Thursday, March 10, 2022

Red Velvet(ish) Smoothie


This is not an easy time, and you might already understand how self-care goes around here. Mostly it's food. Sometimes it looks like a 7-minute boiled egg with butter and Frank's. Sometimes it's chicken wings, homemade or from the good Korean wing place. A big green salad with fried chickpeas and feta and perfect vinaigrette. Half a grapefruit. Mashed potatoes. It's an excellent alcoholic IPA or a good-enough non-alcoholic IPA. Buttered popcorn with Old Bay or nootch. So even though I'm posting two kind of suspiciously healthy recipes in a row here, rest assured, we are also eating buffalo shrimp (when Ben is home, at least) and Trader Joe's olive oil potato chips.

But I really just kind of love this smoothie, and it makes me feel great when I drink it. It's tangy and rich and smooth. Barely chocolatey, but a little bit chocolatey. It tastes exactly like the color it is. If you have a high-speed blender, you will notice the kale not at all--it will simply disappear, mixed into the red of the berries in a way that the one teaspoon of cocoa will make you feel like "Of course it's brown!" I have a fancy Vitamix blender, which I bought refurbished and which was still expensive and which I use every day and love. However, at my volunteer hospice cooking gig, we have this less expensive blender and it's excellent. 

Anyhoo, take care of yourself, okay? And everyone around you. I'm trying to recenter myself around the word "grace" when it feels like every interaction, even mundane work ones, is too fraught to bear.

Red Velvet(ish) Smoothie
I believe it goes without saying that I don't actually measure anything. 

½ cup frozen raspberries (or use fresh and add a couple of ice cubes)
¼ cup frozen mango cubes, only if you happen to have these languishing in your freezer (I ran out and stopped using them, and it's still good)
½ cup yogurt (I use full-fat vanilla)
½ cup unsweetened cherry juice (I get it at Trader Joe’s, but Whole Foods and my Stop and Shop both sell this too) or a juice of your choosing
1 pitted date
A large handful of clean kale stripped of its thick ribs
A heaping teaspoon cocoa powder (or cacao powder if you’re in an episode of Portlandia)
A dash of vanilla

Whir all the ingredients in a high-speed blender, adding a splash more juice if it's disinclined to move around. Drink! Be nourished and well!

p.s. I wrote this kinda weird piece for my friend April over at Romper.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Really, really good non-alcoholic booze (a recipe)

I'm sorry if my writing about cutting back on alcohol gives you a bad feeling. I know that feeling well, since any time anybody quits one of my many habits of excess, I feel like I'm on the Titanic watching everyone sail away from me, waving merrily and healthfully from their life boats while I snort a bump of cocaine off the side of the iceberg that's jutting into my cabin. But I am trying to drink a little less, even though I really love drinking, because WWIII and empty nest and apocalypse and maybe I should try not to self-medicate quite so robustly.

In terms of purchased stuff, I like the Sam Adams non-alcoholic IPA called "Just the Haze." It's bitter and citrusy, and it looks great in the glass. 

But I wanted to make a drink that would have the bracing spice and tannic bitterness of something like bourbon, and I did a bunch of research to reverse engineer the flavors I was looking for. (I am too cheap to buy the expensive NA booze that the Instagram ads want to sell me.) In the end, I settled on strong black tea as the base (I use decaf because I don't want the buzz), smoked hot paprika flakes for oakiness and spice (you can use regular chili flakes or part of a whole dried chili if you prefer), and then a little glug of vanilla for that rich barrel-aged kind of sweetness. I love it straight-up, but it also mixes great. Try it and report back! And please take care of yourself, whatever that means right now.

Copycat Jack Daniels
At the risk of belaboring this, here are my thoughts on the spice: I really just want a hint of it, to mimic the way booze feels in your mouth. I like just a dash of the smoked hot paprika flakes which are shown above and which I got at no lesser a gourmet emporium than Marshall's, and then I make up the rest with some dried chili my friend Nicole grew 2 years ago. You can experiment and see what you like best! I would toss in an oolong tea bag for smoke, but I don't want the caffeine. . . 

3 black tea bags (caffeinated or not, as you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (smoked or not) or a piece of dried chili (you can also get the burn from fresh ginger, but that's not the flavor I'm craving)
Between 2 teaspoons and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Put the tea bags and chili flakes in a regular pint-size mason jar and fill it with water (just under 2 cups). Microwave it for a minute longer than you would if you were making tea (for me, with my Jurassic microwave, this is 4 minutes, but it's probably more like 3 for you). Or put these things in a small pot, bring to a boil, and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Fish out the tea bags, add the vanilla, screw on the lid, and refrigerate. The chili flakes will likely settle to the bottom, but if they don't, you can just fish them out with a spoon or pour it all through a sieve. Serve over lots of ice.

Makes 3 servings

Both of the following cocktails are so convincingly good that I guiltily catch myself swigging them, and then remember that I can swig away.

Whiske(r)y Menopause Sour
1/2 cup Copycat Jack Daniels
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Sour-Cherry Sobertini
1/2 cup Copycat Jack Daniels
1/2 cup unsweetened sour cherry juice (Whole Foods and Trader Joe's both sell this)
A few drops almond extract
1 tablespoon simple or maple syrup (optional)

Did you pre-order my novel? Will you please? Better yet, ask your local bookstore and/or public library to order it for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Holiday Gift Guide 2021


Hello from Multifaith Holidayworld, where we fill my dad's 70-year-old ski socks with Christmas gifties and light the (birthday?) candles in Michael's grandmother Sylvia's beautiful old menorah. Yes, it is only November, don't worry. But Hanukkah is early this year, and I don't want to leave folks scrambling for EIGHT DAYS OF LAST MINUTE GIFTS, even though perhaps a single gift could last for 8 days because #chosenpeople. Between now and then will be Thanksgiving, and we are having people here, all of whom are vaccinated, the oldest of whom are boostered, the college-attending of whom are coming home to us, and I can't even really write about it here without crying. Lucky, lucky, lucky life.

Okay, okay, the gift guide.
  • Last year's gift ideas are here.
  • The year before that are here.
  • The year before are here--and also there is a list there of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years. I'll add Our Fudge of Perpetual Sorrows because it is a perfect recipe and would make a great present for a sweet-toothed kind of person.
  • 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.
I'm repeating this from last year: These gift guides involve various revenue-earning affiliate 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 something of a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping. All the book links this year are to, which supports Indie bookstores *and* offers affiliate $, which is just totally win-win. The other affiliate links are, even though I'm trying to wean myself off of them, to Amazon. Anything you see here? Try to buy it locally--especially if you have a local game and/or book store--and then just donate a little money to an organization doing great work. That way we support local businesses and it's still (kind of) a fundraiser. (I'll disclose what I make and give after the holidays.) Unrelated: Anais Mitchell's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a very, very good Christmas song.

If you're looking for games, you might start with the board game guide I wrote for Parents magazine last year. There are lots of our old favorites there, and some new favorites, and also some sweet first games for the very wee gaming crowd.

And before I introduce a handful of new games, I want to say that these are the games we play all the time and that never, ever get old; they're the ones I would start with, if you don't already have them: Chinese Checkers, Qwixx (check out these new mixx-em-up score pads), Sushi Go Party, CodenamesAgricola, Patchwork, Azul, Splendor (okay now I'm seeing an expansion, which is v. interesting to me), Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers (finally reissued!) Yahtzee, Ticket to Ride, Wingspan, Catan (with the Seafarers expansion), and Power Grid.

I recommended Viticulture last year before we'd played it, and boy was I right to. We all love this weirdly wine-themed game and, if we have time, and we're not at college like assholes, it's the game we all always want to play.

Be forewarned that it is a serious gamers' game (we all think of it as Agricola-level absorbing, but without the stress). It can easily take 2 1/2 hours--though those hours fly by! Also, we love and always play with the Tuscany expansion.

I also got Ben and Birdy this little card-sized Moor expansion this year. Shhhh.

And this whole, brand-new game Everdell, which is one I've thought about buying for a long time since it ranks so consistently high on Board Game Geeks. It looks very Waldorf, very Wind in the Willows, but, knowing Euro-style board games, is probably secretly cut-throat, and your badger is out to get somebody's hedgehog via some incredibly layered and complex type of gameplay. I want to say about these big, very expensive games that they are, yes, very expensive, but the replay value is utterly tremendous. (If your family likes playing long, complicated games.)

Point Salad is another game I got the kids last year, and it was, and remains, a huge winner. It's very quick--the kind of game you can play after dinner before everyone scatters--and it's easy to learn. Picture a card-drafting game, but vegetal.

Yes, I basically love everything Gamewright makes, but Super Mega Lucky Box is another excellent one. It's easy to learn--with familiar bingo-type play happily complicated by more interesting strategy elements from modern games, like Sushi Go. (Note: it looks like it's going to have a math element, but it doesn't.) I love the Schoolhouse Rock font aesthetic. And the whole erasable white-board aspect of the game makes it very fun. 

We tested Exploding Kittens: Recipes for Disaster for Parents magazine, and loved it. Exploding Kittens is like a mash-up of Uno, Russian Roulette, cats, and butts, with comically morose and peculiar animal-themed artwork. To sum up: Try not to get exploded! And also butts. Recipes for Disaster is a big-box remix, perfect for anyone who already loves the game, but also a great way to introduce it. 

It's also great for kids who love to sort and organize cards into custom game decks, since there are fun "menus" to create different types of game play. (Please note that one of the attacking sharks is saying "You're fat!" and I fucking HATE that.)

We tested 2 different Monopoly variations for Parents magazine, and really liked both of them. Full disclosure: I am the person who refers to the original Monopoly as Monotony, so do with that information what you will! (Also, please note that you can no longer select the iron token in a fit of irritable ironic feminism.) Both of these variations turn what can be a stultifying visit to Dante's real-estate circle of gaming hell into something brisker and more enjoyable. I'll take it! I wrote this about Monopoly Deal: Maybe you crave the many dull and fighty hours occupied by the original, with your beard growing down to the floor while your kids become actual monsters. Then don’t try this cards-only version which distills the game to a bracing 20 minutes of realty-themed fun. Monopoly Builder crosses the original gameplay with the resource gathering elements of a game like Catan. Is Catan a way better game? Sure. But because so many of the Monopoly play elements are already familiar to so many families, this game would make a great gateway to trickier Euro-style resource gathering games. Plus it's much cheaper. (Speaking of which: There are no pesky $1 bills any more because #inflation. Sob!) 

These are the puzzles I'm getting this year, the first for Thanksgiving and the second for Christmas. I don't give these as gifts as much as simply procure them for household enjoyment. Then we trade with friends and neighbors. 

Moving into other types of gifts. . . I know I am always buying, and recommending, watercolors. But that's partly because we use them a lot, and partly because the kids take them when they go to college (like jerks), and, thus, more must be procured! This is a new favorite set of mine, recommended to me by our friend Maddie. They're very saturated and vivid and not too expensive. Plus, I love that there's a sheet for you to paint color swatches on so you aren't constantly trying to interpret the dark little cakes and shocking yourself on the page.

I love this chunky pad. Oh, is that the famous brand *Strathmore*? Why no! It's the less famous brand *Blathmore.*  Wait. Bachmore? If you’ve ever gone to a flea market looking for permanent markers and come away with an off-brand package made by Shoupie, Sharpei, or even (What? Why?) Skerple, you’ll understand.

And I love these notepads (especially the gay agenda) by the lovely and world-bettering Jess Bird of Bless the Messy.

Surely you've checked out RedBubble for all manner of niche everything. An All of a Kind Family tote bag, say, or a nutritional *yeet* shirt. I kept it simple this year with a 

My high-school friend Melinda Beck designed this awesome love swag for the A is For nonprofit org, which is dedicated to advancing reproductive rights and ending the stigma against abortion care. "Founded in 2012, A is For emerged as a response to the ever-escalating legislative attacks on access to safe reproductive healthcare." Stylish, gorgeous, and FUCK YOU, TEXAS. A perfect gift for everyone on your list.

I'm finding that I get the kids more and more swanky self-care items, because they love them, and because they don't really want stockings full of rubber bands and magic animal capsules any more. (Sob!)
This is a lovely bar of soap. I got it for Birdy because it's nice and gritty, and it has a piney kind of butch scent, but isn't cologne-y. Plus, it's huge and lasts forever. (I got Ben the same thing, but as a body wash.)

Then there's this body wash, which I love. What does a cactus blossom smell like? Like bergamot and crisp basil, apparently. And what does *that* smell like? So good! (You can often find it in-person at Whole Foods too, by the way.)

I love the massive Treat lip balms. The flavors are amazing and the products are cruelty-free, organic, and—I know because I wrote to ask and they so sweetly wrote me back—gluten-free. I got Birdy the root-beer one and it’s this gorgeous shimmery copper color and it smells like happiness.

I got the kids these swanky candles. Bougie indeed! They're not as pricey as the famously pricey ones, but they smell SO GOOD and they don't even give me a headache! (I am very particular about candle smells.) Also because apparently I am all of a sudden Bill Gates, I got this one to light in December.
Speaking of! This is another winner, candlewise. When I was a little housebound and depressed last winter, I solicited favorite scented things from my Facebook community, and this was one that really worked for me. It just smells kind of authentically piney, and I burn it when I'm in the bath like the Calgon commercial I am. Also it claims to be very groovy and free from pthalphthapthes and whatnot, so if it is killing me, it is killing me softly.

I also got the kids these little acne star stickers. Not to throw shade on their beautiful skin! But because we're all a fan of these, and the colorful stars just seems so much more festive and fun than pimple-colored dots! 

Birdy is getting this planner because she's a planner kind of person, and because the sad animal facts are just so. . . delightfully sad.

And everybody would be getting this Jo Ann Beard book, if they hadn't already gotten it at various points during the year.

It's an absolutely exquisite collection of essays and stories that you shouldn't give to your writer friends because they will be like, "Forget it then," and quit writing because why bother. Breathtaking.

Then there's this book by my friend Thirii, and it is a cliche to call a book haunting, I know. But this book is haunting. There are ghosts in it, is one reason, but also it just stays with you in its gorgeous way. It's a personal, intergenerational history, and it's a mix of prose and poetry, and it's exquisite. Plus, it's just a beautiful object too.

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer is the perfect gift for all your furious, homicidal, grateful, menopausal but somehow endlessly menstruating mom friends. She's turned frothingly sexist troll mail into poetry, and it's brilliant. (Plus, I appear to have read it in galleys back when Craney Crow was still alive, sob!) If you haven't already given everyone her stunning What Kind of Woman, that's another absolute beauty.
My social media feed is filled with beautiful images from Black Food, Bryant Terry's collection of recipes and stories about Black foodways from over a hundred different contributors. I think putting it here might count as manifesting, since maybe someone will give it to me? Ha ha ha! No worries if I don't get it, because I am already moving up the waitlist at the library. (Related: We've been watching High on the Hog on Netflix, which is a stunning, delicious, joyful, devastating series about the many, many ways that American food is African-American food. It's kind of hard not to fall in love with Stephen Satterfield.) Bryant Terry's Vegetable Kingdom is also amazing, btw.

Did you already get Jenny Rosenstrach's The Weekday Vegetarians? Of course you did! But maybe some of your friends and relatives don't have it yet. 

It's a beautiful and incredibly useful book--the kind I take to bed with me for fun. I love Jenny so much because, among many other reasons, she likes beans almost as much as I do. But also because her recipes manage to reinspire me when I am peering sadly into a cabinet full of canned chickpeas.

Speaking of beans! You might consider gifting everyone this "Desert Island" sampler box of favorites from Rancho Gordo along with Jenny's book. I am able to get a lot of great dried beans locally these days, but I still occasionally treat myself to an order from Rancho Gordo. The beans are always absolutely delicious: silky, tender, creamy, and full of flavor. Plus, you can cook them in your instant pot without any fuss or hoo-ha! Yum! Even though maybe your family teases you about how much you love (and cook and serve) beans.

Speaking of delicious sampler packs, my parents gave me this box o' chorizo for my birthday, and it has been a spicy, garlicky, and ongoing joy. We've ordered a lot of gifts from La Tienda over the years, and they're always good. (Plus, my brother lives in Barcelona now, so it helps when we're missing him...)

And now, after all those beans and chorizo, your friends and family need a salad! I bought everyone these shaker balls this year because I love mine. It turns a regular mason jar into a really great vinaigrette emulsifier. This flip-top lid is the first one I've found that is truly leak-proof, and the whole set-up would make a useful and terrific gift.

And, finally, I can't help it. Our friends' beautiful cider products! Who doesn't want the most luscious cider syrup and the appleiest vinegar in the world? This would be a unique and excellent gift for a workmate or client. But also you should give it to all your friends and family because you love them.

That's it, my friends. I put in my Pearson's pecan order. I called in the turkey. I bought a huge box of salt. I am practically waiting by the door for my grown kids to come home, waiting by the door for my old parents to arrive, as happy-sad as I've ever been. I know lots of you are in the same boat with me. Thank you for being here. xo

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Empty Nest Bar and Grill

You guys. I don't know how to put this. But Birdy? That tiny little baby girl? SHE WENT TO COLLEGE. I mean. What? I realize I've been a little, er, quiet here. All I've got is links to old stuff about my kids leaving. This, for example. And this

And this piece, which I wrote for Family Circle when Ben left. Cutting and pasting since I can't find it online. Come find me on Instagram, though, please. I know lots of you are in the same boat, not coincidentally. I am sending so much love. So much.

The Stuff of Motherhood

Before he was born, I counted eensy pairs of socks. “Do we have enough socks?” I asked the baby’s father. “Do babies even wear socks? Suddenly I can’t picture a baby with socks on.” His father shook his head, baffled by the accumulation of miniature clothing for a hypothetical person who was only, at that point, a stubborn guest overstaying his welcome in my body’s cramped guest quarters. 

We lived in a sunny room in a friend’s California arts-and-crafts bungalow, and I sorted our accumulated hand-me-downs obsessively: the jog stroller, the duck-printed nighties with their oddly elasticized bottoms, the Scandinavian mobile with its black and white faces, the sweaters and jeans and Air Jordans, sized 0-3 months. (A 0-month old! We would have that.) I counted diapers and washcloths, hooded towels and snap-crotch onesies and crib sheets. I inspected the breast pump, which appeared to have been designed by a sadist who gave up sadism for engineering but then still turned out to be secretly a sadist. 

In the absence of the actual baby, there were the baby’s things. Only, then the baby came, and the stuff was like the punchline of a joke. Who even cared about any of it? He wouldn’t go in the jog stroller! He never slept in the crib! He did smile at his Scandinavian friends, but mostly he lived in our arms and wore whatever, and we passed him around like a bong, like we were high and getting higher, drunk on the baby’s scalp smell and smile. 

And it’s happening again now, in reverse. This glorious grown person, this golden ball who has rolled glowingly through our lives for 18 years, is getting ready to go—and all I can think about is stuff. In the absence of the actual absence, there are the leaving person’s things: the shampoo and toothpaste, the pens and notebooks and wheeled plastic under-bed storage bins. And the bedding. The bedding! I am obsessed with the bedding. “Is twin xl just the size of the fitted sheet? Or do you need an xl top sheet too?” The baby’s father shakes his head, shrugs. He loves the boy, but doesn’t know or, especially, care about college dorm bedding specifications. 

I go to Marshall’s and study the bedding like it’s material I’ll be tested on in a class about the anatomy of loss. Does a mattress cover go over or under a foam topper—or is the foam topper instead of it? Google these questions and find yourself in a forest full of lost mothers, calling out to each other in their grief and fear, except the only language available to them is percale.

On drop-off day, I make his bed while his roommate’s mother makes her son’s bed, and we laugh at ourselves. I understand the expression “lump in your throat” with sudden urgency. There is a rock in my throat, an anvil. There is the piano in my throat that I watched him play last night, his sister on guitar beside him, perfection threaded through with dread, weighted down with this lump in my throat. The many things unpacked and put away, the toiletries stashed, the giant socks piled in a drawer, the sheets pulled tight. He came into our lives two weeks late, but now he’s leaving right on time, and we’re supposed to graciously show him the door. We’ve been running alongside his bike for 18 years and we’re supposed to wave cheerfully as he turns into a pedaling speck in the distance. He is our nurtured sparrow, and we are flinging our arms open to return him to the wild, where he belongs.

And all I can do is text him later. “Is your bed comfortable?” I write, and he writes back immediately, “So comfortable! Thank you.”

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Yay! We raised a bunch of money! Happy New Year!

Adding a note not included in my weirdo design thingy to say: write me if you need anything! I have at least $32 mysteriously unaccounted for by my "generous" donation. . . xo

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Holiday Gift Guide 2020

What? It's *this* time already? I can't believe it. It seems like 2020 just started ONE MILLION YEARS AGO! Ha ha ha. I am astonished. I have been made an aunt again twice over in just this past month. We elected Biden and were thrilled about it. Are thrilled about it still! (If you'd told us that back when, we would have laughed in your face. But relative good is a powerful force when it comes to saving people's lives, isn't it.) Stacey Abrams and other bad-ass, tireless activists flipped Georgia from a voter-suppressed state to a less-voter-suppressed state. It's too much. The heartbroken and galvanizing Black Lives Matter protests. Getting schooled in triple time about the criminal justice system. The virus and all of its losses. I miss people. And also we sit with friends around blazing fires, with mugs of soup warming our hands and jars of red wine warming our guts, and I wonder if I've ever been happier. Birdy is applying to college (sob!). Ben is home (yay!). We are well and safe and hopeful and energized. Also exhausted. But okay, okay, onto the gift guide.

  • Last year's gift ideas are here
  • The year before are here--and also there is a list there of links to the homemade gifts we've posted over the years. I'll add Our Fudge of Perpetual Sorrows because it is a perfect recipe and would make a great present for a sweet-toothed kind of person.
  • 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 various revenue-earning affiliate 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 something of a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping. All the book links this year are to, which supports Indie bookstores *and* offers affiliate $, which is just totally win-win. The other affiliate links are Etsy (indie makers) and, even though I'm trying to wean myself off of them, Amazon. Anything you see here? Try to buy it locally--especially if you have a local game and/or book store--and then just donate a little money to an organization doing great work. That way we support local businesses and it's still (kind of) a fundraiser. 

We'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade. And also to Fair Fight, which is working to take back the Senate RIGHT NOW, and The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition developing leadership and political strategies to represent black communities. Onto the gifts!

First off, we got Birdy a good portable speaker so that SHE WON'T TAKE OURS TO COLLEGE LIKE A WHORE. (This would have made a good graduation gift, come to think of it.) My late, great Ali friend was famous for her object-research skills, and one of her last great gifts to me was researching the UE Boom, which we have loved.

Of the 2199 results I got when I plugged "Four Seasons Total Landscaping t-shirt" into RedBubble, I picked this one for both of my kids. I liked how the tree is kind of a riff on the actual Four Seasons hotel-chain logo. The story is just so delicious, and why would we ever want to forget. If you have never had the pleasure of typing your random thing into the RedBubble search engine and getting a million results, you're in for a treat. I also got the kids cat face masks this year. And stickers of all types--from Killing Eve (our new favorite TV show) to the robber from Settlers of Catan.

I also bought the kids a few things from Mochi. They have the most incredible collection of decorative and organizational sticky notes. And notebooks.

POMMO Press is the art company of the amazing Debbie Fong, who illustrated How to Be a Person and whom I adore. I joined her sticker club to cheer Birdy and me up during this long and tiresome year, and it was an excellent decision. Every month a really pretty envelope arrives with a themed sheet of stylish stickers, and lots of little extra stickers and freebies. Get a gift subscription for someone and make them so happy every month! Plus, you'll be directly supporting an independent artist. (She also sells delightful comic books, patches, and stationery. I have little coveting of this to-do list notepad, but that's not surprising.)

This little chunk of a book is 4- by 5-inches small and filled with prompts to draw teeny-tiny things, which is kind of all anybody in my house actually wants to draw. A chewable vitamin! A freckle! A thimble! A chickpea! Pair it with these pens or these (bizarrely expensive) pencils, our favorites in each genre.
For my nephews and kids, I could not resist these posters. The series, Subpar Parks, is based on actual nitpicking Yelp reviews of National Parks. OMG. If you've ever read someone's sighingly inane complaints about the most spectacular place you've ever stayed or visited, you will love this so much. (A tour operator in Puerto Rico told us he'd once gotten a bad review because the beach was "too sandy.") These are the two I picked, but there are so many good ones, and you can order them in all different sizes. Plus, the posters are actually gorgeous in addition to being LOL funny.

For better or worse: That straw creature does not come with the mug.

Also on Etsy, Pamela Zimmerman of Hobbitware makes all of my very favorite things. I am just completely in love with her lumpy, heartbreaking mugs and dishes. In fact, I have such a profound attraction to lumpy, heartbreaking pottery in general that my friend Lydia thinks I must have been a terrible ceramicist in a past life.

Or does someone in your life need a glam mask from a Black-owned Brooklyn business for their stay-at-home New Year's celebration? (Um, I kind of do.) 

My brilliant award-winning artist friend Melinda Beck created this Georgia Peach illustration, which she's putting on socks and mugs and t-shirts and buttons, and all the proceeds go to Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight. Look around while you're there! Everything is fabulous.

Also glam is the flying wish paper I got the kids, which I thought we could light on New Year's eve. I've never used it, but I guess you write your wishes in pencil, then roll it up and light it and it flies away. (Did you wish that your neighbor's leaf pile would catch on fire? Your wish came true!) I figure we've got a lot of wishing to catch up on! Or do we? Maybe all my wishes came true already.

I don't know whom to credit for this, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

Okay, onto the games, because I know that's why you're really here. First of all, if you didn't buy Wingspan last year, buy it now. It's expensive, but it's a beautiful game with lots of replay value.

Viticulture is one of the big games I'm giving Ben and Birdy this year. A heteronormative-appearing wine-themed worker-placement game! What could go wrong? I'll report back, of course. But I got this game with a fair amount of confidence both because it scores so well on the (geeky) boardgamegeek, and because a trusted gaming friend recommended it to us.

And Parks is the other (although full disclosure I'm saving it for Birdy's birthday). People love it because it's gorgeous and seems to offer that great kind of always-different play, which I love in a resource-gathering board game. Plus, it's such a good pairing with the Subpar parks posters, no?

We had occasion to get and play a bunch of new games this year, thanks to a piece I was writing for Parents magazine. Lots of them were games for tiny little kids, and if you've got those, you might think about this game (for the very eensiest gamers) or this game (for the next eensiest).

One game we tested and loved was this slightly easier version of our beloved Patchwork, which is perfect if you have less time, or if you play with easily frustrated people. This is one of the very best two-person games I know, even thought the design elements feel just a little like a missed opportunity, as if your grandma made it, only she's kind of a shitty quilter. But still.

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is this completely ridiculous game that we've now played a ton of. It's fun playing with Birdy because she's always like, "Fuck me, I flinched" and "Fuck you, take your fucking gorilla back." It's simple and slappy and I always lose because it turns out that my hands have been somehow unhitched from my brain and are now living a life all out on their own, totally unsupervised by any higher powers. We've already gifted this a bunch because, besides being a really funny game, it's small and packaged stylishly and the cards themselves are perfect and adorable.

Point Salad is another little stocking-stuffer-ish type card game that I got for b + b for the holidays. It comes super highly recommended but, as always, feel free to wait for us to report back on how much fun it is! 

OH MY GOD AND THESE PLAYING CARDS! I just came back here to add them after seeing them on Buzzfeed. I am a sucker for the rainbow gradient, and also Fredericks and Mae are one of my favorite queer design teams! If you have great big wads of cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can check out their website (or donate it).

If you haven't gotten Animal Upon Animal yet, that's because you're new here. Welcome! Ha ha ha! (We seem to play it as a drinking game now.)

A couple of puzzles while I'm at it. This one and this one, both from my beloved publisher Storey, from the beautiful Julia Rothman books. So stylish and fun to look at--and a little educational even, which is nice, since you're sitting there staring at it for hours. You might as well learn something! (The puzzles are not themselves out of focus, by the way. I think there's something amiss with my camera.) Edited to add: We just did the Nature Anatomy one last night, and it was so deeply pleasurable. An easy puzzle, but captivating, and the pieces are gorgeous, with a lovely printed backing.

Eatable Alphabet is this big, stunning little-kid activity deck that we made over ChopChop, the nonprofit where  I edit the kids' cooking magazine (itself a wonderful gift). It would be hard to overstate the gorgeousness of these cards: they're big (the size of a greeting card), and heavy, and smooth, and designed by all the most talented people I get to work with. Plus, I wrote all the copy! If you buy this, you will be supporting a tiny nonprofit with a mission to teach families to cook and eat real food.

Each card has a letter/food front, and then a back with recipes and activities for that food.

I am framing this one and hanging it. For real. I love it so much.

Foodwise, there are a couple more gifts I need to recommend this year. Even though you can buy Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp at your local Asian grocery store for $4, and it is perfectly delicious, or you can make it yourself, I have to recommend this crazy creme de la creme of chili crisps


I got it for Ben for his birthday, and we are obsessed. We splotch it mostly onto ramen and soft-boiled eggs and cold, raw tofu, and it is tingly and spicy, crazy-umami and just incredibly exciting and oily and wonderful. 

Shown here drizzled on a plate of miso oatmeal with Momofuku soy eggs.

Is it expensive? It is! But not too bad for a gift. Plus, my defining culinary equation is turning out to be "cheap food + expensive condiments." 

Following that same equation, this is the truffle oil you want truffle oil to be, if you like truffle oil. It's funky and fragrant and fresh. Just a tiny drizzle, and your plate of scrambled eggs or spaghetti or polenta turns into restaurant food. 

I got the kids Tony's Chocolonely chocolates for their xmas stockings because a friend of mine tucked a tiny little bar into a card she gave me and it was so extra good that I looked it up. And the company is awesome: fair trade and free from slave- and child-labor all the way through the supply chain. I found it at Whole Foods, but you can order directly from the company. Plus, aside from the pretzel bar (yum), they're gluten-free! (I know because I wrote them.)

The truth is, I looked for a dish towel that said, "Is Stephen Miller dead yet?" Which is a question everyone in my household has asked each other upon waking for the past few months. But that dish towel doesn't exist. (Weird, I know. Business opportunity alert!) But this one is so good. And everything from this shop is so lovely.

Okay. Onto books! I have cooked from The Dosa Kitchen cookbook pretty obsessively this year. If you've never had one, a dosa is a crispy, tangy Indian pancake that's made from a simple fermented ground rice/dal batter. (I ferment the batter in my Instant Pot overnight on the yogurt setting. Sorry. TMI.) Is this too particular a gift? It might be. Though it would be cool if you also gifted the only three ingredients you need for the batter: the urad dal and the masoori rice and the fenugreek seeds, all of which you could get at a local Indian or Asian grocery store (any white rice will work and, in fact, I've been doing 1/2 white and 1/2 brown). You should give this to your spouse or any older children living at home who will take this on as a project for your enjoyment! (Shown here: A fab dosa-dilla stuffed with melted cheese and spiced mashed potatoes. What!)

Here's a lovely gigantic book for someone who likes to leaf through a big book lookingly. It's part how-to, part armchair DIY, part "Why on earth would anybody do that?" and part "I wish I did that." These are all kinds of home skills culled from Storey's vast archives of guides: crafts and homesteading and brewing and animal husbandry (!) and food and gardening and 209 other things. In fact, the finger-knitting how-to from Nicole's and my book Stitch Camp is featured! 

As is this lovely craft (and lovely model) from Nicole's book Improv Sewing. It would make a great gift for someone who was curious to get a little taste of a lot of different skills and ways of living.

How to Be a Person! Of course. Because it would make a great gift with a little set of related useful items to go with it: a swiss army knife and a nice little quesadilla-sized frying pan and a stationery set and a sewing kit and maybe a plunger.

And then 2 perfect novels: this and this.
And 2 perfect (funny) memoirs: this and this.

If you've got a lover of nonfiction on your list, I cannot enough recommend Caste. I'm reading it now and it is, as everyone said it would, blowing my mind. (Did you know that the Nazis studied race and Jim Crow laws in the United States to learn about the architecture of subordination?)

Finally, sorry to be so perverse, but is there anything more satisfyingly infuriating and hilarious than a menorah Christmas tree ornament

Stay cozy, my darlings. Be brave and also rest when you can. Anything that doesn't matter? Let it fall away. Let it burn away so that all that's left is love, burnished and bright. Happy everything. xo