Photographer William Abranowitc has been in love with Greece for as long as we can remember, constantly making time to go there to do his personal work amidst amidst his busy schedule as a lifestyle/landscape/still-life photographer. Hellas, his second book of photographs of Greece has just been published: 160 pages in full color. Most of the images are NOT what you would expect or normally see, ALL definitely give you a feeling of being swept away. For the land-locked-in cold climates, it’s the perfect gift.
We are big fans of d-i-y gift wrapping made of found, free, repurposed or cheap materials. Why spend the money on bought wrap when there’s so much good stuff just lying around. We really like Joel Henriques’ idea (of the ever-inspiring blog Made by Joel): use torn out pages from old art magazines…
or design magazines…
or foreign language newspapers newspapers…
…or kid’s drawings…
His paper-cutouts-as-ribbons are swell, too! read more…
This weekend, Sally’ will be talking about Homemade Holiday Food Gifts on public radio’s The Splendid Table. Learn how to make a Lemon-Scented Olive Oil with much of the flavor and a fraction of the price of classic Limonato – olive oil pressed with lemons – from Italy. Her Tuscan Herb Salt can be endlessly improvised upon, and with; it’s an instant seasoning for meats, poultry, vegetables, eggs, even popcorn and Bloody Mary’s. Check out the Splendid Table’s website for recipes. You can listen here.
Related posts: homemade food gift: alt-malted milk balls
food gifts: homemade chocolates for improvising (recipe)
our homemade food gifts on ‘the splendid table’ (’09)
d-i-y food gift: prunes in armagnac (recipe)
Even though we mostly give charity donations as our holiday gifts, we DO like giving a few more tangible gifts as well, ones that are not too pricey and give a big bang for the buck. So we’ve compiled our eclectic list of favorite things to give…and get.
In addition, on Friday we’ll be talking about some Homemade Food Gifts on public radio’s The Splendid Table (for last year’s food gifts, see the links below). And if you were to type “GIFTS” or “KIDS” into ‘the improvised life”s Search box, you’d find lots of gift possibilities we’ve written about over the past year and a half, from books to leather-welding-gloves-as-oven-mitts (not to mention my brilliant sister’s oddly brilliant gift ideas).
One of the most appreciated gifts we’ve given lately are these French paring knives with colorful painted handles, made by the venerable knife company L’Econome. They are inexpensive as paring knives go – about $10 each – and do what any good paring knife should: feel good in the hand, sharpen easily and stay sharp, look good, even as they age and weather. EVERYBODY needs a good paring knife. A green handled one is now the favorite knife of my friend Maria, who LOVES green. (We buy them in different colors to keep in our “gift” drawer, just in case.) read more…
Although we’ve mostly exempted ourselves from the gift buying frenzy – we give money to a charity in our friends’ names and send out custom-designed e-cards to the giftees – we DO like to give something extra that will afford more tangible – even hedonistic – pleasures, that they can’t get anywhere else. That means, something homemade, and the easiest, most bang-for-the-buck d-i-y gifts we know of are food gifts. We have developed quite a repertoire over the years, from homemade chocolates to jars of Apricots in Cardamom-Scented Syrup. (December 17 on public radio’s The Splendid Table, we’ll introduce three new ones)
These boozy prunes are among our favorites. A classic of southwest France, land of confit, pâté, and foie gras, they are steeped in a syrup spiked with Armagnac, the region’s delicious brandy. Since the prunes are pitted, they release some of their sweet juices to make a thick syrup, making little sugar necessary. The prunes are so intensely flavored they can be eaten almost as a candy, to finish off a meal. The Armagnac in the syrup tends to sneak up on people, and acts as instant stress reliever.
The prunes are sublime as is or with a little creme fraiche…served over vanilla and coffee ice cream…and as an ingredient in pear, apple, or quince tarts. Since they last indefinitely, you can keep them on hand for impromtu desserts. We make them in big batches, read more…
When we were kids, we loved advent calendars, those big cards with little pop-out windows offering a surprise for each day before Christmas. We were wishing we had one of those, and then we stumbled on something better: The Big Picture’s Hubble Space Telescope Digital Advent Calendar. Each day reveals a new awe-inspiring photo from Hubble, from now until Christmas (There’s even a temporary RSS feed.) And like a regular advent calendar, the coming windows are blank – leaving that pleasant feeling of anticipation.
‘the improvised life’ is proud to be part of the second annual NYC Bloggers Do the Holidays, a collaborative holiday guide by “the city’s coolest bloggers”*. It is the brilliant idea of Charlie at Manhattan User’s Guide: bring together an amazing community of bloggers who are wildly passionate, dedicated and SMART, to give their take on enjoying the weeks to come. Check out the sites below for fun and illuminating holiday ideas – some New York-centric, many usable ANYWHERE, like Mommy Poppins’ idea of “experience gifts for kids.” Patel and Waterman’s “Christmas with Andy Warhol” is a revelation. All will definitely expand your sense of holiday possibility.
Our contribution to this gigunda group post is about designing unique stationary-like holiday cards to send by email – with an envelope. It’s our latest improvisation on the theme of making the holidays more fun, less stressful, cheaper, and more connected, with more to come …
A Child Grows – Where to See Santa in New York City and Brooklyn.
Give and Get NYC – Give and Get for the Holidays.
Manhattan User’s Guide – The Gift Guide: 21 Over $21.
Markets of New York – Festive Food at New York’s Holiday Markets.
Mommy Poppins – 11 Experience Gifts for NYC Kids.
NY Barfly – Holiday Cocktails, And We Ain’t Talkin’ Egg Nog.
offManhattan – The Anti-Holiday Travel Guide: 5 Quick Getaways from NYC.
the skint – 11 free and cheap non-holiday things to do this holiday season.
This is FYF – A Drug-Friendly Guide to Your New York Holidays.
Patell and Waterman’s History of New York – Christmas with Andy Warhol.
Walking Off the Big Apple – A Mortal’s Guide to the Angels of New York City.
We Heart Astoria – The Best Places To Shop Local – WHA Holiday Gift Guide.
This unusual cranberry conserve is immensely satisfying, tart and sweet, with a chunky texture from an abundance of nuts and raisins. It’s adapted from a recipe by Mrs. Fannie Wought of Cullom, Illinois that was published many years ago in the wonderful, out-of-print-but-findable Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter. The conserve is delicious with roast turkey, chicken and pork, even cheddar cheese. I like it best on its own, eaten with a spoon as a midnight snack. Around the holidays, I make big batches of this conserve and pack it into jars to give as gifts. (It will keep for up to a month in a covered container in the refrigerator.)
This conserve will seem even more of a miracle when you read – or listen to – this NPR segment on the health protective properties of cranberries. read more…
One of the blogs we love to check into is Anonymous Works, which features creative, often odd works made by anonymous souls, that are for sale at various sites. Many of its images, like this basket made by cutting and twisting a paint can, make us go “Wow, a human being made that!” and tap into the wonder read more…
‘when life arrives at the door unexpectedly’ (+ lots of ideas for the holidays from canal house cooking 5)
There are many wonderful things in the latest issue of Canal House Cooking. The self-published cookbook by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton are like a grown-up’s kids-book, with photos, illustrations, writing and recipes that will take you away from wherever you are, and into a very magic (and attainable) world. There are also treasures you won’t find anywhere else, like Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay about Christmas Eve (she’s Melissa’s sister and chef of Prune in NYC), and Melissa’s drawing (in pastel?) of a ham. Frank Stitt‘s primer on Grower Champagnes – artisanal champagnes made by small producers whose name is on the label – is a revelation. But our favorite bit of all was this excerpt from Melissa’s and Christopher’s forward “An Open Door Policy”… read more…
We’ve written a number of times about the gifts our neighbor Matthew Sporzynski occasionally leaves outside our door. They always come with perfect timing for whatever is going on in our lives, and are always wonderfully presented.
Like this one. Matthew called to say “I made an experimental mac-and-cheese. Would you like to try it?”
Outside our door we found a chic black Prada box…and inside of that an oddly sculptural block of foil, with the mac-and -cheese inside.
Now the Prada box is waiting to hold a gift we’ll give to another friend, as we recycle the fab box once again…as we did with this Hermes box… read more…
I keep a stack of books by my bed for “daily” wind-down reading. They are meant to do various things: cool me out, give me hope and/or inspiration, help me think about pressing matters, entertain. One of them is Keith Stewart’s It’s a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life. I’ve just replaced my first edition with the expanded one.
I love the book partly because, like many city people, I yearn for some connection to nature. I’m a secret farmer (in my head), so I get to read Keith’s compelling writing about the ‘inside’ of farming (which he came to as a complete novice), and vicariously experience that very different life. What I learn throughout the book is that the ‘inside’ of farming is pure improvisation, thinking on your feet, using what’s there, every single day. read more…
As much as we’re fans of smart phones, we can’t live without blank notebooks for writing down some interesting thing we saw or need to remember, or notes for helping us organize our day. We’re always on the lookout for cheap, well-designed notebooks that are a pleasure to use AND shift our thinking slightly. We find a lot of good ones at Muji, the haut-minimal Japanese housewares store. We’re currently smitten with their Chrononotebook, an AM/PM scheduler with an image of a white clock on the left/AM side and a dark clock on the right…designed to help you plot your day visually and graphically rather than the usual linear fashion, a practice we’ve found can help us loosen things up a bit.
Over the years we’ve collected a pile of favorite books to give to kids we know; many of the books, curiously, are about food, maybe because kids (and we) find it so much fun to mess around with. We’ve just added Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes to the list; it’s got some mighty compelling recipes, like:
…Stink Bug Eggs…
…Hair Toffee to Make Hair Grow on Bald Men…
…Mr. Twit’s Beard Food…
…Eatable Marshmallow Pillows…
…and illustrations by Quentin Blake. What’s not to like?
Related posts: Perfect Kid’s Book: Mud Pies and Other Recipes
I wandered by the Issey Miyake store the other day and was drawn inside to look at the wonderful clothes. I walked around imagining myself in strangely beautiful outfits, and a tall salesman named Jeremiah came over. “How do you like the collection?” he asked. “I love it, totally beautiful” I said. “And the music. What are we listening to?”
“Oh that’s called Supreme Balloon by Matmos, it’s 25 minutes long, made without the use of microphones – completely digitally, no traditional instruments…It’s very meditative.”
…So, from clothes we jumped into music.”What other music do you like?” I asked always eager for a musical hot-tip. “I love White Bird Release by Pan.American. Someone did a study and found that when people listened to it, their blood pressure went down. The titles of the songs on the album are made up of a beautiful quote that Dr. Robert Godard, the brilliant rocket scientist, wrote in a letter to H.G. Wells“. Jeremiah called the words up from his memory bank:
There Can B No Thought of Finishing,
For ‘Aiming at the Stars’
Both Literally and Figuratively
Is A Problem to Occupy Generations,
So That No Matter How Much Progress One Makes,
There’s Always the Thrill of Just Beginning