Monday, November 19, 2018

Holiday Gift Guide 2018 (fundraiser edition)

We have a normal menorah like normal half-Jews, but I can only find a picture of this one I developed for FamilyFun magazine 20 million years ago.
It's . . . that. . . time of year, when the world falls in love. . . or dread or grief or ambivalence or whatever it is that the holiday season offers you. I am a candle-light, twinkle-light kind of girl and love the winter holidays, but if you're not and you don't, please feel loved here. I understand.

Because I'm posting early (Hanukkah starts on December 2nd this year), let me quickly start with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving! I'll be mashing ten pounds of potatoes and then stirring into them a quart of sour cream, a pint of half and half, and a half pound of butter (cue the defibrillator). Also I'll be making some of these things:

And then it will be on to the next thing. If you've got people to gift who would appreciate a little homemade something, here are some thoughts. I personally am making this this year. But boozy prunes might not be everybody's festive cuppa (as Ben put it, "What's the idea here? You get wasted and then take a big dump?"). So:
Did you want to make a menorah out of a mint tin? You totally can! Pick up ten 1/4-inch galvanized hex nuts (15 cents each), an Altoids-style tin, 9 magnets, and 9 birthday candles. Boom.
More likely to buy some things instead or too? These are gift lists from the past, filled with some really good ideas, imho:
  • Last year's gift ideas 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.

These are mostly Amazon links, and that's because I will make a commission on them, and then I'll donate the money. In other words, this is a fundraiser, with the happy side effect of you doing your holiday shopping in a normal, effortless way! We'll be donating the earnings to Partners in Health, a global health organization we've been supporting for over a decade, but if you want to mention other organizations you'd like to support in the comments, please do. We're open to dividing the money. Also, if you'd prefer to shop locally and donate to PIH directly, that would be win-win! The link is here. Onto the games:

I would love to tell you all about how much fun Azul is, but I can't, because I'm giving it to Ben and Birdy this year, and we've never played it. It gets MASSIVE reviews on my favorite geeky-gamer website, and people compare it to Splendor, Coloretto, and Sushi Go, which are all games we love, love, love. Plus, it appears to be gorgeous, which is a quality I value in a game. ("But it's so uglyyyyy," is something I have actually said about various games people want to play.)


Anomia (and the bigger, better Anomia Party) is wonderful, and we've been playing, and recommending it, for years. As I once said: It's very silly, which makes it a great all-ages game. Plus, your children will maintain the sober evening high ground when you face off over the category "vegetable," and they say "zucchini," while you laugh and laugh beerily after blurting only, lamely and illegitimately, "vegetable." This year, we get to add the edgy, wonderful Anomia X to this fun family, and I can sum it up in the photo below. This is a great game for *teenagers,* and maybe, honestly, they should play by themselves, because it's a little awkward to answer your child's question if that question is: "What sexual prosthesis even *is* there, besides dildo?" (I didn't know.)

Pylos is another game we haven't played yet because I'm giving it to B and B this year, even though the name Pylos gives me kind of an inflamed-butt feeling. It will join our extensive family of simple, brainy two-player heirloomy wood games, which includes CathedralQuoridor, Gobblet, and Quarto. Quarto in particular has been enjoying a huge Renaissance in our house this year. I beat Ben at it once, finally, and it literally made me put a hand to his forehead and ask if he was okay, because I never win. 

He was okay! It was just the day after prom, if you know what I'm saying.
The last of the untested but highly researched games. I figure Gonuts for Donuts can't be bad, because a) look at the yummy art, and b) it's by Gamewright, purveyor of such continuing favorites as Qwixx, and such long-ago favorites as Slamwich and Sleeping Queens. I need to add here that we love Qwixx so much, that we recently ran out of score sheets and were so eager to play that we made our own.

You can just buy more, like a normal person.

Ultimate Werewolf is a quick, lying-based party game, and we have never played but I got it because we're going to be a big group at Christmas, and it looks really fun and gets great reviews. Plus, it gets compared to Secret Hitler, which is one of the most fun games I ever played, but I didn't think my own personal family would appreciate a Hitler-themed party game, even though there is truly nothing jew-persecuting about it while you're playing. After we played Secret Hitler at a party,  Birdy said, indignant, "You lied right to my face!" And I said, breathless with excitement, "I know! I had to!"

If you want a couple ideas for more stocking-stuffer type games, the "Small and yet great!" Animal Upon Animal and The Miniature Book of Miniature Golf were probably the best-loved, most-used gifts I ever gave anyone.
We still play this game.
For some reason, I've gone a little hoity-toity with my puzzles this year. 

This pencil jigsaw puzzle. (I love this particular puzzle company so much. They made last year's beloved neckties puzzle.)

And this Paul Klee puzzle. "Excuuuuuuse me, fancy lady!" you are likely thinking to yourself. I know! If you just want normal, fun, food-themed puzzles, please don't hesitate to look to White Mountain, who makes all the puzzles like  Things I Ate as a Kid that we have done and loved.

I borrowed this photo from a blog called Natural Suburbia (thank you!).
I am giving Birdy, lover of yarn crafts, some weaving sticks this year. We have not tried them yet, but people all over the internet sure have, and they look super-fun. I'm not giving them to Ben because boys don't do crafts. KIDDING! I am not giving them to Ben because all he does anymore is physics lab write-ups, which doesn't really translate into a stocking stuffer, alas.

Weaving, of course, leads me to recommend Nicole's and my kids' craft book Stitch Camp.  In it you will learn, among other things, how to weave not with sticks, but with plain old cardboard. Which is so much fun! You might also learn to crochet, although I still haven't. #notforlackoftrying

I know I've recommended lots of different pens over these, but I thought I should mention that these are our favorite colored pencils, and this is in fact our second tin of them, since we wore our first down to nubs from heavy use.

Which does lead me to re-recommend Artist Tiles, little chunky square pads of high-quality paper that tears off perforatedly. We have started keeping stacks of these around for giving, for real.

The problem with buying this paint chip calendar for people is that then, the next year, they'll be all, "I'm so bummed my calendar is running out!" and you'll have to get it for them again. It's a little like a magazine subscription in that way, so think hard before you get started down this path. Michael gave me one for my 50th (?!) birthday this year, so I am ALL SET. It is one of my favorite daily indulgences.

Oh, James Herriot's Treasury for Children! Yes, sob, my children only rarely ask me to read to them from this book anymore, given that they're busy driving and going to college and whatnot, but a fun fact is that they don't NEVER ask me to read to them from this book! It is one of the gentlest, loveliest books we know, with the most soothing illustrations of different farm animals in a vet's life, and we still give it to little children we know and love. 

It would hardly be the holidays at all if I didn't recommend a book in my rad friend Kate's inspiring, badass series of rad-women books. Rad Girls Can is a cut-paper-illustrated beauty (like the others) that profiles young women around the world who are doing all different kinds of stereo-type-defying things. I gave it to Birdy when it first came out, and she devoured it.

A little plug for One Mixed-Up Night, in case your favorite tender-hearted IKEA-loving middle-grade readers haven't gotten their hands on it yet. 

Probably at some point in the last couple of years, you were despairing or homicidal, and a lovely friend thought to send you Maggie Smith's comforting/crushing weepfest of a poem, "Good Bones." Her collection, also called Good Bones, is fully excellent, and makes a good gift for old ladies who like to have a little something to read while they're sitting on their mat, waiting for their yoga class to start. Or is that just my mom?

I am completely in love with this book Mending Matters. I love the world-view--that things should be mended rather than replaced or discarded--and I love the style of mending, which I have had so much fun trying out. If my best example weren't a crotch shot of my jeans, I would show it to you here! Or just follow me on instagram, where I seemed to just go ahead and post it. This book, with some of the lovely Sashiko thread she recommends, would make such a nice gift for someone who likes to sit quietly loving a pair of well-loved jeans back into rotation.

Bibliophile is a book I want someone to get for me--hence, apparently, me getting it for my other book people. It is gorgeously illustrated and full of nerdy, literary love and inspiration--the kind of book you want to look and look at. Like, the Guinness Book of World Records, but for book-loving adults instead of long-fingernail-loving children. Plus, there's a whole section on bookstore cats!
A few food things, before I get to the cookbooks. This nutcracker. My mom and dad gave it to us over 15 years ago, and I admit that part of me was like, "A modernist high-end nutcracker! Huh. Okay." #notgonnapaytherent But it is beautiful and heavy and works so effortlessly, and every holiday season when I put it out with the big bowl of nuts, it brings us more pleasure than I really know how to describe. Plus, the brand is Drosselmeyer, which you gotta love, if you're a The Nutcracker geek. This and some lovely pecans (these are really good) would make a great gift for someone who's hosting you this season.

We were given our Whirly Pop popcorn popper by Michael's brother and his wife, and we have been giving it other people ever since. As I said some other time I was pressuring you to get one, I know you don't like the idea of buying something that only does one thing (although, technically, you could always roast raw coffee beans in it). But I'm telling you, unless you live on a houseboat, it is worth the space it takes up: it's quick and wholesome, and makes the tastiest, crunchiest popcorn. We use ours at least twice a week, and sometimes daily. 

Yes, these are our friends, and yes, I did some serious and delicious recipe-testing for them, but I'd recommend the beautiful Ciderhouse Cookbook to you regardless. Besides that it's been written up by The New York Times and, like, everybody else. [shrugs with vicarious modesty] The recipes are so real and good, and lots of them use everyday cider products. BUT, to really gild the lily, I would give this book with a trio of their gorgeous pantry products, which include cider syrup (picture a kind of bright apple molasses), cider vinegar (apple-y and amazing), and something called switchel, which makes the best tangy cocktails, among other uses (but that is one noble use).

Extra Helping is a world view masquerading as a book of wonderful, well-seasoned, cozy recipes. It's organized into chapters about how to bring food to different folks in need: the grieving, the ill, the celebrating, the newly babied. Which would be lovely enough, except that the recipes are just so delightful and good. I have already made the preserved lemons (they're still preserving), the fantastic savory granola, and an unbelievably comforting meal of rice, squash, and cheese, that was just what we needed (even though we were neither ill nor grieving). I am only mad that I didn't write this book myself, but I think I'm in love with Janet Reich Elbach, so it's okay.

Later, I will puree these. She seasons many dishes with preserved lemon puree, and I bet it will be  scrumptious. 

Six Seasons is such a great cookbook that I BOUGHT IT FOR MYSELF. If you know me and my library-cookbook habit, you will understand how unusual a splurge that is. For a book about vegetables, it is weirdly thrilling. I have cooked from it a lot, and everything is always good. Or "So f-ing good," according to my recipe notes. One caveat: you might give it so someone who then lends it to a friend, and you'll be stuck sending photos of eggplant recipes because once you have had this cookbook, you kind of can't live without it.

A fun dish towel is nice for giving with a cookbook! I bought this one for a friend, but I really wanted to buy it for myself. Please put this on my tombstone. Blue Q makes so many fun and funny things, especially dish towels and oven mitts, and socks. I got these introverting socks for Birdy, and I feel very, very confident that she will love them.

Happy everything, my loves. xo

Monday, November 05, 2018

Vote Like Your Life Depends on It!

Mostly it was the majestic, leathery oaks we admired in their brown-and-burgundy splendor. But the odd maple was still showing off.
My loves, just popping by to remind you to vote tomorrow, and to remind you to remind whomever in your life might need reminding!

I enjoyed an extra-loving piece of popcorn shrimp.
We canvassed in upstate New York over the weekend, talking to people in NY19 about Antonio Delgado, among other things. Folks wanted to talk about how they don't like his rap background--he is somehow a thug who is also a snob, being a Harvard grad and Rhodes Scholar--and we did not say, "Spare us the thin, thin screen over your racism." We listened and tried to understand how politically unseen people felt. A man with a huge and fully toothless smile gently shook Birdy's hand and noted that his wife was also named Birdy. The trees blazed. I drank what was possibly the best glass of beer of my life, given that I do not believe in sifting political work out from the pleasures this short life has to offer. Life is good. (Edited to add: And also terrible and terrorized.)

Bat girl.
Also, I've been writing! In addition to my regular etiquette column, I have a feature in the November Real Simple about being or having a house guest. (I loved writing it). I wrote for diaTribe about low-carb packed lunches. I wrote about Thanksgiving for Family Circle. And I wrote for O Magazine about my love affair with the local public library. Motherwell reran my "It Gets Better" essay. I read Strange Beauty and Lake Success, two very different books, and loved them both.

Soon I'll tell you about the amazing dal I've been making in my InstantPot. In the meantime, vote, get out the vote, love the ones you're with. xo