Gift Guide 2013

Categories: KitchenTechnology | Accessories | Experiences | Misc.



Molecular Gastronomy Kit ($100)
Alexis Madrigal, Senior Editor (Technology)

We were having dinner at a friend's house (he's a restaurateur) when he brought out a dish dusted with a yellowish powder. When I took a bite, the powder transformed (as if by magic) into olive oil. Of course, it was not magic. He'd dessicated the oil, and when it hit my tongue, it rehydrated and transformed back into its previous incarnation. 

Finally, I began to understand the fuss about what is variously called "molecular gastronomy," or more coolly, "modern cooking." 

This Alinea-style cuisine may have high-brow connotations, but I am equally impressed with Cheetos, which are made with similarly weird techniques. It's really the contextual (and possibly moral?) flexibility of these ways of manipulating flavor and texture that interest me. Does the meaning of xantham gum change if I use it rather than a food manufacturer?

So, anyway, I'd like to do some experimenting with this idea. And so for Chrismukkah, I would like a molecular gastronomy kit. It contains the following chemicals:

50g Agar Agar, 50g Kappa Carrageenan, 50g Iota Carrageenan, 50g Methylcellulose HV, 50g Methylcellulose LV, 50g Sodium Alginate, 50g Calcium Chloride, 50g Calcium Lactate, 50g Sodium Citrate, 50g Soy Lecithin Powder, 50g Xantham Gum, 25g N-Zorbit Tapioca Maltodextrin, 20 Gold Grade Gelatin Sheets

What chef would not be jealous of my cabinet of wonders?


Beer of the Month Club (varying prices)
James Fallows, National correspondent

The good news for beer lovers: This is the golden age of American craft brewing. Once the world’s laughingstock because of their watery bulk-produced lagers, U.S. brewers are now creating a range of drinks that's faster-growing, more lovingly produced, and more regionally diversified than their counterparts anywhere else.

The bad news: You can only find so much of that new range at your local store, bar, or restaurant.

Gift-giving to the rescue! An also fast-growing range of beer-of-the-month clubs will send an assortment of hard-to-find beers straight to your house. If you’re thinking of me, you should probably skip the Craft Beer Club, which doesn’t deliver to Washington, D.C. But feel free to choose among the U.S. Microbrewed Beer Club, the well-regarded Rare Beer Club, BeerBoxer, or others.

In addition to D.C. delivery, I ask that you please choose a club that avoids those sour-fruity Belgian lambic beers. That’s the one kind of beer that makes me yearn for a Chinese REEB or Tsingtao.

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Countertop Deep Fryer ($204)
Jordan Weissmann, Senior Associate Editor (Business)

Dear Jess,

I understand that there are plenty of sound, rational reasons not to own a deep fat fryer, which you have painstakingly enumerated for me in your regrettable efforts to keep such a device out of our kitchen. They’re clunky and not particularly versatile, and they take up precious storage space. Having one around would almost certainly doom my annual New Year’s resolution to lose 15 pounds. And if I’m really determined to boil my food in hot oil, I can always do it in a cast iron pan or Dutch oven.

All good points. But let me ask: Were the Romans content to keep schlepping their drinking water around in jugs, or did they build the aqueducts? Were the lumberjacks of America’s Pacific Northwest happy chopping down trees with axes, or did they start buying chainsaws?

You know the answer. And if all that sounds a bit over the top, a bit Tim the Tool Man Taylorish, well—it is. But fried foods have a way of inspiring irrational glee in me. In both of us, really. And if we’re going to do foolish things like attempt to deep fry pickles after stumbling home late from a bar (admit it, they were delicious), we’re safer doing it with a heat-controlled electric tub than playing with an open flame and risking a grease fire.

So if someone, you know, happened to buy me this Waring Commercial WDF75RC countertop fryer, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to insult that person by returning her gift.

Your loving boyfriend,

Coupe Ceramic Dinnerware ($135 for five piece set)
Elisa Glass, Art Director

I stumbled into Heath Ceramics showroom in the Ferry Building last year, and have been lusting after their unassuming Coupe dinnerware ever since. The timeless design (originally from the 1940s) felt sturdy enough to stand up to everyday use by butterfingers such as myself, but is also completely beautiful—  inspiring daydreams of casual dinners with friends, and cozy Sunday breakfasts. 

What meal wouldn't look more welcoming presented atop one of these sunny-colored plates?

Vereshchagin Dmitry/Shutterstock

Goatskin Wine Bag ($99)
Conor Friedersdorf, Staff Writer (Politics)

Per the custom of my country, I typically pour my wine from a glass bottle into a stemmed glass. I thus ignore one of the most obvious lessons contained in Ernest Hemingway's literature: that it is far more grand to drink wine from a leather bag of hand-crafted goat hide. If you're not yet persuaded, I suggest revisiting a scene from The Sun Also Rises. A Basque man with a leather wine bag in his lap takes the opportunity of a bus ride to offer a sip to his traveling companions. One raises the wine skin to his lips, tilts his head back, lets a stream of wine spurt into his mouth, and dribbles a few drops down his chin.

No, no, several men tell him, not like that! "One snatched the bottle away from the owner, who was himself about to give a demonstration," Hemingway writes. "He was a young fellow and he held the wine-bottle at full arms’ length and raised it high up, squeezing the leather bag with his hand so the stream of wine hissed into his mouth. He held the bag out there, the wine making a flat, hard trajectory into his mouth, and he kept on swallowing smoothly and regularly … Then he bit the stream off sharp, made a quick lift with the wine-bag."

Do you aspire to sip your wine? Or to stream wine through the air, so that it makes a flat, hard trajectory toward your mouth as you drink your fill and dexterously bite off the stream?

The better choice requires a bota of your own, and Las Tres Z.Z.Z. of Pamplona hand-sews theirs. Some are lined with latex. The ones lined with pitch are more authentic, but require curing: "First, warm it in the sun so that the pitch within will distribute evenly. Next, blow into the opening of the bota to inflate it, separating the sides; the warmer the pitch the easier it will be to inflate the bota. Add cold water and set the bota aside to cure. After a few days, replace the water with inexpensive wine and let it cure for as long as you can. When you finally discard the wine your bota will be ready for use."

Doesn't that sound like the better option?


Kitchen Scale ($410)
Corby Kummer, Senior Editor

I resist tech-oriented kitchen gadgets. I think they take me away from real cooking—slicing, chopping, kneading, mashing, stirring. But for measuring, I do depend on a digital scale. Weight, not volume, is the way to go for baking—liquid, dry, all ingredients—and professional recipes always specify weight, often by grams. I have a neat battery-operated model from Polder the size of an iPhone (and don't tell me about the app that turns an iPhone into a digital scale, please), which can weigh packages as well as the usual things I need it for: pasta, rice, flour, sugar, butter, and the like. Best, it's reasonably priced (as little as $11 on Amazon) and takes up no storage space.

But I dream of more, better, bigger. A scale big enough to put on an enameled-cast-iron Dutch oven and measure meat cubes for a stew plus vegetables plus wine and then water, pressing the tare button each time to bring the reading to zero.

I turned to Nathan Myhrvold, author of the five-volume Modernist Cuisine, the cooking encyclopedia of our time, and the new The Photography of Modernist Cuisine. The scale he himself uses at home is an OHaus Scout Pro, sold for about $410. It weighs up to 4000 grams (8.8 pounds) after taring and has a capacious surface and a footprint not much larger than the weighing platform, as well as has a far higher degree of accuracy than I’ll ever need. I’m probably fine with my $11 pocket model. But there’s no reason not to dream that one expensive gadget can turn me into a pro.

KitchenAid Mixer ($350)
Ashley Fetters, Associate Editor (Entertainment)

When I was a kid, my favorite appliance in our house was my mom’s Hobart KitchenAid stand mixer—probably a combined result of the facts that it seemed to be the single sturdiest item in our whole house, and my mom always let me lick the drippy leftover batter off the beaters when we finished baking together. 

She told me once that when I was a grown-up, I’d have my own mixer just like hers—and now that I’m baking all our old recipes in a kitchen of my own, I think it’s about that time. Except, while my mom’s was classic black, I’d opt for pastel yellow.

Joanna Slodownik/Flickr

Vitamix ($379)
Olga Khazan, Associate Editor

The Vitamix is the present I would buy for myself to take care of another present I bought for myself: my farm share. Specifically, I have an excess of greens each week and only so many baked kale chips I care to eat.

I have tried turning the surplus into "green juices," but doing so with my current blender has yielded results that prompt my boyfriend to ask, "Is this a salad that you ... blended?"

But everything about the Vitamix—the shape of the jar, the blades, the motor—is reportedly engineered to create the perfect puree. Its supporters promise no more ice chunks or mid-blend wooden-spoon interventions. The future of blending is here; drink up.


The Nest Protect Smoke Detector ($129)
Bob Cohn, Editor, Atlantic Digital

Over the last 10 years in three different houses, our smoke detectors have had a high propensity for false alarms—usually in the middle of the night. So there I am, standing on my tiptoes on a rickety chair, groggy, trying to turn the damn thing off while the dog is barking and the kids are crying or yelling or sleeping peacefully, depending on their ages at the time (teens, I’ve discovered, sleep through anything; toddlers, not so much). Disabling the detector quiets things down for the night, but is hardly a safe long-term solution. Sometimes, when I’m screwing them back into their ceiling mounts, I’m thinking to myself: There has to be a better way.

And now there is. This fall, a company called Nest introduced a networked smoke detector, Nest Protect. As The New York Times’ Jenna Wortham notes, it’s the size of a CD, comes in eggshell white or black matte, and “delivers low-battery warnings via voice, rather than annoying chirps.” When it detects smoke or carbon monoxide, the device flashes yellow (and then, if the danger rises, red) while a female voice declares, in a soothing tone, “Heads up, there’s smoke in the dining room.” This, says Nest, “gives you an earlier warning if there’s an emergency, or allows you to silence Nest Protect if it’s just a nuisance alarm, like an overly enthusiastic toaster.” The device also sends real-time updates to your smartphone so you know your home is safe—and that your smoke detector is working—even when you’re not there.

It all sounds like a page out of the Steve Jobs playbook, which it is. Nest CEO Tony Fadell led the team that designed the iPod and iPhone. I’m pretty happy with those products, and this one seems even more essential.

Suzuki TU250X ($4,399)
J.J. Gould, Executive Editor,

For years I commuted to the Watergate, and otherwise happily drove around Washington, on a 2005 Vespa ET2. It got me everywhere I needed to go, attended by zero parking hassles, and with just a 50CC engine, I didn't even need a license plate for it -- handy when passing, e.g., the MacArthur Boulevard traffic camera at a respectable-but-for-municipal-revenue-purposes-illegal 35 MpH.

The Vespa eventually fell victim to a fatal engine problem; the economics of Vespa-engine replacement are not favorable; and I've since made do with another 50CC machine, the sturdy Honda Ruckus. But I've also moved farther away from downtown: I think I'm gonna need a bigger bike. Nothing too big, mind you. A 250CC would be great. Nothing too fancy, either. The TU250X is Suzuki's contemporary update on the Universal Japanese Motorcycle design popular back in the '60s. It has an air-cooled, single-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, gets almost 80 MpG, and can top 80 MpH on flat ground. It's also a great platform for customization, if, like me, you like the idea of being able to make a few mods.

Darren Wittko/Flickr

Segway i2 ($6,500)
Megan Garber, Staff Writer (Technology)

Why a Segway, you ask? The world's most maligned gyroscopic vehicle is, after all, spectacularly impractical/aggressively nerdy/the source of one of the most sadly ironic deaths of all time. If you are not named Wozniak or Bluth—if you are neither mall cop nor parking enforcer—you may have, you may think, no business riding a Segway.

But you would be wrong! Because Segways, I am here to tell you, are awesome. Whatever they may lack in pragmatism—and also in speed, cargo room, companion space, and protection against the elements—they make up for with one crucial feature: Riding a Segway is wonderfully, shockingly fun. Like, giggle-like-a-little-kid, have-the-sudden-urge-to-use-the-word-wheee fun.

Partly it's because you can take the gyroscope thing literally, spinning around until you become dizzy. Mostly, though, it's because you are perfectly aware of how nerdy you look, zooming around on an enormous, be-wheeled joystick, nothing between you and the world but a helmet for your safety and a fanny pack for your stuff. And therein lies the Zen: There is room for neither cargo nor ego on a Segway.

So that is my highly impractical wish: a shiny new Segway (or, hey, used! they're expensive!) Not for transportation, so much, but for fun. For wonder. For magic. Wheeee!

Bicycle Speakers ($30)
Rebecca Rosen, Senior Associate Editor (Technology)

Four seasons a year, I commute to The Atlantic's offices on my bike, trading time I used to spend on a hot, stuffy bus for 30 minutes of fresh air and exercise in each direction. But I worry about my safety—not just cars (dangerous for obvious reasons) but pedestrians, too. I have had too many close calls.

Part of the problem is that pedestrians are using their ears, and not their eyes, to assess whether the street is clear. They'll step out—typically at a corner, where they are waiting to cross—and then they'll look left. For a quiet bike hugging pretty close to the curb, this is a hazard.

So I have decided that I need to make my bike loud. These Hipo by Ivation Multi-Function Bicycle Speakers seem like they'd do the trick, even if they are a touch bulkier than would be ideal. You just hook them up to your phone (or MP3 player, if that's how you roll) and get your jam on. Of course, safety isn't my only motivation for wanting to deck out my bike; I'm going to listen to some pretty sweet tunes, too.

Jetlev Flyer (via YouTube)

Water-Powered Jetpack ($130,000)
Chris Heller, Associate Editor

I enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. A good ale on a warm day. An afternoon nap in the sun. The collected works of Tina Fey. And, of course, the Jetlev-Flyer JF 260 water-powered jetpack.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Jetlev-Flyer JF 260 water-powered jetpack.

How much would you pay for the privilege of rocketing across a lake, dragging a 10-meter, rubber-coated hose between your legs as if you were some unholy union of man, seraphim, and machine? $50,000? $75,000? $100,000?

Foolish prole. You surely do not have enough money to afford the gift of Jetlev-Flyer's luxury wares. I know I do not. The JF 260 retails for €99,900. Perhaps, with a hefty savings account and shrewd eye locked on the currency markets, it could be had for less than $130,000—but not much less. Alas. Without six figures, I'm left hoping, dreaming, imagining the blissful life of water-propelled air travel.

On the bright side, I don't have to worry about this.

Fitbit Flex ($99)
Derek Thompson, Senior Editor (Business)

My junior year of college, I couldn't sleep. Not in the tossy-turny way I can't sleep now if I'm anxious about work, or life, or if I simply watched Homeland too close to bed time. Junior year, I was a straight up insomniac.

Since then, I've learned to sleep much better, but I've also become sort of fascinated with how to sleep better. Fortunately, tech companies share my fascination, and many of them have built wrist devices, such as the Fitbit Flex, that track our sleep quality—not to mention steps, distance, calories burned, and more. I like data about economics and sports.

I think I'll like data about myself. Of course, the danger of getting what I wish for is obvious: What if I'm sleeping much worse than I think? I'll probably lose sleep over that, too.

Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

iPad Mini With Retina Display ($399)
Robinson Meyer, Associate Editor (Technology)

At The Atlantic, my colleagues and I often focus on unconventional tech: Headless robot ponies. Cosmonaut survival kits. Plants that sprout both tomatoes and potatoes. The iPad is not that. The iPad is one of the most successful computers ever made. And the iPad Mini with Retina Display is the best iPad ever made, and my choice for the holiday season.

Why? First, it’s not inferior to the regular iPad (which Apple renamed the “iPad Air“ this year). Last year’s iPad Mini had a shorter battery life and a slower processor than full-size iPad. This year’s Mini, though, has essentially the same innards as the Air: “The only significant differences between [the iPad Mini and the iPad Air],” says Apple observer John Gruber, “are size and weight.”

Second, the iPad Mini’s size and weight make it superior to the iPad Air. The Mini, in shape and heft, feels like a book. (The Wirecutter recommends you only go with the Air, in fact, if you plan on using its large screen as a display, such as for sheet music.) Finally, the crisp, high-resolution “Retina display” means that the iPad Mini reads with all the sharpness and intensity of a printed book. And since it was just released in October, the iPad Mini’s not likely to be obsolesced any time soon.

The Snooze ($50)
Nolan Feeney, Fellow (Entertainment)

Science says hitting the snooze button only makes me more tired. That’s probably true, but I still spend almost an hour each morning snoozing through multiple alarms every 10 minutes. The Snooze, a Kickstarter success story, is on my wish list for a few reasons: The sturdy dock keeps me from knocking my iPhone off the nightstand; its lengthy cord beats the range of standard charging cables; the sleek design helps me feel like an adult—something my morning routine doesn’t.

Most importantly, I can shut it off by tapping the rubber top. Oh, the satisfaction of shutting down shrill sounds with one fell swoop of an open palm! As smart phones have replaced traditional alarm clocks, I find myself silencing alarms by swiping. Who wants to start their day with a weak, passive swipe? The Snooze lets me hit the snooze button by actually hitting a snooze button. That’s almost as satisfying as getting a few more minutes.


Racquet Bag ($49)
Scott Stossel, Editor, Atlantic Magazine

In 2010, my cat urinated in my athletic bag. Despite multiple washings, fumigations, and other attempts to eliminate the faint but lingering odor, anything I put in there--even now, three years later--comes out smelling vaguely of ammonia. For a while, I worried the problem was me: after surfing WebMD, I finally went to the doctor in an attempt to find out what disease might be making my gym clothes smell so ammoniac after I'd exercised. (Yes, I am a hypochondriac.) Her medical diagnosis: your cat peed in your bag.

So I need a new one. Here's the one I want: The Harrow 6-Racquet Bag. It has two large compartments for squash rackets and other big items; a side pocket for your phone, wallet, and sundries; a separate, sealable compartment for shoes and wet clothes. Hand-straps, a shoulder-strap, and backpack straps provide three ways of carrying the bag--which seems redundant but which is in fact extremely useful. If I'm lucky to receive this gift, I will bequeath my old bag permanently to my cats--and will not allow them near the new one.

Lip Balm Balls ($3.29)
Emma Green, Associate Editor (Events)

When I was 12, all I ever wanted as a present was lip balm—the exotic kinds like "snowball cookie" and "ribbon candy" that taste good when you "accidentally" lick your lips after an over-generous application of gloss. All these years later, I find that my one true desire is still the same, but now, I lust after the paradigm-shifting egg shape of these Evolution of Smooth lip balm balls.

They're so functional: Mouths are round, so why isn't all mouth equipment also round? There's no tube-twisting apparatus that inevitably breaks after weeks of living at the bottom of a purse, no end-of-balm despair on the approach to the final half-inch as I realize, with fresh pain every time, that my fingers aren't slender enough to scoop out the last of the salve. 

According to the Internet, the lip-balm-as-tube hegemony started in 1912 when the first incarnation of Chapstick went into mass production. A century is long enough; 2013 should be the year lip balm declares its independence from the torture of the tube.

Athleta Sweater ($138)
Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, Senior Editor

Let's be honest: Athleta's marketing is a little bit preposterous. The Shiva top? The Brahma maxi skirt? The Krishna tunic? Yoga chic is one thing, but these are the names of actual gods. What's next—the Jesus jersey? The Allah anorak?

But whether or not Athleta is offending the deities, it is making some pretty gorgeous sweaters. I have my eye on the Ashtee. It's long and fitted, made of organic cotton and wool, with a big cozy hood and those cool thumb holes that let you pull the sleeves way down. It's eye-catching, all decked out with fades and swirls. And ashtee is, apparently, Pashto for peace—a word that's tasteful in every language.

Laptop Sleeve ($10)
Matt Schiavenza, Associate Editor (China)

Much ink (and tears) have been spilled documenting the inconveniences of modern airport security, but I've one found one procedure particularly annoying: having to remove my laptop from my carry-on and placing it into its own separate container. Tedious and non-sensical, the requirements irritate me so much that I've even found myself leaving my laptop at home on short trips.

Taipan Spacesuit's sleek "Mamba sleeve" takes care of this problem - now, you can just slip your MacBook into one and put it right on the carousel, and there's nothing the TSA can do about it. It won't take away the annoyance of security lines, but it helps you get to the gate just a little bit faster. Now, if they'd only think of something similar for my keys ...


Wallet iPhone Case ($45)
Julie Beck, Associate Editor (Health)

There are a lot of ways you can look at life and one of them is in the evolution of one’s wallet. I went from my first wallet, with Winnie-the-Pooh on it, to an unclear period in which I think I honestly just threw money into my purse and fished around for it through geological strata of gum wrappers and crumpled homework. Next was a small black wallet—plain, unassuming, always too full of coins to snap shut. Then came the hulking purple behemoth I have now, which holds all the coins and all the cards and all the random notes scrawled on Post-Its. 

This OtterBox iPhone case that holds credit cards and cash is a great next step—not just because I only have to keep track of one thing when I go out, but because it will condense into my phone the one thing I need to be a person in this world that is not already in there: actual legal tender. This is the ultimate stage in wallet evolution. “Oh this? It’s my small black rectangle. It contains All of Me.”



French Language Program ($8,000)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Senior Editor

I can be a bit of an obsessive. When I was nine, it was Dungeon & Dragons and my Commodore 64. When I was 16, it was my beautiful djembe drum. When I was in college, I would stand on the yard of Howard University and fall in love approximately once every other week.

As an adult my obsessions have wandered from World of Warcraft to The Civil War. But for the past two years, my major obsession has been learning French. Anyone who's ever gone down this path knows that the French language is an obstacle course meant to befuddle you at every term. You could do a four-hour course explaining to someone how to use the verb "manquer" ("to miss") or the pronoun "en" (roughly "them" or "some of"). 

Learning a foreign language means every week, for some not insignificant number of hours, willingly turning yourself into a two-year-old child. It's humiliating. And the truly lucky get to do this for large spans of time—weeks, months and years.

That is what I want (and any sane person should want) for Christmas: the right to be a babbling two-year-old for seven weeks this coming summer at Middlebury Language Academy. Middlebury's program is as renowned as it is expensive ($8,000). The basis of the program is a language pledge taken by all participants to communicate only through their target language. At a time when English is rapidly becoming the international lingua franca, finding a spot where no one else is speaking English is increasingly difficult. Middlebury offers that, and it's no wonder that foreign language students come back having advanced a year in a matter of weeks.


Tickets to Lollapalooza Brazil ($230)
Spencer Kornhaber, Senior Associate Editor (Entertainment)

The past decade or so has seen the big-businessification of rock festivals, once a symbol of counterculture rooted in local scenes. At fests from California's Coachella to Philadelphia's Made in America (presented by Budweiser and Jay Z, natch), you can catch basically the same lineup of artists with roughly the same amenities, same porta-potty lines, and same contingent of tank-wearing young adults on MDMA. Sniff at the hassle, high prices, and abbreviated sets if you'd like; lament the death of individualized identities for these events; or, better yet, embrace the perks The Man has to provide.

Which is to say: As long as someone else is paying my way, I'm all for the international franchising of the original alt-rock fest, Lollapalooza. If I can see Arcade Fire and Nine Inch Nails play together anywhere, why wouldn't I choose Sao Paulo?

Green Moon Art/Flickr

Canyoneering Courses ($250 and up)
Don Peck, Deputy Editor, magazine

Zion is my favorite national park, but you can’t see some its very best parts—its tiny slot canyons—unless you are prepared to rappel down over the waterfalls and other sudden drops that punctuate them. Some years ago, a friend and I did that, and it was a magical experience: hauntingly beautiful, utterly quiet.

Alas, skills once possessed degrade over time. But several companies just outside the park offer half-day and one-day canyoneering courses ($250 and up) that teach (or re-teach) basic canyoneering skills. Once you’ve passed them, you can rent ropes and strike out for the canyons yourself. To me, that’s the most exciting part: these aren’t guided trips; they prepare you for an adventure entirely your own.

Private Island ($400,000)
James Hamblin, Senior Editor (Health)

I think this private island, Isla Paloma, in Panama, would be a real great gift. It's very "me." It has two bedrooms plus loft, one bath, a garden, a workshop where I could make canoes, a "party-shack" and beach, a boathouse where I could keep the canoes, and swim dock.

The asking price is $400,000, but you could probably talk them down a bit. In Washington, D.C., where I live, that is the price of a small apartment. 

Plus, when you have your own island, everyone wants to be your friend. There are no roads, so you can keep them there as long as you like! Did I mention the listing says there are memory-foam tempurpedic mattresses?


Library of America

Reporting Civil Rights ($80)
Andrew Cohen, Contributing Editor

For the holidays this year I’d like to give the Library of America’s boxed set of Reporting Civil Rights ($80), a compilation of some of the best pieces of writing on one of the most important and enduring themes in our nation’s history. I want someone of the generation that has come after me to read David Halberstam, Robert Penn Warren, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Murray Kempton, Joan Didion, John Hersey, Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, and Renata Adler—and dozens of other great Writers and journalists—chronicle a topic that has bedeviled this country since before it was a country.

To get a sense of the tapestry of pain and redemption in this series, let me just list some of its article titles: “Will Two Good White Men Vouch for You?” “Men Who Shame Our State and Flag,” “When The Riots Came,” “A Good City Gone Ugly,” ”They Can’t Turn Back,” “Tear Gas and Hymns,” “It Was War and the Marshals Were Losing,” and “Tired of Being Sick and Tired.”

Do yourself a favor and get these books for the person in your life who cares about law and justice and the long road we’ve travelled, and the long way we have yet to go, to achieve racial equality for ourselves and our children.

HelloGiggles (via YouTube)

Ukelele ($42)
Jackie Lay, Associate Art Director

The ukelele is the lazy man's guitar: It's portable, cheap, and easier to learn than any other string instrument, plus it goes great with a tiki drink.

Yes, it is the chosen medium of a new generation of twee Youtube stars, but that also means free tutorials are plentiful. And what better way to spend Christmas than to hear my rendition of Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe through the Tulips"?

The Kala Makala Dolphin Ukelele is $42 on Amazon.

Air Plants ($27)
Ann Hulbert, Senior Editor (Books & Culture)

When holiday season arrives, I’d rather go somewhere than get something, but actually planning a family trip proved beyond me this year. Instead of heading for Belize or Costa Rica—the destinations urged by every friend and relative I consulted—I’ve discovered the perfect consolation: a sampler of Tillandsia, otherwise known as air plants, from that general part of the world. They’re rootless and require minimal care; they don’t need potting or more than an intermittent dousing. And they look exotically weird.

For the would-be traveler who dreams of uprooting herself but can’t face booking hotels etc., what could be more appropriate? Forget a trip slideshow, they’ll be my little spectacle—one that will last. Each plant blooms only once, I’ve learned, but they produce “pups” every year, which bloom in their turn. The collection I have my eye on, from South America, features some great species names: Bergeri, Juncea, Stricta, and best of all, Funckiana.   

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