SkyMall Monday: Anniversary Gifts

gadling skymall monday love you more anniversaryLast week, my fiancée and I celebrated our two-year anniversary. We met and went out on our first date on the same day (I work fast). We’re getting married next Spring, so we’ll soon have a new anniversary to celebrate. Do we stop celebrating our initial anniversary date? Do we celebrate both anniversaries? How does that work? Anyway, it was obviously a festive week at SkyMall Monday headquarters. Naturally, it had me thinking quite a bit about presents. Thankfully, SkyMall has gift guides organized by occasion, so they do all of the thinking for you. Whether you and your betrothed have been together for a year, a decade or what seems like an eternity, our favorite catalog has the right gift to say all the things that words cannot express. Choose your gift carefully, however, because what you select says a great deal about you and your relationship.There are 125 gifts listed in SkyMall’s “Anniversary Gifts” category. I have chosen to ignore all of the jewelry and flowers. Why? Because those are obvious and traditional gifts and you don’t need SkyMall’s help to be dull. You’re probably doing a bang up job of that all by yourself. You’ve turned to SkyMall because you need inspiration to be creative and keep your relationship spicy.

Now, let’s take a look at some of SkyMall’s best anniversary gifts and what they say to your special someone:

Love You More Wood Plaque

From the product description:

You’ve played the flirty back-and-forth game. Now you can finally have the last word.

What it says to your significant other: I wish you wouldn’t make me end all of our phone calls by saying, “I wuv you, Snugglebottoms,” while I’m out with my friends.

Soap Roses

From the product description:

Display them and softly scent a room. Peel off a petal and lather between your hands. Sprinkle a handful of petals in warm bath water…

What it says about your relationship: After years together, we’ve lost our physical intimacy and I’ve taken matters into my own hands while in the shower.

gadling skymall monday yukataYukata Cover-Up

From the product description:

Yukatas are pieces of wearable art – no two are exactly alike. Our 100% spun crushed Japanese Rayon is the most luxurious of all Rayons and meets the highest fashion standard.

What it says about you: You’re a connoisseur of rayon. You never got over your Asian fetish.

Bonus fun fact: The Yukata Cover-Up is produced by Jams World, the same company that made those extra long boardshorts that I wore in the 1980s.

Bonus video: If you enjoy lounge music, beach scenes and attractive women with their arms akimbo, then this is the video for you.

Large Organic Fruit Sampler

No product description needed or provided. We all know what a fruit basket is.

What it says about everything: I think you’ve gotten fat.

Happy anniversary!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Learning to love durian: why the world’s stinkiest fruit is better than wine, cheese or chocolate

Durian. No other fruit creates such conflicting opinions. Throughout Southeast Asia the green, hedgehog-shaped “king of the fruits” is appreciated as haute cuisine to be savored like wine or truffles. Westerners, however, are confounded by the hype because, well, durians smell like road kill wrapped in sweaty socks and have the texture of rotten bananas. We nod our heads in approval when we see “No Durian” signs in swanky hotel lobbies and on the Singapore Metro.

I was first introduced to Durian when I was 20 years old in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My Thai friends told me to take it slow and start with durian ice cream or cookies, which capture the flavor but not the smell. They were right — the absence of the intense odor helps get the stuff down, but I still wasn’t crazy about the flavor; the almost-tangy, near-putrid aftertaste lingers for several minutes even after being baked into a biscuit. Durian, in any form, doesn’t want you to forget it.

Years went by and I tried durian in several countries. I politely ate small bites when they were offered to me by locals, I once ate a big slab of it at the bottom of an ice cendol (a sugary Malaysian shaved ice dessert) and in the center fillings of chocolates, and I found out that durian means “thorny” in Indonesian and that you can potentially kill a person by throwing one at someone’s head. But I still didn’t think it tasted very good.Then, a few months ago, almost 20 years after my first durian experience, I arrived in Malaysia at the height of durian season. The fruit, in a dizzying number of varietals, was displayed in stall after stall at markets and along roadsides. Locals were scrambling to get in as much durian eating as they could and the smell was everywhere. After a few weeks of inhaling the odor daily, for some strange reason, it stopped smelling bad and actually made me hungry. I wanted to eat durian. It was weird.

So while in Melaka I asked my friends Brandon and Choo if they could take me out to show me what all the hullabaloo was about. They were thrilled.

We drove to a small temporary wood shack along a busy road. Choo explained to the owners of this glorified fruit stand why I was here and their eyes immediately sparkled with purpose. It’s not everyday a Westerner wants to learn about durian and they were going to do their darnedest to make sure I left loving their fruit. My two friends and I were graciously seated at a simple wooden table behind the fruit rack.

“Sweet or creamy?” was the first question.

I had no idea.

They decided it was best to start with sweet and brought me a varietal called D13.

We cut open the fruit and dug in with our fingers, pulling out individual sections, each with a hazelnut-sized seed in the middle. The durian pulp was as slimy as I remembered, but without the smell bothering me there was no psychological barrier getting it in my mouth. Then, the surprise: It tasted like sugar cream, a little like creme brulee but with more personality. I took more bites and the flavor deepened. The overall taste was sweet, more wholesome than sugar, more pure than a peach or a berry; in fact it was the best sweet thing I’d ever eaten in my life. How had I not experienced real durian like this before? Had the others been un-ripe or inferior varietals? No one could answer these questions.

“Maybe your palate has matured,” Brandon suggested.

We finished the sweet durian and now it was time for the creamy one, a durian susu. This fruit had bigger pods than the first and the luscious sugary flavor was more subtle. It made up for this in texture. It was like half-solidified whipped cream crossed with a marshmallow. Ecstatically enveloped in an unbearable lightness of gustatory being, I ate more, and as I did I liked it more. Unfortunately each of the two fruits were almost the size of my own head and by the middle of the durian susu I was absolutely stuffed.

I could eat no more but luckily my Malaysian friends had better stomach capacity than I and finished off the last of the sections.

To end the fruit orgy, we each took the shell of about a quarter of a durian, filled it with slightly salted water and drank it down in a few gulps. This I was told is to cool the body since durians generate internal heat. It can also stop you from sweating durian smell the next day. For this, I was glad. Next we ran cold water through the husks to wash our hands, apparently the best way to get the stink off. It worked. As far as I could tell we left without a hint of eau de damp socks.

“You are now an honorary Asian,” Brandon said as we left.

And, as un-Asian as I may be, I felt like it. I had moved to the other side where durian is the indisputable king of the fruits. In my opinion durian is better than wine, cheese, chocolate (hard to say but true) and just about anything else edible on our planet. So believe me, it’s worth trying again and again. Start with the ice cream, hold your nose and let your taste buds lead you to bliss.

[flickr image via YIM Hafiz]

Best ice cream in America not just from a shop

best ice cream AmericaSince Memorial Day is past, I think it’s safe to say we’ve officially entered ice cream season (National Ice Cream Day is July 17) Unless you live in Seattle, in which case, it’s still winter, but never mind. We still have great ice cream.

What makes for acclaim-worthy ice cream? Food writers like me tend to look for an emphasis on local/seasonal ingredients, including dairy. I love high butterfat ice cream, because my feeling is, if I’m going to indulge (I’m also lactose intolerant, so it’s really taking one for the team) I want something insanely creamy and smooth, with a rich, full, mouthfeel. Gummy or chewy ice cream is the hallmark of stabilizers such as guar or xanthan gum. The fewer the ingredients, the better, in my book. Hormone/antibiotic-free cream, milk, eggs; fruit or other flavoring agent(s). That’s it.

Much ado is made of unusual ice cream flavors, and I agree that creativity is welcome, as long as it remains in check. But there’s something to be said about purity, as well. If you can’t make a seriously kickass chocolate or vanilla, you may as well shut your doors.

Below is a round-up of my favorite ice cream shops, farmers market stands, food trucks, and carts (the latter two a growing source of amazing ice cream) across the country. If your travel plans include a visit to one of these cities, be sure to drop by for a dairy or non-dairy fix; most of these places do offer sorbet, or coconut milk or soy substitutes. Some also sell via mail order and at other retail outlets; check each site for details.

1. San Francisco: Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop
When I lived in Berkeley, I used to make special trips into the City just to shop at Bi-Rite Market, a beloved neighborhood grocery in the Mission District that specializes in all things local, organic/sustainable, and handcrafted, from produce to chocolate. When they opened a tiny, adorable creamery across and up the street a few years ago, it was with the same ethos and business practices in mind. Organic milk and cream are sourced from Straus Family Creamery in adjacent Marin County, fruit from nearby family farms. Salted Caramel is a best seller; I’m a slave to Brown Butter Pecan, and Creme Fraiche. Every rich, creamy mouthful is about purity of flavor, but sundaes and new soft-serve flavors are also available.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Barbara L. Hanson]best ice cream americaRunner-up is three-year-old Humphrey Slocombe, also in the Mission. Personally, I can live without Government Cheese, Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke), or Foie Gras ice cream, but I can definitely get behind Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes), Prosciutto (somehow, it makes sense, whereas I just don’t like my diseased goose liver in dairy form), Honey Thyme, and Cucumber Ice Milk. Like Bi-Rite, dairy also comes from Straus, and local food artisans and farmers provide the goods for most of the esoteric to downright freakish flavors. Bottom line: what doesn’t repulse you is good stuff

2. Brooklyn: Van Leeuwen
While in Williamsburg two weeks ago, I stumbled upon one of Van Leeuwen’s famous, butter-yellow ice cream vans (co-founder Ben Van Leeuwen used to be a Good Humor driver). It was tough to decide on a flavor, given the lovely, lyrical sound of the mostly botanical flavors such as ginger, currants and cream, and Earl Gray. I chose palm sugar, which was an ethereal blend of sweet, high-quality dairy Van Leeuwen sources from a farmer he knows in Franklin County, and the caramelly richness of the sugar. Props too, for using all biodegradable materials. Van Leeuwen also has stores in Greenpoint and Boerum Hill. A trusted friend in Brooklyn also highly recommends the Asian-inflected flavors at Sky Ice, a Thai family-owned spot in Park Slope.

3. Chicago: Snookelfritz Ice Cream Artistry
Pastry chef Nancy Silver stands behind her unassuming little stall at Chicago’s Green City Market in Lincoln Park, dishing out some of the most spectacular ice cream in the country. Snooklefritz specializes in seasonal ice creams, sherbets, and sorbets using Kilgus Farmstead heavy cream and Meadow Haven organic eggs. The result are creations such as the deeply flavorful maple-candied hickory nut, and heavenly brown sugar and roasted peach ice creams, and a creamy, dreamy Klug Farms blackberry sherbet.

4. Seattle: Full Tilt Ice Cream
The city’s most iconoclastic ice cream shop (on my first visit, the ska-punk band Three Dead Whores was playing…at the shop) has opened several locations in the last two years, but the original is in the ethnically diverse, yet-to-gentrify part of South Seattle known as White Center. That accounts for flavors like horchata, Mexican chocolate, ube (purple yam), and bourbon caramel (if you saw the patrons at the open-at-6am tavern next door, you’d understand). Enjoy Memphis King (peanut butter, banana, and chocolate-covered bacon) with a beer pairing while scoping out local art on the walls or playing pinball. Over in hipster-heavy Capitol Hill, Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream & Tea Room does the PacNW justice by offering an intense, almost savory Elysian Stout (the brewery is two blocks away), and a spot-on Stumptown Coffee ice cream. Not as high in butterfat as the other ice creams on this list, but well-made, and full of flavor, using Washington state dairy.
best ice cream america
5. Portland, Oregon: Salt & Straw
“Farm to Cone” is the motto at this new ice cream cart/soon-to-be-storefront in the Alberta Arts District. Think local ingredients, and sophisticated, fun flavors that pack a punch like a lovely pear and blue cheese, honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper, hometown Stumptown Coffee with cocoa nibs, and brown ale with bacon. The 17% butterfat content is courtesy of the herd at Oregon’s 4th generation Lochmead Dairy.

6. Columbus, Ohio: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Jeni’s has a clutch of stores now, but the family-owned original is in Columbus. The Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey, and Freisan cows at Ohio’s Snowville Creamery produce high-butterfat milk and cream, which, according to Jeni’s, goes from “cow to our kitchen within 48 hours.” The result are flavors ranging from signature Buckeye State (salty peanut butter with chunks of dark chocolate) and Riesling Poached Pear sorbet, to seasonal treats such as Backyard Mint, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, and Strawberry Buttermilk. Down home and delicious.

7. Boston: Toscanini’s
From Burnt Caramel to Grape Nut, Cake Batter, Cardamom Coffee, or Banana sorbet, this wildly popular Cambridge shop is, in the words of a colleague, “consistently original and good.” Equally wonderful is Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream, also in Cambridge. It’s attached to the family-owned spice shop: the results are fresh, potent flavors such as Cinnamon, Herbal Chai, French Vanilla, Fresh Rose or Mint, and Bergamot. Five sorbets are available daily, as well.

[Photo credits: bourbon, Flickr user gigaman; bacon, Flickr user miss_rogue]

This eggnog ice cream from Van Leeuwen is admittedly Christmasy-sounding, but just think of it as “custard” ice cream (and a way to subconsciously cool off, while watching this clip). Pair with luscious summer fruit, such as sliced nectarines, cherries, strawberries, or plums.

Van Leeuwen Eggnog Ice Cream Recipe

Gadling’s rankings of hotel breakfast buffet foods

gadling hotel breakfast buffet bacon sausage

One of the magical things about staying at a hotel is enjoying the breakfast buffet. At home, you might just have a bowl of cereal, a banana or a cup of coffee for breakfast. Heck, many people just skip breakfast. Does it mean nothing to you that it’s the most important meal of the day? At hotels, however, you can indulge in all of your breakfast fantasies. Rather than studying a diner menu while agonizing over whether you’re craving the sweetness of french toast or the savory goodness of eggs, you can have it all at the breakfast buffet. How you attack the buffet is critical to maximizing your enjoyment. That’s why we’re here with our official rankings of all of the hotel breakfast buffet foods.

The Unquestionable Top Five

1. Bacon

Because it’s bacon. When I was a kid, my mother limited how often we could have bacon. It was a treat. At the hotel breakfast buffet, however, you can have an entire plate dedicated to just those salty, succulent strips. And that plate can be refilled.

gadling hotel breakfast buffet foods fruit2. Fruit

Bet you didn’t see that coming! Fruit, when purchased individually from a menu, can be expensive. Restaurants will rip you off if you just want a bowl of fruit and yogurt. At the buffet, however, you can go to town on some fruit like some sort of crazed monkey. Adding fruit to your plate helps you justify the amount of bacon you plan to consume. If you’ve traveled a great distance, fruit is also an excellent way to prevent scurvy.

3. Omelet Station

Omelets are tricky to make at home because we often don’t have all of the ingredients to truly do them justice. How many times have you found yourself with eggs but no cheese? Or eggs and cheese but no vegetables? Or eggs, cheese and vegetables but no frying pan? Plus, flipping omelets is tricky. That’s why it’s best to just let someone else do it for you while you hover over them and realize that watching someone make an omelet is pretty boring. Maybe just use that time to get yourself some juice.

4. Waffles

This refers only to waffles that you can freshly make on a waffle maker. Firstly, you feel satisfied knowing that you prepared part of your own breakfast. You can survive anywhere! Secondly, you’ll be able to top your waffle with syrup, powdered sugar, butter, fresh fruit and nuts. Sure beats those Eggos that you normally toast up!

5. Assorted Breads

At home, you might have some bread that you can toast up. It’s OK but nothing special. At the hotel breakfast buffet, your cup runneth over with bread options (tip: don’t put your toast in a cup). Muffins, sliced breads with multiple grains, croissants (both mini and standard sizes), bagels, rolls and the holy grail of buffet breads, biscuits. Grab as many butter packets as you can fit in your pockets and carbo load like you’re running a marathon. But, remember what your mother used to warn you: Don’t fill up on bread.

The Questionable Remainders

gadling rankings hotel breakfast foods eggs6. Eggs

Here’s where things get tricky. Buffet scrambled eggs suck more often than they don’t. They’re always bland, often overcooked and occasionally just loose disasters. Our advice: skip the scrambled eggs. If you really want scrambled eggs, however, and there’s an omelet station, we recommend that you ask the omelet sommelier to prepare you some freshly scrambled eggs. Plus, you can ask for omelet items in your scramble. Win-win!

Hard boiled eggs are a nice treat because preparing them at home is just not that enjoyable. They make your kitchen smell, you get shells everywhere and there are more exciting things to do with your eggs. But when ready-to-eat hard boiled eggs are just presented to you, you best take advantage. All other eggs dishes such as frittatas and quiches should be judged on a case by case basis.

7. Sausage

Like eggs, sausage at hotel breakfast buffets can be a mixed bag (tip: decline all offers of mixed bags of sausage). Avoid sausage patties. You’re not at the hotel breakfast buffet so that you can replicate the experience of eating at McDonald’s. As for links, always take a close look to see how shriveled they are. If they look dehydrated, walk away. You want the casing to pop in your mouth, but you want that to lead to a juicy explosion. Dry sausage is not your friend. Besides, your bacon serving should eliminate the need for sausage.

8. Cereal

You can eat this at home!

9. Oatmeal

Unless the buffet is free, don’t get oatmeal. If you’re paying for the buffet, you already threw health out the window. Put down the raisins and start enjoying life.

10. Potatoes

Like the scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes at a hotel buffet tend to be underwhelming. Often, they’re just a big batch of mushy, bland starch disappointment. If you’ve handled your bread decision properly, you don’t even need potatoes.

11. Pre-cooked Pancakes

Bland hockey pucks served with packets of “pancake syrup.” I know that you think that you love Aunt Jemima, but she’s a cruel mistress and you deserve better.

The next time you’re staying at a hotel and wake up hungry, we hope that you’ll remember these handy rankings. Whether you’re on vacation, a business trip or anything in between, you need fuel when you’re on the road. Start your day right at the breakfast buffet. The decisions you make in front of those chafing dishes may just save your life.

16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor



Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.