Improvised Life » gifts If you can't hunt with a dog, hunt with a cat... Tue, 09 Sep 2014 22:00:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Introducing Improvised Life’s New Store Thu, 10 Jul 2014 23:05:19 +0000

Over the years, Improvised Life has featured some seriously good stuff, from books about design, art, productivity and poetry to all manner of tools for making and living. Since these wonderful items have been buried in the archive, we decided to gather the BEST of them in one place, Improvised Life’s Store. (more…)

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The Unexpected Beauty of a Matless, Glassless Picture Frame Tue, 27 May 2014 20:00:38 +0000

Maria Robledo

Recently, we gave our dear friend Maria Robledo a silver picture frame we’d had for many years. It was handmade and so beautifully and simply  wrought, we’d never put a glass or mat in it, or even a picture. We just propped it on our mantle and enjoyed its sculptural shape. In Maria’s hands, it became something totally else: a frame for still-lives: bouquets of flowers, pitchers, ANYTHING of beauty or interest. (more…)

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Stylish Coffee Cones + Our Own Coffee Rig Thu, 20 Mar 2014 16:45:49 +0000

Remodelista recently posted about a new trend: Artful Coffee Drippers. By “dripper”, they mean the funnel-shaped cone, lined with a paper filter, that sits on top of a coffee pot or cup and allows the brewing coffee to drip through. We use the method ourselves so were interested to see the 10 stylish itereations. Japanese designer Masanobu Ando’s pleated version, above, is like an austere scupture. Artist Elizabeth Benotti’s herringbone pattern Porcelain Drip Coffee Maker; $44 on Etsy, has great charm.

The only problem with most of the Remodelista coffee cones is they don’t allow for ways to keep the coffee hot. Once it hits the vessels, it will start to cool, unlike our own homely rig. (more…)

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String Bag: an Endlessly Useful, Stylish Shape Shifter Tue, 11 Mar 2014 20:00:24 +0000

I’ve long been a fan of the classic, humble string bag. It’s unique because unlike most bags, it changes structure according to its contents: a real shape-shifter. What starts as a small ball of string folds out into a carry-all sack, making it super practical. String bags are space-saving for the minimalist and super-light for the traveler, they save on plastic and paper bags – and they look great.

I first started loving these string totes when I was living (more…)

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Last Minute Valentine’s Cards and Gifts (Yikes!) Fri, 14 Feb 2014 09:42:42 +0000

(Video link HERE.) We’re not much for the Valentine’s frenzy of chocolate-buying and crowded dinners out, but DO like to give a Valentine or two. It can be as simple as an origami heart made by following the simple video above but done with a great big square of swell paper, like this


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The Improvisational Possibilities of Mallomars Thu, 23 Jan 2014 11:56:41 +0000

Sally Schneider

Every Fall I look forward to eating my favorite cookie, the Mallomar, a marshmallow dome sitting on a cookie about the size of a half dollar coated with chocolate. It’s the first seasonal food I had eaten in my life — seasonal in that they are only available October through March because the chocolate — real chocolate — would melt in warm months. (more…)

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Find: Big, Stylish, French Striped Dish Towel / Napkin Mon, 13 Jan 2014 22:16:32 +0000

Over the holidays Ellen Silverman gave a dinner party for 14 and wanted a special napkin that guests could take away with them to remember the event. She found some inexpensive but wonderfully stylish big red striped cotton dish towels// that a friend machine-embroidered with a pretty design. They were in perfect keeping with the wonderful bistro-ish meal Ellen made featuring a pot au feu.  And, at 18-inch-by-28-inches, they are wonderfully ample, giving you that “tucked in” feeling when you place them across your lap at table. (more…)

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The Charm and Possibility of Balancing Blocks Mon, 06 Jan 2014 21:00:59 +0000

(Video link HERE.) We’d seen images of multi-colored Balancing Blocks around but didn’t WANT them until we saw this swell little video. //It made us reflect on ‘process’,  and long days on a beach spent happily balancing stones…which made us want the white ones.

They’re (more…)

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Nicoise and Other Black Olives with Fragrant Rosemary Oil Thu, 19 Dec 2013 18:11:09 +0000

Sally Schneider

Here’s another of my double-duty holiday recipe strategies: black olives that we’ve doctored up with fragrant homemade rosemary oil. I serve them as an instant hors d’oeuvre with chilled wine or  cocktails AND pack them into glass jars to give as gifts.

The method is simple: (more…)

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World Knives on L’Econome Paring Knives and Our Readers Mon, 16 Dec 2013 21:00:25 +0000

Sally Schneider/Improvised Life

After we posted about L’Econome, our favorite paring knife and wonderful, inexpensive holiday gift, AND mentioned it on public radio’s The Splendid Table, the two online stores we recommended ran out. We received an email right away from Chris Hyde, the owner of World Knives, to say that he’d placed an emergency order to France and hoped to have them in soon. SOON was an understatement. The knives arrived on Saturday and World Knives has a trove, with the exception of the orange color. But there are LOTS of other colors, which you can check out here.  (There’s still time to get them by Christmas.) NOTE: World Knives reports that they ran out of their huge stock AGAIN, a day after we posted this. They’ve put in another emergency order to France but won’t get them until after Christmas. No matter, really. If they were meant to be an Xmas gift, we recommend writing a nice “voucher” stating “One swell gift from France to be given after the holidays” or something like that.

But these knives make a great gift anytime of year. We have friends who have bought ALL the colors and use them as their ‘everything’ knife, for cooking, serving cheese and salami, and as steak knives at table. (Above are two L’Economes we’ve used for years, wonderfully worn. Below are some spanking new ones. They age WELL, with lots of character.)

Aside from discovering World Knives‘ great collection of useful things (beyond knives), (more…)

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glass jars for homemade food gifts Thu, 12 Dec 2013 21:07:42 +0000

Ellen Silverman

Okay, so you’ve decided to make our DIY Gifts: Dried Fruit In Fragrant Syrup (Boozy Or Not), or other juicy food gifts. Where do you get the jars to pack them in?

We have three strategies: collect them over the year (soak the labels off nice-looking jars some other food has come in), buy vintage jars at flea markets and thrift stores OR buy them. Here’s our compendium of great looking affordable jars. (more…)

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Easy Holiday Hack: All-in-One Greeting Card + Envelope Thu, 12 Dec 2013 18:38:21 +0000 We excerpted the one perfect trick for the holidays from Grant Thompson's 10 Life Hacks You Need To Know For Christmas!: a way of folding paper so you can send it without an envelope. Voila! Instant holiday greetings. ]]> 2 DIY Gifts: Dried Fruit in Fragrant Syrup (Boozy or Not) Wed, 11 Dec 2013 20:52:51 +0000

Ellen Silverman

Before the holidays every year, I make big batches of Prunes in Armagnac, Cherries in Red Wine Syrup and Apricot in Cardamom Syrup to give as gifts, packed into pretty jars, with handwritten tags listing their possibilities. I also rely on them for my own entertaining. They last indefinitely in the refrigerator, to be drawn upon to make an instant dessert spooned over vanilla ice cream or numerous other improvisations.

They are all made by the same basic approach. (more…)

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Paper Packaging for Homemade Holiday Gifts Tue, 10 Dec 2013 20:00:53 +0000

We hadn’t thought much about packaging suggestions for homemade food gifts until our friend David Saltman was casting about for bags to pack his home-roasted coffee beans in. We had a dwindling stash of white metal tie coffee bags we’d bought years ago by begging the coffee guy at our local gourmet store to sell us some for .10 a piece. We were sure David could buy them online, so we poked around for him. We ended up at the source we’ve used years ago for other packaging supplies: (more…)

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