Ranging from the art of the Beatles to the art of Japanese cocktails, these gifts will make staying at home the best it can be
Photo courtesy of Lum3n via Unsplash
With winter upon us and travel more uncertain than we’d hoped for by now, this is an excellent time to treat yourself and others to gifts that will make your home more comfortable, more inspiring, even more productive. Ranging from the art of the Beatles to the art of Japanese cocktails, here are 10 gifts to make staying at home the best it can be.
Tommy Tardie is a well-known figure in the spirits world, thanks to his two successful and stylish New York hotspots The Flatiron Room and Fine & Rare. Both are centered around an appreciation of fine spirits, with food, music and ambiance that pay homage to the vibe of an old New York speakeasy. But when the pandemic temporarily shuttered Tardie’s clubs, the hospitality entrepreneur grew restless and looked for something new to launch. One option quickly appealed: the idea of making barrel-aged coffee, aging green coffee beans in barrels that were previously used to hold spirits, such as whisky, rye and rum. Tardie’s a coffee drinker—no milk or sugar—so barrel-aged coffee would embody two of his passions. After months of research into sourcing coffee beans, sourcing barrels and determining the best way to combine them, Tardie and his wife Davi created Morning Dram, which they describe as “coffee for the spirits drinker.” There are three styles: bourbon, rye and Apera sherry. The beans are all aged in the corresponding barrels and have a balanced but distinct smell and taste of the spirits. (They don’t contain alcohol, though–just flavor.) This is coffee that doesn’t need a double pump of pumpkin spice or whipped cream on top; it’s for people who might sip their morning dram just as they might sip an evening spirit—to savor it.
I’m one of the apparently millions of people who adopted a rescue dog during the pandemic. Boomer, a mix of a Lab and who knows what else, is a gem. He loves the kids, sleeps a lot and doesn’t bark at the FedEx guy. But walking him in the winter is tough—both his morning and his evening walks take place when it’s dark outside, and I live on a winding road. Cars zip around corners and don’t have a lot of time to see pedestrians.
The Headlightz Beanie was designed for just such situations: It’s a lifesaver for both humans and dogs. This heavy-knit cotton hat has a headlight sewn right into it, so you can walk your dog (or, really, just walk, you don’t have to have a dog) when it’s dark without holding a flashlight. The lamp has three strength settings—a button in the middle turns it on and adjusts the settings—and can last for up to eight hours. After that, you can recharge it through a USB cable. So when you do have to leave the house on a cold winter’s morning or night, you’ll be not only warmer, but safer.
This gift showcases two things that have aged extremely well: the music of the Beatles and the creativity of Lego, which seems more ambitious every year. This 2,933-piece set is particularly timely this year, as the Peter Jackson Beatles documentary, Get Back, has reinvigorated so many people’s love and admiration for the Fab Four. Fittingly, Lego’s The Beatles has four build options—John, Paul, George and Ringo, obviously. You can’t do all four at once, but you can disassemble each to make the next, which Is something I’ve never seen in a Lego set before. (Hardcore fans, of course, can just buy four sets.) The images were inspired by the portraits of the band members included in the White Album.
I’ve owned a prior version of this wireless speaker for almost a decade, but never thought of it as dated; the quality of the Zeppelin’s sound is exceptional—wonderfully clear, room-filling, three-dimensional—and that hasn’t changed over the years. It’s been more than enough speaker to fill the 1,000 square-foot space in which I use it. And I love having bought a piece of electronic equipment that doesn’t become obsolete in three years. The sound quality and the simple, clean design of the Zeppelin make it timeless; it feels like a sculpture as much as a speaker.
Still, this new Zeppelin is a meaningful improvement. For one thing, it seems to have fixed the one frustrating issue I found in my old Zeppelin—occasionally erratic connectivity. Once in a while, for no discernable reason, the old Zeppelin would sometimes drop the wireless signal, leading to a tedious process of unplugging and rebooting the speaker and then reconnecting it to my iPhone, which is what I use as a music library. After weeks of using a new Zeppelin, however, I haven’t experienced that issue once. There’s also a nice aesthetic improvement: While my old Zeppelin had an LED light that glowed green and red (not good), and sometimes blinked, this new version has dimmable ambient lighting emanating from its underside. It indicates that the Zeppelin is connected, and also, not to be underappreciated, it just looks cool. You can control the Zeppelin with the Bowers & Wilkins app, and for Google folks, it has Alexa built in.
Of course, the sound is the most important thing, and to my ears, this version sounds just a bit better than my older model—a little crisper, a little truer, with the elements of a song presenting themselves distinctively, even at loud volumes. (And this Zeppelin can get plenty loud.) My ultimate test came when my son’s drum teacher, a professional drummer, came by the house. I asked him to give a listen as we cranked up The Cars’ classic, “Candy-O.” That paradigmatic drum beat kicks in—it’s a great one for beginning drummers— then Elliott Easton on lead guitar, Greg Hawkes’ flickering keyboard, Benjamin Orr on vocals…and the drum teacher began to nod his head and smile. “That’s good,” he said, before asking me to text him more information about the Zeppelin. Consider it done.
Here’s a chilly combination: Meteorologists are predicting a cold winter, and economists are predicting high heating oil prices. So a warm, cozy comforter makes even more sense than usual. I like this one from Sunday Citizen, which has a waffle texture on top and viscose bamboo for the face-down side. (The viscose bamboo is not as eco-friendly as it sounds, but the filling is made using 50 recycled plastic bottles, which is better.) The result is a comforter that is attractive, machine-washable, super soft and, most important, remarkably effective at keeping you warm.
Financial advice is both cheap—just Google it—and expensive. Sometimes that’s because you pay a lot for good advice. Sometimes it’s because you don’t, and you get bad advice that costs you money. This calendar from financial journalist Farnoosh Torabi doesn’t cost a lot, but it’s chock full of good advice. Each day has a piece of financial wisdom. January 6 tells you how to prioritize your investments; June 16 tells you how to automate your savings; December 7, fittingly, reminds you to plan for the worst-case scenario. None of this is rocket science, but it’s clearly and responsibly written, doesn’t overpromise and is highly actionable. From a cost-benefit perspective, this may be the best financial advice I’ve ever seen.
Although this list largely encompasses items for you to enjoy at home, I also recognize that you’re going to need to go out some this holiday season. And when you do, this is the mask you’re going to want to have on hand. If we ever thought that face masks were going to come and go, that moment has surely passed: COVID now seems to be an ongoing fact of life. But even if we had totally beaten COVID, many people are now so used to masks, they’re uncomfortable not wearing them in certain situations—on planes and subways, for example. Which is why it’s funny that most masks still aren’t very good: If they’re effective at screening germs, they look like something you’d wear in a war zone. If they’re stylish, they’re often not effective. These masks from Avantguard combine form and function. Made of antimicrobial pure silver fiber “for maximum bacterial and viral protection,” they’re also perhaps the most breathable mask of all the ones I’ve tried in the past 18 months or so; you can almost forget they’re on your face. And they’re handsome. Like it or not, these face masks look like they were built to last.
The new year is a perfect time to launch into new reading, and these beautiful books will inspire you to live up to your literary resolutions. Japanese Screens is a stunning, primarily visual history of this 1,300-year-old Japanese art form. (Japanese screens are functional, but they’re so beautiful, they should really be thought of as art.) The book itself is beautifully packaged and comes with a poster-sized, frameable reproduction of a screen.
The art of Japanese cocktail-making is probably not as ancient as that of Japanese screen-making, but that’s sort of the point—these two books show the passion and perfectionism of Japanese culture from centuries ago to today. Author Masahiro Urushido launched Katan Kitten, a West Village bar, in 2018, after seven years as bartender at East Village bar Saxon + Parole. You’ll recognize most of the spirits in his creations, but it’s the mixers and added ingredients that really distinguish these cocktails—umeshu, or plum sake, helps turn a Negroni into a Meguroni; coconut salt gives a tropical flair to the Dreamcatcher, which is mostly a mixture of High West whisky and Dolin Blanc vermouth. Reading this book will make you thirsty.
Moving from Asia to Africa, Melissa Biggs Bradley’s Safari Style offers dreamy photos of safari lodges from South Africa to Kenya. Biggs Bradley—who, full disclosure, is my cousin-in-law, but has been a leader in the luxury travel field for decades—knows her stuff, but inevitably Taroni’s photographs are the real star of this book. They’ll make you want to book a ticket tomorrow…if you can only decide which of these lodges is the most beautiful.
The holidays, and winter in general, are a great time to try out those wines you’ve been saving for special occasions—or that you haven’t saved but would if you weren’t so impatient to try them. If you live in a cold weather climate, as I do, it feels like the perfect time to light a fire, cook a steak and drink something exceptional. This duo from Napa’s To Kalon Vineyards feels special indeed. Dating back to 1868, To Kalon is one of Napa’s most important vineyards—some might say the most important—renowned for the caliber of its grapes and the cabernet sauvignon made from them. This pair offers two compelling examples. The 2018 Highest Beauty cabernet sauvignon, from grapes handpicked at night and aged for 20 months in new French oak, is a big but well-structured wine, certainly worth cellaring but hard to resist drinking now. Eliza’s, named after a very early owner of part of the To Kalon vineyard, is a new wine for To Kalon Vineyard Co., which is exciting. It’s a blend of cabernet franc, which adds spice and floral scents, and cabernet sauvignon, which gives the wine depth and structure and black-fruit character. Cellar it for years to come, or drink now. Decisions, decisions… Whichever choice you make, you can’t lose.
I’m old enough to remember when, in the early 1990s, the New York Times first started printing photographs in color. “Sacrilege!” some said. “Blasphemy!” The Times, critics lamented, would never be taken seriously again. Now, of course, the idea of a purely black-and-white newspaper, whether in print or online, seems inconceivable. It’s hard to image what all the fuss was about.
I imagine there are people who still feel that way about light bulbs that change color, but I’m not one of them. As with newspaper photographs, light bulbs that didn’t have colors always felt to me like a temporary, transient technology. Color is so important to mood, to experience, to state of mind—why wouldn’t you want light bulbs that can help create a mood, or relax you or even invigorate you?
This is why I’m such a big fan of the Philips Hue personal wireless lighting. (There are options from other manufacturers, but in my opinion, the Philips Hue is the best combination of light bulb, wireless hub and app.) Philips says the light bulb offers “millions” of colors, which I’m sure is true but is about 999 more colors than I’m conscious of when I use these bulbs. But it’s a blast to set the room to a movie-screen blue when watching Netflix at night or a twilight sunset when you want to relax or a more focused white when you really need to concentrate. You control the lights through the Hue app, which means you don’t have to be at home to turn them on or off—a huge blessing for travelers worried about home security. Perhaps the nicest feature of the Philips Hue personal lighting is the way that it can freshen rooms of your house that you take for granted. Change the light colors in the room, and suddenly you see it in a whole new way—the cheapest and most fun way to redecorate that I can imagine.