Holiday Gift Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — at least it would be if you could check a few things off that massive list of yours. DALS is here to help! Need a holiday ham? Check. A classic Christmas cookie recipe? Here you go. And because we love you so much, herewith, our annual collection of gift ideas for friends and family, lovers and fighters, readers and eaters. Enjoy. –The Family DALS

Magna-Tiles ($52 for a 32-piece set.) The day after Thanksgiving, we stopped off at a friend’s house on our way back home. It was a kind of bleak, chilly day — Alanna, our host, made us a lunch of pasta with kale and lamb sausage, which fit the weather perfectly — and I spent most of the two hours we were there, on the floor, playing Magna-Tiles with their two sons. Their sons are a little younger than I am. Like, 35 years younger than I am. And yet! I could have stayed there all day, building stuff, feeling that slight pull-then-click of the magnets as the pieces locked together. If they had had these when I was a kid, I would have grown up to be an architect.  Maybe it’s not too late. — Andy

Booze ($30-60) I haven’t bought a serious bottle of booze in a few years. And that’s not because I haven’t had any serious booze in the past few years. It’s because our friends buy all the good stuff for us. Thank you presents, holiday presents, birthday presents, anniversary presents — every occasion, it seems, warrants an insane bottle of bourbon, wine, or gin. I’m not complaining (though I do worry a liiiiiittle about the signals we’re sending re: our priorities in life). Our two favorites lately are Widow Jane 8-year bourbon (which is made in Brooklyn, NY), and Cold River Gin (which is from Maine, and which makes a martini that will bring tears to your eyes). Both do the job, in style. — Andy

Cozy Earwarmer/Headband ($28) From 11-year-old Abby: “Recently, I got a chance to see this awesome headband. It was the softest, snuggest, coziest thing ever! That is why it’s #1 on my Christmas list. I would wear it to winter soccer, tennis and even under my ski helmet! I love the bright colors, but mostly it is about the fur lining… It is sooooo plush, and it looks like it could definitely keep me warm.” —Abby

Jacques Torres “Wicked” Hot Chocolate ($18) Decadent hot chocolate from the master of decadent chocolate, this (or maybe Frankie’s Olive Oil) will be what I give teachers, coaches, hosts or anyone else who makes me happy. The kick of cinnamon and cayenne is what makes it “wicked” and wicked special. —Jenny

Dinner Plates ($13 each) Anyone who has spent even a minute on this blog will know all about  my obsession with Heath Ceramics, artisanal designers of dishes and dreams. I have a few pieces (this and these) and fantasize about replacing every mismatched, chipped Ikea plate in my kitchen with one of their tableware lines. Only hitch in the plan? Um, it’s a little pricey. So until then, I’m going with these “18th Street” stoneware plates from Crate & Barrel, which hit the similar modern-but-rustic notes I’m so into these days. If all goes according to plan (are you listening friends and family?) you’ll be seeing them photographed underneath chicken and pork chop recipes on this blog very soon.  —Jenny

Vintage Board Games from eBay Have you played Monopoly lately? Or Sorry? Or Life? Or Battleship? Or any other nostalgic, old school board game that you played as a kid? We have a closet full of them upstairs, and every single one of them makes my eyes hurt. So many of these games have undergone merch-y makeovers since we were kids — I love Nemo and Buzz Lightyear, but they have no business near Park Place — and I haven’t seen one yet that I approve of. And since we get roped into these games every time our kids want to play — usually, like Tuesday night at 8:45 pm, when all you want to do is climb into bed —  it’s way more fun to play with the real thing. Easy to find (start with ebay), inexpensive (less than the new ones), and aesthetically pleasing (come on, you could frame that Sorry board)! — Andy

Marcel the Shell ($10) My boss, who does not have kids, called me into her office a couple of months ago. “You have got to see this video,” she said. I stood there, looking over her shoulder, as she cued up a clip on Youtube, and a tiny, one-eyed, sneaker-wearing snail named Marcel the Shell took the stage. I don’t know how to describe it other than: absolutely friggin’ delightful. So I went back to my desk and did some googling. Turns out, this was kind of a thing! (It’s a common theme in my life. This internet thing is amazing!) There were more videos, which I watched and loved. And better yet, there were books. Which would make a good Christmas present of the kids. And for me. — Andy

Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell ($20) People always ask me to recommend a good starter cookbook for kids, and I almost always tell them Kids Cook  1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold (master of simple cooking) and Fanny at Chez Panisse, which is the book my daughters reach for every time they decide they want to cook their parents dinner. (Every time = precisely once, for our anniversary this past October.) I’m officially adding Cal Peternell’s to the list. Peternell, chef at (where else?) Chez Panisse, wrote this for a kid considerably older than mine — his college-bound son — upon realizing that he was heading out into the world without having learned the most basic kitchen skills and recipes. When I say basic, I mean basic: toasts, vinaigrettes, risottos, beans, roast vegetables. But really, what else does anyone even need in this world? (PS: There’s also this line: “A crash course in cooking for yourself and others also goes by another name: it’s called dinner.”)

Ceci N’est Past Une Pipe Poster ($13) If you have a young TFIOS fan in the house — and if you need me to spell out what that stands for, you probably don’t — then you will no doubt impress him or her with this subtle nod to the Magritte T-shirt Hazel wears on her visit to Amsterdam with Augustus. If you have no idea what language I’m speaking, how’s this pitch: Also great for young fans of surrealism. —Jenny

Platter by Sophie Conran ($35) Perfectly round serving dishes are so…predictable. This porcelain one, with its charmingly misshapen perimeter, is more like a piece of art than something you’d use to serve spaghetti — or vegetables or salads or short ribs or Marcella Hazan’s milk-braised pork loin….or….anything. PS: The salad bowl looks lovely too. –Jenny

TracBall ($15) Summer evenings, when I was a kid, I would wait for my dad to come home and, once he’d changed out of his suit and poured two vodka tonics — one for him and one for my mom; I can still hear the ice clinking in the glass — I’d beg him to go outside and play. Overall, my first choice was to “chuck the apple,” as he referred to playing catch, but there was a two or three year stretch in there — probably around 4th and 5th grade — when TracBall was our game. It’s a kind of weird, 80s-ish hybrid between lacrosse and Frisbee, and we got pretty good at it — able to curve it both ways, fire hard, rising fastballs, run deep fly routes down the side of the yard and pull in over-the-shoulder catches. I can still see him out there, in his shorts and black dress socks, sweaty drink in hand, and I can see hear the zzzzzing sound of that ball as it lifted into the summer night. — Andy

Vera Bradley Phone Wristlet ($24) Too young for a bona fide purse, too old to be forgetting their phone and cash. Tweens seem to be into these colorful phone-wallet combos that come in over a dozen patters. (Shown above: Bittersweet) When your parents call and ask “What on earth do we get the granddaughters?” send them this link. –Jenny

Metallic Tattoos ($12 for five sheets with about two dozen tattoos per sheet) My nieces, age 11 and 13, deserve all the credit for these temporary tattoos, which wind up looking more like jewelry if you slap a few on at a time. Great for stocking stuffers or for wrapping around a wine bottle when a family is having you for dinner. –Jenny

Lunar Calendar (About $13)  Last year, when I told Jenny that I had bought Phoebe a lunar calendar for the holidays, she responded like this: “Wow, that’s random.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was random. But it was also (a) kind of beautiful to have on the wall, no matter its utility, and (b) actually useful! Phoebe checks it every morning, along with the weather, before coming down for breakfast. I asked her what she liked about it. She said, “I’m a science person. Do you ask a person who likes to play with dolls why they like playing with dolls?” To which I say: Exactly! — Andy

Beginner MicroScope ($80) Speaking of science, this microscope shall be the new obsession. — Andy 

Kids’ Books We asked 12-year-old Phoebe, our resident book expert, for three solid recommendations for kids this holiday season. Here is what she said: “The first one is Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor. I never really knew much about Ares, other than he was the god of chaos and bloodshed. Besides that, he had no significance whatsoever in any of the mythology books I’d read before. But George O’Connor has shown me a side of Ares that I’d never seen before — his softer side, his role in the Trojan War, etc. Graphic novel lovers will be into this. The art is awesome. The second book is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Now, this one just won the National Book Award, so it’s obviously going to to good. It is an autobiography by a woman who grew up in the South in the civil rights era. It’s about her becoming a writer, and it’s done in a very poetic style. Once you get into it, it’s awesome. The last book is The Shadow Hero, which I already wrote about on my blog. Let’s just say it’s heaven for nerds.” — Andy

Subscription to People Magazine (About $110 for 52 issues) My friend Liz had the best argument for buying herself a subscription when she first became a mother 13 years ago. “I was determined not to be one of those moms who has no idea who George Clooney is, then pleads parenthood as the excuse.” Sure, you can just go to People.com everyday, but some magazines are meant to be consumed in print, preferably on a snowy day with a big ole glass of red wine. —Jenny

Dinner: A Love Story, the Complete Collection ($12-30) I once read that in order to convince someone to get into a good habit, first, you have to provide the inspiration. Then, you need to provide the tools to make it happen. That’s how I’ve always thought of my duo of family-meal-making books. So if you have a friend who’d like to get into the dinner habit — or someone who is just in the market for some solid family recipes — Love Story provides the inspiration and Playbook provides the strategy. Plus: I’ll send personalized bookplates to the first 25 who email me at jenny@dinneralovestory.com. (Please provide address and message!) Thanks, as always for your support. –Jenny

For more ideas, check out gift guides from Bon Appetit, Cup of Jo, The New York Times, and Catherine Newman.

Past DALS gift guides: 2013, 2012, 2011

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18 Comments

Hannah S

Your gift guide is perfect and covers everyone. I especially love the idea of the alcohol or the chocolate, I feel you can never go wrong. The temporary tattoos are great, have you been on tattly.com? They have some cute tattoo ideas too!
This is my first year doing a gift guide and I would love if you can take a look and let me know what you think.
Thanks!
Happy shopping and happy holidays!

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Susan

Marcel!!! My 10 year old showed me those videos a few weeks ago, and I have shown 2 of them to my middle school math classes. Such silly, wonderful fun! Great for last period on a Friday. 😉

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Kate

I loved Fanny at Chez Panisse as a child and it still has a place of honor in my kitchen. Your next choice looks quite good, too.

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Delilah

Did your girls actually both see TFIOS? I can’t even bring myself to watch it. Since I have children I’m crazy sensitive and I’m afraid I will JUST NEVER stop crying… Tell me, how did you all handle it?

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Julia

As a PhD student writing a dissertation about John & Hank Green, and a newlywed who registered for the entire Sophie Conran line, your list left me feeling very au courant! Love it!

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jenny

@Delilah – I wept when I read ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (though didn’t watching the movie). Wrenching, but beyond the quality of the writing — which will amaze and inspire — I found the story ultimately life-affirming. The girls handled it about the same as I did. Highly recommend at least reading the book.

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Bethany~FurnishMyWay

I adore the description of why your friend bought a subscription to People Magazine. Absolutely hilarious because it’s true! I have a sister who could glean from this! Great list, thank you for sharing! I’m stealing the pipe idea as well!

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Allison

Thanks for all these great ideas! I bought the platter for my sister-in-law and she loved it. And I was thrilled to get the playbook from them! Can’t wait to start using it in the new year.

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Mel S.

Thanks for the kid cookbook recommendations! I have a son who loves to help cook, and I’d love to let him try a recipe on his own! #newslettergiveaway

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Julie

Since I read this post (on Christmas Eve, I think), I have purchased two bottles of the Widow Jane – one for us and one for a gift. I can’t wait to surprise my husband with the Cold River gin. I’ve also saved the kids’ cookbooks in my amazon cart so that I can purchase them as birthday presents when the time comes. Thank you for an amazingly well-curated list! #newslettergiveaway

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Leisha

How did I miss this? Next Christmas will it be old news to give a microscope or the phone wristlet? Love it all. #newslettergiveaway

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Maggie

I loved this gift guide! Based on your recommendations, I purchased Sorry (an oldie but goodie–thanks for the reminder!), TracBall, and several kids books. …DALS is my go-to for cooking inspiration, but the tips re kids’ books are just as valuable. #newslettergiveaway

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