Thursday, May 21, 2020

Various Things That Are Mostly Links!

My darlings, how are you? Time is passing so strangely. I am surprised to see that I haven't written in a while, even though it feels simultaneously like yesterday and a jurassic era ago that I wrote that last post. I hope you've been healthy and good and not too fretful or stressed about all the worrying things. But maybe just fretful enough to start thinking about the November election and what we're going to do. Right? Donating to a bail-out fund is always a good starting place.

I am very excited to say that my new book, How to Be a Person, comes out next week. If you haven't ordered it yet, I am really hoping that you will. You can order it here, for example, to help support your local bookshop AND me! I am going to be weaning myself off of Amazon links in the next stretch of time, because it is unconscionable to continue to support that kind of radical social and economic injustice. (Wow, I am really off to a ranting kind of a start in this post!) I think the book would make an excellent graduation present or a wonderful passive aggressive Father's Day present for any man in your life who doesn't, say, know where you keep the wrapping paper or why you would ever need any.

She does *have* a regular mask.
In related news, I got to talk to funny, brilliant cool moms Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase over at their Spawned podcast. I got weirdly nervous, and also was balancing my mic on a "bed desk" made from a plastic bin with holes cut into the lid so that the psilocybin mushrooms growing inside could breathe (we are babysitting them for an out-of-town friend), but still it was so much fun to talk to them.

Photo credit Jörg Meyer, 2008, from the late, great Wondertime magazine.
I've also written about both camping (the backyard kind) and camp (the at-home kind) over at the New York Times, which thrills me no end. Longtime readers will understand the extent to which both of these things speak to me. (Especially given that both my kids went to IKEA Catalogue Reading Camp for 10 years.)

And I wrote--this was a while back now--for the lovely Cup of Jo about the very, very small helpfulnesses that were making me feel less awful. They still are, honestly, but I'm feeling sunnier overall, maybe because of all the sunshine.

A few other favorite things:

  • This book, which my friend wrote, but still, OH MY GOD.
  • This film, this film, and this film. All documentaries, and all so, so good.
  • This SK recipe for rhubarb bars, which I like because it's so nice and small. I make them with all rhubarb (instead of adding strawberries, since strawberries are not currently growing in my backyard like a giant alien life form), I double the white sugar, and I use gf flour (you don't need to use the xanthan-gum kind for this).
  • The salted chocolate buckwheat cookies that Liz Prueitt posted in the comments of this instagram post. OMG.
  • Melissa Clark's Spicy Thai Salad with Coconut and Crispy Tofu, which is a version of this NYT recipe, but in her Dinner book, she uses the whole package of tofu, which she corn-starches before frying, she doubles the lime juice and zest and the brown sugar, and she adds shallots, 1 cup of toasted coconut, and 11/2 cup each basil, cilantro, and mint leaves. It's tons of ingredients, and it kind of all takes forever to make, but it is ridiculously good and you can definitely omit this or that. In addition to the cabbage, I use whatever veggies we have (e.g. asparagus or green beans or cucumbers) and I swap in Bragg's for fish sauce, because of our vegetarian. It is an absolute house favorite.
  • This recipe for Paneer Butter Masala, which you can make with tofu, and which you can add peas to, as shown here. (I use canned tomatoes.)

Okay, my loves. Stay safe out there! Be vigilant and also forgiving! Love your people. xo

Thursday, April 09, 2020

So Good Chickpeas

 My loves! I am writing from here, on whatever day this is, to recommend a few things. 

Such as: A cat in a box!
  • The Marshmallow Test is a fun, easy trick-taking card game with these awesome squishy little marshmallow tokens. It's like Hearts, but low-key, without the whole Queen of Spades / wanting to die or murder somebody angle.
  • Honeyland is an incredible documentary unlike anything we had ever seen before. Fabulous, but intense. 
  • Wanderlust (the Jennifer Aniston / Paul Rudd one) is also a fabulous movie and not intense at all. It is also kind of gloriously nudity-filled and contains our all-time favorite movie line. ("Cut to: Car in the pond." Spoken by Jordan Peele no less.) Mostly when I watch movies and shows now I wonder why everyone is standing so close together and feel kind of stressed.
  • I'd recommend a book, but I seem to have developed this unsettling kind of attention deficit disorder right now where half my brain is reading and half my brain is catastrophizing. Like parallel play, but solo, mental, and not fun. I assume that will clear right up any minute.

My friend Judy and I text every day about the NYT spelling bee.
What else?

But mostly I'm here to share this. So good and easy and cheap and quarantiney. Be well, stay safe, enjoy everything you can, if you can, because even this is our real, actual life. xo

We've been delivering "Sunday dinner" to Ben's friends who are stuck here at college for the duration. I add tearful little notes to tell them how precious they are, etc., and they must think I am really careening off the rails over here. And maybe I am!
Maddie’s So Good Chickpeas
I went on a socially distant happy-hour walk with my friend Maddie (this involved a river and 6 feet and IPA-filled water bottles) and she told me about her chickpea curry, and even though I already make chickpea curry a million different ways, it sounded so good. I made her send me the details. And this is more or less her recipe, though maybe she doesn’t add the ginger? You could totally skip it. (I should add that I have made “The Stew”—the famous one from the NYT—and find it earthy and earnest but also slightly underwhelming, though I know that’s kind of heretical to say! And I LOVE Alison Roman usually, so.)

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil or ghee)
1 chopped onion (Maddie only uses ½ an onion “because frugality”)
2 or 3 cloves chopped garlic
A tablespoon or so of chopped ginger
½ a small can of tomato paste (freeze the rest in tablespoon-sized blobs)
2 tablespoons of curry powder or chana masala (I like it both ways)
1 can coconut milk (I’m just looking at Maddie’s text now, and she only used ½ cup. She and I seem to part company here.)
3-4 cups drained canned (2 cans) or cooked chickpeas (I cooked 2 cups of dried in salted water for 9 minutes in my very beloved pressure cooker)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat and fry the onion until it is fully translucent and even browning a bit around the edges—10 or 15 minutes. You can tend to the onion sporadically while you prep the other ingredients.
2. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute or two until it’s all very fragrant, then stir in the tomato paste and curry powder and fry another minute or two until everything is kind of blended into the onion mixture and sizzling. Stir in the coconut milk and then the chickpeas and bring to a simmer. Add the salt and then taste it for salt right now. It will cook down a bit (and get saltier), but if it starts out woefully underseasoned before the simmering, it will be harder to season it later.
3. Simmer on low for around half an hour to really get the chickpeas soft and to blend all the flavors together. If the pot is ever drying out, add some chickpea cooking water or some plain water. When everything is perfectly delicious (add more salt now, if you need to), serve the chickpeas with rice, quinoa, dosas, or just in a bowl with a blob of plain yogurt. The dosas shown here were made from the recipe at the bottom of this page. I recommend buying the book, though. Dosa Kitchen. So good.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

CABBAGE! (+ other storage-ingredient recipes)

I feel like this is the moment I should pitch a CABBAGE! cookbook. Because, o hero of pandemic stockpiling, o green and glorious mountain of crunchy-sweet exquisiteness! Cabbage keeps. And keeps and keeps. Even if you think it didn't keep? It did--just peel off all the discolored, or even fully rotten, leaves, and it will still be fine beneath. It's been predesigned by nature as a kind of matryoshka-Escher experiment in packaging: here's a tiny little cabbage, but we'll seal that inside a bigger cabbage, oh and we'll wrap that one up too inside this other cabbage. . . so that, by the time it's huge, you're dealing with a fully-protected wonder-vegetable. 

Simplest Butter-Sauced Cabbage
We bought 2 enormous cabbages 2 weeks ago, and I have been sawing away at them every night come dinnertime. CABBAGE! I've steamed and roasted and slawed it. I stir-fried and saladed and buttered it. I've shredded it for quesadillas and quick-pickled it for hotdogs. We are living the cabbage dream.

Here's the world's simplest slaw recipe: shred or sliver a reasonable amount of cabbage as fine as you can (a mandolin is great for this), then dress it with the juice of a lime and half its grated zest, a heavy sprinkle of salt and sugar, and a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes, if you like that kind of thing. Mix it (use your clean hands) and taste it, then add more salt and/or sugar if it needs it, and, if needs more acid, cheat it with a splash of white vinegar (because I am hoardy about the limes--in fact you can use the juice from only half the lime and sub in white vinegar for the rest). Even better an hour later, but good right now, especially alongside something rich or creamy.

Michael once gave me a cabbage for my birthday. To be clear, this was an excellent gift.
Here's what else I got for storage- and pantry-friendly cooking (some of these are recipes I developed for diatribe). Look at the recipe index too, especially if you're baking and/or your like and have tofu and/or you have plenty of eggs. ADAPT AWAY. And be well, my darlings. xo

Roasted Cabbage
Simplest Butter-Sauced Cabbage
Gingery Napa Slaw (this can be adapted for green/white cabbage)
Miso-Lime Coleslaw
Pink Slaw
Red-Cabbage Kimchi
Braised Cabbage (this is Molly Stevens' recipe, and it's sublime)

Other Storage-Vegetable Salads
Winter Bright Salad (root vegetables)
Warm and Fragrant Carrot Salad
Simplest Carrot Salad

Soup from Stuff You Might Have
Red Lentil Soup
Hotlips Root-Vegetable Soup with Harissa
Lentil Soup with Garlicky Vinaigrette
The Soup of 1000 Vegetables (or, like, 1 vegetable)
Broccoli-Cheddar Chowder (swap in frozen broccoli)
Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd
Green, Green Pea Soup with Ginger and Cilantro (frozen peas!)
Masala Dal (Indian Lentil Soup)
Tomato Soup

Beans and/or Pasta for Dinner
Camp Rice and Beans (the recipe is in the final photo caption)
Super-Healthy Chili Mac
How to Have Beans for Dinner
Perfect Pasta for a Crowd
Lemony Two-Bean Penne with Butter-Fried Breadcrumbs (skip the green beans and sub in an extra can)
Whole-Wheat Pasta with Chickpeas and Lemon
Dinner Beans
Chickpeas with Mint, Caraway, and Greek Yogurt (use a bit of dried mint, and don't worry so much about the herbs)
Buffalo Beans
Chipotle-Lime Black Bean Salad
Bean Feast
Socca (Chickpea Pancake) (if you have chickpea flour)
Warm Lentil Salad with Garlicky Sausage
Lemony Hummus
Maddie's So Good Chickpeas

Monday, March 23, 2020

Winner (+ this and that)

Hello, my lovelies. I pray you are well. Just popping by to say a few things!

Judy, early up in the comments, with the time stamp of 2:05 pm, is the winner of the divine The Yellow Bird Sings. Judy, will you please go to the contact page at my website to get in touch with your address? Everyone else: please buy that book, or get your hands on it when the libraries reopen.

example of a not helpful mask
Are you looking for anything else to do? For example, are you making masks to donate to your local hospital where shortage are likely and also likely imminent? We are using this link (scroll down a bit to see the tutorial), because we still have some elastic at our house. Here's a link to sew some without elastic. It is definitely giving us an industrious wartime feeling, making them. But the truth is, I'm not the best sewer. I keep imagining a doctor's face looming over a sick patient, and his mask is made of Scooby Doo pajamas with part of my thumb visibly sewn into them. Still, my goal is to keep one healthcare worker well for one extra day--a goal that feels simultaneously vast and attainable.

Ben and I painted flowers and now we're cutting them up to make little cards to send people who might need a little card sent to them.
I am also enrolling in this (free) online The Science of Well-Being course from Yale. Anyone want to join me? The craft learning site Creative Bug is offering tons of free classes too, and Ben and I are going to start a watercolor class this week. We did a Youtube video last week, and it was so much fun. And, finally, in other homemaking news, we started some seeds in our raised bed. I am a worse gardener than I even am a seamstress, so we are mostly imagining feeding the rabbits our scraggy peas and arugula, like we seem to do every year. Still, it felt good to push a little hope into the ground.

I know you know this, but if you look at the recipe index here, there are tons of recipes that already mostly use stuff you already have: pasta and rice, beans and lentils and maybe the occasional onion etc. I am happy to pull some out, too. Maybe in another blog post!

Please stay well and stay in touch. Sending so much love to you! xo

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sparkles in the Darkness (+ a give-away!)

A stitched card to celebrate a wedding that filled me with grief and joy. I am learning to feel more than one thing at a time.
My loves! Today it is sunny here, and I am sitting with my coffee near the window, cats snoozing all around, one kid out walking in the woods with (i.e. 6 feet apart from) a friend, one kid still sleeping. Michael is filling the bird feeders. Both of my children are under my roof, they are finally resting enough, we are well, spring is coming, and we are counting our blessings. Sitting over a simple meal with candles lit. There is no reason that this should not be a perfect experience, even right now, and I am trying to center myself so that I don't miss the beauty. I leave my phone downstairs at night and fill my insomnia only with books and the sound of purring. When the drumbeat of panic gets loud, I try to go outside or breathe deeply or wrangle a cat into my lap or text a friend or . . . something corny. I'm not sure what to call it. Sending love out into the universe might be the best way to explain.

Our friend Ava painted this for us. Can you even?
What is it like where you are? Every day we say, "Was that just a week ago?" or even "Was that just yesterday?" Are you doing that too?

Somebody's child's artwork, as seen through a rainy car window in the Trader Joe's parking lot.
I have a goal, and it's being a better person when this is over than I was when it started. I'm not sure this is an attainable goal, but right now I am trying to shed some of my smallnesses: money worries; grievances of all kinds; the impulse to grab not only one roll of paper towels, but also the next roll, which is the last roll on the shelf. I have committed to not buying the last one of anything, if there is already one in my cart. How's that for a small victory? (Small is the answer. But still.) 

I thought I might share some ideas here, about things to do and read and make. Please feel free to do the same in the comments.

For example, if ever there were a moment to learn a yarn, string, or thread craft, this might be it, am I right? I might not actually be right. But I still have to use this occasion to repromote my friend Nicole's and my book Stitch Camp, with step-by-step instructions on all the fiber crafts: how to sew, knit, crochet, felt, embroider, and weave, and lots of little projects you can make with stuff you probably already have at home. Underground Crafter excerpted a little weaving project from it, which you can access here. And Storey has some previews of a few projects here. I need to plug the book Unbored while I'm at it. So full of good rattling-around-at-home things to do.

Meanwhile, creative folks are filling the school void so beautifully. The Kennedy Center is hosting the draw-along Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems every day at 1:00 pm EST. Wendy MacNaughton @wendymac is doing a drawing class every day on Instagram at 1:00 pm EST. Full disclosure: Ben and I tried it, and it skewed a little young for us, but we still loved her soothing and lovely Mr. Rogers way of being. (Note that both remain streamable online, so don't worry about the time conflict). My friend Kate Schatz is reading from her wonderful new book Rad American History A-Z and other books in the fab RAD series at 2:00 pm EST on her Instagram channel @k8shots.

I kinda panicked on my final library run. This is the last book I grabbed. Thoughts?
Not for kids, but posted a list of 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free. And, if your public library is now closed (mine is, sob!) this might be a good chance to see if they have online books you can access. I have not yet myself read an online book ever in my life, but when I run out of Moby Dick, who knows? For now, Birdy has also started a neighborhood leave-it-on-the-front-step system of lending and borrowing books, games, puzzles, and art supplies. 

What are you reading? What is hitting the right spot for you? My friend Jennifer's brand-new book The Yellow Bird Sings is so achingly beautiful, and you don't have to just take it from biased me, since it's getting amazing reviews (I am the first person in the whole world who compared it to Room, though, I must unhumbly submit). Plus, not only that, but she's doing a give-away! Comment here for a chance to win! I'll pick a winner before Monday and then she will PUT ON GLOVES AND TAKE YOUR BOOK TO THE POST OFFICE. (She wanted me to tell you that!) I'm also in the middle of Lily King's new book, Writers & Lovers, and omg. I have waited tables AND been a writer AND dated imperfect men, so this book is banging into me in lots of places. Allow me also to recommend this crushingly perfect photo series and this brief and surreal little video by our beloved mustachioed Maira Kalman.

What else are you doing? We are playing lots of board games and music, going for lots of walks, putting some seeds in the ground, and doing the daily Spelling Bee on the NYT website (I recommend sucking it up and paying for their crossword subscription, honestly). We're trying to limit our news intake to one or two daily doses, texting a lot with our family and friends, telling our parents and kids we love them, smiling from across the street, checking in with our neighbors and friends who live alone, and eating regular, nourishing meals. In fact, the main reason I came here was to post a wonderful dal recipe, but then I kinda got carried away. Let me post it now. If you are at all interested in making the lovely fermented bean-and-rice pancakes, aka dosas, to go with it, then check out the recipe here (you can actually scroll through the preview pages for the full recipe, or you can buy Dosa Kitchen, which is the wonderful book).

Stay safe, my darlings! xo

I make this dal at least weekly but never remember to photograph it. This was leftover dal and chickpeas on a dosa, with a drizzle of the coconut-cilantro chutney from my favorite Instant Pot cookbook.
Masala Dal
This is based on a recipe from the spruce eats website. You don't have to follow it super exactly, but if you have a store nearby that sells Asian ingredients in general, or Indian beans and spices in particular, they might need your business right about now, and you can get everything you need for this recipe. The final sizzled spice mixture is called "tadka," and if really pushes this dal into the realm of the sublime. That said, go ahead skip it if you don't have the spices. The dal will be as close to sublime, still, as possible. 

This makes tons; feed a lot of people, eat it for multiple days, or plan to freeze some of it. 

1 cup moong dal (split yellow lentils that look like yellow split peas; alternately, use all red lentils)
1 cup masoor dal (regular split red lentils that are kind of coral colored)
1/4 teaspoon asafetida*
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne or another red chili powder (depending how spicy you like it--or skip)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
4 tablespoons coconut (or vegetable) oil or ghee, divided use
1 onion, finely chopped
3 quarter-sized slices of ginger, smashed and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sambar masala (or curry powder)
1 cup canned tomato product (crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, or tomato puree)
1 teaspoon panch puran** 
2 finely slivered green chilis (optional)
Cooked brown basmati rice, chopped cilantro, lemon wedges, and toasted coconut shreds for serving (all optional)

*This is a wonderfully stinky, garlicky spice ground from a kind of dried sap. If anyone in your house has a gluten sensitivity, make sure you source it carefully, since it is sometimes cut with wheat flour. Also, if you don't have this, then simply leave it out!

**This spice blend is made of mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, nigella seeds, and fenugreek seeds. If you have any of those, use them singly or in any combination to equal a teaspoon, or else skip this part. 

1. Rinse the dal(s) well and put them in an Instant Pot with the asafetida, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Cover with water by about 2 inches and set the pot to the pressure cook on the "bean setting." (This will pressure cook them at high pressure for 30 minutes.) Alternately, pressure cook them in a pressure cooker, or put them in a pot on the stove and simmer over low heat, partially covered, until they are fully falling apart, around an hour.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat and cook the onions until they are fully translucent and turning golden (around 10 to 15 minutes). 
3. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a minute or 2 (until you can really smell them), then add the coriander, cumin, and sambar masala and cook just for a few seconds, until the scent of the spices hits you.
4. Tip the tomatoes into the pan and fry the mixture for around 5 minutes--until the oil kind of lifts up out of the tomatoes and you can smell the spices frying in it again, if that makes any sense.
5. Is the dal done cooking? If you've done it in a pressure cooker, then let the pressure release naturally, or go ahead and release it after 15 or 20 minutes. Stir the dal, stir in the tomato mixture, and taste it for salt. Does it need anything else? Does it need to simmer a few minutes with the lid off to thicken? Or does it need a splash of water to loosen up a little? Let it mingle, either way, for around 10 minutes.
6. The dal can stay on the warm setting for hours now, or you can eat it now. When you're ready, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a tiny pan over medium heat and fry the panch puran and (optional) chilis until the they're very fragrant and they stop spitting, which will take just a minute or two. Stir the spices and oil into the dal.
6. Serve with or without rice and toppings.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Happy New Year / I love you

From Amazon.

From Partners in Health.
My angels, you raised $2000, and we donated it to Partners in Health. Thank you so much! We factored in a little extra, because those links will be live for a good long time, and I know that people get game and book cravings into the new year. Yay! If you want to donate more, please do. We're going to give a little more this year--to the Bail Project and to Immigrant Families Together. Because who really needs a mudroom? Ha ha ha! Kidding. I've totally given up on building a mudroom. Rest assured. 

We went to Yankee Candle to admire the little pretend wintry scenes, and this empty nip bottle amongst the ornaments made us laugh SO MUCH. I'm laughing again, just looking at it. I feel you, nip emptier. I really feel you.
Also, if you didn't get Wingspan? And someone in your family has a little holiday cash burning a hole in their pocket? Get Wingspan. We've already played it a hundred thousand times and it's pretty much a perfect game. (Please note: it should be about $60. If you are seeing it for $120, don't pay that, okay?)

Happy New Year, my dearest loves. I am wishing us all the best of everything. xo

Monday, December 02, 2019

Gift Guide 2019

Hellooo, my loves! I am writing you from snowy New England with a few of our annual thoughts on gifts, especially gifts for kids, teenagers, gamers, and book lovers! As always, let me start with gifts lists from the past, because I need every single thing in my life to be a crazy refractive house of mirrors:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here--and also there is a list of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years.
  • The year before that are here.
  • The year before, here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • Some long ago thoughts (i.e. for little kids) are here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.
And also as always, let me mention that these gift guides involve Amazon links, and that's because I will earn a commission, and then I'll donate all the money I make from them. In other words, this is a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping in a normal, effortless way! As always, we'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade (last year we donated almost $3000 from gift-guide revenue). But if you'd prefer to shop locally and donate to PIH directly, that would be win-win! The link is here.

I am starting off with these two sets of sticky notes: the color dots, and the color flags. You will be like, wait, am I just getting one of these colors when I order them? And I'm here to say: No. You get the whole color-gradient set. What? Yes! I take my god-given role of Jew-Santa-stocking-stuffer very seriously, and so am in stocking stuffer heaven with these little sets. 

I got my VERY ORGANIZED LIST MAKER this daily planning pad, and I feel confident that she will love it. I think this sloth one is actually cuter, but I worried that the whole procrastination theme wasn't quite right for my particular person. 

We got this book, A Field Guide to Color, a couple of months ago, and we love it so much.

It's filled with color exercises that you mostly do with watercolors, and we have based entire evenings around various delightful activities. (We've also turned most of what we make into thank-you cards, so win/win!)

If I were giving it as a gift, I'd give it with a gorgeous set of watercolors, like this. (I'm getting this one for Ben, since he doesn't have his own set at college.)

Although you could also just add a set of metallic paints to whatever bigger set you're currently using, and it makes a fun, smaller gift set. This is a good, basic, and relatively inexpensive watercolor pad. Also, if anyone in your house would like a new set of colored pens, we recently got these, and completely love them.

Okay. Onto the games! First up, a game that is new to us since this past Thanksgiving, i.e. three days ago, but which we loved so much we insisted the friends who'd brought it over to play LEAVE IT WITH US, along with the leftover salted chocolate pie. (Thanks, guys!) It's called The Mind

and it's like a cross between a card game and a Ouija board. You have numbered cards in your hand, and you and the other players are trying to lay them out in numerical order without communicating verbally or gesturally. It is very Vulcan mind meld. Very eye-contacty and wonderful and surprisingly, thrillingly possible. There's a little more to it, but not much, and the play is quick and anyone can learn it.
Speaking of. I'm just saying. 

Next up: Cheating Moth, which we first learned in its German form (Mogel Motte) from drunk Catalan speakers at a fabulous wedding in Spain. It’s a really fun cheating game, and a perfect game to play with people who already cheat at games, because they’re cheating anyway! It’s all just sleight of hand—with no bluffing or strategy in particular. And it's really fun to play drunk with people you can't really even totally communicate with. This, and The Mind, are both small, inexpensive games that are relatively easy to learn and could be stuffed into a stocking as a stuffer.
I recommended Azul (pictured below on our dirty carpet) last year, even though we had never played it. And if you got it on my advice, then you will understand what an excellent gamble that was. It's a simply wonderful game, and we've played it dozens, possibly even hundreds, of times in 2019. (It is probably tied with Splendor and Qwixx for most household play this calendar year.) The pieces are heavy and lush and look like Starburst candies, and the game play is totally straightforward and yet, in the way of all great games, constantly evolving. (I have also not yet put a piece in my mouth absentmindedly, which I find nearly miraculous.) We haven't taught it to anybody who hasn't loved it. So this year I am giving another stand-alone game from the same folks: Azul Stained Glass of Sintra (pictured above), which gets fantastic reviews on both Amazon and Board Game Geek. 

We learned Arboretum in a bar with friends (see below) and it is another aesthetically perfect game that feels simple enough when you're learning it, but then that simplicity turns out to be a little deceptive. You are basically building a grid of gorgeous trees, and it's all fine and good, until the scoring, which is insane--like, you thought you were playing Go Fish, and then it turned out you were playing Go Fish on another planet in a colorful forest and someone slipped you a roofie. Anyhoo. Super fun, super-pretty, and nice and compact for playing out of the house. Like, at a bar, say. 

My kids are appalled that I have never mentioned Stone Age here on a gift guide.

And is it true? Have I really never? This is one of our most consistently played family games of all time. Aesthetically, it's a little like our very beloved Agricola--with the cardboard tiles and the lovely wooden meeples and pieces--and then, in terms of game play, it's also a little like Agricola, but with all the crazy stress and panic sanded off the edges of the more basic elements of placing tokens and gathering resources. It appears to be $70, which would make it a big investment. But, then again, that's just under the cost of 2 movie-theater movies for a family of 4, and we've played it probably 50 times. So.

Wingspan is the big present we're giving Ben and Birdy this year, so 1) Shhhh! and 2) I can't report back just yet. But it is winning all kinds of prizes and gets almost ridiculously good reviews everywhere and, I'm sorry, but look at those wooden eggs and the bird house and the bird tokens and the pretty dice. I mean, not to be a totally annoying aesthetic snob, but I'm so much more likely to play a game that's beautiful. Gameplay gets compared to Azul, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Dominion, all games we have and love, so I feel confident. I will report back after we play!

This is the puzzle we did over Thanksgiving, and it is TWO-SIDED! Right? It's even clear which side is which, because one side is shiny. So beautiful. And we did this puzzle too. And this one. (I really love Galison puzzles.)
Okay! Onto the books. If I were going to recommend a single gifting novel in this moment, I think it would have to be this

I always love Ann Patchett, but this book offers just the most vibrant, deep kind of reading pleasure I can remember experiencing. I mean, it reminded me of reading all those absolutely pitch-perfect Joan Aiken books when I was 10. Give this to your readers and they will love it. Other great giftable novels include Ocean Vuong's poetic, absolutely gutting, and occasionally filthy On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (like, don't give it to your grandma unless she's queer or super open-minded), and, on the fully other end of the spectrum, Nina Stibbe's delightfully buoyant and Englishly laugh-out-loud Reasons to Be Cheerful. Also, not to typecast your old people, but Henry Himself is a really good and funny book for your old people (I am 50 and loved it; my parents are in their 80s and loved it).

The book I have given the most number of times this year is Good Talk by Mira Jacob. In fact, I had to use a stock photo, because I can't even seem to keep a copy in the house. I gave it to graduating teenagers, to people in the hospital, to birthday friends, and to houseguests who picked it up while they were here. It is a graphic memoir about childhood and parenting, coming of age, and the particular, peculiar experiences of race and identity in the United States. It is so funny and good and everybody I've given it to has loved it. Another possible gift memoir is Chanel Miller's Know My Name, which I just finished and found staggering, enraging, lovely, and hopeful. What a beautiful person she is. You could give that book along with the fabulous, utterly shocking She Said as a kind of Feminist Rage Party Pack. 

Okay. Onto the cooking people. I feel like giving someone an Instant Pot is like giving someone a puppy. Like, you better make sure they're ready for it, and have the space for it and time to train it. (Or at least to read the instruction manual.) That said, my brother gave me one, after checking with Michael, and I use it a lot. That's why it's so gross and greasy in the photo! I like the way it's got the speed and the bean-cooking capability of a pressure cooker, but with the stay-warm-all-day convenience of a slow cooker. What I mostly make in it, and I make a lot of it, is Indian food. It really lends itself so perfectly to dal and chickpea curries and other long-simmered, vibrantly spiced legumes. If I were giving it as a gift, I would give it with this book

which is attractive, small, and super-usable, and which I cook from at least once a week. (Her green chutney recipe also happens to be perfect.) But, then, while I'm revealing my obsession with making Indian meals, I have to recommend another great book for giving:

Indian (-ish) is the kind of cookbook that I check out of the library, read cover to cover, cook from, and then renew until I can't renew it any more and then I re-request it and repeat and, finally, return it and actually buy it. The recipes are uncomplicated and kind of crazily drool-able. Also, this cookbook taught me about the spice blend chat masala, which is the funkiest, savoriest, craziest spice in the world, and which is now the only thing I put on my popcorn. A fun gift pairing would be this book with a box or jar of chat masala (I like the below brand, maybe because "Chunky Chat Masala" sounds like a crazy flapper dance). Or, if you felt kinda crazy, with this amazing set of spices.
I like giving dish towels as presents because they're useful and fun, and because you can never have too many of them and they don't take up a lot of space. This is my current favorite (there are other good ones at that same link).

And it's made by the same company that made the socks I got Birdy this year! For some reason these sweet, optimistic monsters make me want to cry. #menopause

Finally, I know I don't post a lot of tech or gadgety things, what with my analogue lifestyle and all, but I gave the kids these charging blocks at some point, and they remark quite regularly on how useful they find them. 

They hold a lot of power, and we love them for camping and big trips and for long days out of the house. That's such a weird note to end on. "I'm a Marxist board gamer, but here--buy this weirdly expensive technological gadget! Happy holidays!" Ha ha ha. Sorry! 

Mostly, I hope that you light candles and put on Leslie Odom Jr.'s Simply Christmas album (sigh) and peel clementines and sing and crack nuts and dust off your menorah and kiss your pets and give it away, give it away, give it away. As much as you can. To Partners in Health or Immigrant Families Together or Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. To an organization that is fighting Trump, fighting injustice, fighting for health and human rights and safety for all of us. Our wish for 2020. xo