What I’m most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that someone else is cooking. So instead of ordering turkey, I’m shopping for host gifts. Keeping a stash is less work than running an errand every time, but sometimes the cupboards are bare. So this is a mix of grab-on-the-go and order ahead, with some ideas on how to take a gift to the next level for someone who’s done something really nice for you. These are also my universal standbys for hosts who don’t like “stuff,” because all of them are consumable or easy to pass along.
Prince Vladimir Tea by Kusmi, $25
I’m all about tea, and you should try Prince Vladimir. I first had it over high tea at a schmancy hotel in San Francisco. It’s fragrant, caffeinated, and widely appealing even to folks who don’t usually love tea. This one is loose leaf, but the teabag version is a little cheaper.
Upgrade: Pack it with some steepers, a set of handmade mugs, or a pretty teacup.
Mt. Tam Triple Cream Brie by Cowgirl Creamery $18
This is the cheese version of homemade whipped cream. It’s so much creamier than all other cheeses, and they have it at my corner store. So while I don’t keep cheese in my cupboard, I do…
Upgrade: I buy silver plated cheese spreaders whenever I see them at garage sales or thrift stores (they’re like $3), but you can get new ones at Williams Sonoma or Sur le Table. Tape one to the top of a block of cheese with colorful Washi tape, and you’re Martha H. Stewart. If you want to go wild, throw in a little bag of raw almonds and a bar of nice chocolate.
Bulleit Bourbon, $27
If you know your hosts like whiskey, or booze in general, Bulleit is a solid mixing bourbon that’s also fine on the rocks. Makes great Manhattans, so…
Upgrade by throwing in a jar of:
Amarena Cherries, $16
These are nothing like maraschino cherries. The texture is dense, and the cherries have a rich, fruity flavor. Incredible in Manhattans, but also great as dessert topper.
I used to keep a bag of these on my desk because it satisfies every sweet craving. Chewy chocolate covered dried cherries, slightly salty crunchy hazelnuts, and so on. Then I kept pouring the whole bag into my face so I had to stop.
Upgrade: Recchiuti chocolate is ludicrously good, and they make options in every price range — all the way up to a giant box that’s a few hundred dollars, which makes a great gift for an entire office. They’re also little obscure, so people will think you’re their personal Willy Wonka.
I’ve been talking about these for years, they’re just so freaking cute. Are they any good? Well. They’re not great. I mean, it’s canned champagne? But they’re too perfect for a brunch, a picnic, a girls’ night out. They have telescoping straws stuck to the side. I mean.
Upgrade: Eh. If someone is cooking you Thanksgiving dinner, or letting you crash with them? Go with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.
And let me know if you have any go-to host gifts. I’m always looking to increase the stash.
I’m about to leave for my second year at XOXO in Portland, a technology and art festival put together by my friend Andy Baio and co-founder Andy McMillan, who wanted to recapture the feeling of possibility and camaraderie he missed from the early days of SxSW Interactive.
Last year the festival had a sort of craft fair in the lobby, and these were some of my favorite things:
We Flashy, killer reflective wear for creatures of the night.
Print mashup from Berkley Illustration.
A Bikesexuality Zine. Ding!Ding!
And among my favorite objects of all time, Campfire Cologne.
I may never wash this sweater again. Or my hair.
Stop looking at me like that.
Are you going to XOXO? And/or do you wash your hair after a campfire?
I’ve been making things as part of Go Mighty’s I Made This Project. Tag your Go Mighty stories with #imadethis, and we’ll enter you for a chance to win an Epiphanie Camera bag and lots of other good stuff.
Flowers make me happy. As a kid, I used to pick gardenias, camellias, ferns from the backyard and leave arrangements around the house. I don’t have any formal training, but over the years I’ve made lots of wedding bouquets, and I try to keep fresh flowers in the apartment.
Of course, that can get expensive in the city — where there’s no backyard to pull from — so over the years I’ve learned how to put together pretty options by buying flowers from the supermarket and rearranging. Here are a few tips to keep you in fresh flowers using grocery store options, but leave you cash for the actual groceries:
CHOOSING YOUR FLOWERS
1. Use what you have.
For the love of all that is holy, if you have a backyard, pull greens from trees and plants to use as fresh, unusual filler — or even as the mainstay of a bouquet with a few flowers scattered throughout. Much of the impact of florist bouquets comes from the novelty of the greens they use. Unexpected greens make your arrangements less expensive and more artistic.
2. Limit your options.
Whenever possible, I try to buy single-bloom bouquets. I can just throw them in a vase if I feel lazy. Or when I buy a couple bouquets and mix them up, I’m not paying for all the crappy filler they throw in to make the mixed bouquets seem bigger. Plus I don’t have to separate out the flowers before I rearrange them. And speaking of single blooms…
3. Get to know your roses.
Sometimes roses are your only option when you’re shopping in the deli department. If you’re facing a sea of roses at the grocery store, steer away from the perfect streamlined buds, which are more expensive anyway, and look for petals with a ruffled edge to them.
These buds are much more likely to actually open, giving you full gorgeous roses, as opposed to the hybridized buds that often stay tight until they rot. You can also facilitate blooming by removing outer “guard petals.” More info on that here.
4. Consider color.
With color, I usually do one of two things: 1. Get two or three types of flower in different shades of the same color. 2. Choose two to four types of flowers in two colors that please me when they’re smooshed together. I like bright combos like lime green and pink, purple and gold, orange and green, but your tastes may differ, obviously.
PREPPING FOR ARRANGEMENT
5. Pull apart mixed bouquets.
If mixed-bloom bouquets are your only option, separate flowers by type before you start arranging. Consider making small, single bloom nosegays from each type of flower, or combining two complimentary colors and making a couple of bouquets.
6. Groom flowers.
Remove all but the top leaves so they won’t rot in the water and promote bacteria that will kill your flowers prematurely. I like to cut apart multi-stem flowers to make them easier to arrange. You can remove thorns from roses too, but I usually don’t bother. If your flowers came with a packet of food, go ahead and mix that into your water.
PUTTING YOUR BOUQUET TOGETHER
7. Arrange from the middle out.
I hold the biggest, prettiest bloom in my left hand, then use my right hand to arrange different textures and colors in a circular pattern around it. I turn my bouquet as I work and keep hold of the stems.
8. Secure your bouquet.
Once you have a shape you like, secure it before you put it in the vase. I use floral tape, which is effective and super cheap, but washi tape, plain masking tape, or a simple rubber band will also work. I trim the bouquet stems after I’ve taped them, erring on the short side. I tend to like the undersides of my flowers to rest on the edge of their container.
9. Choose an unexpected container.
I use drinking glasses, tin cans, juice pitchers. Anything that can hold water can hold a bouquet. And again, novelty is what sets arrangements apart.
10. Use your leftovers.
I usually end up with enough runty, short-stemmed, or not-quite-perfect flowers for a second bouquet, so I make one for my little boy’s bedroom or the bathroom. Also, I never throw away a bloom. Because flowers, you guys! They’re too pretty to put in the garbage. So if one of the stems breaks off of a large flower like a dahlia, just fill a shallow bowl or a champagne saucer with water, and set the bloom afloat. Now you have a couple bouquets, plus something bright for the kitchen counter.
Look at that. You’re so damn artsy.
Look! I got some stuff other people used to own from the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday:
I think my Thermos collection is officially complete. All of these are in full working order with no grucky interiors, and I have an urge to find a display case. It’s always cold at night in San Francisco, so they’re useful for bonfires or night picnics in the park, but I mostly think the patterns are pretty. I got two Sunday, and my friend Maja surprised me with two more she found while wandering around separately. Thanks, Maja! ($5 – $16 each)
This fits like it was made for me, and it will be bangarang once it’s ironed and maybe hemmed? Deciding. Do I hem it, what say thee? ($25)
This night jacket is made of that crazy heavy silk that feels like cream on your skin. I drop Hank off at school and then change back into my pajamas, so it’s technically an office wardrobe investment. So that’s a write off, right? ($20)
This is a Dansk enamelware pot, from the sixties I think. They’re gorgeous, and easier to lift and use than Le Creuset. I’d like my cookware to last always, and my grandmother’s arthritis made it nearly impossible for her to use her gorgeous, but terribly heavy cookware later in life. Anyway, they’ve apparently begun to reissue the Dansk enamelware. Mine was $40, but the identical one at Bloomingdales is $172. Bwahahaha.
Oh, hey guys. Are you aware you are the best? Just checking.
A few months ago, I bought Hank a huge set of mostly secondary Star Wars action figures in the 70s carry boxes, but the dealer had pulled most of the main characters to sell them separately. It’s $10 – $15 each for new “vintage look” action figures in stores, so I was avoiding buying the main characters.
We came across these in a case, and I asked the seller how much they were — $3 each. Yessss. I called Hank over to discuss which ones he needed to complete his set, and Hank called over Brad, our personal Star Wars nerd consultant. The guy saw us with our heads together Malta-style and said, “Oh. If you’re buying a bunch, I’ll do $2.” We picked our toys, he knocked a few more bucks off, and then threw in a Gobot Hank was eyeing.
I love how antique dealers soften on prices when they realize you’re buying toys to play with instead of to collect or resell. It’s an instinct that things should belong to the people who will enjoy them most.
I woke up early this morning to the sound of little plastic feet on the wood floor, and Hank whispering light saber sounds. Thanks, dealer guy.
“Mama? How come you don’t wear my macaroni necklace to your meeting?”
Because, baby. Because I am a monster.
Parents treasure handmade gifts, but there are only so many times you can hide the macaroni necklace in the glove compartment before you forget to put it back on when you get home. And then the inevitable reckoning. Where is the necklace? I… got hungry.
Mom and Grandma would love handmade gifts for Mother’s Day, but maybe not another pinto-bean brooch. As long as you’re helping your kid make something, here are some sentimental homemade and/or custom options that she doesn’t have to wear in front of the board.
Do a slight twist on this birthday surprise, by attaching an individual photo of each kid for every year of his or her life.
Ask your kids to number them and on the back of the photo. Or have them write a happy memory of their mom or grandma. Also works as a cool display option for handmade favor coupons.
Silhouettes are classic, inexpensive, and relatively easy to make. Here’s a DIY tutorial on how to make a silhouette. If you’re not feeling especially artistic, you and the kids can take a photo and send it to this service, which sends you a custom silhouette either mounted or ready for framing.
Sharpie mugs are ludicrously easy, aside from the “trusting your toddler with a Sharpie” element. Ask your kid to draw a picture of mommy or the family on the mug, or write a sweet message or quote if they’re older, and then bake it until the ink sets. A genius addition to the breakfast-in-bed tray.
Transfer handwritten family recipes to a dish towel or apron. Grandma’s gonna cry.
Listen, you are entrusted with your child’s cultural education. They may already know how to make a playlist on Spotify, but do they know how to craft a serviceable mix tape? Narrative arc. The crucial starter. The meaningful closer — sentimental, not overwrought. “‘You are my Sunshine’ or ‘Call Me, Maybe?’” Tough call, kid. Help them shape their skills on a woman who will love them no matter what.
The site has this listed as a thumbprint pendant, but I think it makes a nicer ornament. Sweet to hang on the wall above a light switch or doorbell.
This is technically an advent calendar, but I love the idea of writing mom a bunch of sweet notes to open over the month. You can order one if you happen to speak German, or just drill a series of holes in a block of wood with a large bit and have the kids write their notes up.
Here’s a tutorial for making your own little cross-stitch family. Awesome idea for grandma.
Add her name to a favorite kid’s drawing, and Bike Like the Fox will make it into a custom bookplate.
There. Every gift comes with my personal guarantee that you’ll never find it in the glove compartment.
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