I’m working on a new Christmas carol called It’s a Covid Christmas. There’s a long way to go to capture the real spirit of the holiday, but I think I nailed the first line.
“When in danger, or in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout.”
Yes, it’s that time of year again where the pressure of the holiday collides with a new Covid variant, resulting in some inner reflection on the two things that are truly important this season—alcohol and shopping. So in our annual gift edition of IORVA I’m going to take a nip of the spirits and share some last minute shopping ideas, with the hope that something might strike your fancy for someone on your nice list.
As a child I grew up watching classic 60’s sitcoms like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and I was fascinated by the regular presence of the after-work cocktail hour in the shows. What impressed me was the ritual of the event. Adults dressed in their finest, crafting something they were clearly looking forward to with those mysterious accoutrements. Bar carts, cocktail shakers, strainers, ice buckets, fancy long stirring thingies, all set to craft anything the TV land adults could dream up. I was so impressed that, true story, I sent a letter to Barbara Eden letting her know she could stay with me if she was ever passing through Richmond. Alas, she never took me up on the proposal, although the offer from my ten-year-old self to mix her the driest martini she ever had did result in Child Protective Services dropping in for a friendly visit. As Jeannie would say, be careful what you wish for.
Fancy glasses and cocktail shakers fell out of fashion over time, but they are making a comeback and are a terrific gift for someone who likes to take a little time with their libation. A full nine piece mixology set at Target goes for $36 and includes a mixing glass, muddler, shot glass, strainer, stir spoon and three piece shaker.
My personal love is vintage cocktail shakers. Shakers have been around for centuries, but it’s hard to beat the variety from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. Some of my favorites include glass shakers in cobalt blue or ruby red, chrome shakers resembling skyscrapers, and whimsical ones with pink elephants or polar bears. Prices range from $10 to a few thousand dollars, so there is something for everyone. They can be found online on a number of sites including Etsy, Ebay and Ruby Lane, or in person at your nearby antique mall or vintage shop. And if you run across a 1925 cobalt glass zeppelin decanter with ice bucket and six glasses, let me know. Asking for a friend…
Glasses are another great gift available in a wide variety of shapes and prices. Cocktail time is all about the ritual, so match the right glass to the drink. I’ve recommended these before, but my favorite wine glass is still the Gabriel-Glas universal wine glass. Lightweight, beautiful and well engineered, they feel incredible in your hand and make any wine taste better. Available in their Standart edition ($32), or their even lighter, hand blown Gold Edition ($74).
Like cocktail shakers, vintage cocktail glasses come in an endless variety of styles and can be found online or in vintage shops. Frequently highlighted with 24 karat gold or silver finishes, they will lose their luster if they are put in the dishwasher, but will keep their dashing looks if they are hand washed. For a new set of highball or tumbler glasses, I love the LSA Borough highball and tumbler sets ($47 and $34). The shape is simple and elegant, and they are machine washable.
For your friends with a sense of whimsy, pick up a few vintage ceramic tiki mugs. In the 1950’s tiki bars and tropical themed restaurants became popular, as did drinking vessels that had Polynesian or tropical themes. They cost around $5-$20 on average, and are a hit with adults and kids. Most of the original ones were made in Japan, frequently by Orchids of Hawaii, so if it’s made in Japan it’s original. If it’s made in China, it’s a newer piece.
Another gift idea for the cocktail inclined is to put together all the mixings for a classic cocktail, or better yet come up with a new one and include the recipe. Part of my Christmas tradition is to have an original drink recipe for the holiday, and it’s hard to go wrong. Start by looking at some interesting or traditional drink recipes, then experiment with ingredients until you find something you like. Did your friend love yoo-hoo chocolate drinks as a kid? Start there and have fun. To get you started, here’s an example from a Christmas gone by.
The Naughty Krampus
Fill a tall glass full of ice
Add 2 ounces Jack Daniels Tennessee Fire
Add one part ginger beer
Add one part Coke or Diet Coke
Squeeze in fresh lime and stir well
Do it again!
A good bitters can make or break a great cocktail, and one of my favorite makers is Fee Brothers. Produced by a family run business, their flavors include West Indies orange bitters, grapefruit, lemon, mint, peach and Old Fashioned bitters. Perfect for cocktails, they also are a great way to put some zing in sparkling water or club soda. Available in a six pack on Amazon.
“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
(Good advice from Mr. Dickens, let’s leave the spirits behind and move forward to other Christmas presents.)
A practical, and surprisingly fun, gift for yourself or a loved one is the Nest Thermostat. The Nest Smart Thermostat can turn itself down automatically when you leave the house, and it can be controlled from anywhere through an app on your phone. It’s more advanced big brother, the Nest Self Learning thermostat learns your settings and patterns and automatically adjusts your heating or cooling accordingly. Ever wake up and realize the house is too warm or cold, but you’re too lazy to get out of bed? Now all it takes is a few taps on your phone for perfect comfort. Stylishly designed and very easy to install, this gift will pay for itself in energy savings in short order. Currently on sale for $99 and $179 at Lowes.
If you know me, you know I’m a candle junkie and I’m always on the lookout for a good long lasting burn. My new crush is the Thymes pine needle frasier fir candle. It’s pretty, long lasting, and smells of crisp Siberian fir needles. $15 for the two ounce and $30 for the 6.5 ounce.
For a holiday inspired gift, check out the handmade glass trees by Simon Pearce. The trees come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and they are beautiful grouped together. They make terrific holiday decorations, but they are pretty enough to keep out all year.
A great stocking stuffer for the cooks on your list is the Thermopro instant kitchen thermometer. It’s calibrated for use on lower temperatures like meat and poultry, as well as higher temps when you’re deep frying or making candy. It shuts off automatically so you’re less likely to run down the battery, but if you do it’s a AAA so it’s easy to replace. Buy one for yourself while you are at it, it takes the guesswork out of cooking. Currently $15 on Amazon.
For the practical minded, the Rowenta garment steamer is a time saver when you don’t have the time or desire to iron. Great for getting the wrinkles out clothes you need in a hurry, and it even makes sheets look crisp and ironed on a made bed. $50 on Amazon. On a related note, the Conair cordless defuzzer is a miracle worker when it comes to removing pills from fabric. Old sweaters look like new, and it even works on upholstery that’s getting long in the tooth. It comes in a range of colors and runs from $13-$15 on Amazon.
For your hard-to-shop-for-person, how about some wonderful chocolate chip cookies from Jacques Torres? The recipe uses 60% dark Belgian chocolate, and it’s a lot of chocolate with a little cookie dough holding it together. They are delicious, Kosher, and something everyone will love. (Pro tip—heat them! OMG) $19.60 at Macys online.
Hopefully there’s something on this list that will help with your holiday shopping, or give you some ideas when someone asks you what you’d like this holiday. From the heart, here’s wishing you a safe, warm, fun-filled holiday. And if you have some free time, let’s get a cocktail!