Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A True Turkey of a Gift

I know this is supposed to be a gift recommendation blog, but every once in a while I see a gift so ridiculous, I feel obligated to poke fun. This turkey is one of those gifts.

I suppose this is a gift for the child who has everything. One who really has everything, because there are endless gift alternatives to this thing. As you can see from the picture, this is one big turkey (I know the kid looks happy, but I believe she's been coerced). A massive monster of a bird, impervious to buckshot, which will sit in a corner and menace residents and guests in a sinister avian way. Seriously, have you ever really seen a turkey? They are ugly birds. And formidable, too. In fact, a hostile turkey male can seriously beat up a grown human. This is not a stuffed representation you want in your home; it's not warm, it's not cuddly, and it has a creepy crepey neck. Ew.

Besides, if you purchase this gargantuan gobbler, you must really have everything, too. Or at least a ton of cash, since this tower of stuffing costs about a cool grand. There is a smaller version, for $150, which still seems about $130 too much. Still interested? Fine, go to Chasing Fireflies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Spiciest Grind

As weather shifts and turning on the stove becomes appealing once more, thoughts turn to cooking. Cooking spicy, sumptuous curries, stews, and other easy things that make the house smell delicious. What would the aspiring ethnically inclined cook need to complete the meal?

How about a spice grinder? Yes, it seems so simple, but spice grinders, to this cook's mind, are a pain in the butt. The automated ones are nothing more than glorified coffee grinders, and cleaning them of spicy residue can be a challenge. The mortar and pestle alternative, while satisfying in a get back to basics, Alice Waters sort of way, is imperfect and time consuming. This cast iron twisty spice grinder, though, might be just right. Simply place the (toasted) spices in the container, cork it shut, and twist for a while. Voila: ground spices with the added benefit of extra iron from the device itself (try getting a nutritional benefit from a plug in model, why don't you). And clean up? Pretty easy, since cast iron only requires water blasting (no soap, please). Genius!

This little guy is $65 from Canoe. It'll serve the curries well, I promise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Building Blocks of Nature

Yes, the Toad is on a kid's gift kick right now. Not just because school started, but because many of you either know someone trapped at home with a dissatisfied child or are already one of those unfortunate souls. Those restless three year olds need amusement. They need fun. They need relief. And, since mothers are apparently not allowed to switch on Baby Einstein anymore, and it's too early for a martini, a toy solution is in order.

In terms of developmental bang for the buck, just about nothing beats a set of blocks. Construction leads to independent problem solving skills, as well as extending the frustration threshold. I'm sure the kid in question already has a set of blocky blocks, but these block sets are quite different. Based upon nature's elements, the Rainbow, Fire, Stone, and Water sets fit together neatly into the shape of what they're named, but come apart to create wild and wonderful structures. Add shapes like points, turrets, curves, and waves to a straight structure, and suddenly the possibilities are endless. You might have a budding little Gaudi on your hands.

Each one of these Elements sets costs $39.98 from Magic Cabin. Just make sure the giftee in question isn't violence prone; if so, avoid the pointy, dagger-like Fire set for everyone's safety.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

3D Inventor

The other day, my daughter began talking about art. She wanted to know "who painted the Mona Lisa again?" When I told her Leonardo da Vinci, she responded, "Hmmm. I always get Leonardo da Vinci and Leonardo di Caprio confused."

Maybe this book will help her tell the ultimate Renaissance Man and the Dramatic Heartthrob apart. Da Vinci wasn't just a painter (although he was an excellent artist), he was also a truly ingenious inventor. His inventions were radically ahead of his time, and some of them are still used today. This most excellent pop-up book illustrates some of his best inventions using his own illustrations from notebooks and sketches. After perusing this Journal of Inventions, one doubts her child would ever confuse da Vinci with di Caprio ever again (let's face it: if da Vinci had designed the Titanic, it never would have sank).

Find the 3-D Journal of Inventions at Amazon. And a word of warning: don't let a toddler near this, or the Journal of Inventions will transform into the Big Heap of Litter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hole-Filled Yoga

Staying fit is sort of a requirement these days, what with rising health costs and all. Exercising is an inexpensive way to spend time for maximum benefits in every other part of your life. And flexibility is a big part of those benefits.

Why flexibility? Because being flexible leads to being spry as you age, so you don't fall off the curb and hit your noggin at age 50, and you can heave yourself on and off the floor with relative ease. If you have a friend or acquaintance who's beginning an exercise program, I completely recommend these innovative yoga blocks. Built like a foam brick, they have ergonomic holes cut in them for easy grips; these things make difficult and challenging poses and stretches doable. They also keep alignment in check, avoiding muscle strains and tears as one sinks deeper into stretches (like the splits pictured at right).

At just $24 a pair, these holy yoga blocks are a low cost but great gift for the fitness inclined. And you can order them only through Gaiam. Check them out and get a grip on great flexibility.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Butter Fingers

I'm always looking for new kitchen products which are actually useful, and not just uni-tasker pieces of junk that take up valuable drawer space. Anything which might truly benefit the novice to middling cook on my gift list (face it: the rabid cook has everything already; you have to get them a fancy uni-tasker or nothing) is truly exciting to me.

That's why I'm particularly jazzed about these items. Ok, yes, this pair of gloves looks suspiciously like rejected Michael Jackson designs, but don't be fooled. The "Hot" glove is a pumped up potholder that's impervious to temps up to 600 degrees. The "Cut" glove, besides being extra shiny, boasts stainless steel fibers to prevent knife slashes. This is very useful for the kitchen klutz. For example, I remember a day during which my father literally cut his fingers to ribbons; the cutting board, knife, and veggies were all covered in blood (it looked like a crime scene). If only Dad had had this magic glove, such wounds could have been avoided.

The other upside? "Hot" and "Cut" are $25 and $19, respectively. That's a great pair as a housewarming gift or wedding present. Or, just for your favorite kitchen klutz. Available at Napa Style.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Levitation for Idiots

As far as I know, levitation is a pretty delicate trick to pull off. You need a strong will, immense concentration, and the ability to bend the laws of nature on your command. It's probably not going to happen.

Enter this fascinating toy, the Levitron. Really, I've been around the toy department once or twice, and I've never seen anything quite like this. It looks like a top that lives on an indented dish, but when you spin it just right, it'll rise up from its cozy home and spin, suspended, in air. The physics involve magnets and probably centrifugal force, but I'm no scientist, so don't quote me on that. And even with the science on your side, the site advises patience. This, of course, just adds to your incredible psychic mystique during after dinner drinks, when you (and only you) make this top dance in mid air. And did I mention it's beautiful, being made out of cherry wood and all? Seriously, this is one grown up toy.

I've only seen the Levitron on Manufactum, a european site with wonderful, minimalist things. Go and drool. Go and defy the laws of gravity.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Foods Both Local and Away for The Days of Awe

For those celebrating the Jewish New Year, L'Shana Tova. And for those not attending temple and not exactly practicing Jews, there's still a great way to get in touch with your heritage during these Days of Awe (the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and that's through the glory of food.

Typically, ethnically jewish food can be a drag to prepare (and not exactly low fat or calorie, either). For those hardy souls who do love to cook, making a homemade challah, simmering a pot of matzoh ball soup from scratch, or rustling up a brisket might be a breeze. But, for the rest of us, tradition might depend largely on take out. So, here's some sources for excellent and easily available food, to bring out the inner jew in us all.

Langer's: Such a classic. Located in a not very nice neighborhood, Langer's is nevertheless a prime destination for unparalleled pastrami, on some of the best corn rye bread in existence. Place an order and Langer's will run it out to your car. 704 S. Alvarado St, LA, 213-483-8050

Beverlywood Bakery: I went here when I was a kid, so you know it's been around since prehistoric times. Awesome bread and baked goods in a classic atmosphere. Challah, corn rye, pastries (try the little sticky schneken buns), all in a classic jewish bakery atmosphere. And you know it's kosher. 9128 West Pico Blvd., LA 310-278-0122.

Diamond Bakery: Family owned and located in the renowned Fairfax District, this bakery makes some excellent bagels and bread. 335. N. Fairfax Blvd., LA, 323-655-0534.

Art's: The go-to deli in the Valley, this institution of superior sandwiches (and just about everything else) has been around a long time. New York style, no nonsense, and it's in the Valley, for easier parking. What's not to like? 12224 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-762-1221.

Zingerman's: Definitely NOT local, Zingerman's is in Michigan. But, the breads and coffeecakes are superior, and they do a bang up mail order business. They'll even send you a ready to devour Pastrami Kit. Yum. Order online and let it come to you.

Bagel Broker: They just do bagels. They do them pretty well. You could do worse. Parking isn't difficult, either. 7825 Beverly Blvd., LA 323-931-1258.

Barney Greengrass: It's very Beverly Hills, and located on the top of the most exclusive department store in an already exclusive shopping area. But, Barney Greengrass is full of fabulous New York ingredients. You'll pay for it, perhaps dearly, but it's about as high end and high quality as deli food ever gets. 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-777-5877.

Saveurs: Ok, fine. This is French, not Jewish. But it's local and delicious. They'll deliver the food to you. The rustic, classic, perfect French stews and sides add a note of elegance to a pseudo-religious meal. Add some classic baked goods from one of the bakeries listed above, and you have one elegant dinner party.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Doing Your Photos Justice

Everyone these days takes a ton of digital photos, most of which reside on a hard drive, never to be seen by anyone, ever again. But what about a particularly fabulous shot, one that's really art worthy?

I've been eyeing this online service for almost a year, just waiting for the chance to use it before recommending it. Called, inexplicably, Bumblejax, this site lets you upload a digital shot and back it in a completely professional manner. The result? Your very own art! And it looks like art, too. The quality is super high, both in printing and mounting (for instance, online art purveyor Lumas uses the very same methods). Choose from professional mounting materials like acrylic, aluminum, gator foam, or even bamboo (all of these vary in price; all produce a pretty different effect; all is explained on the site). Plus, you can pick your size.

Take, for instance, the shot pictured above. This is one of our shots (thank you, John), snapped in Savannah, Georgia, sent to Bumblejax, mounted on aluminum. It looks amazing, yes? And the process elevates a lovely, artsy shot into the realm of "who's the photographer, and at which gallery did you find it?"

There is, of course, a price to be paid for every size change and mounting material. But think of the results! It's such a great gift idea for the family photographer who never does anything with the shots snapped. Go to Bumblejax today and give a wonderful surprise.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Shower Art

Ah, yes. That first college apartment is so cool. Until you get to the bathroom.

Besides the general lack of hygiene and housekeeping skills, college aged bathrooms tend to share a common trait: a nasty, stinky, moldy shower curtain. This foul shroud keeps the water in, along with every other disgusting substance that grows in the tub. Plus, it off gases those toxic fumes constantly. So this product is a lifesaver for you, the parent who must visit the college aged apartment. This curtain contains no vinyl, thus disposing of the off gassing issue. It's very sturdy and mold resistant. And, it comes with pens for personalizing the thing. Just think: no more silly fish, begone stuffy stripes, so long stultifying beige vinyl. Now that creative type you raised can decorate it themselves, turning their bathroom into a true reflection of who they are (although I'm not sure that's going to make them clean it any more often).

Find the DIY shower curtain at the Whitney Museum store (it's so cultured). And let the shower art begin.

Time Flies AND Annoys

It's just one of those cruel facts of life that school starts up just as the mornings are getting apocalyptically dark and gloomy. Just this morning, my daughter (a cheerful early riser if there ever was one), managed to punch her snooze button and return to slumber. Obviously, this will not do.

I believe this flying alarm clock is the solution. You see, it has NO snooze function. The digital clock boasts a helicopter-like propeller hat which, when the alarm goes off, flies off the clock, into the air, and into a corner of the room. The alarm cannot be deactivated without returning this propeller to its home. On top of all this early morning action, the alarm itself is nuclear meltdown worthy. NO ONE could sleep through it.

Found at Think Geek, this little waker-upper is only twenty bucks for morning after morning of guaranteed timeliness. Check out the video; it explains everything in stunning detail, complete with sleeping geek.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Kid With The Most Cake

Now that summer is over and school is beginning, kid distraction might be less required. But sometimes, school opens up your child to new activities.

Take cooking, for instance. My girl wants to learn to cook. She's nine, close enough to actual personhood  that giving her legitimate culinary responsibilities isn't a disaster. If your child is younger, though, you might want to indulge their inner pastry chef in a less messy way. This ingenious toy is one way. This big felt layer Carnival Cake is white and unadorned, so that your smaller kid can "decorate" it using the included felt decorations, as if it were a real cake. With these decorations, it's strangely evocative of the "Zoo Cake" pictured in the class Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a sort of fantasy cookbook for me as a child, especially since my mother was a health food freak). However, it contains no sugar and no frosting to get smeared on your floors. Plus, if you're a crafty sort, you could easily fashion your own decorations out of more felt. Endless amusement!

Find this faux cake at Mahar Drygoods. Then, to make sure your child at least has some cake, present it with a real confection in hand.