceramics (a true northern California pottery pedigree), these dishes are stylish, rustic, modernist and classic all at once. They will instantly elevate any humble and meagre offerings slaved over by the new wife (or husband), taking them to new heights of elegance and presentation. On top of that, these dishes are microwave and dishwasher safe, so they can be elegant and expedient all in the same meal. This is instant table credibility, folks.

What I can't offer any new bride or groom are culinary chops. That, unfortunately, must be learned, preferably through a good cookbook and not, say, Aunt Sadie's infamous Tuna Surprise. Order the Heath Ceramics casseroles at And create happy casserole makers in no time.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Saved in the Shade

It's reached that point: the weather's hot. Hot enough that the beach, the lake, even the yard with the sprinklers running holds massive appeal. But what about that dangerous sun?

What every outdoor setting needs is a good beach umbrella. It offers protection beyond mere SPF, plus adds a certain tack factor that's somehow desirable when lounging in the sweltering dog days of August. It's also an ideal hostess gift to bring when invited to a beach or lake house. Everyone can use another umbrella, especially one as ultra-cute as this one. Those palm fronds beckon enticingly (there are other patterns, too, like one that resembles a gigantic sunflower). More importantly, kids will LOVE the whimsy, consider it the bomb for all sorts of summer imaginary games, and get sun protection to boot.

View your umbrella choices at Did I mention it's under forty bucks? Hey, you really will "save in the shade."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cart, No Donkey

The weekly (and even bi-weekly) trips to the local farmer's market are always an adventure. Making your way through the crowds, schlepping bags stuffed full of produce and products, you are your own donkey cart, without any equine assistance in sight.

Here's some sweet rescue from the old heave and haul. This "hook and go" shopping cart is small and lightweight, yet holds up to 70 pounds of stuff. Its excellent design allows you to hook and hang various bags of food (you can even order the thing with reusable bags) as you go. The distinct advantage to the hook method is that, unlike grocery style carts, you won't end up with your tomatoes migrating to the bottom of the transport pile and transforming into sauce before you even get home. Plus, it folds up to fit in your car. Unless you have a Smart Car. Nothing fits in a Smart Car. Not so smart.

Anyway, check this nifty cart out at And stop being your own donkey.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Yes, yes, I know it's annoying when one of your friends is on a crazy diet. Either they can't eat meat, or can only eat meat, or think bread is the devil, or swallow gallons of putrid liquid. It's all in the quest for perfection, and quests demand sacrifice: of pleasure, energy, and good spirits. Vanity sucks.

So here's a little gift for all of them. You might think it's hostile, but I think it's a reminder of what they're denying themselves. These sets of teeny, tiny food are quite elegant and complete. They range from an old-fashioned outdoor barbeque to an elegant lobster and oyster feast (complete with claw cracker). And they're served in portions of which even South Beach would approve. They come in "blind" sets, meaning you won't know what you have until you tear open the wrapping. Like a lilliputian surprise meal, but made of plastic.

Order these tiny teasers at It's a teachable moment about what a "fun meal" really is.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shine a Summer Light

Ah, those old invites to summer homes are just rolling in. And you need hostess presents, and fast. Here's one that'll shine a light on the problem, and it's environmentally virtuous to boot.

Take a gander at this solar powered outdoor shoji lantern. Unlit, it dangles on the deck looking suitably mid-century. But once that scorching summer sun sets, the lantern lights up, having absorbed the rays all day long to offer light all night long (ok, maybe not ALL night, but why would you sit out on the deck all night, getting eaten alive by bugs?). It's such a great, simple gift that any host would value for the rest of the summer season.

Plus, the lantern is just $49. That's less than the excellent bottle of wine you could bring, and it boasts much more staying power. It's available at Bring it on and shine a little light on that outdoor dining.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Beginning as Pure as Spring Water

Here we are with yet another brilliant (and cost-efficient) wedding gift! No one wants to drink dreaded tap water (apparently, not even in NYC anymore), but everyone has struggled with a decent alternative, from ghastly plastic bottles to cost-prohibitive homewide filter systems (NOT something newlyweds can usually afford).

So, help the happy couple drink from their own little fountain of purity. This refillable filter pitcher from Design Within Reach works completely naturally, using a combo of louseki stones and charcoal for odorless, mineral-laden water in a flash. It also just looks so cool, both futuristic and organic. The only drawback is that the couple will have to keep it filled. This could lead to fights. Which, happily, aren't your problem, wedding guest.

The price point for this great gift is encouragingly low, at just $85 and $25 for a rock refill (the rocks and such last about 6 months). Check it out at And then drink to their health.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Utilitarian Cocktails

There's been a lot of focus here lately on the wedding gift front, and it's going to continue for as long as people insist on getting hitched during the sweatiest months of the year.

Still, svitzing is no reason to not buy the aspiring (perspiring?) couple a great gift. And a great gift, to my mind anyway, is something they'll actually use. These iitala Kartio glasses completely fit that bill. Classics since 1958, Kartios come in modernist colors straight off the set of Mad Men that fit well with practically any decor. They have a heavy, comforting weight to them (less breakable for all those newlywed fights). Plus, they add a touch of funky class to anyway which resides inside them, from morning o.j. to vodka rocks. They will use them everyday.

Kartios are pretty well-priced, too, coming in at around 18 bucks for a set of two. Buy them four sets and you're done, unless you want to throw in a bottle of great vodka, too. Order at And encourage them to drink to their good health.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Saucy Bride

Two posts ago I discussed Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I promised to feature a saucier pan to accompany it. Well, the Toad always delivers.

First, what is a saucier pan, and why would a bride (or any other mere mortal) want one? A saucier pan usually has a slightly rounded bottom and a wider top, for maximum heat delivery. It is, naturally, designed for heating and preparing sauces quickly and evenly, but I have to admit that I use mine all the time just to boil water for blanching vegetables or cooking smaller amounts of pasta; water does boil faster in this pot, even if you do watch it obsessively. It's a highly necessary kitchen tool for anyone who takes cooking even slightly seriously.

There are many brands of sauciers, of course. But All Clad is the best. And I've found a superior deal: a 5.5 quart All Clad saucier for under 200 bucks. Trust me, that's a great price. Order it (along with the aforementioned cookbook) for that saucy bride, and watch her turn her hubby chubby. Order at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Life on a Pedestal

Perhaps this isn't quite true: one cannot display one's entire life on a pedestal. But meaningful knickknacks, curios and memorabilia need a place for display, for reasons both sentimental and boastful.

So, for the little squirrel like collector, these little pedestals are ideal. They are limited edition items, found only at the fabulous Brooklyn design mecca, The Future Perfect. Although they have an old-fashioned shape, they're composed of that far higher tech material, Corian (yes, you can probably find one to match your collector's countertops). I can see vintage salt and pepper shakers, bobbleheads, found objects, and even animal skulls displayed with style and panache atop them. Or, they can forgo their life history and interests and just display mini-cupcakes (red velvet ones would look particularly smashing). How about an entire pedestal of origami animals, in a Blade Runner-esque homage?

Choose the pedestal for the collector at It's an easy way to display a little imagination.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The French Klutz

I realize I'm not treading on new ground here with this gift; due to the imminent release of Julie & Julia, Julia Child's classic cookbook has again become wildly popular.

That being said, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is pretty much a masterpiece. It's definitely a cookbook every decent cook should have (I see this book lounging around on the shelf, self-importantly smoking Galoises). Really, though, the book's not that elitist. Sure, it's unlikely the giftee (like yours truly) will ever want to bone a duck. But the book's bursting with fundamentals, like clear instructions for basic sauces, without the infuriating food police objecting to loads of cream and butter. 'Cause, let's face it: eating isn't really worth it without some serious full fat involvement.

This book is ideal as a bridal gift, paired with, perhaps, the perfect saucier, which I'll discuss in some other entry. Plus, it's available on for about 15 bucks off the hard cover price. And while it might not transform a French Klutz into a French Chef, it's a worthwhile tool toward food literacy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Anti-Burn Brigade

I know, your mother has lectured you about the evils of the sun for years. Wrinkles, spots, cancer, it all adds up and ends up all over your face and body. But sometimes, a tropical vacation, lounging lizard-like on the hot sand, is just what the doctor (the shrink, NOT the dermatologist) ordered.

So this is a gift for the secret sun worshiper, either you or for a bronzed and temporarily beautiful friend. One thing I have learned over the years is that, with skin care, local products are often best. On a recent trip to Hawaii, I discovered Maui Babe After Browning lotion. Yeah, fine, you CAN use any type of greasy product to calm your baking epidermis, but this lotion is a lovely product. It's packed with aloe vera, macadamia nut oil, and a bunch of vitamins. It goes on thick but soaks in fast. And it has a faint aroma that isn't that dreadful fakey coconut stench. This product claims to extend the life of the tan you shouldn't have gotten in the first place. I don't know if that's true, but it does soothe the burn and banish the dryness.

Unless you're fortunate enough to live in Hawaii (and if you are, why the hell are you online rather than out enjoying yourself?), Maui Babe is going to be hard find anywhere but online. Go to and order the After Browning lotion, NOT the tanning lotion. Or if you do go for that tanning accelerator, at least don't tell your mother where you got the info.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Save Your Own Life

Presenting the bracelet that could save a life (maybe even your own). And no, it's not one of those official medic bracelets with an entire medical history engraved on it in Sanskrit.

This Survival Bracelet (yes, it's really called that) is made out of a bunch of braided and interwoven supertough fibers. When you present it to the outdoorsy, brazen member of your friends and family club, explain that it can be dismantled and used, for instance, to rescue a fallen comrade. It could also help to build a shelter, tie up food to protect it from wild bears, and even act as a crude fishing line. There are, of course, other uses for these wondrous fibers, like if there's something stuck in a back molar after a chopped salad at The Ivy. But you know, that's considered a flossing emergency, not life or death. I guess the definition of survival could be relative for some.

You'll find the Survival Bracelet (and all the other Survival gear, including rather nifty dog collars, for when Timmy's fallen in the well) at

Monday, July 6, 2009

Haulin' Down the Highway

One of the things I forget every summer is all the stuff that you have to haul around. For a season that's supposed to be footloose and fancy free, there's sure a lot of buckets, shovels, smelly bathing suits and oversized towels that come with it, demanding a personal summer sherpa.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but there is no sherpa available this summer, just you. Perhaps these nifty tote bags might help. Each oversized bag (sized for all day adventures to the beach or park) is emblazoned with signage from a famed highway. So even if there's no way you can eat your way along Route 66, you can pack those pb and j sammies and play let's pretend. These totes could also make part of a great kid's birthday gift, stuffed with play trucks, sand toys, and maybe a pair of flip flops. Cool.

Order one or more of these highway loving totes at Then, load it up and start hauling down whatever highway's closest.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ice Cream Man

It's summer. It's hot. You're at the cookout. And the only ice cream available is from the ice cream man, toodling his melodious truck down the street. But what if you don't feel like Good Humor today? What if you want the creamy goodness of gourmet ice cream? What to do?

Don't panic. You have options, even when eating in the great outdoors. Meet the Tubbie, a pint-sized ice cream cooler that'll keep your frozen desserts truly frozen for at least 90 minutes, giving you time to chow down a burger or two before tucking into the main cool event. The Tubbie comes in a bunch of cute colors (perfect for flavor identification). All you have to do is keep the lid in the freezer for truly portable pints of ice cream, anytime.

So expand your outdoor ice cream repertoire. Find the Tubbie at for just 13 bucks apiece. And never chase the ice cream man down the street again.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Throw Away Party for 50

Have you taken it upon yourself to throw the Independence Day party of a lifetime? Or, have you foisted off that responsibility onto a friend or family member? While these parties can be a blast, there's always the sticky situation of plates, forks and everything else for the table. 'Cause, let's face it, it's a Hobson's Choice: either you do dishes for three days after the bash, or you contribute to landfill in a heinous way. Our Founding Fathers would disapprove.

Well, not anymore. Check out this disposable party set for fifty guests. It delivers everything you or your friend/hostess needs to serve, from soup to cups. And, it's made of a sugarcane derivative paper pulp, which biodegrades quickly and easily. You could even compost the stuff. Ok, it's not dyed in bright patriotic colors, but you have to compromise somewhere, right?

Plus, the whole set's just $48. That's not bad, considering the water (cleanup of normal dishes) savings, the lessened environmental impact, and the impact this guilt-free throw away arrangement could have on sanity. Order the whole thing at

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Lure of Last Call

Scents are tricky. They're so individual, so subjective, that I rarely recommend one. But this one is so evocative of a heady summer party, a humid bash, a last call at the favorite bar, I just had to talk about it.

The cult perfume company Etat Libre d'Orange (hardly available anywhere) makes a scent called Jasmine et Cigarettes. Ok, yeah, I know what you're thinking: who wants to smell like cigarettes? Don't worry. This perfume smells as if you walked through the outdoor smoking section of a party that was planted with night-blooming jasmine everywhere. Mostly it's the flowers, with a hit of smoke and, oddly, musk (which normally I hate, so trust me: this is really good). It's the sexy smell of a great night out, honestly spent in the pursuit of hedonistic good times.  And, given what most ordinary lives are like, Jasmine et Cigarettes is as close to this last call fantasy as most are ever going to get.

Order this for the former party girl or the frustrated mommy in your life. It's a high quality perfume, but it's priced right at sixty-nine bucks. Find it only at And then,  take a deep breath and drink in the memories.