Old School Gifting

Old School Gifting

Three weddings in one month and it hit me: I’ve been going about wedding gift-giving all wrong. Why did I not learn from my great aunts and uncles? Go to the function, and the first person you spot who is related to the bride or groom – be it a 5 year-old niece, great uncle, or the bride herself – gets handed a check for the happy couple. Better yet, hand off cold hard cash in an envelope. If it’s good enough for afekomen presents, it’s good enough for a wedding.

Is this something people do more as they age? Is this a boat I’ve been missing all along? Or does handing off envelopes of cash a move reserved for people who send people swimming with the fishes and/or have a cache of silver dollars?

Fishy Birthday Wishes

Fishy Birthday Wishes

I don’t remember when I met Special Correspondent Derora. It must have been through my next door neighbors at seminary, since they were all good friends. I probably met her several times, and possibly exchanged pleasantries, but neither of us had made an impression on the other. Then, one overcast day, she came to visit my neighbors and they made soup.

I passed by their room, and was invited to join them for dinner. I kept them company in the kitchen, while the last few ingredients were being scrapped off the cutting board. A cutting board that looked a lot like this:

fishI found out it belonged to Derora. And then I decided that we should be friends. It took a little while, but we got there. At which point, I discovered that her excellent taste in cutting boards was the least of the reasons to be her friend.

Happy Birthday!

My gift for you is blessings for a year of goodness. And these handy-dandy tips for cleaning your cutting board.


It’s Not The It Gift

It’s Not The It Gift

When looking for a bridal present, never give the “it” gift. You know the it gift when you see it – the papers are buzzing about it and just everyone gushes about how it is absolutely divine. There’s only one problem: the now gift is so happening that everyone else has already made it happen. So don’t buy another for the couple who is drowning in the it gift of the moment.

The first step to avoiding being an it-gifter is to pin-point the it gift.

If it’s your first thought as the item that everyone has to have –

If it’s the object all your newly married friends have in triplicate –

If your friend has told you how much she hates the some many of the styles of –

it’s the IT gift.

The bridal couple, like yourself, can only use one challah cover at a time and they don’t need to add yours to their stockpile while they remain without a salad spinner. So stand down from the it gift, and pick a different perfect present. If you’re out of ideas, you could listen to my mom, my dad, or me. However, if you’re attending the same function as any of us, you’re going to need to forge your own path to gift greatness. Fortunately you have decades of former it-gifts, which have fallen out of favor.

Carafes: rarely needed, but easy to initial.

Personalized aprons: as in days of yore, buy 1 for the wife. Or embrace the modern era and buy 2.

Cookbook of the hour: Always changing. Go for one that’s 20 years out of date, and you’ll be totally retro.

Do I fee a slogan coming on? Don’t be re-gifted, be retro.

Never Make Cutting Remarks About a Present

Never Make Cutting Remarks About a Present

At ten paces I can tell that a package is from my mom. There are tell-tale signs – it’s sealed with address labels and there are hearts doodled on the front and back – but the give-away is its shape. My mom’s packages are lumpy. Inside is a jumble of newspaper – stories of cute animals, recipes, and laugh-out-loud comics – an important document or two, and a surprise. The surprise might be chocolate, a keychain, or a post card sent to my parents from a vacationing relative. Whatever it is, it’s unexpected and delightful.

A month ago the surprise, between recipes for ice cream sandwiches and a gift of serving forks and spoons, was a cutting board. I might have groaned when I saw it. A white cutting board, its edges curved to prevent spillage and a rubbed-grip handle was not something on my shopping list. There were already five cutting boards in the apartment and I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with a sixth. So, I put it back in the box, and resolved to deal with it another day. Meanwhile I called and thanked my parents for sending the present.

Two weeks later my mom, having raved about the same cutting board – she’d bought one for each of us – asked how I liked it.

“It’s nice,” I said easily. Worried there might be questions, I amended my statement “…I haven’t really used it yet.” I sensed a pause on the other end of the line, and rushed on; “It’s just that there’s not a lot of room in the apartment.”

“But you have enough room for a food processor?” mom queried, referencing the much heralded birthday present. My cover had failed, but I tried to maintain it.

“Well, the cutting boards are Ellen’s and I need to talk her…sigh…it’s a complicated situation,” I finished up.

My mom moved the conversation onward.

The next day I pulled out the new cutting board, determined not to disappoint my mom in her gift-giving goals. While Ellen was occupied with an important phone call, I mimed replacing the old cutting board with the new one. She looked baffled, but was unable to break away from her conversation. I repeated the gestures again until she nodded, the only way to get rid of me. Satisfied, I dumped the old cutting board, piled the new on top of the other four, and walked away in peace.

Later that day, I made soup. I chopped the onion, and no pieces fell off the board. The slopped sides kept everything together – without interfering with my slicing and dicing. Impressive.

As the oil heated in the pan, I minced some garlic. Then, in one smooth movement, I lifted the cutting board and slid all of it into the awaiting pan.  No maneuvering, no falling chunks, no awkwardly angled knife trying to scrap those last stubborn bits into the pan. It was seamless – exactly as it ought to be.  

As soon as the dishes were washed and dried, I called and thanked my mom. I should have remembered – surprises are the best part of a package.

This is the soup the cutting board made possible:

Tangy Split Pea Soup based on a true recipe

dollop of oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

7 c vegetable stock/water

2 c split pea (mix of green and yellow, and/or red lentils)

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp mustard seed

1/2 brick of frozen spinach

salt, as desired

2 tbsp lemon juice

Sautee onion and garlic until nearly translucent, add cumin and mustard seed, cook until fully translucent. Add stock/water, split peas/lentils, and spinach. Cook 1 – 3 hours, or more if desired. Add lemon juice before serving.

The Perfect Present, According to Me

The Perfect Present, According to Me

“What do you like best?” asks my mom, spreading her arms out to encompass the kitchen, or maybe the world. I limit myself to the kitchen and, pausing in putting away the silverware, slowly turn to take in the room.

The oven, dishwasher, sink, and microwave, which are in front of us, are clearly out of the question as potential wedding presents. I have neither the funds nor the back strength to purchase and deliver any of those those. Plus, when  microwaves age they leak toxic waves and I wouldn’t want to expose anyone to that. My mom inventories the kitchen too; noticing the silverware I’m putting away she tells me it was a wedding present. “Randy got it for me; she got married a few months before us, so she really knew what we would need.” My gaze continues to take in our packed kitchen, though I’m now wondering how my mom lucked out with such a great cousin, as my mom gestures to the open cabinet of drinking glasses; “Randy got those  for us too.”

I am still not sure what I should buy for the next day’s bridal shower but, busy figuring if any of my cousins will be as thoughtful as Randy, I am momentarily distracted. I move further into the kitchen toward the snack drawers, wondering if it might be best to purchase a candy platter and call it a day. As I walk past the closed cabinets, I freeze. Inside this cabinet, as I well know, is a set of three pyrex mixing bowls – mixing bowls that make any kitchen job easier. Pyrex mixing bowls are not just any bowls, they’re hard to break – as I know from dropping them repeatedly – , easy to clean, and hold up well with both hot and cold contents.

A quick drive to Bed Bath and Beyond plus $11, and I became the  – albeit briefly –  owner of a set of pyrex mixing bowls.  More importantly, I need never ponder over a bridal shower gift again, for I have chosen the pyrex bowls as my signature gift. To those who would give these bowls as a bridal shower gift, be forewarned:  I declare that, unless unforeseen circumstances intervene, I will come to a bridal shower with a set of pyrex bowls. You will have to continue your search for that elusive perfect gift; I’ve found mine.

The Perfect Present, According to Dad

The Perfect Present, According to Dad

“The perfect present is a salad spinner,” says my dad, without hesitation.

I had never considered it as a gift option, and wondered aloud what made it so perfect.

“Everyone needs one.”

I point out that our family does not currently own a salad spinner.

My dad seizes on this point; “Exactly, so I know just how much it’s needed. Plus, it’s fun.”

The Perfect Present, According to Mom

The Perfect Present, According to Mom

“It’s the perfect gift,” my mom explains as we trek through the store, looking for the elusive gift of choice. She knows what she wants but in a store this size, it has proven difficult to find that perfect present. We round a corner; “It should be in the bedroom section,” she murmurs as we trudge on. Unable to locate the gift in the home-wares, bedroom accessories, or the intervening sections of dorm, cookery, and linens, we ask a store employee.

The employee leads us in a winding path deeper into the store, past glassware and a vast array of wicker items, to the furniture section. He reaches up, pulls out a box, and he hands us my mom’s ideal present: a breakfast tray. “It’s the perfect gift,” she repeats, satisfied, as we the leave the store with the present safely secured. “It’s special. It’s the perfect way to begin a good day; you wake up and someone brings you breakfast in bed. They’ll need a tray table for that.”

I point out that had the couple wanted a breakfast tray table, they could have registered for it. They certainly were not shy about what the did want, as evidenced by the $60 garbage can they had put on their registry. “It’s because they don’t know they need it,” she says dismissively. “They’ll love it.”

The Wedding Report: The Perfect Present

The Wedding Report: The Perfect Present

“It’s no fun,” said my mom

“It’s not nice,” said my dad.

“Don’t get a gift off the registry,” agreed my parents.


Then what do you get the happy couple?


“The perfect present,” they declared, in complete harmony,

“is a breakfast tray-” began my mom,

“is a salad spinner-” my dad explained.


Perhaps there is no perfect present.