Welcome to Our Second Annual Family Holiday Gift Guide. And by that, we of course mean gifts for New Moms, New Dads, Seasoned Moms, Seasoned Dads, Little Ones, Big Ones, Babysitters, Carpool Helpers, School Teachers, Cello Teachers, Art Teachers, the Nice Guy Who Brews You a Badass Cup of Coffee Every Morning…and even YOU! Read carefully and you’ll see what we mean.
English Premier League Christmas Ornaments ($10 for 3-pack). You could never accuse this family of rooting for the underdog. Last year, after Chelsea won the UEFA championship — establishing it as the best club team in Europe — our resident diehard Manchester United fans began to… waver. Phoebe started wearing her Wayne Rooney jersey a little less proudly, Abby started asking to watch Drogba highlights on YouTube, and six months later, I guess you could say we’re a full-on Chelsea household now. (Like the weather, this will change again soon.) We’re making the most of it while it lasts, though, and even bought a set of these for our pals Mike and Sara up in Portland, Maine, whose three kids are true blue Chelsea fans, through-and-through. Hang these with pride, my friends. — Andy
French Press (Le Creuset, $60). When I showed this to Jenny the other day, she said, “Do you want one?” And the answer was, “Yes and no.” Yes, I want one because it’s so cool looking and I love Le Creuset and am an inveterate coffee addict; and no, I don’t want one, because we have a French press already and I can’t really justify spending money for another one. But I am going to buy it for a friend or relative who loves coffee and I am going to secretly look forward to the day when our current, perfectly functional — functional: therein lies the problem — french press, I don’t know, maybe falls off the counter and shatters or is gravely wounded in the dishwasher. At which point: Yes. I want one. In cherry (pictured above). – Andy
Animal Stacking Game (Haba, $20). When the girls were little, playing board games with them was always one of those milestones I was excited to hit. Until we hit it…and I found myself spending long swaths of winter afternoons wandering through Gumdrop Mountains and Peppermint Forest, dying the slow painful death that is CandyLand. (Let’s not even discuss Pretty Pretty Princess.) But when this stacking game came into my life, things changed. Though still simple enough for 3-year-olds (you take turns stacking animals until it tumbles over), I found it to be actually calming, plus it didn’t take up an entire shelf in the toy “closet” (read: floor), it exercised my kids’ (and my) as-yet-developed patience muscles, and was the game that promised brighter skies of Monopoly, Mancala, and Apples to Apples ahead. (PS: And this was a major hit with my puzzle-minded 5-year-old nephew.) –Jenny
McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil ($24 for 375 ml — about 12 ounces) When I strike it rich with this blog that I write for free, no Porsches for me. Just garages filled with cases and cases of this olive oil, made in Petaluma, California and renowned for its bright, peppery finish. There is olive oil for browning your chicken breasts and tossing with your potatoes before roasting; there is olive oil that you use sparingly, to whisk into vinaigrettes or drizzle atop soups and pastas. And then there is McEvoy Ranch. Which is not only all that, but also the perfect gift for your party host or daughter’s piano teacher or friend or person you like very much, who knows a little something about the finer things. I’ve only ever used the traditional blend, but I can’t imagine you could go wrong with their Olio Nuovo, made from just-harvested olives, or anything else they sell for that matter. –Jenny
Pure Komachi Chef’s Knife ($10). We own a fleet of Wusthof knives that have served us well since we registered for them fifteen years ago. We have some wood-handled Forschners that our Uncle Mike gave us which, in a matter of seconds, can render a head of cabbage helpless. Last year, for Christmas I bought Andy a New West Knifeworks Fusionwood 8-incher, and when he first removed the thing from its red leather sheath, he looked like a Samurai warrior. In other words, we are pretty well-endowed in the blade department. Which is why it’s all the more strange that when I’m about to embark on chop-heavy meal prep, I get thoroughly depressed if my six-and-a-half-inch Pure Komachi carbon stainless steel chef’s knife, which we picked up a year ago as an impulse buy for TEN BUCKS, is in the dishwasher — or, more likely, has been co-opted by Andy. The Komachi — light, sharp, and seemingly molded to the exact specifications of my right hand — came in fun colors like pink, so we thought it might be a fun First Knife to give Phoebe on her 10th birthday. The only problem is that now, when she wants to use it, we have to tell her to get in line. -Jenny
Nike Mercurial Indoor Shoes ($50) Our dainty little flower, Abby, will soon be wearing these to school every day. “Abby, I’m not sure they’re going to match too many of your outfits,” I told her. “Dad,” she responded, “that’s not the point.” “Okay, what is the point, then?” “The point is that they’re awesome and rocking and cool. Duh.” And she’s right. The truth is, I kind of want a pair, too. Having grown up in the 80s, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see that neon is back. (Her sister has a pair in neon, as well: a color she describes as “reddish-pinkish-orange.”) Abby has been ogling these things on soccer.com for weeks now, and her agonizing wait will soon be over. – Andy
Malley’s Chocolates ($1-$3 each) I went back to Ohio, the great Chrissy Hynde once sang. But my city was gone… all my favorite places/ My city had been pulled down, reduced to parking spaces. A, O, way to go, Ohio. All I know is, our Cleveland-living friends (and DALS contributors) Dan and Jen sent us a care package while our power was out after Hurricane Sandy — a big box of candy bars from Malley’s, which has been making the stuff (in Ohio, mind you) since 1935. Everything about this was good, starting with the dark chocolate-pretzel bar and the super-reasonable prices and the beautiful, retro packaging (awesome, off-kilter, hand-drawn fonts and cheerful color combinations and a general look that says, “This is not another coroporate product.”) Think of it as a new twist on an old stocking stuffer, and it happens to taste good, too. Way to go, Ohio. — Andy
A book for dad: Tears in the Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman ($18). Did you read Unbroken? I did. Unbroken speaks for itself; you don’t need me to tell you how good it is. I might have liked Tears in the Darkness more, though. This book is the unbelievable, harrowing, and ultimately uplifting story of one man — a young cowboy with a poet’s soul from Montana named Ben Steele — who somehow survived the Bataan Death March in World War II. This book took twelve years to research and it shows. I read it three years ago and still think about it all the time, still think about how one person can endure this kind of hardship and not be ruined by it. I’ve been hand-selling it ever since, and haven’t heard a single negative report back. I’d read one of these a week, if I could. — Andy
A book for Junior: The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan ($13). I knew I loved Abby’s fourth grade teacher when Abby came home from school and said, “Dad, we’re reading the best book in school, about a kid who has these crazy daydreams. It’s by Ian McEwan.” Ian McEwan? I wasn’t even really aware he’d written children’s books, but he has, and when Abby was done with this one, I read it for myself. This will not be a newsflash, but: Ian McEwan is a good writer. And this teacher had good taste. Here’s just one little example of what I mean: “As for being on his own, grown-ups didn’t much like that either. They don’t even like other grown-ups being on their own. When you join in, people can see what you’re up to. You’re up to what they’re up to. You have to join in, or you’ll spoil it for everyone else. Peter had different ideas. Joining in was all very fine, in its place. But far too much of it went on. In fact, he thought, if people spent less time joining in and making others join in, and spent a little time each day alone remembering who they were or who they might be, then the world would be a happier place and wars might never happen.” – Andy
A book for anyone: Tenth of December by George Saunders ($26). If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few years, you are probably SICK TO THE FREAKIN’ PITS OF YOUR SOUL of hearing me talk about George Saunders, but I am not done yet. In the first week of January — it’s the perfect thing to load onto that new reading device you got over the holidays — he is publishing his first new collection of stories in six years. I am deeply, irrevocably biased, but man, it’s amazing. If you love writing, this is for you. A sample: ”Oh, no, you don’t, she said with that smoky laugh and guided him into a house. A house on the park. He’d seen it a million times. And now was in it. It smelled of man-sweat and spaghetti sauce and old books. Like a library where sweaty men went to cook spaghetti. She sat him in front of a woodstove, brought him a brown blanket that smelled of medicine. Didn’t talk but in directives: ‘Drink this, let me take that, wrap up, what’s your name, what’s your number?’ What a thing! To go from dying in your underwear in the snow to this! Warmth, colors, antlers on the walls, an old-time crank phone like you saw in silent movies. It was something. Every second was something.” — Andy
Emily Green Placemats ($10, each). There was a three-year stretch in our lives when these laminated, animal-themed washable mats never left the kitchen table –we used them at meals but also for play-doh marathons, cookie baking and pie-dough-rolling. Sweet as this era was (and sweet as the mats are), I have to admit I’m happy to usher in the new era of placemats, an era that looks like…
….these ($14/each) from Shop Fog Linens. Unlike the bright, poppy colors of the old guard, these are sold in the muted colors of grown-up land that kids will say are boring. Which is, of course, how I know they’re perfect! Lucky for all of us, Shop Fog Linen has offered four of the placemats you see above as a giveaway to a lucky commenter chosen at random below*. (Winner will be announced in a few days and must live in the 48 contiguous states.) Good luck! –Jenny
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas ($10). You know you can sing when you take a song like “Jingle Bells” – or good lord, “Frosty the Snowman” — and somehow make it your own. Somehow make it into a beautiful song. Somehow make it listenable after a month of incessant, moldering holiday songs piped into every Duane Reade and Gap on earth. Everything on this album is so smooth and effortless and peppy, and this recently remastered version contains a bunch of alternate takes that are a lot of fun for the kids to hear, as Ella Fitzgerald tried out different voices, different rhythms, etc. Good with a glass of wine. Good, period. – Andy
Nike Girl Power Shirts ($18-$25) My friend Yolanda’s 9-year-old daughter recently came to my house wearing cute shorts over tights with little flats that I could’ve sworn I saw on a 25-year-old in Williamsburg…and that I instantly coveted. My friend Marcie’s daughter showed up to her cello lesson today wearing a gray jersey dress over striped tights and pink patent Mary Janes that seemed to say “I’m more punk than priss.” My daughters? They favor Club Team jerseys and leggings and neon soccer shoes and steering clear of anything resembling a ruffle or a trim or a pleat or detail that might remind passers-by that they are girls. Every morning after Andy and I put our ragtag little jocks on the bus, he turns to me and says the same thing: “You’ve gotta take control of the clothes situation in this house.” My answer to that? These Nike empowerment Ts with the coolest fonts I’ve ever seen. For now at least.
Frog Hollow Preserves ($9/jar; gift boxes $25-$90). When we were out in San Francisco last summer, we spent a couple of mornings at the Ferry Building, eating, exploring, and eating. We hit the Farmer’s Market, took down some insane homemade hot dogs, and tried — and failed — to endure the line at Blue Bottle Coffee. But the place we really loved was Frog Hollow Farm, which sold their own fruit – some of the best produce on the planet, according to people who know this stuff, with a particular genius for stone fruit — as well as a crushingly tasty selection of jams and preserves. We must have sampled fifteen of them before settling on Plum Blueberry, which the kids decided was best, but really: They were all the best. They were all incredible, all examples of little things you think don’t really matter until you taste them and realize (a) how happy that one little bite just made you and (b) how dedicated and talented the people must be who make them. Turns out, this stuff matters. –Andy
Large Serving Bowl (Heath Ceramics, $115). I can’t believe Andy just wrote 200 words about the Ferry Building and didn’t mention Heath Ceramics. I’m going to take this to mean that he actually bought me something from the Sausalito-based pottery company and is trying really hard to keep it a secret. More likely he’s trying to block out the memory of the place, because, yes, prices are high (you know you’re in trouble when the word “heirloom” is thrown around on their website) but also because whenever we were wandering around the Ferry Building, I don’t know what God of Beautiful Things was possessing me, but I would always, always find myself right in front of this bowl you see above, just staring. Phoebe would have to practically grab a cane to pull me from the place. “Mooooom, are you there AGAIN? Come ON!” Yes I was, but just look at that bowl. It’s the simple, sculptural beauty, but it’s also the colors: rich, deep, and so many brilliant combinations to choose from. If you need help, Andy, just ask. –Jenny
Wolffer Estate Red Letter Table Wine ($17/bottle) Jenny and I spent three days out in Long Island in October for our anniversary, just the two of us, eating and wandering and reading books on the beach and visiting a few of the seemingly endless wineries that have sprung up out there in recent years. It’s a gorgeous part of the world, with some extremely tasty wines, and this one may be our favorite. It’s seventeen bucks, not too big and high in alcohol, and — for us, at least — it’s local, which is not something we say a lot about wine. Also, the label is awesome and we’re not too proud to admit that that counts for a lot. A perfect house-warming gift. Also a good wine to stock for any holiday party you may be hosting. People will leave happy. – Andy
Robert Griffin III. (There is not enough money in the world.) Super Bowl 2013! – Andy
*Update: Kendra is the winner of the placemats. Thanks for playing everyone!