December 10, 2012
I remember the first time I tried Miracle Fruit. I was a total skeptic – can anything actually make something sour taste sweet? I put the bright red berry into my mouth and took a big swig of pure lemon juice. It worked! My mouth was flooded with shocking sweetness.
For a while I kept the berries in my desk as a kind of parlor trick, offering them to visitors so I could watch that look of amazement cross their faces. Then I discovered how lovely the plants are, covered with pretty flowers in the summer and gumdrop like berries in the winter. "Go on," I'd say to my guests, "pick a berry."
Miracle Plants make surprising gifts, especially this time of year, when they seem like tiny tropical Christmas trees. You can find them any number of places, but this one is my favorite.
December 9, 2012
No matter how much you want to buy a wonderful gift for a gardener, don’t even think about going to the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s website unless you’re willing to waste a significant amount of time; theirs is one of the most seductive sites I know.
Started nine years ago by a group of heirloom seed savers they’ve grown into something bigger: now they have a seed farm to grow their own open-pollinated, non-hybridized and non genetically engineered seeds.
But what’s really remarkable about this group is the way they package their offerings, commissioning artists to create memorable seed packets. I’m sure I’m not the only one who buys them just to hang on the wall. At $3.75 a pack it’s an inexpensive way to surround yourself with colorful art. (They also sell gift baskets, tee shirts, art prints and greeting cards.)
Here’s the statement from their site:
“We’ve signed the Safe Seed Pledge & adhere to Vandana Shiva's Declaration of Seed Freedom. We take these commitments even further by researching the origins of all of the seeds we don’t grow ourselves to make sure that those sources are not related to, owned by, or affiliated with biotech or pharmaceutical corporations. We do the research so you can feel good about your seeds. At the same time as more and more seed sources are gobbled up by these multi-national corporations, we’re busy collecting, preserving, growing, offering, and celebrating seeds in all their diversity.”
And here are a couple more favorite packages:
December 8, 2012
Shrimp Under Glass
Most of us spend a lot of time talking about sustainability, but few of us get to see it in action.
This gift will change that.
Ecospheres are self-sustaining little worlds enclosed in glass. Designed by a NASA engineer, these beautiful glass globes are strangely absorbing. Filled with algae, bacteria and tiny shrimp, they are like little aquariums that take care of themselves. Carl Sagan became so absorbed in his Ecosphere that he found himself “worrying about the shrimp, rooting for them.”
An Ecosphere would make a great gift for anyone who's skeptical about sustainability. The little ecosystems are so beautifully balanced that they last a few years with no input at all. In this age of whirling winds and rising water, it's a humbling reminder that a better world is possible.
December 7, 2012
Until he retired a few years ago, I had a gifting relationship with my favorite sushi chef. Every year at Christmas, he presented me with a present, and it was incumbent upon me to return the favor. Knowing that the quality of the gift reflected on his prestige, I always gave him an ostentatiously expensive gift. But the year I hit on a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch, his smile told me everything. He was thrilled. Is it the best Scotch in the world? Maybe not. But everyone knows it costs a bundle, and with some gifts, that’s the point.
When I discovered that the bottles could be engraved with his name, Osada’s prestige rose even higher. He was ecstatic when I handed him the box. But you can do more than simply personalize the bottle with someone’s name: you can engrave three lines (up to 15 characters a line). It’s about a third of a Twitter message – but certainly enough to convey your respect.
Many places will engrave bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue for free, including the company itself. But here is the lowest price I’ve found.
And if you happen to be in the New York area on December 15th between noon and 4, here’s one that will be engrave the bottle while you wait.
December 6, 2012
Where There's Smoke……
What the Baked Alaska was to the fifties, smoked ice cream (not to mention smoked cocktails) are to modern times: the seemingly impossible juxtaposition. If you’re looking for the perfect present for a food geek, the Smoking Gun might just be it.
This totally modern tool, (courtesy of the same company that makes the incredible anti-griddle), infuses foods with the flavor of smoke without actually smoking them. This has nothing to do with preserving and everything to do with flavor.
The chef who aims to astonish can smoke the unsmokable: raw oysters, salads, butter, chocolates. Anyone who wants to play wizard can present food in a billow of smoke. Capture the smoke in a glass, invert it over a meringue, a slice of salmon or a bar of chocolate, and voila!: instant cloud. Pure magic.