Friday, December 24, 2010

Five Golden Wreaths.

Here are some photos of this year's batch of Christmas cards. (I hope these don't turn out to be spoilers for any of my recipients but I was pretty late in mailing these out.) Earlier this year, I discovered FLAX Art and Design and it is my new favorite store for crafting supplies. They have a huge room with drawer after drawer full of different types of paper, and that does not even include their stationery section.

A special thanks to everyone who kept up with all 12 days of my gift guide and encouraged me along the way. Happy Christmas, dear readers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 12: Gift Cards

In the end, no one knows better what your recipients want that the recipients themselves. And while gift cards might seem awkward or unoriginal, they can also be incredibly practical. A friend who enjoys their usual at Starbucks every day is going to appreciate if even just one drink is on you. At Whole Foods, gift cards with food puns like "thyme to celebrate" and "hugs and quiches" won't just make someone smile but they are sure to get used up, since everyone needs groceries at some point. (Plus, for every gift card purchased online this month, Whole Foods is donating $1 to the No Kid Hungry Campaign). Just stay away from cards that are confusing for cashiers or have monthly maintenance fees, like those shady Visa gift cards.

To be a little more original about it, all you have to do is stick the gift card in a little handmade card or envelope. The added value of something cute and handmade makes the gift a great one no matter what value you put on the gift card.

Here is a little photo tutorial for an origami envelope. I used a standard 15 cm (about 5.9 in.) origami paper square, but anything about 5 inches or greater will hold a standard gift card.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 11: For the Little Ones

There should be some sort of official rule that once someone has a baby or dog, you need only get gifts for the little ones and not have to worry about the adults. I'm trying to get my parents to understand this rule, since they love getting treats for my dog anyway. I think that children (when they are very small) and especially dogs are much easier, and more fun, to shop for.

| 1. Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby ($13) | These bold animal prints on durable flashcards are intended to appeal to and stimulate babies' visual development. I was drawn to the simplicity of using just black and white in art for babies. I used the Jungle collection to decorate my bathrooms.

| 2. Skip Hop Zoo Pack Little Kids Owl Backpack ($20) | Possibly the cutest backpack I have ever seen in my life. Also available in dog, monkey, pig, penguin, zebra, bee, and frog varieties.

| 3. Uglydoll Ox Plush ($20) | For the trendy kids who may not care for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed animals, there is the Uglydoll collection— flat plush monster dolls that won Specialty Toy of the Year in 2006. The characters started out as little doodles on love letters between the creators and now I see them everywhere from Paper Source to FAO Schwartz. And of course, I have one of my own.

| 4. Melissa & Doug Stir Fry Slicing Set ($14) | The little wooden meats and veggies in this set are held together by velcro so they make a satisfying crunchy sound when you slice through them with the wooden knife.

| 5. Chilewich Pet Mat ($35) | I am loving the very abstract bone shape and the little doggie cutout in the middle. This mat is made out of Chilewich's super easy-to-clean basketweave and will hold your pet's bowls in place.

| 6. Nylabone Dura Chew Plus Bone ($6) | My parents bought Lillabelle one of these for Christmas last year and to our surprise, it is still going strong to this day, despite her destructive tendencies. Lillabelle likes to bring this up onto the couch while we are watching TV and she chews away to keep herself occupied.

| 7. Sushi Pups Bone Maki Plush ($7) | I am such a sucker for dog toys that are made to look like human food. Sushi Pups makes dog toys that look like sushi! Who doesn't love sushi around here? I can't get these for Lillabelle because I would not be able to bear watching her shred them to bits but for a dog that takes better care of plush toys, this is just too cute.

| 8. Jonathan Adler British Flag Dog Bed ($245) | A luxury dog bed like this is pretty ridiculous but I had to include this one because I am such an Anglophile. Not only does it look like a big comfy cushion for a doggie to lie on but it would be a pretty cool decorative item for the home, as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 10: Evening Beverages

So, you've been invited to a holiday party and at the last second, you feel guilty about going empty-handed. And all you have time to do is stop at your local grocery store or BevMo to grab a bottle of something. Here are my picks for evening beverages that party guests are sure to like. In no way is this a comprehensive list of my favorites, per se, but these are selections that are accessible and safe.

| 1. Golden Star Tea Co. White Jasmine Sparkling Tea ($12) | This is a non-alcoholic bubbly that's much more interesting and sophisticated than Martinelli's. I tend to serve this when I have people over for lunch, but bring this to a party and the designated drivers will thank you for being awesome. It has a delicate floral aroma and finish and the fizz level is lovely rather than overwhelming.
Updated on 12|16|10: On sale at Whole Foods for $10 until January 4th!

| 2. Banfi 2008 Rosa Regale ($6) | A dessert wine like this is a safe choice because even people who aren't wine fanatics or generally don't like the taste of red wine can still appreciate it. It's sweet enough to stand up to holiday desserts and the cheery color makes it a festive choice.

| 3. Pomelo 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($12) | I see this wine all over the place but that doesn't mean it's blasé. Red wines are difficult gifts because you never know if they'll pair well with what your hosts are serving or cater to their preferences. A simple, crisp Sauvignon Blanc such as this is easy to drink with any hors d'œuvre. And it also has a screw top, in case you're bringing it to someone who doesn't own a corkscrew.

| 4. Hendrick's Gin ($31) | I happen to really like gin. Gin is nice for parties because it doesn't take a whole lot of other mixers or syrups to make a quality drink— just a good gin like this, some fresh limes, and some good tonic water (yes, there is bad tonic water, too). Hendrick's is an oldie but goodie known for its cucumber infusion.

| 5. Right Gin ($33) | If you like gin, but you're looking to impress someone with your extensive knowledge of what is up and coming in the world of mixology, then bring a bottle of Right Gin. Right Gin is quite new as gins go (their first run was in 2007) and is being marketed as the peppery gin for non-gin-drinkers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 9: Map Art

If you're looking for a holiday gift for someone who recently moved into a new home, you can kill two birds with one stone by getting them a combination Christmas + Housewarming gift. Whimsical and typographic maps have been catching my attention lately and I am always on the lookout for ways to decorate my walls with pieces that are also functional. Here are some of my favorites.

| 1. Drywell "Seattle Eats Local" poster ($25) | This is the second piece in the "Meat My City" poster series by local artist and meat-lover Alyson Thomas, who specializes in cute butchery diagrams. A copy of the first piece in the series, "San Francisco is for Carnivores", hangs in my dining room.

| 2. Jim Datz "Manhattan" poster ($60) | If I lived in Manhattan, I would totally get this poster. I love everything about it, from the delicate little swirls at the top of the lamp post, to the typography, to the funny little illustrated guy on the bottom. The London version is great too, as are all the illustrations on Jim Datz's blog.

| 3. Bombus Heart Map (about $60) | The heart shape makes this a little less functional but I still like the concept. This would also be a nice and easy DIY gift—find a cool map, cut out a heart, mount it on some archival paper, and frame it in a simple gallery frame.

| 4. Ork Posters "San Francisco" poster ($22) | I've found that having this poster hanging in my living room has been very useful; not only does it always seem to be a conversation piece when guests come over, but it's what I studied to get acquainted with the layout of this city when we first moved here. If you're shopping for someone who doesn't live in a major city, this Heart poster is awesome, too.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Cards of Christmases Passed.

For some reason my Christmas card posts from the old version of this blog still seem to be the most popular. So as I am gearing up for this year's batch of hand-crafted Christmas cards, here is a flashback to previous collections that have made an appearance.

(Click on the thumbnail to see a more detailed view.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 8: Sweets

A sweet treat doesn't have to be a cliché, so long as you skip the pre-boxed Nuts and Chews from See's and give the gift of something artisanal, local, or homemade. Back in early November, Nick and I went to the Fall Luxury Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason, where we tasted tons of different chocolates from Bay Area chocolatiers (picks 2 and 4 below are standout finds from the event); after speaking with vendors and hearing about the care that is put into crafting the right blend of flavors in each bar or truffle, it's clear that an extra unique chocolate makes a great gift. But if you are looking to go the homemade route, you can always try my recipe for Ginger Spice Cookies.

| 1. Petite Bouchée Salted Butter Caramels ($6 for 3 oz.)| These are the best caramels I have had in the States. The term caramels au beurre salé, or salted butter caramels, is exactly the way to describe what these are; you can just taste how these are made from not much more than caramelized sugar and butter as they dissolve away in your mouth.

| 2. Snake & Butterfly Maple Syrup & Bacon Brittle Bar ($5) | Bacon-flavored everything seems all the rage these days but of the bacon-themed chocolates I sampled at the Chocolate Salon, this was definitely the best. It was bacon-y enough to taste it and the maple syrup flavor acted as a nice bridge between it and the chocolate.

| 3. Kara's Cupcakes ($3.25 each) | Kara's Cupcakes is my favorite of the cupcake bakeries. The cakes are always perfectly moist no matter what time of day I buy or eat my cupcake and the buttercreams are the right texture and sweetness. Nick and I recommend: Fleur de Sel, Meyer Lemony Lemon, and Sweet S'mores.

| 4. The Tea Room Jasmine Milk Truffle ($4.50 for 2) | I never thought that jasmine tea and chocolate were flavors that I would find mixed together but The Tea Room, which specializes in tea-infused chocolates, does it just right. Rather than clashing, the floral jasmine acts as an added layer of flavor on top of the creamy milk chocolate.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 7: Neat Gifts that Didn't Fit into My Other Categories

Looks like we are just past the halfway point! Inevitably as I was pondering what sorts of things would make great gifts, some of the things I loved fell into a "miscellaneous" category. The title of this post says it.

| 1. Bon Appétit magazine subscription ($15) | Magazine subscriptions in general make great gifts because unless you are ordering The Economist, they don't cost very much and they're like giving a whole year's worth of gifts. I've been happy with my Bon Appétit subscription; I don't really care for most of the recipes—which either use obscure ingredients or are overly simple—but I like their travel sections, their top-10 lists, and their articles about up-and-coming chefs/restaurants. Also, Sur la Table stores tend to give out free subscriptions when you spend $75 or more around this time of year.

| 2. Ted Baker Montpel Cufflinks ($75) | Ted Baker is one of my favorites in general but I tend to find myself perusing their cufflinks even though I don't wear them myself. Cufflinks are like jewelry for men, so get these for the guy who likes a little bling now and then.

| 3. Rifle Paper Co. Spoon Recipe Cards ($28 for 40) | Even though I don't really follow recipes that often, I live having some cute recipe cards on hand for when friends ask me for my recipes. I like the simplicity of the dark gray spoon with the reversed-out writing on these.

| 4. Jonathan Adler This is Not a Pipe Tea Light ($28) | This is possibly the most clever tea light holder ever. Don't get it? Ponder this.

| 5. 1-Gallon Organic Basil Plant ($4) | I picked up one of these from our local Whole Foods store a few months ago and it has been totally thriving. This is likely because I put Nick in charge of taking care of it. It brings me such joy to be able to snip off a couple of leaves and top my pasta dishes with a chiffonade of basil whenever I feel like it. According to Nick, it has been simple to care for— he just waters it in the evening whenever the soil is dry or the leaves are looking droopy and by the next morning the leaves are crisp again. Plus, considering how a bunch of basil in the produce aisle is about $3, we've already gotten more than our money's worth. | Photo Credit: Me |

| 6. The Body Shop Green Tea & Lemon Reed Diffuser ($19.50) | Reed diffusers are the best kind of home fragrance dispenser because they don't introduce foreign chemicals into your home's atmosphere. But proceed with caution. Sure, I love the smell of cinnamon but that doesn't mean I want to be punched in the nose with a fistful of cinnamon every day. I typically look for scents with the word "tea" in them because that means a subtle and natural smell.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 6: Bags and Cases

Bags and cases are useful for storing and protecting the things we need to tow with us on a daily basis. And with all the lovely designer labels out there, they're an opportunity to give a flashy gift if you have someone you want to spend your year-end bonus on. With selections like these, your recipient will be thrilled to keep their new bag or case filled, even though they might leave your wallet empty.

| 1. Coach Transatlantic Travel Kit ($128) | Every gentleman needs a good Dopp kit. I think that when Nick made the transition from storing his travel toiletries in a plastic grocery bag to his Coach Dopp, he finally felt like he made the transition from normal person to walking GQ ad. Another fun fact: As my friend J.T. can attest, if you accidentally throw your Coach leather item into a swimming pool and the dye bleeds onto your belongings, Coach will replace it, free of charge.

| 2. Jonathan Adler Sunglass Case ($38) | Nick and I are not allowed to have expensive sunglasses because we will lose them. But if you're shopping for someone more responsible than we are, this super cute sunglass case will protect their sunglasses from getting scratches as they are being jostled about in their designer bag.

| 3. Coach Op Art Coated Canvas Medium Business Tote ($298) | Business totes are yet another one of those items that guys don't seem to put in the effort to replace unless they are absolutely broken. Fortunately, when the bag I gave Nick as a college graduation present broke (it had a good life), I convinced him to replace it with this gorgeous man bag.

| 4. Chilewich Elan Form iPhone Case ($40) | I'm a huge fan of all things by Sandy Chilewich. When I first saw her iPhone cases, they made me want to get an iPhone just so I could get a case for it that matched my Chilewich place mats.

| 5. Kate Spade Claverly Maryanne ($212) | I bought the black version of this bag during Kate Spade's Cyber Monday sale because I couldn't resist. All the Maryanne bags are a great size and shape for an everyday bag. My 13-inch laptop slides perfectly into it so I can use it as a business tote and a purse at the same time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 5: Cheap and Somewhat Comical

Sometimes even finding the right gag gift is a challenge. What if your picky recipient doesn't think it's funny? Well then, at least you can reassure yourself that you didn't spend very much on it, and that your sourpuss friend didn't deserve a more expensive gift anyway.

| 1. Ham & Cheese Hot Pocket Poster ($30) | Okay, this is a poor example of super cheap but this poster is really amazing. Artist Justin Perricone takes the alarmingly long list of ingredients in a Ham & Cheese Hot Pocket and turns it in to a beautiful typographic poster. I am particularly disturbed by "natural smoke flavor"; is that really necessary as an ingredient? I would totally get this if I were uncouth enough to eat Hot Pockets.

| 2. Jesus Magnetic Finger Puppet ($6) | It's a finger puppet! Of Jesus! And it's also a magnet. Other religious, political, and literary figures are also available.

| 3. Holy Crap Eraser ($4) | A gift for people who want to pretend that they can erase their mistakes. Or for people who honestly believe that they can erase their mistakes. I thought it would be funny to put this one under the Jesus finger puppet.

| 4. Fortune Bandages ($7) | Bandages with fortune-cookie-style messages on them, to provide recipients with the uplifting message they'd need while they were bleeding. Uplifting messages include: "Happiness is the absence of paper cuts."

| 5. Sweet Nothing Nifty Note Pad ($4.50) | Knock Knock has all sorts of handy note pads to provide small conveniences in paper form. This one makes it easy to communicate a sweet nothing to your lover by filling out a brief paper form. Fields to fill out include: "To" followed by a selection of generic petnames and an easy-to-mark scale of 1 to 10 for "I love you this much". You could even fill out the first page in place of enclosing a card with your gift.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 4: Kitchen Vessels

In contrast with novelty kitchen gadgets, a simple kitchen canister or some other vessel can also make a good and safe gift. There is always to need to put stuff in things when working in the kitchen and these items are great for storing a wide variety of stuff. When shopping for everyday items like some of these however, it is important to consider your recipient's color scheme or decorating motif when making your selection. If you have never visited the kitchen of your recipient, it is probably best to skip this category.

| 1. Provencal Biscuit Canister ($28) | The Anglophile in me fell in love with this because it's a cookie jar that says "biscuits" on it but that doesn't mean it's just for biscuits. I used it as a postcard holder at my wedding and now I'm using it as a utensil holder for all the cooking utensils I need to keep right next to the stove. But if you do end up using it for biscuits, cookies, crackers, and the like, the rubber ring on the inside of the lid gives it a tight seal.

| 2. Latte Bowls ($20 for 4) | These are an elegant way to add a pop of color to a kitchen. Get them in the favorite color of your favorite host or hostess. If they don't need another set of bowls for lattes or soup, these are also great for storing random knick-knacks throughout the house. I find the mini versions great for organizing jewelry and binder clips.

| 3. Fido 1-Liter Jar ($5) | People who love shopping out of the bulk bins as much as I do can always use more clear, tightly lidded jars to keep their dry grocery items fresh and looking pretty at the same time.

| 4. Monogrammed Mug ($6) | Owning a whole set of monogrammed mugs might be overkill but if you have a friend who could use a new coffee mug in the workplace to replace that stained one they got for free at a convention years ago, then this is just the thing. I also find mine to be a cute holder for my large collection of Sharpie markers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 3: Novelty Kitchen Items

Things for the kitchen always seem like safe gifts for anyone who at least dabbles around in the kitchen. But no one really wants yet another Christmas-themed platter, or a set of mugs that completely clashes with the rest of the serveware they already own. So if you are looking for a good gift, go for the novelty factor. People are less likely to buy things for their own kitchen if they only serve one function, as these items do. That doesn't mean they aren't really awesome things to own.

| 1. SodaStream Pure Soda Maker ($150) | This is the big trendy kitchen gadget right now. You know this is the case when Sur la Table has a big display dedicated to it right next to the register. It's a nifty home carbonator that lets you make your own carbonated water at home, for which you can customize the level of fizz. As Pellegrino addicts, this was intriguing for me and Nick but we learned that it doesn't filter the water, it just carbonates whatever liquid you put in it. This would make a great gift for someone who already has a Brita filter or a filtering faucet attachment and wants to save the environment by cutting down on their bottle consumption. Learn more here.

| 2. Polka Dot Ceramic Cup ($13) | This is an adorable take on the "I am not a paper cup" cup—a ceramic cup shaped like a paper cup with a silicone lid molded to look like a Starbucks lid. I have a plain one and it doesn't keep my coffee warm any more than a paper cup would but it does give me a sense of comfort as I am walking out the door on a cold day.

| 3. Trudeau Grapefruit Knife ($6) | This is a knife made specifically for cutting grapefruits but I have never used it for that purpose. I use it to cut holes into cherry tomatoes so I can fill them with avocado and bacon.

| 4. Chef'n SleekSlice Collapsible Hand-Held Mandoline ($20) | I bought one of these because I have been seeing a lot of chefs on Food Network and Cooking Channel use them lately. I haven't tested it out yet, but it is supposed to slice vegetables into paper-thin slices in a flash.

| 5. Perfect Cube Ice Cube Trays ($13 for 2) | One night, Nick and I were having drinks as Gitane and we noticed that the ice cubes there were perfectly cube-shaped. Suddenly we had to be able to make perfectly cube-shaped ice cubes at home too, so we went out and got these silicone trays. It's a little hard to pop out the huge cubes of ice they produce but once you do, they really make all of your iced beverages look ultra cool. Ha!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Yuppie Gift Guide, Day 2: Tea

I've never met a person who plain didn't like tea. Personally, I can't get enough of it and despite how my tea cupboard is overflowing with all sorts of different varieties, I still keep on buying more. I'm also genuinely thrilled whenever friends of mine gift me tea because it means they have either picked out something based on their own interpretations of my tastes or they are sharing with me a simple treat that they enjoy. Here is a roundup of some of my favorite teas (prices are approximates). Some are current obsessions while others are all time favorites. Furthermore, think about how easy it is to giftwrap a box of tea.

| 1. Mighty Leaf Organic African Nectar Tea ($10) | This is a naturally sweet rooibos tea that to me, smells kind of like a floral honey. All Mighty Leaf tea bags are actually biodegradable cotton pouches that provide the steeping power of loose leaf tea in the convenience of a tea bag.

| 2. Lupicia Jasmin Silver Hook Loose Tea ($10 for 50g) | This has a strong jasmine aroma and flavor. My dad loves this tea. | Photo Credit: Me |

| 3. Good Earth Original Sweet & Spicy Herbal Tea ($4) | Just as the box says, this tea is naturally super sweet and spicy. I served this with cupcakes at my wedding and afterwards guests were asking me where they could get it. I get it at Trader Joe's.

| 4. Fortnum & Mason Lapsang Souchong Tea ($15) | A classic smokey lapsang souchong tea from my favorite grocer in the whole world.

| 5. MarketSpice Cinnamon-Orange Tea ($9) | I picked some of this up when I was at Pike Place Market in Seattle over the summer. Another great spicy tea, the combination of citrus and cinnamon makes this taste like Christmas to me.