Tuesday, December 3, 2013

DuVenay Does Great Vintage

Real gold and real jewels for the elegantly attired.

While there are some giftees who will only want shiny and new for the holidays, there are others who long for the elegantly preserved (and I don't mean jam). Great vintage is hard to find, and reasonably priced great vintage is rarer still.

DuVenay, a small but selective vintage store on Etsy, manages to deliver vintage for those on a budget (at least, compared to the crazy stuff in L.A., I'm talking to you, PaperBag Princess). The very classy purveyor of this store (shown as a lounging lady looking elegant and so very relaxed), has accumulated an intimate but quintessential selection. You might find a lovely black Gucci bag, or a Rudi Gernreich silk scarf, all in terrific condition. But where DuVenay really shines is in the jewelry selection. In keeping with the Toad's lower price point, there are only lower priced items here, like 1950s sterling earrings or an old yet modernist carnelian signet ring. There are other, more expensive offerings, but nothing is over a grand (a holiday miracle, really).

Pay DuVenay a visit for the vintage fan on your list. You might even pick up a bauble for yourself. At DuVenay.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gilding the Jewelry

Behold the golden bowl.
Normally, I'm not one who spends time thinking about how to wrap gifts. I mean, I understand the idea and the romance of beautifully wrapped, gorgeous gifts under the tree, but then that lovely wrapping and ribbons are reduced to trash, unceremoniously crumpled into bags and hauled to the curb. It just doesn't seem worth the extra effort.

However, what's ideal is when the wrapping can actually be part of the gift. Say you're giving jewelry, like earrings or a ring. Why not nestle the jewels inside one of these ever so practical little wooden turquoise and golden bowls? Encase the package in cellophane, add one ribbon, and you're done. It's like two gifts in one. These little bowls could later hold rings or earrings, or be used at table to hold
coarse sea salt, or store a small amount of quarters for the meter. It's not a unitasker.

Find these bowls, just 12 bucks each, at Paragraphloop on Etsy. It'll look as impressive as a three hour Martha Stewart wrap job, but with multiple uses. And that, my friends, is really a good thing.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Holy Betta Poop: The AquaFarm Makes Kitchen Gardening Easy

These kids are enjoying the cycle of growth in action!
I think that, at this point, almost everyone has had a Betta fish living with them. As pretty as these fancy fish are, they don't usually add much to your home's productivity. Until now.

Introducing the AquaFarm. This aquarium/home and kitchen garden operates on a simple concept. The fish lives in the aquarium below, living its fishy existence, while the plants of your choice (if Fish lives in the kitchen, herbs would be nice) live on top, and prosper and thrive on the water and fish poop below. Apparently, the AquaFarm is even self cleaning (which is more than I can say for the ultra cool, but algae prone, stackable modernist fish bowls my fish occupy). This would be a wonderful gift for an apartment dwelling child: she'll enjoy the fish, and learn about growing foodstuff too. That's a pretty green gift. 

The AquaFarm comes with aquatic supplies and plant seeds, the owner supplies the water and fertilizing fish. $59.99 at Back To The Roots.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yafah Menorah

Rock your candles and spin the dreidel in style.
This year, the festival of lights comes early, say around Turkey Day, so the lighting up and the continuous nights of presents are coming up quickly. And are you and yours prepared with a yafah menorah?

Yafah means beautiful in Hebrew, which is exactly the word to describe this handmade, handcarved, elegant menorah. Made of gorgeous walnut with a classic grain, this menorah would fit in just about any decor (but would truly shine in modernist setting). Created by Portland, OR designer Niles Snyder, this isn't a menorah you'd just pick up at Judiaca For Less. This is a keeper to light up your Chanukah table year after year.

The yafah walnut menorah is $75, a pittance for a potential family heirloom. At Canoe.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cross Stitch Some Holiday Snark

It's not your mother's DIY project. Or, maybe it is!
I remember my mother needlepointing a very groovy, geometric pillow when I was a kid. It took her forever, and required multiple trips to the "Needles N' Tees" store for thread and accessories. It was a project.

Well, that was then, but this is now, and what's very now is turning those needle skills into something more suitable for the times. Subversive Cross Stitch has that covered. Every one of its seemingly traditional, suitable for framing cross stitch kid designs is snarky and off putting, which of course makes it perfect to hang in your bathroom or gift a crafty yet sarcastic friend. The sayings range from the profane to the merely sardonic (see above), and from holiday themed to everyday rant. On top of all that "humor," a monkey could learn to cross stitch, so the giftee should be fine in that arena. Alternatively, you could stitch that sucker yourself and give the finished product.

At just $20 per kit, this gift is a bargain for a piece of, ahem, decorative art. Find out the myriad messages of self expression at Subversive Cross Stitch.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Permanent Turkey for Holiday Avian Decor

Roasty, toasty, and juicier than most real birds!
Thanksgiving isn't always about cooking. Sometimes, it's just about showing up somewhere and eating the fruits (or birds) of someone else's labors.

That's all well and good, but how can you participate and bring a gift suitable for both occasion and table? In the case of Thanksgiving, look no further than this handy dandy inflatable turkey. Folded neatly in a tin box, this plastic turkey inflates in minutes and adds definite drama to the holiday setting. Place it in the center of the table to sub for the real thing. Let it hang out on the sofa with guests (it makes a fine headrest in a pinch). Or, hang it from above the front door, as a sort of Thanksgiving themed mistletoe (perhaps mutual gobbles instead of kisses?).

At just $11.99, this is a holiday bird you can afford and use, time and time again. An added bonus: terrorizing vegans with it. At Perpetual Kid.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Scare Your Favorite Child with This Terrifying Stuffed Gobbler

Potentially one angry bird.
Sure, Halloween has come and gone, but there's no reason to not try to terrify the youngsters. Traditionally, Thanksgiving isn't a scary holiday, except for the turkeys who, if they had any inkling of what was coming, would immediately get passports and jet off to the safety of Canada or Europe.

Still, I find this ultra realistic stuffed turkey to be a bit menacing, especially if posed in the middle of a child's room a week before Thanksgiving. Trying to create a little vegan? It's never too soon to start! In years past, this particular site has boasted a gigantic version of the bird, standing at least three feet tall and bursting with avian ire. That version was over a grand, which seemed a bit much for a huge party trick. 

This little guy, on the other hand, sells for a comparatively low $160. And who knows: yours could be the weird kid who imprints to Gobbler and sleeps with him until college. Stranger things, including Indians helping out invading Puritans, has happened on Thanksgiving. At Chasing Fireflies.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Truly Portable, Premium Speakers from Nudeaudio

Enjoy music anywhere, even in the nude!
With the current level of technology, we can all carry around our personal music with us, all the time. But what we haven't been able to do, at least affordably, is listen to our music in open air, sans earbuds or headphones, anytime we want.

Until now. Sure, there have been portable speakers available for years. The problem? Try crappy, tinny sound and pesky wires. Nudeaudio sets out to change all that with its Move's Bluetooth audio speaker, a tiny speaker with a big sound, that wirelessly connects with Bluetooth enabled tablets, phones, and other musical storage devices. That means that the speaker can hang out wherever you are, whether it's an outdoor BBQ or an indoor kitchen, delivering music right next to you with great sound. And when I say hang out, I really mean it, because the Move boasts a cord to loop over a cabinet pull or hook. The colorways (mint and gray or coral and black) are stylish, and the silicone wrapped body gives it resilience.

Did I mention that it's $49.99? What a perfect gift for a tween, teen, metalhead, and any other music fan on your gift list. At Dijital Fix.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Leather Potholder for Stylish Cooking Protection

It's so pretty and protective!
No matter how experienced a cook one is, eventually there's a stupid mistake. That stupid mistake often involves a metal pot handle, high heat, and a bare hand. Great suffering blisters!

There are plenty of potholders out there, ranging from hand quilted to ragged sack cloth, but this Pan Handle Leather Potholder by Patzbag protects palms in serious style. Made of tough, thick, tan leather, the holder simply slips over the handle and stays there. No protection memory lapses when the timer rings, no fumbling in drawers while the pot boils over. Plus, it's an ideal small but so thoughtful gift for the busy cook.

Handmade in Maine, the Potholder sells for just $13. By Patzbag on Etsy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Warm the Toes with Wooly Slippers

They're purrrfect for chilly nights!
Los Angeles has been its typical schizophrenic weather self these past couple of months, toggling from super hot to foggy and moist and back again. We're all wheezing and coughing on smog and cold viruses. But now, it looks like Fall in all its moderate temperatures might be here to stay for a little while.

Naturally, most of the rest of the county (and world) has already switched seasons with certainty. There are chilly digits and appendages needing comfort. There's just about nothing nicer to ward off the chill and drafts than a good pair of slippers, and Haflinger makes the best ones. Crafted out of 100% boiled wool, these no nonsense scuffs boast contoured heels and arch supports (the Europeans really know how to treat their feet right). They come with rubber or felt soles, depending on how much heavy walking they'll need to endure. And they aren't soooo utilitarian. Take, for instance, these kitty cat slippers, each one featuring half a cat. There's a dog version, too, and either seems wildly appropriate for a pet loving tween girl (or a cat worshiping adult).

Quality like Haflinger doesn't come cheap: about $75 per pair. I will say, though, that my pair seems impervious to wear and tear. At Cuddledown.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Help Kids Hold Down the Fort with Stick-lets

This construction looks more solid than that of most suburban subdivisions.
There's been research aplenty done on kids and how they play, and the research overwhelmingly suggests that creative play (maybe sans adults) teaches kids more than just about anything else. And no, I don't need to cite this information. Don't you think it's just common sense?

One of the childhood experiences most rhapsodized about is outdoor play, fort building in particular. The Toad, as a very urban child, cannot share in this nostalgia, but I was making forts inside out of rocking chairs and blankets often; the need to build, duck, and cover seems ingrained. Drawing upon this fort building instinct is Stick-lets, a set of stretchy bands to hold together the sticks, furniture, and flotsam and jetsam that make up a traditional kid fort. Colorful and lightweight, Stick-lets seem easy enough to use that kids can go at construction solo. In other words, this is for independent and cooperative play. If you, the adult, want to build a fort, order your own set.

A 20-pack of Stick-lets is around $53, and will provide blessed hours of entertainment, both indoors and out. Order at Stick-lets and let the building commence.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Knot for the Wall Decor

Can also be used as a weapon. See David and Goliath for details.
Occasionally, or maybe often, I find myself drawn to essentially useless objects. You know, the sort of things that just hang out, looking cool and superfluous, on a ledge or attached to the wall. These sailor's knots fit that bill perfectly.

It could be argued that sailor's knots do really serve a purpose: to keep sails on boats from coming loose on their moorings, and that would be accurate. But a wall or ledge isn't a sailboat. Instead, I'd like to see these colorful hand painting sailor's knots as a metaphor for a complicated life, a convoluted communication, and the knot in one's stomach. Hang it on the wall, folks. Examine the knot in all its simplicity and complexity, its colorful beauty. And then, leave it hanging there, away from you. Useless object? I've reaccessed.

Find these beautiful, symbolic knots at Haus.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pink Cows (And More) at Cow Parade

This cow is so excited to go home with you, he has butterflies on his stomach!
I've discussed my love for many different animal representations here at Toad, most recently squirrels (mostly evil), goats (I want a real one), and the always sinister bunny rabbits (Donnie Darko, anyone?). Cows, with their slow moving ruminant natures, were not on my list. Until now.

Until now, pink, red, and multi-colored cow. The moving art installation CowParade is a huge art exhibition of, you guessed it, life sized cows. These cows are designed by famous and not so famous artists, designers, and sometimes celebrities, and are then auctioned off at the show's end to benefit non-profit organizations (mostly benefiting children). Now, unless you have an estate, a life-sized cow sculpture is probably out of the realm of decorative possibility. That's why CowParade makes smaller cows, ranging from three inches up to a foot. The 2013 CowParade is still on right now, in Vallenciennes, France, and the auction for the huge cows happens November 6 (just in case your giftee has the space for a big one).

There's realistic cows (even in brown), psychedelic cows, and cows doing un-cowlike things, and prices range from around $30-75. There's even one that holds real flowers. Browse this virtual pasture at CowParade.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

For Your Easy Rider: City Cycling Guide by Rapha

These eight guides give the skinny on European city cycling. In rainbow brites!
There's no doubt that bicycling is on an upswing in popularity; I only have to take a glance at bikers blatantly running lights through L.A. intersections to know that. Some cities, though, are better suited to cycling, and many are in Europe.

That's why this City Cycling Guide Set from Rapha is so excellent for the bike enthusiast on your gift list. Each set has individual guides to eight European cities, from Amsterdam to Paris, Barcelona to Copenhagen. Each guide is illustrated by individual artists and tailored to that particular city, including maps, tips, and functional layouts. And, the entire thing is wrapped up in a single sturdy slipcase for storage and easy access. It's pretty much the essential Europe cycling guide, and would be perfect for a Fall spin.

Did I mention the low price? It's just $40 for eight cities of cycling Nirvana. At Rapha.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Give Fit Friends Flexibility with Fit and Bendy

You think this is bendy? Kristina's just getting started!
Living in Los Angeles, I have a lot of very fit friends. They do aerial work, go to barre classes, run, bike, ski, and walk their way to fit bodies. But the thing every fit person probably doesn't do enough of is stretching.

That's because, done right, stretching is hard work. In fact, the most sore and achey the Toad has ever been was from a flexibility class, taught by contortionist and dancer Kristina Nekyia. Her class was work, good work that left me floating out of the building like my body was attached by elongated strings. She's a flexibility witch, or wizard, or guru. Now, you can purchase her DVD, Get Bent: Circus Style Flexibility, and give her magic to the fit friends who want to do more than just touch their toes. In 60 minutes, Kristina will stretch and elongate every body part, and there's even a tutorial on how to get great splits.

The DVD is just $25, and would be an ideal present for your favorite workout buddy (especially runners with tight hamstrings and IT bands). Go to Fit and Bendy and check it out.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

For the New Little Dumpling: A Bib 4-Pack by Garbella

Who's my little empanada?
While it's always tempting to purchase new parents a fuzzy stuffed animal or silver baby rattle, those presents are essentially useless. You know what new parents need? They need coverage, baby.

New parents need bibs. Yes, maybe they need bibs for themselves as, sleep deprived and sloppy, they can't even keep food in their mouths. But mostly, the new baby needs coverage as she spits up, drools, and lets milk dribble down her jowls. This 4-pack of cotton bibs, from Garbella, contains the cutest coverage. Each features a culture's stuffed specialty, from dumpling to samosa. Yum. Plus, newborns, swaddled and swelling daily, look like stuffed specialties, anyway.

Order these four bibs by Garbella for $62 on Scout Mob. They'll be in constant rotation for months.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Boost a Friend's Creative Venture with Business Cards from Moo

For a stylin' salon
Besides advice, it's hard to help out with someone else's new business. Sometimes, though, you can hand them some tools, and the company Moo has some great ones.

For a wordsmith
I've always felt that business cards fell into two categories: boring and cheap, or interesting and expensive. There didn't seem to be an in between. Moo fills that gap by letting the customer upload her own images (or, use one of Moo's designs, like the two I chose above) to make truly customized business cards (Moo calls this option Printfinity). It's particularly useful for visual creatives: an artist friend of mine printed her cards using a variety of her own artwork on one side, essentially creating twenty or so different cards. Every time she hands out her card, the recipient enjoys a different image of her work. Brilliant. A copywriter could print a number of her favorite words, one for each card. The possibilities are pretty endless. Plus, Moo's cards are sturdy, double-sided color cards for as low as twenty bucks for fifty cards.

Remember that, for a business person starting out, every little bit of help counts. Give a gift of cards from Moo and help them stand out in the marketplace.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Another Bizarre Bunny Accessory

Maybe he'll share a Mai Tai with you.
Ever since I saw Donnie Darko, I've had a thing for bunnies. The contrast between the furry, fuzzy little cuddler and the big eared and sinister really gets me.

When I see a new creepy bunny decorative item, I must feature it. It's some sort of a decorating imperative. Thus, this ceramic container: half bunny, half.... pineapple? Yes, the bunny and the pineapple have mated, producing a container perfect for storing cookies, or candy, or a stash of whatever. Never mind the fact that, out of all the pineapple fields I've seen, I've never seen a bunny anywhere near one. I would place bets that bunnies and pineapples rarely meet, except maybe here, on the Beklina site. Either that, or some pineapple had a
whimsical moment and donned a pair of bunny ears it found lying around. Unlikely.

At $120, this isn't an impulsive gift purchase. Know your giftee's taste in advance, because this bunny doesn't want to live in the closet. At Beklina.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Here's To Some Gender Role Free Halloween Costumes

This Pterodactyl is pterrifying!
First off, let me just say that I actually really enjoy the Chasing Fireflies catalog. It has cute (if pricey) clothing and some of the best Halloween costumes around. I love thumbing through it, and I've purchased many a costume for my daughter from its pages.

Naturally, when I saw this ridiculously fabulous Pterodactyl costume, I just had to feature it. I mean, what kid wouldn't want to be a giant extinct flying dinosaur, particularly if they're still under about three and aren't able to protest against your funny choices yet? (I, for instance, dressed my Tadpole as a Skunk one year; she doesn't remember it, but that little stinker looked adorable). Besides the Pterodactyl, the site offers many other animal choices, both real and imaginary. How about a Billy Goat? Or an Octopus? Dragon? Maybe your child would be happier as a pizza slice, a s'more, or a cheeseburger? The site features those costumes, too.

Unfortunately, if you have a girl, and you look in the Girls Costumes section, you won't find any of those costumes. Apparently, those costumes are for boys, and are categorized as such. I say "Boo" to this. Look, I know that some costumes are gender specific. I don't have a huge problem with a girl wanting to look like a fairy princess, or a boy who wants to be Superman. I get it. But, why in the hell are animal costumes gender specific? And why must my daughter dress as a pink sprinkle covered doughnut, but not as a slice of Brooklyn's finest? Just asking.

Anyway, if you're looking for fantastic costumes, look no further than Chasing Fireflies. Just make sure you search all the categories to get the complete picture.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Paper Shuffle No More with the Japanese Multi-Notebook

Aw, the doodles you'll draw.
Perhaps it's the start of school, or the fact that there's about a billion projects going on at the Toad Abode, but I've found myself drawn to paper. And not just ordinary legal pads (which are practical, and completely have a place), but something that might wrangle all the inspirational brilliance deep thought has to offer.

So, of course the Japanese have invented it: the Multi-Notebook. Inside this ordinary looking notebook boasts six different types of notebooks in one, ranging from the normal lined to graphing, blank, essay and more. Did I mention it's all in one, so you can haul it around and always have the correct format? Can the "Notes" section of your smartphone deliver that? No, I didn't think so.

This is also excellent for students and bored executives during endless meetings (perfect for advanced doodling). And, at just $10, it's a pretty sweet deal for such innovation. At ThinkGeek.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Father Rabbit for Your Bunny Rabbit

This is no runaway bunny.
You know why decorating a toddler's room is tough? It's tough because they have no real preferences yet, there's all this pressure not to succumb to gender specific decor, and you don't want a bunch of clashing colors and plastic dreck. It's hard, I tell you.

That's why, when I spotted this Rabbit duvet cover at New Zealand store Father Rabbit, I breathed a sigh of relief. Just look at this simple, lovely graphic. Illustrated by textile designer Angela McKay, this black and white bunny goes with everything. There's something particularly winsome about the one droopy ear. It would look so cute in a simple kid's room, maybe with a bright mobile hanging from the ceiling.

On the downside? Ok, it's white, and one bout of stomach flu might doom it forever. Still, so cute. At Father Rabbit.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Something for Your Dirty Laundry from Mr. and Mrs. P

These will make even your laundry look cleaner.
I'm not much of a DIY homemaker type. I like to cook, and will clean and neaten, but I've never gone in for that sort of homesteader chic that's been so popular. Mason jars filled with salad? Homemade overly hoppy beer? Sage smudging? Not my thing.

I do, however, like these paint dipped clothespins by Mr. and Mrs. P. I like the simple, clean design of clothespins generally, and they are often useful for sorting things, sealing bags of errant chips, and even hanging soggy suits and lingerie. The fact that these clothespins are fashionably color dipped just adds to the excellent design factor. Plus, if you have a sort of DIY crunchy, crafty friend, a little set of these suckers might be the perfect little gift.

At $4 for two, you can afford to buy an assortment. So hang it all out to dry at Mr. and Mrs. P's.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Time Goes 24: A Different Clock from The Thing

What time is it? Do it now, quick!
Most of us have gotten lazy, timewise. So accustomed to the digital on our nightstands and phones, even reading a regular clock can take a half second longer than it should. And time as a concept deserves more scrutiny than the digital. I could go really crazy here and start quoting Pink Floyd all over the place, but that would just be aging and embarrassing. I'll spare us both.

Anyway, the rather cutting edge artsy magazine and object subscription service The Thing has just released its latest product/project, a 24 hour clock designed by artist Tauba Auerbach. First off, the clock, in white with gold classic Roman numerals, is beautiful. It would lend itself to almost any decor. But, between its 24 hour format and the Romans, it forces you to slow down and actually examine the clock in order to tell the time. It also might be an excellent way to torture a child just learning to tell time (just in case you're hard up for sadistic amusement opportunities).

The clock is for sale alone, for $120. And a quarterly subscription to The Thing (an amazing present for an artsy friend or relative) goes for $240. Pick and choose at The Thing Quarterly. You'll never see time as just "ticking away the moments that make up a dull day." See? I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Groovy Candlelight from Dwell Studio

Oh, we covet shiny things.
The Toad gets many catalogs and covets many things in them. I particularly like the goods in the Dwell Studio catalog, although many of the prices make me feel ill. I mean, no, I'm not handing over 200 clams for a "creature box," no matter how charming and quirky the creatures atop it might be.

Still, there's some good and accessible stuff buried in that pricey catalog. Take these Converge votive candle holders in brass, for instance. They look like they could be vintage, found gracing some '70s bachelor pad, but they still have that minimalist, modernist edge I like so much. Plus, as the days get shorter, there is a need for attractive candlelight to blunt the painful reality that winter is coming. Not to go all Game of Thrones on you, but it's true.

At $38, these votives are an excellent gift for a hostess or casual birthday. Light em up and get groovy. At Dwell Studio.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ridiculously Good Vittles from the Jerusalem Cookbook

This food will make you swoon.
So, even though I'm a food enthusiast, I've been a bit behind the trend on this cookbook; Jerusalem went viral a while ago. Still, I figure that many of you might be as oblivious as I, so I'm presenting this cookbook as a must have.

Why is it a must have? Because I've made three things from it and they've all been insanely good. And healthy (like, chock full of veggies). And not expensive. Really, I could go on and on. As it turns out, Israeli and Palestinian cuisine is heavy on vegetables and wonderful piles of herbs and spices; there's way, way more to it than falafel and hummus (although I'm sure the hummus recipe is excellent). Mejudra, for example, a homespun, highly spiced rice pilaf laced through with crispy fried onions, was a sensational surprise (my 12 year old gobbled it up).

Do you need some special ingredients? Yes, mostly in the form of spices like sumac and za'atar, which you're not going to find at most neighborhood markets. I hit the Spice Station in Silverlake for these essentials, but you can order them online as well.  I highly recommend cooking your own garbanzo beans, as they are far superior to the canned variety. And maybe buying a bunch of Beano while you're at it (I'm just trying to cover all the bases here).

Jerusalem is a beautiful cookbook as well, full of color pictures of glorious food. You can find it for around $20 on Amazon. Order it and amaze at your next dinner party.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Toasty Spice Roaster

Look! It's a tiny popcorn popper for dwarves!
Because of the ridiculous, incredible heat in Los Angeles the last two weeks or so, I've been experimenting with salads and spices to whet the weary appetite. All good Indian, Israeli, and Asian dishes depend on quality spices, mostly whole and toasted over open flames by the cook. And after some poking around online (really, all I do all day long), I happened upon the ideal spice toaster.

This incredibly simple tool makes spice toasting, from coriander to cardamom to sesame seeds, very quick and easy. Yeah, sure, you could use a little skillet on the stovetop and monitor the spices like a hawk. Or, you could dump them into this little sieved device specifically designed for the task and have it done in about half the time. Because this spice toaster is a Japanese product, made in Japan, by people who have tiny kitchens and limited space for culinary nonsense. Anything they dream up to make the chef's life easier is worth buying.

So, buy one for the chef in your life. Hell, buy two. They're only $14. And maybe you should throw in a quality spice grinder while you're at it, so you can stop using your old cranky coffee grinder to make rice powder for your next batch of chicken larb. At Umami Mart.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

For The Pancake Man or Waffle Woman

Great holy flapjacks, the perfect syrup has arrived!
Everyone knows someone who's obsessed with pancakes or waffles. Mr. Crab makes light, fluffy, incredible pancakes that just beg for butter and high end syrup. Our favorite pancakes are the corn pancakes from Cheeky's in Palm Springs (sporting kernels of fresh corn), but I digress.

In the land of delicious breakfasts, excellent ingredients are expected. And this set of small batch Vermont maple syrup and gorgeous silo pitcher from Farmhouse Pottery really delivers. The syrup is, of course, amazing. The pitcher can satisfy almost any aesthetic, from modern to, well, farmhouse. The combo of the smooth and rough in calm neutrals works with any table setting besides, perhaps, Grandma's fussy Desert Rose. As a gift for the cook, it truly satisfies.

Although it's early, I think this would make an excellent holiday present. It's $65 at Farmhouse Pottery (and there's a smaller version, too).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Clever Kitchen Clean Up

This rustic yet elegant assortment cleans floor to table to dirty dishes!
Lately, I've been very drawn to Swedish and Scandinavian design. It's so clean and bright, yet oddly comforting. Plus, it's minimalist, which is something I strive for but rarely achieve, due to my penchant for odd objects and art.

One thing the Swedes do extremely well is merging the old fashioned and classic with pure utility; they don't embrace rococo. In the kitchen, this aesthetic is very welcome (ok, I admit I have an IKEA kitchen, so I'm already committed to the aesthetic, but hear me out). Iris Hantverk is a Swedish organization which produces products made by the visually impaired, and the results are lovely. Get a load of these kitchen clean up tools, made of all natural materials and lovingly crafted. The table brush set I find particularly appealing, as I have a messy family and a daughter with barbarian friends who scatter the kitchen table with refuse after every meal. This brush would be so useful, and look nice to boot.

All the kitchen tools would make incredible hostess gifts, or as a holiday present (I know, it's annoying to think about the holidays, but why not gather gifts now and not panic later). Order them all for a little over $50! At Olmay Home.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kid Decor with Class

It's not just a pretty flower. It can live, forever fresh and lovely, on your wall.
Lately, I've seen these tv ads for some company called Fathead, selling really obnoxious wall decals. I don't like the ads, or the particular decals it pushes, but I did think the idea of instant decor was a good one. Especially for nurseries and little kid rooms, where you might want to make a big fun splash, but maybe don't have the time or money for a mural or insane theme room (or maybe you don't want to look at it while you're stuck in that room for hours with a newborn).

So then I looked around and found Wallflower. This company offers wall decals you really can live with for a long time. They will not offend. And there's scarcely any cheese in sight, although the overpriced lions come dangerously close to dairy territory. I mean, just about anyone would like a photorealistic giant flower, or butterfly, or even a seashell stuck on the wall. There's also these fascinating abstract splashes of liquid that have some decor potential; although a toddler might get the wrong idea and start hurling drinks at the walls to add her own artistic statement.

The real plus is that these decals start at under $50 and peel on and off easily. That means no mural painter, no DIY stencils, and no smelly fumes in a kid's room. The dahlia above is about $95, and an entire wall decal will set you back a grand, which might be too grand for your progeny. At Wallflower.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Landing Strip, Part Deux

Sure, they look simple, but these Gym Hooks store stuff in style.
Yes, I know. You thought I was done with my neurotic quest for order in the foyer. But I wasn't done.

After I installed the fantastic switch plate I wrote about in the last post, I realized it wasn't quite enough to keep my clutter corralled. Thus, I turned back to the venerable A+R for another solution: the Hay Gym Hook. These hooks look simple, but function in multiple ways. You can hang a heavy bag on it, while looping your scarf or sweatshirt through the middle of it. They come in lots of pretty colors (I chose the natural wood, but if I were hanging more than one I'd do a combo). And they're beautifully, sturdily designed and easy to hang. After installing the Gym Hook, my belongings look organized and deliberate, not a pile of junk abandoned in a heap.

These hooks run around $35, which might seem steep, but this is a case of getting exactly what you pay for. Worth it! At A+R.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Instant Landing Strip

Hang your keys or an unruly small child from the Walhub's handy hooks.
In my never ending search for home efficiency, I've recently turned my toad focus to the landing strip. You know what I'm talking about (wipe that smile off your face; it's not that landing strip), the area right inside the door where all your going out stuff congregates: your keys, his/her keys, your jacket that never makes it into the closet, your phone, and, in my case, aerial odds and ends like socks. It's a damn mess, all the time. And unless you have some ultimate foyer, it's likely to remain that way unless you take action.

Barring construction for a hall closet you can't afford, or buying some Abstrackt/Malm IKEA thing it'll take an army to assemble, your options for a landing strip are sadly limited. So, when I ran across one small affordable step in the strip solution, I was thrilled. The Walhub faceplate fits over the existing switch plates in your house (hopefully, in your entryway), and turns any light switch into a mini storage unit for keys or a small purse (one even has a slot for storing outgoing mail). Venerable modernist mecca A+R featured the Walhub at the Dwell show in L.A. recently, to great acclaim, but of course I needed to try it out. Sure enough, the thing makes a difference. Between the Walhub and some hanging hooks inside the door, I might be able to create foyer order out of cluttered chaos.

The best part? These brilliant space savers start at $16. When's the last time you bought anything innovative and stylish and useful for just $16? Try never. At A+R.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Phone Pillow Gone Hardcore

This thing is hard as a rock, but I doubt the iPhone minds much.
It's a proven fact that if you have a spot to put specific items, you'll probably place them in that spot and actually be able to locate said items. Take the phone, for instance, that ends up in a purse, on the desk, placed on the kitchen counter, or even left in the bathroom (ew). Just think: if there really was an appealing, stylish spot to stick your phone, you'd use it, right?

The very quirky company Snarkitecture has the answer in the Pillow, a phone holder that looks like a pillow, but is actually made of concrete. Yep, it's a concrete resting place, all white and elegant looking, just waiting to keep your phone corralled. All you have to do is order the thing and place it where you'll use it constantly. This makes a wonderfully low tech gift for that high tech style geek on your gift list. Of course, it can also hold other things, like keys, or sunglasses, or change, but it's specifically designed to hold the phone.

As with all scarce, stylish gifts, the Pillow isn't a bargain at $68. But what price do you put on efficiency? At Snarkitecture.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Roomba: A Useful New Presence Makes a Generous Present

I've been waiting quite a while to write something about the Roomba, because although I liked the general concept of a robot vacuum cleaner, I didn't have one and I don't trust other people's reviews of potential novelty items. However, Mr. Crab purchased me one for my birthday (and the appliance was much appreciated, although I wouldn't recommend the Roomba to any of my male readers out there as a romantic or even recommended gift, unless the Roomba is carting around jewels or something), and thus I'm able to write an informed review.

I know: he doesn't look like Mr. Personality, but the Roomba's got moves.
First off, we named our Roomba Gordo. He appeared to have some sort of winsome personality right out the box, and once he started moving around our home, haplessly banging into things, I felt the need to address him by some sort of moniker. He was working so hard! Seriously, Gordo spent a great deal of time trying to navigate our "open concept" living area, and he did improve over time. Sure, he got pathetically stuck at one point, crying out for help in an incongruous calm female voice, but that was quickly remedied and he got right back to work. The best part? Once he was done, he made his way back to his docking station and backed himself into his home for a refreshing recharge. Watching a small appliance, indeed watching anything at all, learn from mistakes, work industriously and then go do exactly what it was designed to do, as promised, on the box, was worth the cost.

But what about the floor? The floor was clean! Gone were the faded dried up jacaranda blossoms, toast crumbs, and rug's worth of cat hair. Gordo can be preprogrammed for regular cleanings, or you can just press his go button and run him whenever. While our cat isn't riding him yet, he's no longer running from the room while Gordo is on his rounds. If you know someone with a more open floor plan with hard surface floors, this device makes one incredible gift. Especially since vacuuming all the time by hand sucks, and the dog only picks up the food and leaves the rest of the filth. Gordo is a timesaver for sure.

You can find the Roomba at the iRobot site, although we found ours at CostCo for either the same or a lower price. Buy one for busy people and instantly improve their standard of cleanliness.

Monday, June 17, 2013

An Appealing Little Gift

Any carrot would be delighted to be brutalized by such an attractive peeler.
You have have those times when you just have to show up with something useful and interesting? I'm talking about a functional hostess gift, not a bunch of flowers that wilt and perish, or baked goods that pack on the pounds. You just need a little something that's original.

So look no further than this very pretty veggie peeler from Normann Copenhagen. Yes, a veggie peeler can be pretty, I promise, and it's a most functional summer hostess gift, with all that organic produce flying around. Just look that the open handle design and lovely colors. You're sure to find one to fit any kitchen. The giving of such a gift also signals that you might be of some help in the kitchen, and every hostess can use an extra scullery slave, you know.

These pretty peelers are just $17 each at Gretel Home. Keep a couple hands for one appealing gift.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Beauty for the Intrepid

Summer is basically here (although if you're on the east coast or in the mid west, my condolences, because your weather is seasonally bizarre and sucks). Now is the time for travel plans, beach outings, and a less hectic beauty routine. Know a friend who's going away and having a birthday? Geminis (like the Toad) are not into fuss when it comes to appearance; they're into efficiency.

Thus, I've rounded up a little travel package of some beauty short cuts and essentials for the lucky adventurous friend. Present her with this little assortment of products and watch her gleam.

Chicstix: Yeah, I know, it seems a little weird and intimate to give a shaving product, but after test

driving this for about a month, I have to say it's pretty genius. Shaped like a roll on deodorant stick, this solid shaving soap glides on in the shower and makes for one close, soft shave. So soft, in fact, that Mr. Crab has commented on the softness of my legs (no small feat for a Toad). I prefer the unscented, but the reviews have been positive on the scent front. Plus, because it's solid, it's easy to haul on a trip. And it lasts a lot longer than a can of shaving cream. It's $9, but it's money well spent. At Chicstix.

Ojon Reverse Damage: Unless you and your friends have virtuous virgin hair, you have some damage going. Frizz, split ends, frazzles, the unflattering possibilities are endless and summer only makes them worse. This light weight oil treatment protects and smoothes those freaky follicles. And it only takes a couple of drops to do the job. At Sephora.

Embroyolisse Lait Concentre: You can trust the French when it comes to good skincare. And this cream, which I've been slathering on for a couple of weeks, is superior to just about anything else I've tried. It's a secret weapon for professional makeup artists and models everywhere. You can use it as a primer, a makeup remover, and one kick ass moisturizer. And it contains no nasty parabens. This stuff smoothes on like a dream and continues to protect for about 24 hours. Plus, the texture is dreamy. All in all, the perfect salve for a flight, to avoid in air mummification. At Embryolisse.

Essie's Butler, Please: What's a vacation without a little fun on the toes? This rich blue looks both indulgent and modernist. It's not morbid. It won't make your feet look dead. It will make the toes look worthy of lounging in Yves Saint Laurent's moroccan hideaway. At Essie.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Buy the Farm

These guys are little, but there's larger versions available, at a $400 price tag. Now, that's REALLY buying the farm!
My whole family has always had a "thing" for stuffed animals. My sister made them have not just tea parties, but rather extensive tableaus; my mother had an entire community in her bedroom, complete with names and life histories. My attachment, to my Snoopy, was pretty epic. In short: we know stuffed animals.

With that said, I usually gravitate toward the cuddly rather than the stiff. By stiff, I mean Steiff, that legendary German brand that creates realistic stuffed animals that resist any love or squish you try to give them. They are beautiful, but prickly. These mini fur and feathers series, from Japanese artist Kiyoshi Mino, are handcrafted using a needle, thread, and a lump of pure wool. This wild and wooly farmland line up is representational without being wholly realistic; there's a certain homespun charm to them. I can see them now, either gracing a windowsill in an adult home or inhabiting the imaginative block built world of some lucky child. I particularly fancy the donkey.

Anyway, at $50 a pop, these barnyard critters aren't cheap. They are, however, relatively affordable yet cuddly art, and that's a rare commodity. At ODLCO.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Toy Clean Up in One Swoop

Look at this orderly little boy who suddenly morphs into a Sherpa. It's a dream!
My daughter is older now, but when she was a toddler, I remember the toy nightmare scattered in an even layer throughout the house. There's nothing like getting a Barbie high heel embedded in your foot at 2am. Toy clean up and wrangling was always a problem.

I really wish this product had been around back then; I would've had one for practically every room! Called The Swoop, this toy bag is more like a soft toy playpen. Simply throw all the toys (from stuffed ducks to errand Legos) into the Swoop and drawstring it shut. It's very easy to then tote the whole toy mass from place to place. Plus, it opens up completely into a partially padded toy area, keeping much of the mess confined (unless your kid is a truly dedicated thrower). Easy to carry, easy to stash away, easy to convert into a play mat, this Swoop is a damn good idea. It even comes in a mini version for travel. And, a bunch of Swoops take up less space than toy baskets or boxes.

This would make an ideal baby shower gift, as it can morph from a portable mat to toy storage over the years. And, at $48, it's fairly reasonably priced. Plus, it's an ideal storage solution for all those small spaces we're now forced to inhabit (NYC, anyone?). At Swoop.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Am Woman, Watch Me Wreck

Just think of the power you might wield. Speak softly, and carry a pink wrecking bar.
I know a lot of women (and men, but this is a gift for either women or very, very secure men) who are going through remodels. And whether it's kitchen, bath, closet, or bedroom, it's always a series of small catastrophes followed by gasps of encouraging activity. It's frustrating, but almost always ultimately worth it.

Thus, I present what I feel is the perfect gift for the remodeling woman: the hot pink wrecking bar. Yes, this artistic object, made by Philip Iosca, is a real wrecking bar, capable of yanking out filthy old cabinets and fixtures with ease. But, it's also bright pink. Pink is not my favorite color, but in this case I think it's just perfect. Plus, once the remodel is done, you can stick it under your bed as a last ditch weapon (it's probably about as good a club as a Maglite, and bearing less risks than bearing arms).

This is a pricey little item at $75. It would also make a splendid Mother's Day gift for that handy yet testy mommy. At the wonderful color coded site, JNRL STR.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pillow Talk

It's a rainbow of comfy back support options!
Ever since an unfortunate cat pee incident, we've had a shortage of pillows on our couch. It's not that we don't want new pillows, it's just that I'm notoriously fussy about such decorating details. Plus, we had to wait and see if the felines would calm the hell down and stop trying to redecorate the living room.

And then I spotted them: the perfect pillows for my living room. At first, I just put them on Pinterest, but after a bunch of people liked and shared them, I realized these Brick cushions were a natural Toad post. I mean, just look at them! They're not silly and floral, they're not overly trendy and ethnic (how many fake suzani prints do you need in a room, anyway), and they're definitely not boring. With all the graphic colorways offered, you're sure to find one to match you or your giftee's decor. And they're made of wool, which is sturdy and washable (although no, it probably can't stand up to cat pee. Stainless steel cushions couldn't stand up to cat pee).

The only downside is the price: $98 clams apiece. That's an investment of sorts. Cheaper than Jonathan Adler, way pricier than West Elm. So choose carefully. At A+R, of course.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Put on a New Face for Spring

Grit, grime, oil and insect legs: this brush conquers them all.
It's not often that the low version of a high end beauty product really delivers, but I just found one: the Pro-X Olay facial brush.

Apparently, we all walk around with about twenty pounds of nasty dirt, old sunscreen, makeup, and possibly even dead bugs all over our faces. And yes, even though we all wash our faces every day (right? You do wash it every day, don't you, you filthy thing?), our average water splash and rubbing of cleanser for ten seconds doesn't do the job. Not even close. Thus, the twenty pounds of facial gunk.

Obviously, this is gross, and no way to live. Plus, it makes your complexion look less than fresh. Naturally, fancy company Clarisonic came out with high end motorized brushes years ago. For just two hundred bucks, you could scrub that dirt away in an efficient manner. The company even promised your fancy creams and potions would work better because they wouldn't have to burrow under layers of dead skin. I once had one of these expensive brushes, and it did work. But, alas, it was lost in our terrible moving process, a casualty of relocation rage. I wasn't about to spend another 200 clams, so I decided to try the $25 Olay version instead.

I'm pleased to say that it works. After just two uses, my skin is already tons smoother and softer. Which, admittedly, is a bit horrifying because it means that the brush performed some sort of archaeological dig on my facial epidermis to uncover the treasure beneath. All in all, I'm beyond pleased. And this brush is an ideal little gift for your best friend with that filthy face.

I've even searched for the cheapest price: $24.99 at Drugstore.com (spend another buck on something and you'll even get free shipping).  Order one and help a friend face the future looking shiny and new.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bake Through The February Doldrums

Start out with the basic white loaves and work your way up to ciabatta.
I don't know what it is about February. The relative "excitement" of Valentine's Day aside, February is a slog of a month. Mostly, the weather sucks, and will continue to suck for a while longer, and it's still dark a lot of the time. Not a pretty picture.

I think this is why I've started baking bread this month. Lots of bread. And The Toad is no baker. I'm a sloppy cook, the kind who throws in extra ingredients and eyeballs measurements. That might be fine for a stew or a soup, where improvisation doesn't ruin anything major, but baking is chemistry, with exact ingredients and procedures. So what could go wrong?

If you're using Rose Levy Birenbaum's book The Bread Bible, absolutely nothing. This baking legend has written the easiest to follow bread baking book I've ever seen. Sure, the recipes look intimidating at first. They're long, with separate ingredients lists for sponge and dough, and very specific steps. But there's a wonderful rhythm to them, and if you make more than one recipe, you discover the innate simplicity of the process. Plus, there's actually not that much work involved; mostly, bread baking involves unsupervised rising time, which is very easy to do on a rainy Sunday.

And then there's the bread. Wow. Mr. Crab was rhapsodic about the white loaves I made. The cheese version was even better. I'm planning to branch out to hearth breads soon (a little whole wheat is good for the body), and might even attempt sourdough. Plus, there's something magical about producing this dough that's alive and growing. I'm always tempted to name the thing as it's rising, since it usually has more personality than a lot of people I've met over the years.

Give The Bread Bible to a good friend (preferably one who has a Kitchen Aid mixer to help with the heavy kneading). It's the ideal gift to get her through the slowest month. At Amazon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Green Valentine

Feeling romantic? Add a bottle of bubbly, or a french macaron assortment.
While I understand that Valentine's Day gifts are supposed to be frivolous and fattening, there's a case to be made for the practical, too. If you happen to have a green minded sweetheart, a green, rather than red or pink, gift might be preferable.

In Los Angeles, plastic grocery bags are being banned. I will not weep for their demise. However, paper bags (which I often reuse for kitchen trash) will soon have a surcharge. This forces grocery store customers into hauling bags and carriers on shopping trips. Naturally, I see this as a sourcing and gifting opportunity: find the perfect reusable grocery bag.

In the Reisenthal Market Basket, I found way more than I bargained for. This fully collapsable basket is sturdy and roomy; indeed, it's the same size as the carry baskets at the store. They fit perfectly into a shopping cart, so you can simply load, check it through, and reload effortlessly. They're ideal for farmer's market outings, or even carrying a picnic. And, they come in 12 different designs (yes, I'm partial to basic black, but feel free to indulge in polka dots, flowers, or V-Day scarlet).

Ranging in price from about $43-$48, these baskets aren't bargain priced, but they'll outlast us all. Find the entire assortment at Reuseit, and go green for Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

V-Day Cat Nap Fever

Face it: the cat already hogs the bed, so it might as well take the pillows, too.
Yes, again with the Valentine's Day recommendations. Because there's no other holidays on the horizon worth discussing. And, although today's gift pick is ideal as a "couples" V-Day offering, it could just as easily be ideal for the crazy cat person.

The world is actually pretty rife with "his and hers" pillowcases, etc (also, in the spirit of political correctness: "his and his," and "hers and hers"). But these are more in line with the idea that you really share your sleeping space with a feline. That's right: two pillowcases with abstract kitty heads and ears on them. Because, if you have a cat or two, you already know that they consider everything in the house to be theirs and theirs alone. Including both pillows. One could argue that this is really a V-Day gift for the cat.

Anyway, these cases are cute, and they're 300 thread count pima cotton, which is nice for kitties and humans alike. And, they're just $32 on Etsy. That's a bargain for nice linens, and a gift that'll greatly outlast a bunch of posies.

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Silly Valentine: Unicorn Poop

At least these are horn free.
Yes, I know that we all hate Valentine's Day. If you're with someone, it's an obligatory drag. If you're solo, it's simply a humiliation of a holiday. But this is a gift site, damn it, and I'm basically required by the laws of all that is retail to cover V-Day in detail (notice: it rhymes).

Many of us are easy and can be placated with a ridiculously enormous box of See's Candy (just skip those creepy fruit ones and the divinity, please). But what about humor and a few less fat grams? What do you give for a good giggle or two? How about Unicorn Poop Cookies? These cookies, with their rainbow bright hues, celestial sprinkles, and curiously reminiscent shape, could indeed be the, ahem, excretions of a unicorn. If such a creature existed. (An aside: at circus class, we call a straight male who takes class a "unicorn," because he's as rare as one). This very childish and silly gift is entirely appropriate for a child, or a very immature adult. And, on the plus side, I bet they're calorie free because they probably taste like poop, too (or at least like pure artificial food coloring, which is pretty much the same thing).

These cookies can be purchased for $25 at Fab. Alternatively, you could also look up the recipe, buy a load of carcinogenic coloring, and make your own. Your call.