Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Holiday Gift Guide 2022

Hello, dear ones! I was thinking of not doing one of these this year? But people have ALREADY COMPLAINED ha ha ha! So I'm just doing a wee list. Just to get the ball rolling. But mostly I feel like we should be going to local craft fairs and bookstores, right? Anyhoo.

  • Last year's gift ideas are here.
  • The year before that 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.
These gift guides involve various revenue-earning affiliate links (the amazon and ones), and that's because I will earn a commission, and then I'll donate 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. But 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. 

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 CheckersQwixxSushi Go PartyCodenamesAgricolaPatchworkAzulSplendorCarcassonne Hunters and GatherersYahtzeeTicket to RideWingspanCatan (with the Seafarers expansion), Viticulture (plus the Tuscany expansion), and Power Grid.

Okay, I always like to follow up on new-to-us games to tell you how they were, and last year's  Everdell turned out to be great. Yes, as I mentioned, it looks very Waldorf, very Wind in the Willows, but don't be fooled because the game play is epic. It is very expensive, but, as I always say, the play value is huge. (If you play it twice instead of going to the movies, it will have paid for itself. Although then there will be two times you don't go to the movies.)

New this year--and it's a nice easy one--is Welcome to Your Perfect Home. This game is like a cross between YahtzeeQwixx, and the work of a conformist, middle-class suburban planner (in a good way). We played it a ton when everyone was home over the summer, and it was delightfully occupying but chill. 

And Telestrations, which we just played over Thanksgiving and boy did we laugh. This is a party game, and it's one you might buy in advance just to have over the holidays if you've got a group of folks gathering. Great for all ages (team up anybody who can't read or write), and fine for folks who are hearing impaired. I described it in Parents magazine once this way: "Like a cross between Telephone and Pictionary, this pass-and-play party game asks you to draw what you see, guess what you saw, and then reveal the chain of misunderstandings whereby a soccer ball turns into a slice of meatball pizza." Birdy took it back to college with her.

One last game rec, if you've got littles on your list: Rivers, Roads, and Rails. It's an old favorite and I wrote about it (and other games) for Cup of Jo a couple months ago: "For years, my young children played with this transportation-themed tile-laying game like it was a kind of low-rent 2-D train set, creating various grids of highways and byways and even occasionally zooming around a matchbox car or two. And then at some point we saw that there were actual rules, and we got many more years out of playing it as the mildly competitive matching game it was made to be." Such a sturdy, good game.

Puzzles! If you don't need them to be new, boy do I recommend swapping with friends or going on a Buy Nothing Facebook group and offering to trade. But for gifting, my top recommendation this year is this kinda peculiar puzzle from The Magic Puzzle Company.

I'll tell you the truth: our friend Maddie lent it to us over a year ago, and I would kind of look at it and think: This is too high concept for me. But it's not. Yes, there's a trick at the end, but it's really really fun and it doesn't at all interfere with the puzzle. We just did this over Thanksgiving, and by the time we were done we were completely in love with it. The Magic Puzzle Company makes a handful of puzzles, and we plan to do another one. The art is fantastic.

I'm also recommending this puzzle, which our friend Ava gave us last Christmas. (Yes, longtime readers, Ben's friend Ava! Who gave us a holiday gift that she bought with her own money even though she's only six years old.) 

All the Le Puzz puzzles look to be as delightfully fresh and fun as this one.
Or this puzzle from Piecework Puzzles,

which someone either gave or lent us. But all their puzzles are wonderful--kind of hiply attractive and strange, with good pieces--and you can buy them directly here.

I interrupt the puzzles to say that my friend Kate Schatz recommends these fleece joggers from Hoka. On the one hand, $78 (i.e. a lot)! On the other hand, I do love my Hoka running shoes, and Kate did send along this glowing rec:

Kate, as you may recall, is the author of many wonderful books I have recommended over the years, including, Rad American History A - Z, Rad American Women A - Z, Rad Women Worldwide, and her newest, with W. Kamau Bell

which I described back in July this way: "It’s bursting with history, critical theory, and sly, LOL, incandescent humor—and it’s also a fun, engaging, and very surprising workbook filled with games and quizzes and activities that are already teaching me how much I have to learn as a white person working to end white supremacy." Each one of these books would make a thoughtful and excellent gift. (And, yeah, you should give Do the Work! to your racist relatives because what even is a holiday without pass-agg gifting?)

I'm pimping my own novel with this exquisite review from GoodReads. If anyone on your list might like a dull weeper, this is the book for you! My kids' books might make better gifts? What Can I Say? How to Be a Person, and Stitch Camp, which I wrote with Ava's mom Nicole, and which makes an especially wonderful gift when paired with embroidery or yarn craft supplies.

As always, RedBubble is my go-to for all things niche. Does your child have an obsession with ANYTHING IN THE WORLD? I promise you RedBubble makes a t-shirt (or sticker or shower curtain or mug) with that thing on it. For example, I ordered Birdy this mash-up of a favorite horror movie and a favorite kids' TV show:

Over the years, I have gotten the kids items printed with images or lines from the following: the robber from Settlers of Catan, nutritional yeast, the Four Seasons landscaping company of Trump's famous speech, gay Mount Holyoke slogans, Killing Eve, Silk Sonic, and Pickle Rick. I challenge you not to find what you're looking for! (That said, there still doesn't seem to be a "Dilute! Dilute! Okay!" Dr. Bronner's shirt, and I'm kind of shocked.)

This tee from Shout Your Abortion is another total can't-miss winner! Okay, I mean, *could* it miss? No! It totally couldn't!

In my house, at least MochiThings is another can't-miss gift site. It's all of the best pads and sticky notes and planners in the world--everything perfect and quite reasonably priced.

This, for example:


Or this:

I mean. All of it is so perfect. Don't try to rush through is my only advice. Plan to be there awhile. I also order the kids custom notecards from VistaPrint (with Jellyfish and Snapper on them) so they can CONVENIENTLY WRITE THANK-YOU NOTES. 

Stamps are another great stocking stuffer, and you can get them without leaving your house! One fun thing about ordering from the USPS is that you really save on postage, ha ha ha! 

Find me a better ornament than this.

Okay, maybe this?

And what about these tattoo pens that are unvetted by us, and since when can't we just use Sharpies? But I kinda love them. 

I am recommending this very holiday-seeming candle, but it smells so good I plan to burn it year-round! 

I am very, very picky about scented things, and I absolutely love the clean spruceness of this. I got one for Ben too so he could burn it in his New York apartment what the actual fuck. I got Birdy an advent calendar instead because she is just a baby and also because she isn't supposed to burn candles in her college dorm and so won't. (That link is the the jigsaw puzzle version of the advent calendar because it's kinda late to get an advent calendar I'm realizing.)

I also got Birdy the trashiest most disposable-culture thing, which is this nightlight. But she needs it for her dorm room, right? 

Okay, another rubber item (forgive my segue) is this little spatula.

It's long and skinning and sturdy and heatproof and I use it every day, mostly to scrape out the jar of my beloved Vitamix, but for many other tasks as well. It would be a great gift because the person you're giving it to might be desperate for just such a thing!

All I personally want for Christmas is the chaat masala from Diaspora, the fair trade spice company. If you've never tasted chaat masala, imagine the Indian version of, like, ranch seasoning. But funkier. I continue to be obsessed with it. Don't worry! I will totally treat myself to this if nobody sees it languishing here, ha ha ha!

And finally, for a cook in your life who loves a big knife, this Misen chef's knife was given to me by my lovely knife-obsessed father-in-law, and although he has given me other knives since, this is my absolute ride-and-die. 

It is such a good knife that I can simply sharpen it on the sharpening steel in all but, like, 1 out of 10 occasions of dullness. You will never look back. Horrible, dirty countertop not included!

Thank you for being here, my darlings. Please feel free to comment with your game recs, like you always do! That's often how we discover new games. Books too! xoxo

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.