Gift Guide Cont'd: The Right 'Tude

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Image Courtesy of Sally Schneider

Who really wants to go shopping at the holidays? Okay, it can be fun, especially when kids are aching to go, or children come back to visit and actually view expeditions as fun (like my cool stepdaughter, who lives in cool Park Slope).

But too often it's forced, and not when you want it. So for relief, I recommend our contributor Sally Schneider's site The Improvised Life, which includes posts about the marvelous food she makes in places likely and un-, like the corn cakes with slow-cooked meat she recently and satisfyingly scrounged together in a friend's cabin in the West Virginia Appalachians.

But the meat of the site is reports from her eye, and it's enormously wide-ranging. Sally is a stylist by trade and, more important, inclination--someone who by nature constantly trains her eye, and is always looking for something she hasn't seen, and something she finds appealing. As with many people who have style in their bones, that tends toward great simplicity.

You have to give a few real objects, and she's got good ideas for those. And how to make the way you wrap them as personal and, well, improvised as the style she embodies.

So you'll find links to videos, posters, living rooms of other people's houses she's come across herself or on the Web, and explanations of why she was struck. I wasn't surprised that one image was a holiday card designed by Maira Kalman, one of my favorite visual observers--and that it was for a much better gift that something found at the last minute: a contribution to the charity of your choice.

Of course, you have to give a few real objects, and she's got good ideas for those. And how to make the way you wrap them as personal and, well, improvised as the style she embodies. I like the way she lays out her holiday philosophy:

If you start with the idea that the holidays are about really giving a part of yourself rather than STUFF, and spreading joy, and celebrating what we have, you instantly start to eliminate the nonessential and stressful. These are the things that are more obligation than fun - too exhausting, too expensive, or just TOO MUCH - like shopping for the perfect gift for too many people, or giving the perfect party with a million homemade hors d'oeuvres. Where do we get these notions of how the holidays are supposed to be?

I like her suggestions too. Have a look at what she's looking at.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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