Dreaming up creative gifts for the range of relatives, friends and colleagues on your holiday list can be cumbersome. 77 Square comes to the rescue in the nick of time (ho, ho, ho!) with suggestions for everyone from music and art lovers - guitar pick earrings for the rock-n-roller, binoculars for the theatergoer - to foodies, like a finger-saving mandoline for slicing potatoes.
If your friends and fam prefer the "couch" variety of potatoes, 77 Square offers plenty of cool tips for the TV and movie fans in your life. Peruse the lists on these pages for unique ideas to suit any taste, and happy holidays
On one level, the movie lover on your list is easy to buy for. They like movies, you give them a movie. But know that everybody else who's buying for them is thinking the same thing, which is why they may end up with five copies of the "Star Trek" movie under the tree on Christmas morning. Here are some slightly more off-the-beaten-path ideas for holiday gift giving, many of them with a Madison connection:
Customized DVD gift pack
Don't just grab something off their Amazon wish list; put together a three-pack of films (especially overlooked gems) in the genre you know your recipient loves. For a francophile? "Amelie," "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and "Paris 36." Sci-fi/horror freak? "Primer," "Let the Right One In" and "Fear(s) of the Dark." Offbeat animation fan? "Sita Sings the Blues," "The Triplets of Belleville" and "Coraline." Documentary fan? "Food, Inc.," "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" and "Valentino: The Last Emperor." Thriller buff? "Tell No One," "Duplicity" and "The Aura."
Madison-themed blockbuster on DVD
"Public Enemies," which you may have heard was filmed in Madison, is out on DVD. Get the two-disc special edition, which includes bonus featurettes on some of the location shooting in Madison and Columbus. Or you could pick up "(500) Days of Summer" when it comes out Tuesday, Dec. 22, which was directed by Madison West grad Marc Webb. But for heaven's sakes, don't get anybody a copy of "I Love Trouble."
Madison crafter "greencricket" has created cool and unusual earrings, each made out of six frames of a strip of an educational film. What could be cooler to wear to opening night at the Wisconsin Film Festival? Look her up at etsy.com/shop/greencricket - they go for $10 a pair.
Donation to the Wisconsin Film Festival's Real Butter Fund
If someone on your list is a big ol' Wisconsin Film Festival fan - the kind who circles movies in the program and buys the 16-ticket pack - consider making a tax-deductible donation in her name to the festival's "Real Butter Fund," which goes directly toward the operations of the fest. Visit wifilmfest.org/butter/index.php.
"Chad Vader, Day Shift Manager: Season 2" on DVD
The continuing Madison-grown adventures of everyone's favorite grocery store middle manager/evil overlord are collected on this extras-packed DVD, which includes audio commentary tracks on all 10 episodes, deleted scenes, outtakes and two short films. It might be too late to order it online through blamesociety.net; luckily, Four Star Video Heaven has a bunch in stock. Which reminds us ...
"Four Star Video Heaven" T-shirts and buttons
Show your support for Madison's one-of-a-kind video store by sporting one of their shirts ($15-$20), emblazoned with the store logo. As a stocking stuffer, pick up one of the odd little buttons that store employees make and sell for a buck, including scenes from "Coraline," "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover," and a Bollywood horror flick.
"Sundance Institute 25th Anniversary Collection" on DVD
Stop by the gift shop the next time you're at Sundance Cinemas and pick up this hefty 10-film set of indies that broke out at the Sundance Film Festival, including "Clerks," "Boys Don't Cry," and the Milwaukee opus "American Movie."
-- Rob Thomas, The Capital Times
Albums -- the most obvious of locally sourced, music-related gifts -- fit individual tastes, from the Creole dance tunes of The Cajun Strangers' "Cajun Country Ramble" to emcee DLO's and Dudu Stinks' snappy rhymes on dumate's "We Have the Technology." Some of the top-selling local albums this year include Ben Sidran's collection of Bob Dylan covers, "Dylan Different" (at Strictly Discs) and Zola Jesus' experimental, gothy noise pop debut, "The Spoils" (at the MadCity Music Xchange).
Here are a few other suggestions for your music-lovin' friends and family:
1 2 X Brew "I Wanna Be Caffeinated" coffee
Rock ‘n' roll feeds on beer at night and strong coffee in the morning. Local record store MadCity Music Xchange teamed up with Just Coffee, the roaster around the corner, for this blend of dark roasted, fair trade, organic, shade grown coffees from Peru and the Dominican Republic. It's the official MadCity coffee brew, $7.99 for a 12-ounce bag and available at the shop, 600 Williamson St.
Exclusive Company grab bag
For picky folk whose musical taste truly confounds all common sense (and especially if they have a sense of humor), try the special $4.99 CD grab bag at the Exclusive Company, 508 State St. The good employees at Exclusive hand-pick a random selection of about a dozen CDs. A recent selection included: Ludacris protege Chingy's 2003 debut "Jackpot," Keith Urban's "Be Here," a used Stone Temple Pilots CD from 1992 and guitarist Ron Cooley's light jazz album, 1991's "Livin' the Good Life." Even if there's only one goody in the bunch, it's worth it.
Hosting a house concert
For a gift that'll last in memories and never clutter anyone's closet, invite a musician to give a concert in your home. Don't be intimidated. You don't need to have an "in" with the local music scene or a spacious mansion with seating for dozens. Musicians are always eager to play for appreciative audiences, and many would rather play for ten people in a cozy living room or basement than three dozen in a noisy club or coffee shop.
Troll MySpace for Madison bands or ConcertsInYourHome.com for tips and regional talent. How much a musician charges varies and is usually negotiable, so don't hesitate to ask. Above all, keep your guest musician and friends happy by keeping the event informal and comfortable.
Guitar pick earrings
Local artist Tami Beirne makes super-cute, swingy earrings out of guitar picks, mostly with the High Noon Saloon's happy hour buy-one-get-one-free drink tokens (which are, you guessed it, guitar picks!).
The dangle earrings come in a variety of colors and designs. She sells them for $18 at the Bohemian Bauble, 404 W. Lakeside St.
-- Katjusa Cisar, The Capital Times
Adventurous cooks and eaters are probably the easiest people to check off on any holiday shopping list.
They'll welcome any new, high-quality gizmos that make kitchen work easier and more fun, as well as replacements for their well-worn and battered equipment.
Here are some ideas for gifts that home cooks and foodies might appreciate:
Since a number of Spanish restaurants have opened in the area, there are many new fans of paella. The beauty of paella is that you can make it with whatever protein is fresh and available, so upon learning the basics, the possibilities are endless.
A good, traditional 15-inch steel paella pan can be used on a stove top, in an oven or on a grill. Stocking stuffers for aspiring paella cooks could include Calasparra or Bomba rice (or, as a substitute, Arborio), saffron, Spanish smoked paprika and fire-roasted piquillo peppers.
Most of those ingredients can be found at local grocery and cooking stores or, to buy everything at once, go to LaTienda.com.
The conical cooking vessels slowly cook North African stews and other exotic dishes. A good selection of tagines is available at The Kitchen Gallery, 1354 Williamson St.
When the weather is cold, any cook worth his or her apron has a Dutch oven in constant rotation. A 5½-quart size is nice for boeuf bourguignon and hearty stews, but keep an eye out for smaller ones in 2- and 3½-quart sizes, perfect for making rice and savory sauces. New pots can cost upward of $120, but second editions of Le Creuset, widely regarded as one of the best brands, can be found at TJ Maxx and at outlet stores.
A small electric pot to heat water would be perfect for your loved one's cubicle, as would a vacuum-sealed coffee mug with optional tea infuser. Automatic tea makers, which take the guesswork out of water temperature and steeping times, would be another welcome gift. And so would a tall, slender glass teapot that fits in the door of a refrigerator.
It's become difficult for many cooks to glibly toss kitchen scraps in the garbage disposal or wastebasket. In the summer, taking the ripe-smelling remains out to the compost bin in the backyard is a quick jaunt, but in the winter, it's a Dr. Zhivago-esque trek. That's why a good-looking (white ceramic appeals to most people) and stench-resistant container for food waste would make a fine addition to a kitchen counter. A new generation of indoor compost machines that speed the process with heat is also on the market.
The Madison-based Quince and Apple, a new producer of small-batch preserves, is offering holiday baskets at Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St., or quinceandapple.com. Yahara Bay Distillers is selling jams and chocolates made with its premium liquors (e.g., limoncello cranberry lemondrop jam; apple brandy caramel truffles; and gin gimlet cremes). Wisconsin cheese packages can be put together at Fromagination; The House of Wisconsin Cheese, 107 State St.; Carr Valley Cheese Store, 2831 Parmenter St., in Middleton; or the Paoli Cheese Cottage, 6890 Paoli Road, in Paoli.
Another great tool for cooks who value their fingers is an Oxo Good Grips mandoline slicer ($30), perfect for getting quick, paper-thin slices of tomato, cucumber, fennel and potato. With a tool that's so prone to causing injury, it's worth the extra few dollars for a version that's safe and won't slip.
A veritable brick of a book, "Gourmet Today" by Ruth Reichl ($32) will top many lists, the last hurrah of the beloved magazine that folded this fall.
Food Network star Ellie Krieger's "So Easy," ($27) released last month, is a follow-up to her successful "The Food You Crave." Krieger's recipes have a reputation for being simple, delicious and surprisingly light.
For the more ambitious chef, consider "Ad Hoc at Home," the latest coffee table tome from vaunted French Laundry chef Thomas Keller ($40 at Borders). Sold as a "collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable foods (and) recipes that are doable at home," this might finally be a Keller cookbook that mere mortals can use.
-- Chris Martell, Wisconsin State Journal and Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times
For novices to near-professional dancers, the classes at Dance Fabulous are varied and fun. Recent classes danced to "Santa Baby" performed by Eartha Kitt (belly dance), "We Go Together" from "Grease" (jazz/Broadway), and tracks by Gucci Mane, Jay-Z and Clipse in the hip-hop classes.
The best part is, Dance Fabulous is flexible. Drop in ($12 per class) or purchase a 10-pass for $100 that's valid for six months (dancefabulousmadison.com).
For the opera lover
Pick up a pair of tickets to Madison Opera's "Turn of the Screw" (Jan. 28-31 in the Playhouse) and tuck them inside a copy of the Henry James novel. Or drop $20 on the full score of Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," which Madison Opera will produce in mid-April, and pair that with tickets.
For fans of the Metropolitan Opera cinema and radio broadcasts on Saturday afternoons (next up: "Les Contes d'Hoffman" on Saturday, Dec. 19, at noon), perhaps pick up a 2010 Met wall calendar. It's full of colorful images of Met operas, includes important dates in opera, and costs $14 at metoperashop.org.
For music aficionados
The Union Theater invites the Emerson Quartet to perform on Jan. 22. Pick up a pair of tickets ($18-40, uniontheater.wisc.edu) to the performance packaged with a copy of Emerson's 2006 Grammy-winning album, "Intimate Voices," with works by Edvard Grieg, Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius.
Or grab a copy of pop/jazz trumpeter Chris Botti's live album released this March, "Chris Botti in Boston" ($14), in preparation for his Jan. 14 performance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ($35-75).
If your favorite art lover hasn't yet caught the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum (or has, and loved it), pick up "Andy Warhol: The Last Decade," the 220-plus page exhibit catalogue ($40, store.mam.org).
Or check out the flying pigs, created in four media, at Fanny Garver Gallery, 230 State St. Pigs fly in ornaments, are carved into glassware and one is simply a large, porcine sculpture (various prices).
Essentials for theatergoers
Does your aunt already have her tickets to "The Lion King," but they're way in the back of the house? Help her see the leopards and meerkats up close with a pair of theater binoculars ($25-40). Especially classy ones have a gilt handle or a neck chain.
Or go to the theater with your best friend or better half while the holidays are still in full swing. On New Year's Eve, StageQ opens "Random Harvest" by Richard Willett, a play about a conflicted playwright whose apartment is haunted by two 1940s actresses. It runs at the Bartell Theatre through Jan. 16 (tickets $10-15).
And Forward Theater has a "soft" opening for the Midwestern premiere of "Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them" on Dec. 30. Christopher Durang's satirical comedy about a young woman whose husband might be a terrorist runs at the Playhouse through Jan. 17 (tickets $20-40).
-- Lindsay Christians, The Capital Times
For the TV junkie on your list, it's simple: Shiny new TVs are the best gift ever.
But maybe you don't want to be the only one to spend $1,000 on that Secret Santa gift. No problem; there are plenty of more reasonably priced options out there.
While a TiVo HD DVR may be a bit cost-prohibitive for all but the worthiest of recipients ($249.99 at tivo.com), a TiVo travel mug might be just the thing to show the TV love. The stainless-steel tumbler is $10.99 at tivo.com.
For the "Lost" fan on your list, you can't go wrong with the Dharma Jumpsuit, available in regular tan or motor-pool navy blue. Complete with zippered pockets and a side vent, the 100 percent preshrunk cotton twill outfit is shaped to wear over your regular clothes, and the perfect garb to wear when the ABC hit returns for its last season Feb. 2. Jumpsuits are $89.95 at abctvstore.com.
Fun at the cube farm
Even non-junkies will appreciate a Dwight Schrute bobblehead , a steal at $12.99 at nbcuniversalstore.com. Or you could collect the entire Dunder Mifflin staff; each major character on NBC's "The Office" is preserved in bobblehead for posterity.
Support your favorite show with subtlety with a Panthers jersey carrying Tim Riggins' No. 33 from NBC's "Friday Night Lights;" $45 at nbcuniversalstore.com. The site also offers hats, T-shirts and windbreakers, all with the Panthers imprint - there's even a state champions pin for $5.99. Sorry, East Dillon boosters; as of yet, there isn't any official gear for coach Taylor's new team across town.
Wear Wisconsin TV roots on your sleeve
How about a pink T-shirt with a scripted "L" for Laverne? Or an "I ♥ Chachi" T-shirt? Both of these and more are available at cbsstore.com for $24.95.
If you're into delayed gratification, try these on for size. The first season of NBC's "Southland" - a show that was renewed, then canceled, then picked up by TNT and will air in January - is set for release on Jan. 27; reserve your copy ($29.98) at amazon.com. "The Simpsons: The Complete 20th Season" DVD ($49.99) won't be shipped until Jan 12, and "Glee, Vol. One: The Road to Sectionals" DVD ($39.98) will be released on Dec. 29, but both can be ordered now at amazon.com; the "Simpsons" set is also available in Blu-ray ($59.99) and can be ordered at foxshop.com.
(Hey! Don't be a Lima loser; pick up the two soundtracks to "Glee;" each is $11.98 at amazon.com, and each is awesome.)
Gone but not forgotten
Why not use this opportunity to get acquainted with great shows you may not have seen during their brief runs? A perfect candidate is "Pushing Daisies," ABC's brilliantly witty, completely engaging romp through a Technicolor fantasy world involving a detective, a pie-maker and his childhood love whom he can't touch. Both seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray; the series is sold as a set for $69.99, or a discounted price of $37.99 at amazon.com.
Or how about "Life On Mars"? The short-lived detective series aired for one season on ABC; it's now on DVD ($39.99), as is the British original, which aired for two seasons on the BBC ($59.99 each). Find both on amazon.com.
-- Nicole E. Rogers, Wisconsin State Journal
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