Holiday gift guide 2017 – 3 personal items, 2 wine accessories and 5 books

So hard to buy gifts for some people. And many of us don’t have the imagination or that special gift-choosing gene that makes a person especially talented at finding gifts that are just right for others. So if you’re among the gift-buying-impaired, you probably like to look through gift guides. Never know when you’ll hit on something you wouldn’t have thought of but that seems just right for your dad, your adult offspring, best friend, grandkid or whoever.
Spoonful of Comfort soup

If you have a sick friend – or just one who loves homemade soup – consider Spoonful of Comfort. They deliver handcrafted soups in four classic versions: chicken noodle, butternut squash, tomato basil, and vegetable. Plus, the 64-ounce jar of soup comes complete with rolls and a cute ladle that’s good for serving and also as a keepsake. The promo material seems to indicate you can send just soup, but we weren’t able to get the website to accept an order that did not also include cookies. The company, featured on Shark Tank, also has gluten free soups. Unique gift for someone you care about and is perfect for the man/woman who has everything. Prices for soup and cookie packages start at $69.99.

Extra emollient, moisture-repairing lip balm epiCeram-L

Winter = dry, cracked lips for many of us. When invited to test a product that promises to heal – rather than mask – that condition, we were enthusiastic. EpiCeram-L Lip Care, which says it is different, does indeed feel different from our usual Chapstick routine. This lip balm actually made our lips feel noticeably better after only 30 minutes. This lip-care product’s claim to therapeutic ability is based on its being lipid-based (meaning it contains three of the body’s natural fats – ceramides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol). These lipids are said to literally replenish lost moisture to rejuvenate and repair cracked lips. Happily, the product is steroid-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, petrolatum-free, fragrance-free, color-free, and lanolin-free. The promo says to expect significant results within one week of use. At $44.95 for a 3-pack, this is not a cheap product. But if you tend to have serious issues with keeping your lips moist, it is definitely worth a try. And could make a truly appreciated gift to a loved one – especially one you like to kiss. We’ll keep testing as winter progresses and update you.

Itzy expandable bag

Itzy. Imagine a shopping bag so tiny it fits in the palm of your hand – but that easily expands to many square inches to hold almost anything you need to carry. Keep a few in your pocket or in your big bag so when you go to the grocery or wherever, here in Chicago you don’t have to pay the 7-cents-per-bag tax for store-provided bags. And you’ll be truly helping the environment. Use it for shopping, laundry, shoes, the beach, toys, and more. And happily, when the carrying task is done, the Itzy shrinks back to its Itzy size. . . over. . . and over again. A win-win all around. A set of three for $20 – black, purple or white. Fun gift for your busy friends, too. Get ’em here. Also available for purchase on Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, The Grommet, Catalog companies, and online at Coming soon to Walmart.

Fun holiday or hostess gift – design your own wine label

Wine is almost always a welcome gift for the holiday season and how about this idea: custom bottle labels from OnlineLabels. They come in standard white matte material as well as some waterproof options that don’t smear (one specifically for inkjet printers, another for laser printers). The waterproof labels work even for white wines that may be chilled in the fridge or placed in an ice bucket.

Check out the pre-designed templates to use with the labels. The company says more will be added soon. Below are a few creative ways blank wine bottle labels can be used to add a personal touch to any holiday party or family gathering.
  • Print-and-go wine bottle labels – these are perfect for wrapping up and taking with you to parties as host/hostess gifts.
  • Better-than-holiday-card wine bottle labels – instead of handing printed holiday cards to everyone, give them the same message on a bottle of their favorite wine!
  • Office party favor wine bottle labels- impress your employees and their guests with branded wine bottles as the office holiday party favor.
Choose from a variety of sizes for the most popular wine bottles on the market. So pick a wine, choose a template, and design a cool gift.
Coravin Wine Preservation Opener

Coravin Wine Systems. Do you love good wines but like to savor them one glass at a time or even one sip at a time? Consider Coravin’s unique Wine Preservation Opener for tapping any bottle of wine – even screwtops – for just a sip or a glass at a time while perfectly preserving the remainder of the bottle. Read our review of Coravin Wine Preservation Opener here. $200 and up for systems with varying accessories.

Cooking with Booze – cool ideas for using up leftover liquor

Cooking with Booze by George Harvey Bone. For your spirit-loving chef-wannabe friends, this book is affordable and charming, A great way to make a dent in those bottles of tequila or rum or other spirit you bought to make one cocktail recipe and haven’t touched since. Imagine: Watercress Salad with Tequila Tangerine Dressing (p. 120). Or Mushrooms a le Carré (butter-sautéed with onion, garlic, lemon double cream and brandy p. 111 – yum!). Wild Turkey Wild Turkey (turkey breast strips marinated in honey, Worcestershire, Dijon and Wild Turkey bourbon, fried and broiled with cheese p. 78). Fun cookbook by a Britisher with both British and American measurements. Get it on Amazon for under 2 bucks.

111 places in Chicago

111 Places in Chicago that You Must Not Miss, by Amy Bizzarri with photos by Susie Inverso. Bizzarri has done her research with duly creative diligence. Her book spotlights unusual or little-known locations all over the city and gives a little history about each as well as all pertinent information like website, hours, and interesting tidbits. A few notable spots we hadn’t heard of: Optimo Hats, 51 W. Jackson Blvd., historic home of classic and custom made hats.  Magic, Inc., 1838 W. Lawrence Ave., supplier to magicians and mentalists. Kusanya Cafe & Roastery, 825 W. 69th St., offers a cup of Joe with a side of community – a far cry from Starbucks. MSRP for the book ~$20 but available at Target for $13.53.

Start to Finish Chicago!

Start to Finish Chicago! – Meticulously handmade line drawings of iconic Chicago buildings, statues and more that include complex maze paths throughout each picture. Fun for kids or grownups who love Chicago and want to know more about famous landmarks. Unique gift for young and old giftees who love the challenge of navigating the pathways.

Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and In the Wild, by Demet Güzey, PhD, who writes about food and culture and, for fun, climbs mountains. Part of the Food on the Go series, this is definitely a history book and has an academic feel to it, so it’s not for everyone. But if you’re into culinary history, this is a perfect book to peruse on, say, a dark, chilly winter day when you have nothing else pressing. Light a candle and imagine yourself in the shoes of the pilgrims, pioneers, soldiers and explorers she writes about – making their way in every kind of environment, from desert to polar.  How did they store food? What tools did they use for preparing? What kinds of food did they manage to acquire and preserve while traveling? Based on historical facts – like how German soldiers drugged with meth were able to fight longer, and how Marco Polo crossed the Gobi Desert at age 21. Extensive bibliography suggests lots of further reading. MSRP $38.
Expressive Nature Photography

Expressive Nature Photography: Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery, by Brenda Tharp, naturalist, teacher and photographer. The book is full of expert tips for mid-level photographers on topics like shooting at night, using filters to create long exposure, creating natural effects using light painting, controlling visual flow, successfully breaking rules of composition, and finding story in a landscape. Written in clear, informative style, the author offers insights on learning to see, woring with color, and other techniques to help even seasoned nature photographers hone their artistic skill. And even if you’re just a wannabe photographer, you can enjoy the beautiful pictures and learning about how they were selected, positioned and framed by the artist/author. Tharp’s excitement and creativity shine forth from the book’s images and its prose. MSRP ~$30 but available on Amazon for ~$18 and in Kindle for $11.