As is evident from the way New York covers the news, fashion, culture, and food, we are nothing if not obsessive. Slightly verging on the sociopathic, really. Turns out, we’re equally nuts when it comes to the stuff we buy. Below, a compendium of items that our editors wholly endorse, and which also happen to make very nice gifts.
And check out our editors’ other picks here.
Editorial Director, The Cut
I first tasted Za’atar at a barbecue last summer in Amagansett, served by one of the hippest chefs in Brooklyn. She sprinkled the fragrant green mix of thyme, sumac, oregano, salt, and sesame seeds over cubed watermelon and added a crumble of feta. Apparently, I am a provincial American, because I thought she had invented the flavor and I was like WHO IS THIS VISIONARY GENIUS WILL SHE MARRY ME AND COOK EVERY MEAL I EVER EAT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. But before I could propose, she politely explained that the spice comes from the Middle East and is commonly used there on everything from bread to meat and salads. Each country has a variation on the mix. Feeling ashamed that I had never heard of it before, I Googled everything about it and bought a few ounces. A good decision—also recently backed up by our own Rob and Robin.
Senior Editor, the Cut
Of the many small injustices of life in New York City, unequal distribution of sunlight is one I’ve never gotten used to. I’ve lived and worked in places that are blindingly sunny, and in places that feel like twilight even at noon. If you occupy the latter and would like some greenery in your life, it doesn’t matter how green your thumb is—you’re going to need some fake plants. Which is why Target’s faux succulents are so brilliant. Fake plants can often look grandmotherly, but unless your grandmother was Georgia O’Keefe, she probably didn’t have ones this cool. Better yet, since succulents are widely understood to be the easiest plants to grow, nobody’s going to suspect that yours aren’t real. For $13, you also get a thick glass bowl that hides any evidence of falsehood. A co-worker would have to stick his or her face in your plants to detect the difference, and if your co-workers are doing that, lack of sunlight is the least of your problems.
Editorial Director, Vulture
Black & Decker Gyro Screwdriver
As a person who was indoctrinated into the religion of DIY during his youth, I’m keenly attuned to just how many people in New York don’t own tools, much less know how to use them. I don’t expect everyone to be routing custom molding in their kitchens, but there will come a time when you need to hang a heavy picture, install a shelf, or assemble Ikea furniture with more expediency than is possible using just a hex wrench. That’s when you’ll be happy to own something as intuitive as Black and Decker’s gyro screwdriver. There’s no more holding of a heavy gun-shaped driver. Instead, you just take the palm-size tool and turn your wrist: clockwise to screw something in, counter-clockwise to take it apart. It’s light, it’s powerful, and it holds enough of a charge to complete whatever small task you’re tackling.
Associate Editor, Vulture
A Kenza Fouta Towel
This thing stays in my suitcase. On the beach it’s a blanket or a sarong. On the slopes it’s a scarf. At a questionable hotel, it’s a towel. I’ve also seen it used at home as a throw or a tablecloth. The soft Tunisian cotton is heavenly to touch, and the best part is maintenance is a breeze; just toss it in the wash with your dirty socks and other unmentionables.
Senior Editor, Vulture
Unbranded Brand Jeans
If you are a boy, probably around once a year you wonder to yourself (and maybe a significant other), “What jeans should I even buy though?" Well, congrats to you, boy, you’re in luck: Buy these jeans. Unbranded Brand is the most reasonably priced selvedge denim I’ve seen, with the jeans running for about half what they would at most stores. The jeans come in a varying degrees of skinniness. I’d suggest the skinny, which aren't like skintight skinny (as they also have a “tight”)—but you do you, they’re your legs. As with jeans of this sort, buy a size smaller than you normally wear and slowly but surely they will become an ideal fit. My trick, don't tell my co-workers, is to not button the top button—it’s covered by a belt anyway.
Editorial Director, Grub Street
Zalto Wine Glasses
I used to turn my nose up at people who spent lots of money on nice stemware. That was money, I always reasoned, that would be better spent on nice wine. I changed my mind when these Austrian glasses started showing up at all the high-end restaurants in Manhattan. These glasses just look, and feel, fantastic—somehow delicate and sturdy at the same time, with a hair-thin stem that, I’ve been told by my wine-snob friends, is what you’re really looking for when a single glass can cost as much as a gently aged bottle of Barolo. Which, sure, whatever. I mostly just love that these glasses are so strikingly luxurious.
Maybe counter-intuitively, I wouldn’t suggest busting these out when friends come over, since these wine glasses break just as easily as the perfectly fine $2 ones you buy at Ikea. Instead, I’d horde the good ones for myself, taking them out with my fiancée when we open a bottle of something nice and order a pizza to go with it.
Senior Photo Editor
Swatch Watch, Unisex Swiss Golden Tac
I sleep in my Swatch Watch, I swim in my Swatch Watch, I bathe in my Swatch watch. I bought this Unisex Swiss Golden Tac in a frenzied rush to the airport Swatch store after my beloved and discontinued Swatchband unexpectedly snapped in the TSA security line. At first, I was devastated to be parting with my previous Swatch, which had not left my wrist in years, but now, with some distance, I can say that my gold-on-black Swatch has proven to be an upgrade. I get compliments, on it all the time and the gold numbers and hands make me feel just fancy enough! The ticking is incredibly loud, which I find soothing, here in this otherwise-digital age of computerized clocks and iPhones. Perfect for an analog time-teller of any age!
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold
The other day, I went to the Strand to hear Gay Talese talk about his now-legendary Sinatra profile with NPR’s David Brancaccio. And it was just fascinating. The backstory of what happened during that trip—how he never got to do an interview with Sinatra, but found a way to talk to his chauffeur, tailor, and toupee maker—is incredible. This new book from Taschen is filled with Talese’s actual handwritten notes and edits—you get a really intimate look at the writing process. The words are accompanied by amazing photographs by Phil Stern, who (unlike Talese) had access to Sinatra. There’s one photo of Sinatra and Mia Farrow at the Sands Hotel that I just love; as a viewer, you can really pick up on the chemistry between these two.
Staff Writer, the Cut
The Verilux HappyLight
When I was gifted this by my mother with a note that read “Oh happy day!” I felt a deep pang of shame and an even worse feeling of sadness. But once I plugged my so-called “sad lamp” in at my desk for the first time, those feelings were replaced by a glowing white light so bright that it hurt (only briefly; don’t worry about it). Though our winter season has been blissfully mild, it doesn’t change the fact that with the sun setting at 4:30 p.m., we are exposed to less Vitamin D and UV-rays than our bodies and minds crave. I was skeptical that a daily hour in front of a superbright lamp would actually make my life happier, but in the month I’ve had it, I’ve seen a gradual positive uptick in my moods. It’s a great gift to give to your sad friends, because it actually works, and an even better gift for happy people, because happy people are liars. Bonus: It doubles as a great makeup-application light.
Associate Beauty Editor, the Cut
Nest’s “Hearth” Candle
I can’t stop sniffing Nest’s newest scent, “Hearth.” I smelled my first whiff of it during a dinner at Nest founder Laura Slatkin’s townhouse, which is obscenely dreamy and smelled like a cozy castle. I’m generally drawn to smoky scents, especially during the colder months, but what really sets Hearth apart is its gentleness; it’s like there’s a fire quietly burning in the fireplace across the room, as opposed to right in front of your face. After buying it, I burned it in my apartment every day for a week like an absolute maniac, but everyone—friends, my Seamless delivery man—all enjoyed it, too.
Senior Editor, the Strategist
VTech KidZoom Smart Watch
Since I don’t have kids of my own to use for reference, my strategy when buying stuff for other people’s kids is to go with something I would want myself—as an adult. This is the case with the VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch DX, which I recently purchased for a 4-year-old’s birthday. It’s sort of like the Apple Watch Sport—sleekly contoured face, bright rubber band, interactive touchscreen, a choice of over 50 different analog and digital displays for the time—only an eighth of the price. Of course, it doesn’t sync with your phone, but no one in the product’s recommended 4-9 age range should have a phone anyway. And it does have a built-in camera that takes totally acceptable-quality pictures and video that can be uploaded to the computer, as well as a voice recorder. And a bunch of games and apps can be downloaded to the KidiZoom through VTech’s Learning Lodge (a database you may have heard of because it was recently hacked and potentially put millions of children’s personal information at risk). Nothing compromising seems to have happened to my friend’s 4-year-old, though. She liked her gift so much, in fact, I reordered eight more on Amazon, in an array of sporty shades, for every highly discerning girl and boy on my holiday list. I may even keep one.
These are good times for granola obsessives. Never have there been more compelling choices, from the audacious saltiness of Early Bird to Mah-Ze-Dahr’s hedonistic chocolate-cherry. Lately I’ve developed a dependency on Dragonfly, a new Brooklyn brand which can be found at Murray’s Cheese and Birdbath Bakery. It’s made by a Park Slope elementary-school librarian from her Canadian mother’s recipe, with summer-break assists from her Harvard-co-ed daughter (which accounts for the plug on the school’s Crimson Crave food blog). The cereal comes in four flavors, all abundantly nutty and fruity, gracefully walking that fine line between salty and sweet, with a resounding crunch and deft seasoning that makes it taste midway between health food and dessert. (Except for the chocolate espresso almond—that’s pure candy.) I’m partial to the date pistachio, mingled with pumpkin seeds and coconut flakes and tinged with an exotic whiff of ras el hanout.
Senior Writer, the Cut
Michi Stardust Leggings
Ever since the rise of “athleisure,” I’ve spotted countless model types lounging about the 1-train in leggings with see-through panels, their skin still dewy from a moderately strenuous barre class. “I want to look like them,” I whisper to my gross sweatpants. But how? The answer is Michi leggings, a line of super-flattering workout pants that make LuluLemon yogawear look adorably chaste. The “four-way stretch Italian Nylon Lycra” is ideal for the one time a year you agree to go to spinning and the “signature waist-whittling waistbands” will make you look super thin as you house your well-deserved post-gym burger. And while $88 is a ridiculous amount to spend on a piece of clothing you’ll get butt sweat on, feeling like Karlie Kloss on the way home from ModelFit is priceless. You know how the old saying goes: “You never knew you needed slutty workout leggings until you tried them on.”
Associate Editor, Grub Street
Carry-On Cocktail Kits
Traveling during the holidays is hell, and some of your loved ones are likely going to be experiencing their own personal versions of that very shortly. If I could get them all a gift to make that experience a little more bearable, and which they’ll definitely need after squirming through JFK on Christmas Eve morning, it’d be the TSA-approved Carry On Cocktail Kit, a collaboration between the terrific online drinks magazine Punch and W&P Design. I like the civilized ritual of drinking cocktails on planes, but my options tend to be very limited; throwing back straight bourbon is less appealing, and it’s not like Delta has in-flight mixologists working in a secret speakeasy. With this kit it’s really easy to make a good cocktail — even when you're restricted by your drop-down table and stuck in the window seat next to a snoozing six-ten guy. The ingredients are doled out in specific quantities, mixing spoons and jiggers are included, and none of the drinks are complicated — just basics like the Old-Fashioned, Moscow Mule, Gin and Tonic, and a Champagne Cocktail. Your loved one will still have to buy the booze on board, yeah, but that tonic syrup makes all the difference.
Senior Fashion Editor
Among today's beautiful lacquered dutch ovens, stylish Vitamixers, and architectural feats of wine-opener design, the least-chic kitchen accessory has got to be the Crock-Pot. But I love my slow cooker and it remains one of the most-used appliances in my kitchen each winter. Savory stews, hearty turkey chili, smallish whole chickens, and endless amounts of butternut-squash soup are some of the low-maintenance meals to have emerged from our trusty pot. Some of our fondest dinner-party memories include a braised pork shoulder that we slow-cooked while actually getting to hang out with our guests instead of wasting time in the kitchen. Its low-stress cooking for people who value time and good food. This easy to program model is more techy than the old standby options, since it can be set to cook in increments from 30 minutes to 20 hours and at three different heat settings. Its 6-quart capacity promises portions for seven and leftovers can be stored in the inner stoneware bowl (which is also dishwasher-safe). Discerning aesthetes may scoff at my slow-cooker affection, but I’ll be the one hanging out with my friends while the beef stew is heating up in the kitchen.
Senior Editor, Grub Street
Saint Laurent Zip Pouch
After my wallet got stolen recently, I felt bad enough for myself that I decided to splurge on something nice to replace it. I was looking for something sleek—I often don’t wear a handbag, so it needed to be small and thin enough to fit in my pocket. But I ruled out basic credit-card cases because I always like to carry some cash (necessary for frequent trips to the Greenmarket). This YSL case is the perfect hybrid between a wallet and card case: There’s a zip pouch for a few bills, and, best of all, the slots allow you to see your cards clearly, so I don’t have to go fishing to find my work ID every time I walk into the office.
Health Editor, the Cut
Up2 by Jawbone Activity + Sleep Tracker
I am nothing if not a sucker for encouragement and the Up2 is like a tiny, clipboard-wielding coach that gives me subtle nudges to walk more and go the f*ck to sleep. (Yes, even people who write about health for a living need and want to be nagged about this stuff.) The band prods its wearers via vibrations and I have mine set to buzz several times throughout the day: as my morning alarm (it wakes you at your lightest sleep phase up to 30 minutes before your alarm), at every 5,000 steps, if I sit for more than an hour at work, and, finally, half an hour before my bedtime. The vibrations are almost Pavlovian, but the companion app offers tips, context, and, most importantly, praise. It suggests breathing exercises if it took me a long time to fall asleep the night before, pats me on the back when I hit my step goal three-plus days in a row, and if I’m continually ignoring the bedtime alert (who, me?), the app suggests accepting a challenge and then calls me a superstar when I complete it. All this in a slim rubber-and-aluminum band that doesn’t scream “I AM A FITNESS TRACKER!” and looks nice next to my watch.
Photo Editor, Vulture
The GoPro Hero 4 Session
GoPro recently released a new model that’s the size of an ice cube. The price is about half of a regular model, and the quality is pretty much the same. You can still attach it to your bike or snowboard helmet and capture every turn in slow-motion, time-lapse, or straight-up video. The smaller size allows you with one click of a button to start capturing your action. It’s still waterproof and able to capture 360 degrees. Similar to previous models you can easily control from your device to edit, view video, make adjustments and share—no uploading needed. Pop this baby in your pocket as your go down the mountain this winter. I’ll be using mine to make it look like my trips down Killington are more impressive than they actually are.
Life at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address, by Stephen Birmingham
My friend Maisie turned me onto this 1979 gem, and it's become one of my favorite books about New York. There’s drama, lore, and rich-people voyeurism up the wazoo, and it also gets at the insanity of New York real estate (the dramatic turning point, that reads like a John Grisham thriller, is when the building goes co-op in 1961). But the reason you read this is for the characters: Like Miss Leo, a Dakota resident who wore plastic baggies on her hands, had one of her carriage horses stuffed and outfitted in full equestrian armor, and lived on a diet of mashed bananas. Part of the fun is that Birmingham interviewed current residents who all bad-mouthed each other to him—talking smack about “the Lennons,” who discussed their finances by the elevator, and speculating about Lauren Bacall’s face-lift. Speaking of Bacall, there’s a great bit about how she convinced the Landmarks Commission to let her install an air conditioner. Another reason I will be gifting this book is to pay tribute to Birmingham, who passed away last month (and whom I spoke to in September for our “Status” package), and wrote frothy books with titles like The Right People, The Right Places, and Our Crowd (Here’s a New York profile of him from 1968). And if you’re too young to care about Bacall, there’s the fact that Lena Dunham Instagrammed the book the other day.
Senior Beauty Editor, the Cut
Frederic Malle Linen Spray
We live in a heavily scented world where city blocks, people, dogs, Soul Cycle, and even beards can have their own distinct odor. The last place I wanted yet another scent was my pillow—until Frederic Malle introduced me to his linen spray, Dans Mon Lit, a mist designed to give you the olfactory experience of sleeping on a bed of roses (minus the roses, bugs, and actual mechanics of having to procure hundreds of flower petals). The spray consists of over 98-percent-pure Turkish rose petals, extracted using a special pressed-rose-scent distillation process that preserves more of a flower’s natural earthy-green notes, and preventing it from smelling like something you might encounter leaning in to give grandma a hug.
Apilco Flora Cups and Saucers
These are the classic bistro cups and saucers found in brasseries and salon de thes all over Paris. I love the classic white, with their faceted sides, and how they lock nicely into their saucers — so no more crooked cupboard setups. They are dishwasher-safe, inexpensive, and not precious, while still feeling elegant and timeless. Welcome to the Bauhaus world of coffee and tea. I own both the espresso and café crème sizes, and you can also size up to the café au lait, should you desire.
A Rotating Assortment of Goodies
When I was a fat little kid at Christmas time, the gifts I used to look forward to and remember were the regular—Aunt Martha’s annual allotment of peanut brittle, Uncle Frank’s favorite obscure book of the year, that box of Florida grapefruits sent by some distant relative who we never saw but who happened, by some fortuitous miracle, to belong to the Fruit of the Month Club. I’m a haphazard gifter in real life, but in an ideal world I’d be that distant, reliable Santa Claus, too, filling mailboxes far and wide with a rotating assortment of goodies, like rattling boxes of the addictive, compulsively delicious peanut brittle from See’s Candies ($26, at amazon.com), classic British brick shaped “Gala” pork pies from Parker’s ($70 at parkersbritishinstitution.com), and slabs of salty hickory-smoked bacon from Allan Benton’s famous smokehouse in Tennessee ($30, at bentonscountryham.com). For the last few years, I’ve been pressing copies of Lawrence Osborne’s great boozer’s travelogue The Wet and The Dry ($11, at amazon.com) into the hands of anyone who would take it, but this year’s gift book of choice is the new, improved edition of David Wondrich’s classic drinking history Imbibe! ($18, at amazon.com), which is to the realm of cocktails and mixology what the Odyssey is to travel writing.