Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For the Spoiled Survivalist

This is definitely the season for camping. Personally, the Toad has little use for sleeping out of doors, preferring a climate controlled terrarium, but she can see the general appeal.

The biggest problem with camping is being prepared. There are fewer and fewer boy and girl scouts these days who are familiar with the skills for tracking trails and making fire. That's why a newfangled and updated gadget like this Eton Raptor is such an ideal gift for the weekend outdoor warrior on your gift list. This handy orange unit (easy to find in a crammed backpack) has the tools necessary for a modern world, like a solar powered cell phone charger, a solar powered radio, NOAA weather alert, compass, altimeter, barometer, bottle opener, digital clock and rechargeable battery. This little machine could literally change your life, although it won't dig you a privy.

Seriously, purchase the Raptor for the guy with dreams of climbing McKinley, and watch his eyes light up. He'll thank you profusely, and you'll bask in the knowledge that you might have contributed to the guy's actual survival. Excellent. At Eton for $130.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Homemade Gift That Your Hostess Will Actually Like

Normally, I eschew the homemade gift, partially because sometimes they're really nasty (rock hard cookies, inedible candied nuts, or possibly botulism infected preserves), or sometimes they're just not good enough. Well, these brownies are the exception to that rule. I make them all the time: for dinner parties, as a hostess gift, even for my kid's school birthday party, which is hilarious because I refuse to go the homemade cupcake route, since I'm a lousy baker. But what's the difference between cupcakes and brownies, you might ask, since baking is baking. Well, this recipe is practically foolproof, takes 45 minutes to prepare (35 of which are spent in the oven. The brownies, not you), and tastes insanely amazing.

The secret to these brownies crazy lusciousness is the high sugar to low flour ratio, plus some really good fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Whatever you do, don’t use Morton’s! The quality of the salt is what really sends these brownies into dessert heaven. This is one of those desserts that kids love and adults really appreciate. In fact, ha ha, you can never get enough of them. Bring these babies to a party and watch the sugar coma descend. Like magic.

Butterscotch Brownies

Preheat oven to 325.
Grease and line a 9x9 square pan with parchment paper, or just grease and flour it.


1 stick unsalted butter
1 box brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt, plus more kosher or Maldon sea salt for topping brownies
1 cup flour

Melt the butter on medium heat in a straight sided saucepan. When melted, add entire box of brown sugar and mix until combined and starting to melt. Turn off heat. Mix in vanilla and salt. Beat in eggs quickly. Add flour and mix until thoroughly combined. Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle lightly with kosher or coarse sea salt.

Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack for an hour or so, and then try to remove brownies all in one piece onto plate before cutting (otherwise, they can really stick to the pan badly).


Want to really make an impression with these brownies? Transport them on a lovely big plate or platter., like this Marimekko one at right, found at Finnstyle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Toad's "Best Discount Gift Site" Recommendation

As a nosy amphibious huntress, the Toad loves to source gift items. Give her a laptop and fifteen minutes, and she can find something cool residing online. Writing about it just adds to the fun.

Have this virtual city on your deck for less!
But I have a certain gift sensibility that, bluntly put, doesn't always come cheap. I don't source dreck, and I assume you don't want dreck, either, or you wouldn't read this blog. What everyone does want is good gifts at a discount price, a combo that's becoming more and more ubiquitous on the internet. There's a plethora of "members only" discount sites out there, probably the most famous being Gilt, but I've tracked a number of newer, design oriented sites as well. Keep in mind that the "members only" thing is a joke: everyone gets access, even if it takes a couple of days. At the rate these sites are multiplying, everyone will be able to get a discount on everything all the time, thus changing the pricing permanently. Is it a discount if everyone gets one? I don't know.

What I do know is that Fab.com is a wonderful discount gift site. It features high end design for much lower prices, and while it features its share of heavy hitters, there's some brands which fit nicely into the "inexpensive but wildly cool gift" category. Take, for instance, these Push+Pull planters (from the site Mollaspace) at right. Featured on Fab today, they're selling at a decent discount, and make a perfect summer garden gift. I featured these planters on Toad long ago, so it's a product I recommend, just for less.

Just go to Fab and submit to the members only rigamarole. Then discount shop all the time, along with everyone else.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Friend with a Penchant for Stripes

Wearing stripes well is something you either have down or you massively fail. I have two friends who've managed to pull off the striped shirt look with effortless aplomb. They look casual, yet put together, sort of French, but not fussy, and they wear stripes from brands both trendy and classic.

Here's some striped stuff that seems to cover both trendy and classic in single items. Edith A. Miller is a relatively new brand which is produced by one of the oldest knitting mills left in America. The mill, located in eastern Pennsylvania, works with the designer duo. The result? Seemingly classic striped shirts, dresses (both long and short), and funny short john style shorts. The fabrics are light, yet have great give and durability. And the look, while it could be mistaken for French, possesses an integrity that's pretty quintessentially American. Anything from the Edith A. Miller line would make a wonderful gift for that classic striped girlfriend. She will thank you for this addition to her collection.

Check out the line at Ten Over Six. It's clothing of a different stripe.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Land of the Lost

With summer months comes traveling. After so many trips, and so much new technology (thanks, iPhone), you'd think that finding your way around a huge, unfamiliar city should get easier. It never does.

Sometimes I think those map apps and navigation software actually confound the process. Happy travelers don't stare blankly at tiny screens all the time. And they most certainly don't need to ask for directions, especially in a foreign tongue (although I do remember that time lost in the labyrinth that is Venice... but that's a tale for another time. We could have starved, you know). The solution to many of these problems is simple: a good old fashioned paper map. They work well. The one big limitation is that they're a bit fragile, what with the intricate folding that's ruined immediately, the tearable paper quality, and the likelihood of unreadable crumplage.

So check out this map. It's already ruined! Crumpled and smushed, it lives in a bag you can stash anywhere. No folding necessary. Just remove and pull taut for instant access to important navigational information. These maps, alas, are only available for New York, Berlin, Paris, London, and Rome, but they'd make perfect gifts for intrepid travelers venturing to the Continent. Made of a special coated paper, they should wear well through the occasional high wind or dribbles of espresso.

At $18 a pop, they make a perfect Bon Voyage gift. Find them at A+R.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Lure of the Slipper

I just got back from Hawaii, so obviously the islands are on my mind. There is no other place I can think of that combines a comfortable climate with a comfortable style better than Hawaii. And, one of the secrets to that unbeatable combination are slippers.

Yes, Hawaiians call them slippers, even though us clueless west coast wonders and beyond refer to them as flip flops, or the dreaded thong. Hawaiians take their slippers seriously, wearing them for virtually any and every occasion. Sometimes they're fancy, sometimes a cheapo rubber model (NOT Havianas, by the way, which I truly believe are for poseurs). Slippers get super short shrift from fashionistas from coast to coast, who want us in more glamourous, and often unwearable, footwear that costs $1500 instead of $15. Cause, let's face it: there's not a huge profit margin in slippers, but there is in a pair of teetering Louboutins (see my opinion of him on Divine Caroline).

While I realize that I cannot wear slippers everywhere, as I just did for the previous twelve days, I can remind myself of their comfort and island allure by purchasing this tiny golden slipper charm. Princessy? Maybe, if you take yourself too seriously. I think there's something chic and ironic and sweet about wearing a Hawaiian reminder around your neck, especially during the winter months when toes are covered and cold.

The Hawaiian company Nu Hoku makes the best slipper charms I've seen, and the tiniest (and most tasteful; you don't want to look like you're wearing Big Foot's golden slipper around your neck) model is $199. Order one for the island girl in your life and remind her of gentle trade winds and golden sands.