Perhaps it's the fact that Hanukkah happens so early this year. Or the amount of spare time I've suddenly had in the evenings after I canceled out on several events, the result of a terrible case of asthma-inducing bronchitis. (An illness that one deserves after a weekend skipping around Disney's Seventh Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival in the pouring rain and driving wind, drinking one's weight of sodden clothing -- but more on that next week.) Or maybe it's just procrastination, a given for those of us who sit in front of computers all day. But the fact is, I've been doing a lot of online shopping this year.
And as I've browsed through Websites and catalogs, I've realized two things. One, aside from my immediate relatives, for whom I was doing the most serious purchasing, I found many gifts I'd like to send to my gastronomic family members in the Miami community, whether it's to suck up, thank for putting up with me, or tease (a friendly warning, in the reformed Grinch spirit of things, for future columns, you might say). And two, there's no way I can afford it; this year, even buying eight gifts for each of my ids -- whoops, Freudian typo, make that kids -- is putting me in a bind. And not of the ribbon kind.
But I hate to let the season go by without at least a gesture. So in honor of virtual shopping, this time around I'm giving virtual gifts. In other words, if you read about it, it's yours, complete with holiday wishes (and kisses of bronchial wheeze). Just don't expect it in the mail. And in case you're anxious to order these quality gift items for your own culinary-oriented friends and family, I've included Website addresses. Prices you'll have to find out on your own -- I wouldn't want to offend my giftees by telling them how much I spent.
Recipient: Vanessa Heegaard, owner, Charlie's Roastbeef
Gift: "Lord of the Onion Rings" T-shirt (www.fields.com/signals)
Message: It's been in place three years now on South Beach, and sometimes I think I'm the only one who knows this eatery puts out the biggest, crunchiest rings around -- for virtual, ahem, peanuts. Personally, and this is just a thought, but I'd love to follow them up with a Harry Potted Beef sandwich.
Recipient: E. Michael Reidt, executive chef of Wish
Gift: A Dinner of Herbs -- British period-drama miniseries (www.fields.com/signals)
Message: This "epic tale of love, murder, betrayal, and revenge" only takes a little over six hours to watch -- something to snack on while we wait for the dining community to discover that the new seating area, the Garden, has been open to the public for, what, six months or so? It ain't no secret.
Recipient: Barton G
Gift: Soda Pop Science Kit, "Make cola from household ingredients ... you provide only sugar and water for a tasty educational experience." (www.terrifictoy.com)
Gift: Rosemary Tree, just like it sounds: a two-year-old, sixteen-inch, live culinary herb trained into a tree shape (www.gardeners.com)
Message: Ya know I love ya, babe, but three bucks for a refill of Diet Coke? Experiment a little. But no hard feelings, huh? Here's a little more sugar for you: The rosemary topiary should not only add a scented touch to your fab patio garden, it should provide a little aromatherapy to deal with the stress of running an immediately popular new restaurant.
Recipient: The new Ghirardelli shop on Lincoln Road
Gift: Mr. Gumby's Chocolate Brains, "twisted milk chocolate treats [with] squishy praline centers" (www.fields.com/signals)
Message: Because you'd have to be nuts to pay that rent.
Recipient: The Grateful Deli
Gift: Grow Your Own Mushrooms, "foolproof and very productive ... mushroom adventures" (www.gardeners.com)
Message: For your sandwiches, dudes! A great way to expand your, er, clientele!
Recipient: Jeffrey Landsman and Kurt Schmidt, owners of Magnum Restaurant and Lounge
Gift: Canned Fruit Candles, "delicious, romantic candles [that give off] the aroma of canned fruit.... Easy to remove flip-top lid." (www.flaxart.com)
Gift: The Wax Whacker, "the essential tool that ... lovers have been anxiously awaiting!... This indispensable tool will be treasured by all connoisseurs and is much less expensive than replacing your corkscrew!" (www.iwawine.com)
Message: They come in sweet Mandarin orange, plum, peach, and pear scents as well, but I recommend the fruit cocktail. Burn 'em on your bar -- it wouldn't hurt to lighten the place up a notch so we can see the tasty possibilities a bit more clearly. Then use the Whacker to scrape off the residue. What could be more handy?
Recipient: Dogma, a trim, renovated joint set to debut in a supposedly former iffy neighborhood on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami
Gift: Pit Bull Paper Towel Holder, guard dogs for your Bounty (www.chiasso.com)
Message: Just in case you feel the need for a little protection.
Recipient: Cafeteria, the 24-7 restaurant on Lincoln Road to open in the former Cadillac dealership
Gift: Steamer Clock, stainless steel vegetable steamer turned into a wall clock (www.chiasso.com)
Message: It ain't no overheated radiator. Set this baby for January.
Recipient: Lee Schrager and Terry Zarikian, two organizers of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Gift: "I Love Lucy" Grape Stomping PJ's, lavender flannel pajamas that "feature classic scenes from Lucy's Italian grape stomping episode" (www.wineenthusiast.com)
Message: For the much-needed rest you'll need come March 3, 2003.
Recipient: Jamaica Inn, a new restaurant in North Miami
Gift: Hydroponic Mini Greenhouse (www.museumtour.com)
Message: To grow fresh herbs, of course. What other use would it have?
Gift: Floss Fish, "Playful, plastic piranha holds your floss and snips off whatever length you select with its safe, steel teeth." (www.chiasso.com)
Message: Eliminate embarrassing seaweed. It could save customers a trip to the real piranhas out there -- our neighborhood dentists.
Recipient: Cacao 1737
Gift: Monty Python's Chocolate Dead Parrots (www.fields.com/signals)
Message: Every restaurant that is partially owned by a chocolatier needs the appropriate mascot. Besides, "they're not dead, they're just resting."
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Gift: "Criticism, Just One More Service I Offer" T-shirt
Message: Because everyone deserves a little sumthin' for the holidays.