Category Archives: Xciting Xmas Gift Guide 2011

Xciting Xmas Gift Guide 2011, Part III

This one is for the foodies out there. To some extent, each one of us is, by necessity, a food lover. We love to stay alive, after all. Some of us are more low-key about our quest for enjoyable sustenance than others but most of us at least have an opinion about what we shove in our maws. So, although this list is aimed at the foodie in your life, there are ideas here for everyone. But maybe especially for those who get really excited by thick-cut, organic bacon and French macarons.

Nordic Ware Bakeware

Fairytale Cottage Bundt cake pan by Nordic Ware.Is your foodie also a bakie? Then get them a Minnesota-made cake pan in an unusual shape from Nordic Ware! Here I’ve highlighted my personal fave – the Platinum Fairytale Cottage Bundt Pan. The description online says, “Reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel’s cottage, this pan creates magical cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar or decorated.” Of course the holidays come  to mind when you look at the pan but you could have fun with this all year long, decorating it and even adding little figures to it if you happen to have a lot of time on your hands and no other hobbies.

Here are some decorating ideas:

  • Abandoned cottage overrun by raccoons.
  • Star Wars Cantina
  • Spooky house owned by woman on block suspected to be a witch.
  • Expensive weight loss clinic in Palm Springs
  • Mansion where the latest season of The Bachelor is shooting.

But if a cottage just isn’t right for your bakie, get them an old-fashioned bundt cake pan. Or a popover tray. Or a pan in the shape of a snowman or a gift. They’ve got it all, people!

Here in the Twin Cities we are incredibly lucky because we can go to the Nordic Ware Factory Store. They sell the full line of their cookware and bakeware at this store, in addition to irregular and discontinued items. You can, of course, find Nordic Ware at many cooking stores, Target (some items – I believe they are selling a ginger bread house pan for Xmas) and, of course, online.

Something Pickled

Jar of pickled eggs from Long Lake Specialty Foods.You can pickle just about anything. You can pickle eggs. You can pickle grapes, apples, onion, carrots, etc. And foodies in 2011/2012, pride themselves on loving pickled food. Of course, the best thing for foodie street cred is to pickle food stuffs oneself and then bring them out when guests are over.

“Pickled beets from my garden, anyone?” the foodie says. “Goes great with a cold microbrew.”

But the time for pickling homegrown veggies is behind us, at least in Minnesota. So what you need to do is turn to the people of northeastern Wisconsin, specifically Long Lake Specialty Foods (not to be confused with Long Lake, Minnesota). This is the company that prides itself on being your “hard to find” pickled food resource.

From the Long Lake Specialty Foods website:

Order with confidence, we use your information only for filling your order.  Credit card information is purged from the system daily. We replace any product damaged in transit at no charge to the customer and guarantee the quality of the products we sell…

Long Lake Foods  is a purveyor of our many fine Long Lake Brand Products which include: Pickled Eggs, Red Hots Pickled Eggs, Pickled Pork Hocks, Pickled Pigs Feet, Spicy Smoked Pickled Sausage, Hot & Spicy Pickled Sausage, Hot Pickled Sausage, Hot Cajun Pickled Eggs, Hot Cajun Pickled Sausage. We also sell select pickled products from the Porkie Company, Bayview Packing and Forest Floor Foods.

After reading that, how could you not order some  Hot Pickled Eggs? Or Pickled Pigs Feet? Hell, they even have pickled gizzards and pickled Polish sausage. A 26-count jar of the sausage is $23 and will last most of the winter, I imagine, unless you take it out to the ice fishing shanty to share with the gang.

While on their site, check out the Pickled Food News, a round-up of articles about what’s happening in the world of pickling.

If you don’t want to order your pickled items, you can shop around at some foodie stores in the Twin Cities. I saw some interesting pickled items at The Produce Exchange, located within Midtown Global Market, in Minneapolis. You might also try any of the food co-ops, cooking stores like Cooks of Crocus Hill or a specialty store like The Golden Fig in St. Paul.

Cooking Classes… Er… Experiences

It’s all about experiences now, right? Foodies love to eat but they also, many times, love to spend hours shopping for ingredients and cooking.  But sometimes their repertoire can get stale. Like, how many times can you eat your foodie friend’s paella that she learned how to cook while studying in Barcelona without being super bored? Right. So what you need to do is buy your foodie some lessons in how to make something new. It’s for everyone’s benefit.

In the Twin Cities, Cooks of Crocus Hill and Kitchen Window dominate the cooking lesson scene and they work hard to offer interesting classes in beautiful facilities. You can learn how to have a holiday fondue party or the fundamentals of pizza at Kitchen Window. Or, tackle Croissants 101 or a Sushi Crash Course at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Maybe you don’t have that much cash to drop on cooking classes for your foodie. Don’t despair. That’s what Community Ed is for. Minneapolis offers an array of Continuing Education classes for adults and I make a point of perusing the cooking classes each time a new brochure comes out (the new one won’t be out until after the holidays but you can always get out your paper, crayons and scissors and create one of those awkward but touching “IOU” coupons for your foodie).

How about a class on how to make Pad Thai? They could learn how to decorate cakes or how to make Indian appetizers. And the best thing about community ed classes is that they are relatively inexpensive, making it possible for you to join your foodie for the class and bond over your shared love of Rugelach, which you can eat for dessert after you chomp down a few pickled eggs from Long Lake Specialty Foods.

Food Field Trip

Package of Hello Panda candy from Japan.Do you know how long the winters are in Minnesota? They are very long. They are so long that you can wear out a pair of gloves in one season. They are so long that, when you see it snowing at the beginning of April, you have to quietly tell your spouse to hide the knives in the kitchen so you don’t do yourself bodily harm.

So sometimes one needs to break up the monotony with an outing that’s not, “Let’s go outside and shovel. Again.” or, “Let’s go to the gas station so I can get some more windshield wiper fluid.”

What about a food field trip? Sometimes I like to wander the aisles someplace and discover food products I never knew existed (I’m not hard to entertain). So pick an interesting place filled with food (or alcohol) and take your foodie there as a belated holiday gift. The deal is that you agree to buy them some food or drink that looks interesting that they’ve never tried before as part of the fun.  You might even assemble a meal.

Here are my suggestions for places to go, in no semblance of any order:

Midtown Global Market
Seward Co-op or The Wedge
Byerly’s on Park Center Blvd. in St. Louis Park (seriously – a food sanctuary so hushed and well-stocked it seems as if there should be a chapel somewhere in there, where one can slip away to thank the Food Gods for creating such a place and giving it carpeting, to boot.)
United Noodles in Minneapolis
Kramarczuk’s (mostly known as a restaurant but they have a store, too.)
Ingebretsen’s on East Lake in Minneapolis
Bill’s Imported Foods on West Lake in Minneapolis (Greek food… OLIVES!)
Surdyk’s in Northeast Minneapolis (not only for outstanding selection of wine and booze but for their deli full of imported cheese, chocolate and other items, including delicious sandwiches they make for you to take away somewhere and scarf down. You can check their daily deli offerings here.)
The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park (for that craft beer fanatic in your life)

The Odds And The Ends

You can always default to kitchen utensils and gear. I can tell you that the precision, German-made pizza cutter I bought many years ago has never disappointed me. And does your foodie have a Microplane? This tool changed my entire attitude towards grating Parmesan. How about some fancy, pink salt harvested from the sea? What about an ice cream maker and The Perfect Scoop, the ultimate ice cream recipe book, written by pastry chef, blogger and author David Lebovitz?

How about making it possible for your foodie to take his or her act on the road? These shatterproof but fashionable wine glasses by GoVino are perfect for the foodie who wants to go see that movie in the park this summer and share a bottle of Malbec with friends or one who prefers to sit on a blanket at the Lake Harriet Rose Garden enjoying wine and some pickled pork bits in peace.

When all else fails, try to track down the 1966 version of The First Ladies Cook Book.

Xciting Xmas Gift Guide 2011, Part II

Reading is near and dear to me, so Part II of my Xciting Xmas Gift Guide is dedicated to the book lovers out there.

Out Of Print T-Shirts

Atlas Shrugged T-shirtThis company, maker of t-shirts (and other items) with classic lit covers on them, is fashion heaven for the heavy reader. It is so hard to choose a t-shirt!  Are you in a Lolita mood or a Animal Farm mood?  Maybe Wuthering Heights? I’ve known about their t-shirts for awhile and the only reason I don’t own one is because I was never able to choose (I think I’ve got it narrowed down – Great Gatsby, until they make a Jane Eyre).

Of course, you can buy all their products online but there’s a great local angle here – you can now buy a great selection of these shirts at Magers & Quinn in Uptown in Minneapolis. One advantage, besides supporting a local store, is that you can examine the t-shirts on display and get an idea of what size is correct for you.. uh, I mean, the person you’re shopping for. That’s always the tough thing about buying t-shirts online, right? What cut is it? What’s a medium like? What’s a large like? Problem solved.

Please note that M&Q does not stock every single design, although they do have many, so check the Out Of Print website for all the options. For example, I can tell you right now that if you want the Atlas Shrugged tee, you gotta go online. And some options are for the ladies and not for men. I guess they don’t find any men clamoring to wear a The Bell Jar t-shirt?

Note: If I did see a man wearing a The Bell Jar t-shirt, I would want to say hello to him. Same for a Pride & Prejudice tee.

Magers also sells the tote bags! Snag that bookie [this is the official new, hip name for people who love books and literature] in your life a Moby Dick tote bag!

Public Library Swag

Friends of Hennepin County Library tote bag.Anyone who is serious about their reading is a card-carrying member of the library. I think libraries are probably one of the greatest inventions of all time – there are so many books I want to look at, skim and read that, unless I want to be the weirdo who sets up shop at the bookstore all afternoon, the library is the way to go.

Recently, the Hennepin County Public Library announced that as of January 1, 2011, it will put a limit on how many items patrons can have in their “Requests” queue, limiting it to 30 items per person. I know my sister was particularly devastated by this news. For book lovers like us, who rush to put something on hold the moment we hear about it, 30 items is rough sledding.

Part of the reason for this is that the library is facing a reduction in the amount it will be able to spend on new books, to the tune of $2 million. That’s a lot of books it won’t be able to buy and circulate to us, the knowledge-hungry public.

You can buy merch to support the library (you can also become a Friend of the Library). The best of it in Hennepin County is located at the Minneapolis Central bookstore in downtown Minneapolis. Head there to check out the gift options: notepads, coffee mugs, flash drives, book bags and t-shirts, in addition to used books and magazines.

Gift idea: Get the reader in your life a Minneapolis Public Library t-shirt for the holidays this year and then each year add another library to the collection – New York Public Library, Chicago, Houston, you get the idea.

There’s a bonus for you, the gift-giver, too. You can make an afternoon of it at Central -hit the bookstore, go to the Dunn Brothers right next door for coffee and a chocolate-covered graham cracker, see the beautiful building, browse library books and read for awhile by the fire place. Go up to the fourth floor for a view of the city.

Are you a hardcore St. Paulite? The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library has their own swag and you can peruse it online here.

Anything From Fantagraphics Books

The Complete Peanutes 1970-1980 from Fantagraphics.I have Keith to thank for this suggestion. Fantagraphics has a catalog of comics and graphic novels like few others. They’ve published R. Crumb, Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware and is behind “the most ambitious publishing project in the history of the American comic strip: the complete reprinting of Charles M. Schulz’s classic, Peanuts.” There are going to be 25 books in all when they are finished with the Peanuts collection (as of now I believe there are 17 out). Keith has been collecting these books slowly throughout the years and, when he gets one, it seems as if he devours it in a few hours.

Gift Idea: get your book lover volume 1 of the Peanuts this year and you’ve got 24 gifts in the making. See how easy I’m making this for you?

Even if your old-fashioned prose-lover is wary of dipping a toe into the comic waters, Peanuts is something anyone will love unless they are dead inside.

Also, out within the past month, is the first volume of what will be a 12-volume set of the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly from 1949 to 1973.

You can spend a lot of time on the website looking at all Fantagraphics has to offer (Mark Twain’s Autobiography 1910-2010, anyone?) and you can find the books locally in the Twin Cities. My vote, as a mostly non-comic reader who confesses to dabbling now and then, is to head to Big Brain Comics, located at 1027 Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis. Who knows what else you might find?

Thrifted Books

Cover of paperback novel called Cruel Is The Night.This one is for that someone in your life who appreciates the odd, the wacky and/or will read just about anything. You can customize to their taste or pick a theme (I strongly advise a theme for a more personal touch, or getting them as many books as you can from, say, the Left Behind series), all at little risk, what with paperbacks often starting at 70 cents at a lot of thrifts. My favorites ideas are the Hollywood celebrity memoirs, bad poetry (think Jewel), how-to-enjoy-sex books from the 1970s and Erma Bombeck paperbacks, like The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank.

Note: I think we are overdue for a Erma Bombeck revival in this country. I hear she’s currently big in France.

Some of my favorite books have been secured at thrift stores, estate sales and antique stores. I found Zsa Zsa Gabor’s memoir in hardcover, something that made me supremely happy. Cookbooks are great to look for (hunt for The First Ladies Cookbook or Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book from the 60s) both for the cook and the person with a cultural anthropology bent.

Gift Idea: If you’re attracted to a cover but think the book itself will be crap, buy the book anyway, cut off the cover and frame it – the best would be to find a trio of covers you like and frame them against solid black backgrounds in black frames (which you could get from Michael’s, JoAnn, Dick Blick, etc. if you make it a standard size – no need to get it professionally framed).

Are you going to tell me you couldn’t look at this cover all day?

Cover of paperback book called SuperManChu.

Best places in the Twin Cities to look for such books? Arc’s Value Village, any Savers location (but I like the one on East Lake in Minneapolis), the Mall of St. Paul, the St. Vincent de Paul store on West 7th in St. Paul… the list goes on and on. Try thrift stores first, where you should pay less than a dollar per paperback in most cases. Sometimes they mark the good ones (read: salacious) up to $1.99.

But what about books, you might say? New books, exciting books, not relics from the thrift bin. Well, there are any number of round-ups online. Check out 101 Books We Can’t Live Without, the New York Times Gift Guide for Books or their “10 Best Books of 2011,” article, just out today, and Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011.

Looking for a hostess gift? Check out Xciting Xmas Gift Guide 2011 Part I!



Xciting Xmas Gift Guide 2011, Part I

Yes, it’s Cyber Monday! Woot. I just bought some throw pillows online that are totally for me.

This is how I feel:

santa bear with gift

Like a cute but also 1980s-esque bear wearing a Santa hat.

I realized something today. I like to shop for stuff. Not in a Black Friday kind of way. I will never push anyone down or pepper spray them for cheap electronics. [Keith said we should be thankful to the woman who pepper sprayed other shoppers at Walmart on Friday for providing us all with a new standard for what it means to suck – as long as you are behaving better than that woman, you aren’t completely failing as a human being.]

No, I like quirky, weird, arty, thrilling stuff. I like antiques. I like musty books. I like things made out of other things. I like to have a comfy home environment. I don’t do a lot of holiday shopping because my family gave up on that whole gifting thing a few years ago. Now we assemble in Florida and spend time together playing shuffle board.

It’s been very liberating.

However, I like the idea of holiday shopping on a small scale. Safe and sane, that’s my holiday shopping motto. So I’ve decided to put that energy into an Xciting Xmas Gift Guide for 2011 that focuses mostly on stuff you can buy in independent stores in the Twin Cities. Because I like stores and I don’t want them to go away. However, a lot of times you can also find the same items online or in stores in your own city/town because this is The World 2.0.

I’m kicking off the Guide today with a few Xciting Hostess Gifts.

Weiner Dog Waxed Cheddar Cheese

At the Mall of America there is a shop called Rybicki Cheese Ltd. and it sells all things Wisconsin cheese and Packer fan-related. Basically, it’s a pocket of Wisconsin goodness at the mall. Recently, I took part in a scavenger hunt at the Mall of America (OK, I made up the scavenger hunt and then also participated in it) and found out about Rybicki. These are nice people. They were very tolerant of our hunt and also helped us figure out how to get to our next destination. Anyway, what we got from Rybicki was the Weiner Dog Waxed Cheddar Cheese, retailing for $4.79 and worth every penny.  Sorry for this rather poor photo in which the dog is encased in plastic.

Here are the winning features of the  Weiner Dog Waxed Cheddar Cheese:

1. Unbelievably cute.
2. Super fun to peel the wax off the cheddar dog.
3. Yummy cheese.

If you are going to a holiday open house or party and the host is a dog-lover, they will appreciate this tribute in cheese. You can also order this cheese gem online.

BTW, if you’re more into weiner dogs and cupcakes, instead of cheese, here is a very cute idea from the blog I Hart Cupcakes.

Soy Vey Candles

Soy candles in wine bottles by Soy Vey Candles.
Photo by The Vintage Home

Have you ever bought a bottle of wine mainly because you liked its label? And then when you’re done drinking it you want to save the bottle but you think maybe that’s odd, to have bottles lined up on your windowsill like you live in a studio apartment and finish out your liberal arts degree? Well, problem solved with Soy Vey Candles.

I first saw these candles when they were selling at GUILD in St. Louis Park and I should have nabbed one then. The images on the website don’t really do them the full justice they deserve because the photos don’t  show off the variety of wine bottles and even beer bottles  the candles are housed in – some very cool and beautiful bottles. Yes, they are soy, which is all the rage now and they have that little bit of raffia wrapped around them, which I could take or leave, but the main point is that they allow the buyer to choose something customized to the tastes of the receiver. For example, if someone gave me one in the bottle of a good German Riesling, I would be so touched. Knowing someone’s preferred wine says that you care about them.

Of course, the best way to present this would be along with a full bottle of wine.

The candles sell at various stores throughout the country but in the Twin Cities area we have several options because they are made in MN. Find your shopping options here.

Primitive Skeletons With Bouncing Necks

Primitive Day of the Dead Skeletons with Bouncing Heads
Photo by Zinnia Folk Arts

I think the title here says it all. These are sold by Zinnia Folk Arts, a business that sells Mexican folk art brought here from Mexico by Anne, a dedicated seller with a great eye. I first found Zinnia on a snowy winter day in 2010, when a snowstorm was bearing down on Minneapolis and I got to leave work early. I wasn’t so afraid of the snow that I couldn’t stop off and look at Mexican folk art.

That should give you some level of understanding about my relationship to shopping.

Zinnia used to do pop-up shops in South Minneapolis, then they lost the use of the space they were using and moved to GUILD in St. Louis Park. Zinnia also sells beautiful silver jewelry, if you’re looking for something special for someone in your life who is closer to you than a hostess. You can read the full Zinnia FAQ here.

You can buy these sweet, Day of the Dead skeletons at GUILD (4414 Excelsior Blvd in St Louis Park, MN—between Trader Joe’s and Optiz, on the same side of the block), which I highly encourage because then you can look at all the other stuff at GUILD and what was supposed to be a quick stop will turn into an hour of browsing. You can also buy them online. They are $15.

Not recommended for the boring hostess. Or for someone you really don’t know all that well.