Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Ten Cool Gifts for Guys

(Sort of) just in time for Cyber Monday, here are my gift picks for the men on your list. Happy shopping!

1. Graffiti Cocktail Shaker, $20 at CB2.
Quite honestly, this is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. I kind of want one for myself.

2. Whiskey Stones, $20 at CB2.
I've seen these whiskey stones around for a couple of years, and I've always wanted to dislike them for being gimmicky. But it occurs to me that they're pretty great for guys who like their liquor chilled but not watered down. When frozen for four hours, the stones keep spirits ice cold for 40 minutes and won't transfer flavors from drink to drink.

3. Chef's Knife, $115 to $200.
Any guy who cooks even a little bit should have a quality chef's knife in his kitchen. I'm currently drooling over the Wusthof Ikon Blackwood 8 inch chef's knife, $200 at Sur La Table. The photo below doesn't do the blackwood handle justice; it's a thing of beauty. More importantly, the knife is perfectly balanced in the hand -- neither too heavy nor too light.

A less expensive option is the Zwilling 8 inch professional "S" series knife. It's the bomb and is on sale for $120 at Williams Sonoma.

Finally, I feel obligated to mention Global knives ($115 for an 8 inch chef's knife) because they are so beloved by famous chefs (especially man's man Anthony Bourdain). But a word of caution: they make your hands blister like crazy. I bought a set for my husband when we were dating and I curse them every time I use them. Oh, and the tip of the paring knife broke after about three uses. So consider yourself warned.

4. Laguiole Steak Knife Set$140 at Overstock
This is another gift I bought for my husband when we were dating. In my opinion there's no steak knife more beautiful than Laguiole, and I adore the distinctive bee on the handle. Gump's carries a nice range of Laguiole cutlery, tableware and serving pieces; use promo code GIFT2U for 20% off orders of $100 or more store wide.

Every man (and woman) should have a Maglite or two on hand: one for the home and one for the car. Maglites are great protection, are virtually indestructible and they're made in America. This particular model, available in both black and grey, is 53% off at Lowe's through midnight tonight (11/28/11).

So clever, so practical. For $5 more, you can order a personalized one directly from Craftsman.

7. s[edition] Digital Art, $8 to $800. 
s[edition] is an online source for collecting digital, limited edition works by artists such as Damien Hirst and Isaac Julien. The goal of the service is to make art collecting accessible to everyone. s[edition] works directly with artists to offer digital pieces for viewing on multiple screens, from iPad to PC monitor to LCD TV.  (High resolution still images can be downloaded, while animated HD videos are viewed online.) Selections can be gifted to anyone with an email address.

My picks are I Listen to the Ocean and All I Hear is You by Tracey Emin ($80), and Peace Guard by Shepard Fairey ($35).

In the animated version of this piece, the words light up across the screen and are accompanied by the sounds of the ocean.

In the HD video version of this piece, the rose explodes and petals rain down the screen. 

Note: for access to the s[edition] site, you must register with your email address and password.

8. Moleskine Volant Notebooks, $6 to $19 for sets of two.
I love these colorful renditions of the classic Moleskine notebooks. Each set contains two notebooks in complementary colors. So if your guy likes to write, sketch or just jot down notes, this is a great gift.

9. J. Crew Cognac Leather Shoehorn, $28.
This leather shoehorn is a handsome alternative to plastic or metal, and will become even more beautiful over time.

10. Jack Black Skin Care, $7.50 to $52.
Most men I know won't buy skin care products for themselves, let alone use them (especially sunscreen, which drives me crazy). Show your guy you care by giving him the gift of good skin. Jack Black products are great because they're moderately priced given the quality ingredients (most formulations are organic and vegan); they're effective; and they smell masculine and refreshing. Plus, many of their products have won awards from Esquire, Men's Health and the like, so if all else fails, tell your guy that all the cool kids are using Jack Black. If you buy one thing, make it the SPF 45 sunscreen. (Getting him to use it is another story. Sigh.)

Note: As with all products mentioned on Flour Child, reviews and recommendations are entirely my own. Not only have I not received compensation or consideration from the manufacturers or retailers, they don't even know I exist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: For the Host or Hostess

I'm going to preface this by saying I don't completely agree with etiquette experts who advise against bringing anything that the host or hostess may feel obligated to serve or use, such as a bottle of wine or flowers. I think it depends on how well you know the host or hostess, and whether you've arranged in advance to bring something specific.

While you don't want to compel your hostess to serve the wine you brought when she's already planned the wine pairings for the evening -- or distract her from guests with a bouquet of flowers that needs to be arranged in a vase -- I think wine and flowers are appreciated when a) you make it clear that the wine is for your hostess and it's therefore up to her to decide if and when to serve it; and b) the flowers are arranged in a small vase suitable for her kitchen or personal space (i.e., she's not compelled to find room on her already decorated table for a surprise cornucopia centerpiece).

Having said all of that, below are some ideas for what to bring to garherings, holiday and otherwise.

1. Candles
A kitchen candle is a thoughtful and practical gift to bring to a dinner party. Williams Sonoma's Lemongrass Ginger boxed candle ($20) is a great for neutralizing kitchen odors after the party.

Voluspa's luxurious candles are beautifully packaged for gift giving. My favorite is the three wick candle in a glass metallic bowl (about $30) from the Seasons collection. It comes in a beautiful velvet box that doesn't even need to be wrapped. My scent of choice is Makassar Ebony & Peach.

2. Hand Care Set
Gentle, nourishing hand soap and moisturizing lotion are welcome gifts for hosts and hostesses whose hands are battered by dry weather and kitchen work. I love the  Pure and Good hand care duo ($34) from Anthropologie and the Lemongrass Ginger set from Williams Sonoma's Essential Oils Collection (also $34).

3. Stationery
Notepads and note cards are a stylish and practical addition to your host's or hostess's kitchen or home office. I love Mudlark's Kaley Stickable Notes and Kate Spade's All Typed Up boxed note cards, $10 each at Papyrus.

4. Wine Accessories
Wine coasters, drip collars and stoppers are always appreciated and are a nice complement to the wine you might be bringing to the party.

5. Wine
I think that a nice, versatile bottle of wine makes a fantastic host or hostess gift, provided you've been asked to bring a bottle or know the recipient well enough that there's no obligation on their part to serve it. My wine picks are generally available at your local wine shop or BevMo, although the South African wines are more difficult to find and may need to be ordered from K&L Wine Merchants (see links, below).

2007 The Chocolate Block (Boekenhoutskloof), Franschhoek, South Africa ($34). This wine is perfect for a dinner party because it's neither wimpy nor overpowering and pairs well with vegetarian fare, meat and dessert. It's also delicious on its own.

2009 Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa ($19). This versatile wine is so good, I bought a case of it last year. But don't take my word for it. Wine Spectator gave it 90 points, stating, "This has subtle weight, with lemon verbena, wet straw and chamomile notes offset by lingering gooseberry notes. Nice buried minerality stretches out the finish. Very solid. Drink now."

Roederer Estate Brut NV, Anderson Valley, California ($20). This is my favorite sparkling wine of all time, and it tastes far more luxurious than the moderate price point suggests. It's crisp but not too dry and is flavorful enough to be enjoyed by itself, but not so much so that it doesn't complement any appetizer or dinner course. In other words, it's perfectly balanced.

2010 Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs, Monterey County, California ($15-$20). This is my other favorite sparkling wine because it's so drinkable and so beautifully designed and packaged. We served it at our wedding reception and it has always been a hit when given as a gift.

6. Ornaments
Many people will be putting up and decorating their Christmas trees this weekend, so don't be shy about gifting an ornament to your Thanksgiving hosts and hostesses. Many people, myself included, collect ornaments and your contribution to their collection will surely be appreciated. Below are my picks, all of which are available at Anthropologie.

Missoni for Target, eat your heart out.

I'm not sure what I like more, the delicately carved ornaments or the birch box.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, and neutral enough for any tree.

Of course, the best gift to bring to any gathering is good cheer. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide: Stylish Entertaining

I know, I know. It's not even Thanksgiving and I'm already kicking off a holiday gift series. What gives? (Ha!)

Okay, so I love giving handmade gifts (a batch of cookies or brownies wrapped in pretty packaging, a photo album or a mix tape) and intangibles (a charitable donation in someone's name, a lunch date or even dog sitting). But it's also quite satisfying to find and give an inspired gift that delights the recipient for years to come.

So without further ado, here are some gift picks for the entertainers in your life. You might even want to snap up a few for yourself (wink).

1. Herriott Grace porcelain pedestal plates.

I don't know about you, but I can't afford much in the way of Herriott Grace's handmade wooden serveware. Thankfully, at $36 these adorable little porcelain pedestal plates are within my budget. Who wouldn't want to set them out for small treats, tartlettes and cheese?

2. Soapstone trays.

These Haitian hand-carved trays are from the Aid to Artisans project and are $28 at Canvas. Substantial in weight and presentation, they're a striking alternative to wood and porcelain serveware. Click here to see them in my Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey post.

3. Vintage French bread boards.

This is a major splurge, but hear me out. These late 19th and early 20th century bread boards, available in both small ($175) and large ($200) sizes from J. Peterman, are beautifully worn and imperfect. Sourced from the South of France, they make a statement whether they're used for cutting or serving. If your budget allows, this is a gift that will not only be treasured, but handed down through generations.

4. JME bread board.

A more affordable option is this $60 bread board from JME. Made in South Africa from salvaged French oak wine barrels, the board arrives in an adorable cotton sack perfect for gift giving.

5. Fog Linen Works acacia wood knives. 

These wooden butter knives, $7.50 each at Anaise, elevate the mundane (spreading butter on toast) to something of beauty. They're sure to elicit compliments from guests when they spread goat cheese and fig jam on crackers.

6. Sapling utensils.

Add a rustic touch to your table or buffet with these petite sapling utensils. $12 each at Terrain, they're crafted from re-purposed brass and are simply adorable.

7. govino shatterproof glasses and flutes.

Virtually indestructible, these "go anywhere" glasses and flutes from govino ($13 to $230 for sets of 4 to 72) are a stylish alternative to plastic cups and glasses. Party guests can let loose like they're at a kegger without leaving those unsightly red Solo cups all over the place.

8. Etched stemware.

Anthropologie's Platinum Petals stemware ($14 each) adds a timeless, elegant touch to more intimate gatherings. A pair of flutes and a bottle of bubbly (may I suggest Sofia Blanc de Blancs?) makes a charming gift for your favorite couple.

So now you know what to get me for Christmas. (Kidding.) If you're interested, I'll post gift picks for cooks, bakers and even food bloggers -- plus books, music and items for the home -- in the coming days and weeks. Happy gifting!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For Your Thanksgiving Consideration

I won't be cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I will be dropping in at friends' celebrations with desserts and side dishes in hand. Whether you're hosting or potlucking, here are some favorite Thanksgiving recipes for your holiday recipe box.

1. Georgene's Fluffy Rolls. I make these every year and they're always a hit. Soft and slightly sweet, they're the perfect compliment to Thanksgiving dinner and are great for making sandwiches with the leftovers. I've also discovered that these freeze beautifully. Thaw at room temperature (inside the bag or container to collect condensation), cover with aluminum foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for about 8 minutes.

2. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Cider Vinaigrette. This dish is a refreshing addition to the Thanksgiving table and will win over even the most devout Brussels sprouts haters.

3. Sweet Potato Gingerbread. This is perfect for breakfast, brunch or snacking, and because it keeps well, it's an ideal make-ahead recipe for the busy holiday season. Your company will think you bought it (or at least slaved in the kitchen for hours).

4. Bobby Flay's Pumpkin Bread Pudding. This is one of the worst photographs I've ever taken, and one of the best things I've ever made. It's a rather involved recipe, but if you make it you won't be sorry. Just don't take an awkward photo of it.

5. Mile High Apple Pie with Spicy Caramel Sauce. Apples. Perfect pie crust. Caramel sauce. Need I say more?

6. Flour's Super Pumpkiny Pumpkin Pie. This pumpkin pie is the real deal. I recommend you make your own pumpkin puree, but it's just as good with store bought.

Are you celebrating Thanksgiving? If so, what are your favorite dishes to eat and make?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Monday

I don't have a story to go with this post other than to say that I will probably never master the art of the perfect cappuccino, or find it worthwhile to make my own doughnuts again, and that I'm totally fine with it.

Happy Monday!