gift guide 2014

33 weeks. Getting real.

Hello friends, i’m sad to report it’s been over a month since I’ve last visited this space. I was quite keen on writing sooner, but between work, editing books, Thanksgiving, and my baby shower, it’s been on the busy end. On weeknights I get home around seven thirty, and by the time we make dinner, eat it, and clean up, I’m so tired that even reading a few pages in bed seems like a Herculean task. Personal errands pile up until the weekend – and I think it’s safe to say we’ve become those boring adults we always thought we’d never be. The joke’s on us.

Still, we’re in the midst of the holidays, and while I know there are some grumbles about how commercial the holiday season can be, I like to think of it as perhaps an opportunity to support you favorite small shops: mortar-and-brick as well as online. I don’t like to think of this season as obligatory, I think it’s far more important that we spend time together.

For the record, this picture has nothing to do with food or holidays, but this pregnancy thing is getting real. 33 weeks. Wow.

If you are feeling like you want to (and can) treat your loved ones (or yourself), here are some of my favorite things these days.


These fabulous framed city screen prints – I think would look fantastic in every home. Depending how our finances figure out with le bebe and all, I’d love to get one either of Chicago or New York for our home. For folks wondering about Chicago, Andrew spent a few years there doing improv theatre and it’s a place that’s near and dear to his heart.

If you’re in search of fun Christmas tree ornaments in the spirit of Wes Anderson, look no further. These bandit raccoons, traveling mice, festive foxes, and well-accessorized bunnies are the cutest tree decorations I’ve seen in awhile. They’ve even got me wishing for a holiday shrubbery (hint, hint, Andrew!) As an aside, I’m absolutely in love with Collyer’s Mansion, a home goods shop in our neighborhood, and have gotten to know its owner, Mauri, over the year we’ve lived in this area. Everything Mauri sells at the store is high on design and function. I could easily spend my entire paycheck there every month.

Helen Levi is a ceramic artist working and living in Brooklyn. I first came across her name when I was testing recipes with Ben Van Leeuwen for our upcoming ice cream book (which, auspiciously, is slated to be released on June 16 – which happens to be both our wedding anniversary and Bloomsday!). He’s known Helen for quite some time and she had made these beautiful white tumblers for him which he used around the house. I’ve been so taken with her work that I’m constantly obsessing over her Instagram feed – I want, literally, everything Helen makes! These tumblers! Or these mugs! Or this pitcher! Whimsical planters! And while her work is not inexpensive, I think it’s very fairly priced given the amount of work involved and her incredible talent.

This mug. I don’t think much else needs to be said.

I’m smitten with these Conway Electric power strips. I’ve never seen power strips that are both functional and beautifully designed. These, albeit a touch pricey, are really lovely and instead of hiding mine from out of sight, I’d want to display them – how’s that for a game-changer?

More ceramics! I’m new to Josephine Heilpern’s work but I’m already a huge fan! How fabulous are these mugs? Or this planter? Beautiful, functional, timeless.

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef – If I could give one cookbook as a gift today it would be this one. Yeah, I know I work for Phaidon Press, and no I’m not trying to promote it because I work here. This book captured my heart in a very unexpected way. While there are recipes in the back of the book, it’s not meant so much for cooking so much as for inspiration. The essays preceding each dish are beautiful,filled with childhood memories of cooking with family, Italian reverence for ingredients, and the evolution of a chef. Beautifully written, with evocative language, Massimo Bottura (the chef behind a three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy) traces some of his favorite food memories with delight, whimsy, and deep respect for the Italian cooking tradition. At the same time, he’s clearly someone who likes to have a lot of fun – by serving you something called “Oops, we broke the lemon tart!” where everything comes in splatters and shards – and is a bit of a fun, child-like, joyful mess. I’ve read this book cover to cover twice – and it’s a safe bet I’ll be reading it again over and over.

If I could give two cookbooks as a gift, it would be the one above and Dana Cowin’s Mastering My Mistakes In the Kitchen. This is the kind of practical, hands-on, don’t-be-afraid home cooking advice that most home cooks need in the kitchen. Written with my friend, Julia Turshen, an immense talent in the kitchen and a gift for making the complicated simple, the book is full of recipes you’ll make over and over and incorporate into your regular cooking repertoire. This isn’t so much an aspirational book as one that is more like a knowledgeable friend who teaches you, calmly and steadily, exactly how she makes her signature soup or stew.

And if I had two more books to give as gifts, they would be Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry by Cathy Wheelbarrow and My Paris Kitchen* by David Lebovitz. [Full disclaimer: I personally know both Cathy and David.] I received a review copies from the respective publishers. David’s book came in the spring – and I spent a good chunk of time cooking quite a bit out of it. It’s a keeper and is my all time favorite book of David’s. I love everything about it, and every recipe is not only meticulously tested – but also delicious. Cathy’s book came to me in the fall, right as I was learning the ropes at Phaidon and smack in the middle of edits for one of the cookbooks, and all throughout fall it’s been a relentless schedule of full-time work and freelance one. I read the book cover to cover, and decided that come spring and summer, I’ll be making some fabulous baby food out of it. The book is beautiful and helpful, but most importantly, as the name suggests, infinitely practical. While I’m not planning on making my own charcuterie and cheese any time soon, I quite like having a book that tells me how to do it. But jams, purees, pie fillings, and so on, I love having it all in one tidy book that will feel as useful in twenty years as it does now.

And lastly, seeing as I’m soon to enter that fun, scary terra incognita otherwise known as motherhood, I’ve had my sights set on this fabulous Maya Brenner initial necklace. Once our baby is born and we give him or her the name, I’m hoping for one of these. Never one to outright suggest gifts, I emailed the link to Andrew and he’s fully on board.

Happy weekend and holiday season. I hope to be back next week to share a soup recipe I’ve been sitting on for a month (if not longer). xo, olga

*I completely forgot to include David’s book because I honestly thought it had come out last year, but as I leafed through it this morning, for dinner inspiration tonight, I realized it was the spring of this year, and felt it would be a disservice not to mention it – it’s really fantastic!


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