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


  1. Catherine, as a generally bah-humbug sort of person, let me just tell you that your annual gift-guides and game and book recommendations are basically the only reason to stay awake during November and December. I want all of these things. Thank you for continuing to post here!! Also, your crotch-shot jeans-mending photo was the best. Thanks again, Robin L., Phoenix, AZ

    1. Robin, thank you! This comment made me so happy. xo

  2. Allyson5:20 AM

    Reading your gift guide every year always gets me in the holiday mood! We, too, are an inter-faith family (with Dutch Sinterklaas thrown in on 12/6 just in case I wasn't busy enough), and of course all the shopping and wrapping comes down to me.
    My *other* favorite Catherine-themed holiday tradition is my annual re-reading of your beautiful piece from "O" magazine from years ago, about Birdy and the creche. I loved it so much that I took the precaution of printing it out just in case it disappeared from the internet.
    Anyway, enjoy your many holidays, which I hope include many days of your college student back home. Mine comes home from Boston in about 12 hours for a long, long weekend, and I can't wait!

    1. Oh, Allyson, I hope you are just sopping up that big kid. It is heaven on earth to get them back, isn't it? xo

    2. Allyson5:20 PM

      It really is. I've barely seen her, of course, because she's been out with friends, but even having her sleep in our house makes me happy. And she promised to help me cook tonight, which means chatting at the table while we chop vegetables and listen to Christmas music and (shh!) share a hard cider. Perfection!

  3. I tried to follow your suggestion to check your Instagram for the mended jeans crotch (for some reason) but could not find you. You might be interested to know that the top result for Catherine Newman is a tattoo artist! Or did you pick up a side job I didn't know about?

    1. Ha ha ha! I wish! I'm @catherinewman. I think!

  4. The ultimate werewolf game was really all we ever played from ages 12- 25 whenever more than 2 of us got together - when we werent making plans on how to take over the world or pretending to be Miss Marple. Only of course we didnt have a real game, we scribbled things on pieces of paper and made do with that. I have the best and fondest memories of playing with a now deceased friend and lying to each others faces :-)
    But I havent liked playing it so much, since he died. Seems the constant bantering with my best friends boyfriend was really all this game was about for me.
    So- yeah, brings back memories - bittersweet

  5. I bought the Whirlypop last night!! Do you season your popcorn right in the device? And, I mean seasoning like Mt. Elbert seasoning mixed with buttermilk powder and that sort of thing. :)

  6. I want absolutely ALL of these. Thank you so so much. My kids are 9 and 11 and it's going very fast all of a sudden. For some reason this list makes me feel incredibly cozy and hopeful.

  7. Oooh, I wish I'd known about that paint chip calendar in September. I'm filing it away for next next year. LOL

    Seriously so many other good gift options here. I think the Whirly Pop for my husband who insists on shaking a heavy soup pot to make popcorn, and the artist tiles for my daughter. I think the socks are going to be awesome for a my co-worker gifts. :)

  8. You make me so happy. And Azul is the best! So satisfying to handle the perfectly weighted tiles, and engaging for multiple ages.

  9. Great games! Azul is pretty, the tiles feel nice, and it's a lot of fun. Another suggestion for you -- check out Sagrada. Pretty game and another fun one!

    Go Nuts for Donuts is indeed cute and fun. Scales up for a crowd too. It is popular with the kids/teens.

  10. I forgot to say that you can print out more pages for Qwixx at in the files. I printed some out and laminated them to use with dry erase markers. :-)

  11. Anonymous9:54 AM

    Love your gift guides so much! And this line -- "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" -- totally made my day!

  12. I bought a million things! Ok not a million but more than I would have, ordinarily, just searching on amazon. Thank you! I love your posts (and emails!) Catherine. And yes, I’m now also stalking you on Instagram! (in the most hearted, loving way!) ❤️

  13. Your lists are a treasure trove every year. We meekly recommend The Bizarre Bookshop puzzle, we do the 500 piece puzzle every year and the puns on classic book titles and weird creatures hidden among the books are wonderful. There is also a 1000 piece version, if that’s your poison.

  14. I got it to work!

  15. Anonymous6:11 PM

    Just dropping by to tell you that we got ticket to Ride for the kidlets this Christmas and they (& my husband and I) love it. Wishing you and yours a happy 2019

  16. Your list made our Christmas this year! I bought three lovely games for my kids, socks for my sisters, and the whirly pop just for me. Thank you!!!

  17. Thank you for the whirly pop suggestion. I too was afraid of a gadget that only does one thing but my whole family loves it. Popcorn is not a regular after school snack and it's so easy, tasty, and fun. THANK YOU