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The 2009 Chicagoist Gift Guide

By Staff in Miscellaneous on Dec 9, 2009 6:00PM


It's the most wonderful time of the year. Time to buy presents! Which means it's time for Chicagoist's annual gift guide. Even in 2009, with our economy still in, er, "recovery," we're still sweeping up pennies and breaking open the piggy banks to get our friends and families some great gifts, many of them with - of course - a Chicago theme.

2009alexgift.jpg Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The CSO has whipped up a Chicagoist Gift Guide special. Starting today you can get two tickets for the price of one to a selection of January concerts. Pick from one or more of the following shows, all of which are part of the CSO's celebration of Pierre Boulez's 85th birthday: David Robertson conducting Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (January 14 and 19) and the birthday boy himself conducting the full version of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" (January 21). To get the deal, call (312-294-3000) or stop by the Symphony Center box office (220 S. Michigan) and mention code "Special 2-for-1." As with any great deal, some restrictions apply.

Lyric Opera of Chicago
There's no experience in Chicago quite like seeing a show at the massive, river-perched Civic Opera House. Whether you purchase a gift certificate (which can be used on current or furture concerts and subscriptions) or pick out the tickets to one of the five spring operas yourself (which include classics like Puccini's "Tosca" and Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro"), throw in the Lyric Season Companion and Libretti ($17), which provides a wealth of information about the season's operas, from the historical background to the music and story structure to recommended recordings.

Chicago Opera Theater
But don't forget about the other great opera company in town, the Chicago Opera Theater. Individual tickets for the three-opera spring season don't go on sale until March, but you can secure your place at upcoming performances by getting you and yours memberships to Opera Underground, COT's young professionals club. The ticket packages include primo seats for either two ($90) or three ($120) Wednesday night concerts. Given that those tickets normally start at $85 per show, and that the membership comes with other perks, like free pre-concert hors d’oeuvres at the Gage, it's a steal for opera fans. --- Alexander Hough

2009karlgift.jpg Rather than hunt down local gifts I'm getting for others, I thought I'd take this opportunity to point out some of the things I'd love to see underneath my tree with a tag addressed to me.

Even though some of you will surely think that I'm shilling for the man, I'd like to someone to do some shopping for me this year at I can't tell you how many times I've had a couple two-tree drinks with friends, and then on the way home on the El the devil on my shoulder gently nudges me to "acquire" one of the maps above the doors. Now I don't have to - and hopefully the few bucks that are spent at CTAGifts will put off another doomsday for...about 3 whole seconds.

Also, even though they just shipped their publishing unit elsewhere, I'll also take a subscription to Playboy. --- Karl Klockars

2009_05_hemon2.jpg If it seems we were just gushing about Chicago writer Aleksandar Hemon last year, it's because we were. I suggested his amazing novel The Lazarus Project in last year's guide and this year, Hemon has another fantastic offering: Love & Obstacles, a collection of short stories he worked on while he was also writing Lazarus; many of the stories appeared in The New Yorker. Focused on a single, unnamed narrator throughout the entire collection, Love & Obstacles traces the young man through his youth from Africa to Sarajevo to America in a journey that mirrors parts of Hemon's own travels. Throughout his journey, the narrator crosses paths with a seedy American traveler, a heralded Bosnian poet, and even fellow immigrants as his travels take him overseas to America, searching for manhood and an identity to call his own. Loaded with the same vivid imagery, marvelous turn of phrase, and the introspection that we come to expect of Hemon, Love & Obstacles is another success by one of Chicago's sharpest - and most essential - writers.

The Order of Odd Fish is a fantastic, rollicking adventure that's perfect for older kids and teens and even adults, too. It captures the same fanciful spirit and surreal nature of Dahl and the coming-of-age story of the Harry Potter series. But Chicago-based author James Kennedy's tale stands on its own merits, setting itself apart from those inspirations with its own brand of humor and spectacularly surreal characters and story. It's an engrossing book that readers will be drawn into almost immediately.

2009marcusdinners.jpg The holidays are coming and what better way to prepare than with a visit to Chicago's station of Dream Dinners. With easy-to-follow instructions, instructors take participants through the step-by-step guide of preparing a full meal that can serve the family on Christmas or can be frozen to feed yourself after the holidays are done. And even if you've got Christmas dinner planned out, you can buy gift certificates for friends and family to attend future sessions.

If cooking at home is more your thing, we suggest pre-ordering The Everything Cast-Iron Cookbook, written by Gapers Block's Cinnamon Cooper. Over the summer, I was one of a lucky few to get a sampling of test meals cooked from Cinnamon's recipes appearing in the book and they were, in a word, amazing. The book is out in June so it'll be a while but it'll be worth the wait. --- Marcus Gilmer

2009carriegift.jpg Well, you heard us humming about this craft spirit from the likes of Adam Seger a couple months ago but we just can't keep our mind or mouth away from Hum Spirits. For the cocktail connoisseur, pack a bottle of this infused rum liquor in a stocking and pair it with a bottle of sparkling wine or ingredients for your favorite margarita recipe.

However, everyone knows the very special gifts are the ones that are true experiences. Give the food voyeur in your life the Tru Kitchen Experience. An afternoon filled with staging for service, observing staff pre-service meeting and culminating with champagne and small bites from the Tru Kitchen sounds like foodie heaven to us.. --- Carrie Becker
2009robgift01.jpg For the bibliophiles in your life head over to Unabridged Books and snap up several copies of the Chicago Granta issue. It features awesome cover artwork by Chris Ware, a wonderful essay on Jane Addams, Richard Powers' hilarious retelling of the Great Flood of 1992, and over a dozen other pieces that capture this town awfully well. Another great book worth gifting is Entrapment and Other Writings, a slambang collection of Nelson Algren rarities. Read just a few and I think you'll agree that this man's scraps are often more powerful than someone else's best stuff. Hemingway once wrote, "You should not read Algren if you can't take a punch."

One of my favorite Christmas movies is finally on DVD: Remember the Night, written by the incomparable Preston Sturges and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. It has so many touching moments, including a bittersweet ending that's quite special. DVDs aside it's really important to support our local cinema venues, and buying a gift membership is the perfect way to do it. A year-long membership to the Siskel means $5 admission and a punchcard for four free popcorns; a quarterly membership to Doc Films at U of C is ridiculously cheap ($30) and gets you free entry to every film for four months; and Facets membership includes too many benefits to list here (and BTW, they're having a huge warehouse sale this Saturday and Sunday.)

2009robgift02.jpg I love Intelligentsia's coffee (I was a barista there for about four years) and every Christmas I send some home to my family. This year it'll be even easier. Surf over to Need Caffeine December 11-17, use the promo code NEEDCAFFEINE2009 at checkout and get "Buy One, Get One Free" on any order. The Celebration Blend is always a winner. Best of all you can ship to anyone, anywhere in the United States for a flat $5 shipping cost per order. The Cheese People, based in Quincy, Illinois, has a new website that's stuffed with awesome gift boxes. Their chipotle cheddar, which "looks like Jupiter up close," was the most delicious cheese I tasted at the farmer's markets over the summer.

Lastly, if you need to bring a bottle of wine to a holiday gathering, you'll be the hit of the party if you make it Coppola Diamond Claret. Rich, juicy, and just plain delicious, it captures everything that's great about the holidays. It goes with anything and everything, and Binny's has it in stock (and often on sale.) --- Rob Christopher

2009prescottgift.jpg Instead of being duped by cloying commercials into buying ugly baubles made with South African diamonds from one of the national chains, consider getting your special someone fun, unique, and "green" locally sourced/produced jewelry from [wired]. All of their jewelry is hand-crafted from "reclaimed and surplus industrial materials" collected from sources around the Chicago area, and their pieces definitely don't look like anything you would find at the mall. Like, for instance, their Surgeon General earrings. They're made from the black and white rubber labels of a popular Chicago-imported vodka -- empty bottles collected by Metro/Smart Bar -- along with "scrap steel spring cuts" collected from a local recycling company.

Another option is the Neodrop earrings, made from recycled neoprene from a Chicago company that manufactures rubber products as well as scrap steel springs and steel wire. For the guys, try the Resist men's cuff made from recycled steel wire and vintage resistors gathered from the Creative ReUse warehouse. [wired] is offering special holiday shipping deals, and by request they'll gift wrap the items using recycled materials and add a personalized note. --- Prescott Carlson

2009Megangift.jpg Hannah's Healthier Cookies - awesome cookies. Eco-friendly packaging. Give health, not guilt! Gingersnaps available for the holidays. Can ship anywhere & promises fresh cookies.

Intelligentsia coffee - great coffee, nice gifts and T-shirts. Great for out-of-towners.

Gift certificate to Chopping Block - great variety of cooking classes to suit any skill level, kitchenware, specialty food items, etc.

For cooking: good Santoku knife (the only knife you need in my opinion), salad spinner (essential to get leaves dry so your dressing sticks! Plus makes eating healthy salads a lot easier)

Reads: Edible Chicago Subscription, The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones --- Megan Tempest

2009benjygift1.jpg Many of us fascinated by architecture today loved building vast cites with our Legos as kids. Lego finally realized this with their Architecture line. The Landmarks Series includes models of Chicago's own Sears (Willis) Tower and the John Hancock Center. The Architects Series debuted earlier this year with two works by legendary Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright -- Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum. We couldn't wait for the holidays and bought the Fallingwater set ourselves when released last spring. The Lego Architecture sets also happened to be designed by area resident Adam Reed Tucker, whose grand scaled Lego skyscrapers are currently on display at the Museum of Science and Industry. These Lego sets are available at the MSI, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and at the gift shops of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the Robie House as well as their online stores.

2009benjygift2.jpg Unless your name is Ricketts, chances are you don't have the money to buy Wrigley Field. But that doesn't mean that some lucky baseball fan can't own a tiny piece of their favorite ballpark. Located in Lincoln Square, the Stadium Seat Store offers a number of authentic stadium-related items, including seats from Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field. We'd love a pair of the old blue seats from the Cell to sit in while watching 2005 postseason replays on ESPN Classic this winter. --- Benjy Lipsman

2009anthonygift.jpg Katherine Anne Confections has just released holiday flavors, including Pomegranate, Chai Tea and Pumpkin. In addition, her amazing chocolate-covered sea salt caramels are sure to please. We became addicted to them while shooting pictures, and your friends and family will love them too.

Try ordering part of Christmas dinner, or buying part of New Year’s dinner as a Christmas present! A local, grass-fed lamb roast from Mint Creek Farms is just the thing. If you want to be a little more adventurous, try ordering some goat - we’ve been loving goat stew recently. For the sausage lover in your life, order some elk bratwursts from Hawks Hill Elk Ranch. All of these are also available at the Green City Winter Market. --- Anthony Todd

2009_12_Numero.jpg The only thing better than receiving a great gift, is receiving a series of great gifts drawn out across the whole year. A 2010 subscription from Chicago-based archival record label Numero Group gets your recipient six CDS or five LPs of eclectic, historically significant music delivered to their doorstop. Don't let the price tag be a deterrent, a little investment yields a big payoff. Many of the releases slated for 2010 include multi-part CD/LP sets.

Chicago artists Stephen Eichhorn and Jessica Paulson merge their creative backgrounds under the name LULU, creating jewelry designs that draw from nature and architecture as inspiration. Using a mix of materials both fabricated and vintage, the duo mix clean lines with unexpected finishes and bright pops of color. We've been wearing their affordable, unique creations for years, snagging them locally at Penelope's on Division and think they make great gifts for the design-saavy ladies in your life. --- Veronica Murtagh

2009amygift.jpg Check out the new Open Books bookstore and literacy center for all those book lovers on your Christmas list. With over 50,000 books, you should have no problem finding that perfect gift while supporting a great cause. In addition, you can purchase a bookshelve or fireplace tile to honor a friend or family member. Each brass plate can be personalized with up to 2 lines of 23 characters each.

Sacred Art in Lincoln Square has lots of cool gifts created by local artists. The store's mission is to create an alternate venue to the typical art gallery by being less intimidating and expensive. Only local and emerging artists from the Chicago area are featured.

One of my favorite local gifts is the honey from Garfield Park Conservatory; it tastes so good. Any foodie on your list will enjoy the handcrafted honey gathered by hard working, Conservatory bred bees and collected only from flowers that grow at or around the Conservatory. --- Amy Perry

2009_12_7_secondcityunscripted.jpg One of Chicago's crowning artistic achievements of the 20th century was the establishment of Second City. 50 years ago the haven was created here for comedians of all sorts to talk, share ideas, perform and, inevitably, get better. As a result, the hip venue put Chicago comedy on the map, producing some of the most highly lauded talent of the last half century, including Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey and Steve Carell (among many, many, many more). For lovers of comedy and the Chicago arts scene, author Mike Thomas condensed that 50 years of rich history into an entertaining book, The Second City Unscripted ($17). As stated on Thomas' site, the book is an "unvarnished, unexpurgated, and unprecedented account" of all things Second City, which is exactly the way we want it.

2009_12_7_bearshat.jpg For the past 30-plus years there has been a major disconnect between sports apparel and good fashion design. Too often designs are barely suitable for anyone over the age of 12, leaving much to be desired for us "adults". Mitchell & Ness understands the issue, producing sophisticated sports gear that lets fans show true spirit while maintaining that Rico Suave style. The Chicago Bears Throwback Cuffed Knit Hat with Pom ($24) will keep you warm and looking fresh. --- Jake Guidry

Want a holiday gift that says "I care"? Try Chicago Shares vouchers. They're $1 vouchers for the needy that are redeemable for food and personal care items at participating area merchants. They may be purchased online or at places like Dunkin Donuts or Jewel.

2009lindseygift.jpg Do you know what's even more tasty than regular pies? Local pies. Local bakery Hoosier Mama has been making delicious pies in their little shop on Chicago Ave. in Ukranian Village or over a year now and if you haven't tried them yet, you're missing out. Pies also make great gifts; but if you want one for the holidays, you'd better order yours fast! I assure you, you're not the only one who does.

Renegade Handmade in Wicker Park is another great place to shop for unique, handmade items. For the disorganized friend in your life, try a beautifully illustrated weekly planner. For a loved one, try a unique cross-stitch heart pendant. Or there's always the tried-and-true handmade owl ornament for your tree. --- Lindsey Miller