The Black & White Gift Guide 2005
By Christina Crowe Paul, Brantley David Pelfrey, Christina Crowe, Paul Brantley, David Pelfrey, Ed Reynolds
December 15, 2005
Each Christmas season Black & White‘s elite shopping team gets a big kick out of finding unique items, a few bargains, and the latest top gear. For example, not only have we found some very good ice cream, we tracked down the perfect scoop. We figure that the best of everything is good enough for you, our readers. We also like toys, gadgets, and pretty much any device that launches marshmallows across the room. Largely speaking, then, we’ve already done all the heavy lifting this year. You merely have to write the check and wrap the box.
Food, For Goodness Sake
For the foodies on your gift list, or for those who just love tasty treats, here are a few ideas for something different.
O&H Danish Bakery’s kringles are the perfect pastries to have on hand for a big breakfast on Christmas morning. This Wisconsin-based bakery, run by the Oleson family, turns out the thin, flaky, frosted rings filled with flavors such as pecan, raspberry, almond, cherry, and even turtle. At $8.85 or $9.85 per 1-pound, 8-ounce pastry, they’re a steal. The company also makes decadent tortes, coffee cakes, and other Danish delights. Order online at www.ohdanishbakery.com or call, 800-709-4009.
For the cooks you know—amateur, aspiring, or otherwise—several new cookbooks would make great additions to their kitchen libraries. Francophile and author of A Year in Provence Peter Mayle and renowned baker Gerard Auzet have teamed up to publish Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes (Knopf; $16.95/hardcover, www.randomhouse.com), a guide to baking the delectable (but seemingly impossible to replicate) French breads known the world over. Auzet includes recipes and tips for making traditional baguettes, boules, and batards, as simply as is possible—but the process is still time-consuming and precise. Inspired by the famous American chef of all things French is Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. This is the printed result of blogger Julie Powell’s online chronicle of her attempts to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Reading the book is like peeking into the diary of a woman obsessed with finishing something she started—a process that includes slaughtering lobsters and murdering mussels, often late into the night. ($23.95/hardcover; Little, Brown; www.twbookmark.com). For a little Asian flair, sushi chef extraordinaire Nobuyuki Matsuhisa offers his second title, Nobu Now (Clarkson Potter; $45/hardcover; www.randomhouse.com/crown/clarksonpotter), featuring recipes that range from haute cuisine—like king crab white soufflé with octopus carpaccio—to his take on old favorites, like fish and chips made with sea eel. The book includes recipes for poultry and meat dishes, as well as desserts. These are accented by beautiful full-color, full-page photographs that also make the book a great addition to any coffee-table collection. And finally, what’s being touted as “Italy’s Joy of Cooking,” The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon Press ($39.95/hardcover; www.phaidon.com), is the book Italian home cooks have considered their bible for the past 50 years. Translated into English for the first time, Il cucchiaio d’argento contains more than 2,000 recipes and 200 full-color photographs covering everything from sauces and antipasti to desserts.
One recipe that surely must appear in the Italian food bible for pizzelles, the thin, round, crispy cookies baked in an iron that resembles a waffle maker. These addictive delights are found in virtually every Italian home at Christmas, and many Americans have made this tradition their own. Buy a holiday cookie–making friend the chrome Prima Pizzelle Baker from VillaWare, and start them on a new annual tradition ($54.99 plus shipping at www.villaware.jardendirect.com).
With 135 years’ experience, Graeter’s Ice Cream churns out rich, handmade delights in traditional flavors such as butter pecan and chocolate chip, holiday flavors like peppermint and pumpkin, and variations like their best seller, black raspberry chip. (Graeter’s “chips” are enormous hunks of real dark chocolate.) The closest Graeter’s parlor to Birmingham is in Louisville, Kentucky, but you can order the ice cream online at www.graeters.com, or by calling 800-721-3323. The cost is $70 for six pints or $110 for a dozen pints (plus shipping); if you’re ordering for yourself (or for someone with whom you share a freezer), go for a dozen; you’ll be glad you did.
For a fun twist in ice cream tastes, send a friend a batch of mochi ice creams. These Asian ice creams, a variation of Japanese mochi pastries made of rice paste and eaten to celebrate winter holidays and the New Year, are made of bite-sized balls of ice cream covered in the chewy rice dough, in
flavors such as mocha, green tea, mango, and red bean. Order them online in 16-, 36-, or 48-flavor packs from Hawaii-based Bubbies Ice Cream (http://bubbiesicecream.gourmetfoodmall.com) for $43, $59, or $68 (plus shipping), respectively.
Remote-control toys mesmerize everyone, regardless of age. From the Ancient Mariner comes a variety of remote control boats. The New York City Fireboat is a radio-controlled, electric-powered replica of the city’s Dicky Fireboat that squirts water from onboard cannons just like they do in the real world. The Fireboat is 23 inches long and 14 inches tall ($132; www.seagifts.com) . . . The Sea Tiger Submarine is a radio-controlled submarine that can dive to 24 inches, resurfacing upon command. Should the batteries fail, the sub will automatically return to the surface. Have hours of fun by the pool on Christmas morning, regardless of the temperature ($50; www.seagifts.com) . . . The Remote- Control Shark is the perfect complement to your armada of toy boats. This two-foot rubber-skinned shark has a tail that flips left and right to propel it through the water. It can swim down to three feet below the surface ($40; www.iwantoneofthose.com).
Tools and Tech Treats
Many of this year’s tech gifts involve ways to amp up your iPod or other portable MP3 player, cell phone, or PDA. But without battery power, each is rendered useless. That’s where the solar iPod charger comes in. This 6-ounce, 4-inch-long device has three wings that fan out to catch sunlight, then transfer it to your music player via an included cable (works with iPod Mini and third- and fourth-generation iPods; an adapter kit for mobile phones is sold separately for $20). It’s waterproof and portable ($99; www.redenvelope.com or 877-733-3683).
Another great way to make the most of your personal music player is with the digital sound bag, a boring name for what is essentially the modern-day version of the boom box. This simple, elegant messenger bag (in royal blue, white, or bright orange) is outfitted with a pair of speakers. Just slip the player into the bag’s inside pocket, plug in the speakers, and hit play to access all your digital tunes and share them with the rest of the neighborhood ($70; www.redenvelope.com or 877-733-3683).
Of course, you’ll need the songs uploaded to your player before you can enjoy either of these gadgets, so why not buy a Napster 15-song download card for $14.85 (www.napster.com/shop.htm or at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Rite Aid) or an iTunes gift card or certificate, available in a range of amounts starting at $15 (www.apple.com/itunes/give).
For your more aquatic friends, a unique way to listen to digital tunes comes in the form of the SwiMP3, a goggle attachment with 128MB of memory that can play up to four hours’ worth of tunes through cheek pads that send sound waves through your skull bones (really) and into your inner ears ($199; www.finisinc.com).
Another device that takes a hands-free approach to technology is the Oakley RAZRWire, a tiny, titanium Motorola headset with both a microphone and speaker attached to the frame of Oakley shades that allows you to take calls discreetly. The sunglasses and phone attachment are available in platinum, pewter, or mercury ($295; http://oakley.com or 800-431-1439).
The Slingbox, which resembles a big silver candy bar, connects to a cable or satellite box and transmits whatever’s on TV at home to your laptop or PC (Wi-Fi required), all for $250 with no monthly fees. Buy at www.slingmedia.com or in electronics stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City.
Sometimes the coolest gadgets stem from the simplest of ideas. The WordLock is one such invention—born of an engineer’s frustration with trying to remember the combinations to three locks on his home swimming pool, the WordLock is a padlock that uses letters instead of numbers. Choose a (memorable) five-letter word, and change it as many times as you like. The inventor won a contest and production deal at Staples, where you can buy the lock for just $6, or order it online at www.wordlock.com.
If you’re looking to splurge a bit, the latest GPS (global positioning system) digital navigation systems are pretty nifty now that they’ve had a few years to improve. For just under $700, Garmin offers the StreetPilot 340c Portable GPS Navigation system, which finds your location by tracking up to 12 satellites simultaneously. It features a full-color, 3.5-inch diagonal touch-screen interface with automatic route calculation that’ll tell you turn-by-turn directions along the way. With FM traffic alerts, 2- or 3-D map perspectives, and up to eight hours of battery life, it’s going to be tough for this gift’s recipient to explain ever being late or lost. Check it out at www.garmin.com, and buy it locally at Circuit City and other electronics stores. For those who are very confident of their driving skills, or simply not distracted by what is essentially a mini entertainment system running on their dashboard, Pioneer’s In-Dash DVD Multimedia AV Navigation system is the perfect gift. The 6.5-inch, touch-panel, full-color screen mounts in the dash and offers detailed maps, as well as the ability to play CDs and DVDs. For a little extra, the system will deliver detailed traffic information for major cities in conjunction with the XM NavTraffic service and an optional XM Radio tuner ($1,999; www.pioneerelectronics or locally at electronics stores).
For an unique way to get around town that’s also GPS compatible, test drive a Segway. Our very own retailer here in Birmingham is offering a holiday special where buying a Segway Human Transporter (HT) will get you a free, handheld Garmin eTrex Legend GPS, complete with a custom mount and maps preloaded (worth $400). In addition to the original i180 model, Segway now comes in a Cross-Terrain (XT) model, with all-terrain tires; a Golf Terrain (GT) model, with extended-range batteries, a golf bag carrier rack, and enhanced-traction tires; and the p133 model, designed to navigate in congested pedestrian environments and be taken on a train or subway. The weight limits on these range from 210 to 260 pounds, so try to go easy on the eggnog and cookies. Prices range from $4,495 to around $5,300. Visit the local dealer in downtown Birmingham at 1516 20th Street South, 939-5574.
The Tradesman’s Christmas Stocking, from Duluth Trading Company, is a hearty alternative to the embroidered, bedazzled standard socks out there: made of Duluth’s “near bulletproof Fire Hose” cotton canvas material, it features leather trim, two outside pockets for tucking in tools, and a loop for hanging a hammer or screwdriver you may need for quick toy assembly on Christmas morning. Hang it by the red suspender loops, and there will be no mistaking this “stocking” on the mantle ($19.50 plus shipping; www.DuluthTrading.com or 800-505-8888).