Holiday Gift Guide 2016

If you are a procrastinator like me, you probably haven’t started holiday shopping yet. But there’s no need to panic, because this totally helpful (100% self-targeted) gift guide will help you along this protracted process. As always, my holiday gift guides comprise things that I would like to receive (wink wink nudge nudge) and things I like to give (so things that are 80% cute/20% useful).

For the women in my life for whom I couldn’t find a unique gift this year, they will all receive this Dottie Honey Pot from Anthropologie in the mail. Its frivolousness is offset by its cuteness. And at $20, you will probably need one for yourself. (Yes, I totally ordered one for myself even though I don’t own any honey.)

Dottie Honey Pot

For people whom you really like and can afford to splurge on, I know few people who would be disappointed to receive a pair of really good headphones as a gift. Wireless headphones are finally at a stage in their evolution where buying them won’t put you at the bleeding edge. I tried these Beats Solo2 Wireless On-Ear Headphone recently, and was impressed by their comfort and the crisp sound quality. Other equally great options that I can vouch for: Bose® QuietComfort® 35 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Wireless Headphones and Sony MDRZX770BT Bluetooth Stereo Headset.

Beats Solo2 Wireless On-Ear Headphone

Another potential gift that is equal parts cute and practical is this travel charger. I keep one on my desk at work as a diversion, and it also serves as a reminder for me to check my phone battery levels before leaving work (if low, then the charger leaves with me).

Emie Samo 5200mAh Portable Charger

I “read” Sad Animal Facts recently, and can see this being a good (and inexpensive) gift for your someone who likes random facts about animals (if we are being honest, that’s everyone).

Sad Animal Facts

For the bookworms in your life, you can consult the New York Times’s “10 Best Books” and “100 Notable Books” of 2016 lists for ideas.

And for your minimalist friends who don’t want more clutter in their lives, consider making a donation in their name. Before making a donation, I like to refer to this New York Times article on “How to Choose a Charity Wisely.” You can also donate in the name of someone you really admire; I recently joined tens of thousands of people who donated to Planned Parenthood in honor of Mike Pence.

At the top of my wish list this year is this jumbo Rilakkuma plush. I have been stalking it for the better part of this year, but backed down every time because of my indefinite stuffed-animal-buying moratorium. For the people in your life who like bears and who think that more is more, these people will be elated to receive this as a gift.

And my gift guide is not complete without a plug for the Costco 93″ bear. Every year I put it on my wish list, but every year the logistics of getting this home defeat me. 2016 may finally be the year when I become a proud owner of this bear.

For more “inspiration,” consult my gift guides from 2015 and 2014.

Review: Free People Kate Faux Fur Coat

Panic-buying outerwear when the 10-day forecast shows below-freezing highs for the foreseeable future is inevitable during the coldest weeks of the year. But I am (more or less) holding myself accountable to the outerwear resolution I set last fall, though, of buying coats that are different in at least two respects from those in my possession.

As I own only a handful of faux fur coats, this desaturated pink option from Free People was an obvious choice. The $148 price tag is reasonable for the workmanship and material, and the coat comes in three striking colors–terracotta (which is, true to its name, a reddish-brown), rose (seen here; a soft pink with yellow undertones), and sky (which has enough red in the color to be considered lavender).

Because of its weight, the coat is fairly warm, but is not wind-proof so I would only recommend it for 50+ degree weather.

My favorite thing about this jacket is that it’s super soft, and is as plushy as my 93-inch Costco Plush Bear.

And the style is cut (very) generously, so you can comfortably size down, though I quite enjoy the idea of oversized coats worn with fitted bottoms. I intend to feature this jacket again before the end of winter, but it pairs effortlessly with all styles of bottoms. I can’t wait to wear it with culottes in early spring.

Quay My Girl 50mm Cat Eye Sunglasses || Free People Kate Faux Fur Coat in Rose (size XS) || || Zara Cable-Knit Sweater in Nude (size S; past season) || Yehopere Fleece-Lined Winter Pants (size S; shrunken in dryer) || Miu Miu Vitello Lux Large Bow Satchel (past season; find used ones on TRR) with J. Crew Detachable Bag Strap || Sperry® for J.Crew Shearwater Buckle Boots in Colorblock (past season)

A few more faux fur coats that caught my eye:

Buy the Free People Kate Faux Fur Coat at Nordstrom, Free People, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Revolve Clothing, and Dillard’s.

Seoul Food Diary

I spent the second half of my recent trip to Northeast Asia in Seoul. These photos are largely grouped by where they were taken.


I stayed at the Courtyard Seoul Namdaemun, which is across the street from the Namdaemun Market and a 10-minute walk away from Myeong-dong, for the duration of my Seoul visit. The Hoehyeon (Subway Line 4) and City Hall (Subway Lines 1 and 2) stations are about 7 minutes away by foot.
Namdaemun Market is one of South Korea’s largest traditional markets. You won’t find any trendy food stands here, but steamed and fried dumplings, fried bread, and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) stands are aplenty. I wasn’t personally drawn to any of the wares sold here—the clothes found here are generally matronly (or for children), and I wasn’t in the market for chopsticks, dinnerware, or imported goods.


My first meal in Seoul was at one of two Yoogane Chicken Galbi outlets on the same street in Myeong-dong. I ordered the Marinated Chicken Galbi (₩9000/person), which is moderately spicy but delicious. After you’ve consumed about 2/3 of the chicken, you can then stir side dishes (mostly starches) in with it. The extra ₩2000 I paid for rice was worth every penny.
Because of where I stayed, I ended up visiting Myeong-dong every night to people watch. (And eat Tornado Potato—the best ₩3000 one can spend in Seoul.) Another street food I enjoyed (perhaps to excess) was the 32cm soft serve (₩2000).

A memorable meal I had in Seoul was (large bowls of) porridge at Migabon. This is really a breakfast joint, but I went at around 8PM when the crowds thinned at this second-floor establishment. After several days of hearty meals—fried foods and meat drenched in Gochujang—this comparatively lighter fare was a much-needed palate cleanser. Most bowls of porridge cost between ₩7000 and ₩8000.
Tourists don’t visit Myeong-dong just for the street food; they go to shop. There are duplicates of large South Korean cosmetics retailers in every direction (Etude House, Tony Moly, Missha, the Face Shop, and Innisfree all have three or four stores each in the area). I didn’t end up buying any skincare or cosmetics products, but did browse quite a few. My impression was that the selection and deals are better at the shopping area of Ewha Womans University.
There are also countless clothing boutiques that line the streets, but styles worth buying are few and far between—they are also not cheap.

Seoul Station

The Lotte Mart near Seoul Station is a fairly impressive things emporium—I went there in search of snacks, and was not disappointed by the selection. Many items are sold in Costco-sized packages; thankfully free samples are handed out at every aisle, eliminating some of the anxiety involved in making hefty snack investments. There were hordes of tourists there, complete with real-time VAT refund at checkout and a self-service packing station to mail home your haul.

Despite my initial excitement, I bought only a few things there (in single-count quantities). I wasn’t crazy about most of what I tried, and as much as I enjoyed the chocolate covered shrimp crackers, I wasn’t ready to commit to a wholesale-sized portion of it. And I wanted so badly to buy all of the Oreo O’s in South Korea (discontinued in the US since 2007), but couldn’t find room for it.


If you love traditional South Korean fare, Gwangjang Market is probably one stop you shouldn’t miss. Bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), gimbap, tteokbokki, odeng (fishcake), and twigim (Korean tempura) can be found at every turn.
I am not exaggerating when I say Bindaetteok can be found at every turn. I also don’t think it matters too much from which stand you buy it.
The Dongdaemun “fashion town,” 10 minutes away by foot from Gwangjang Market, is maybe the eighth wonder of the world. The shopping complexes are crammed with stalls of wholesalers who don’t give tourists more than a passing glance. For those looking to shop at retail volume, prices are comparable to ones you might find at Myeong-dong.
Predictably, I bought nothing here (because analysis paralysis). I also found the quality of items sold here mostly lacking, but it is fun (if exhausting) to walk through and look at the staggering amount of stuff. There are four multi-story behemoths here stocking what must have been billions of things. Pictured above are two stalls among tens of thousands.
Next to the wholesale areas of Dongdaemun are several buildings populated by smaller retailers (the above image was taken at Maxtyle; across the street are Doota, Migliore, Hello apM, and Lotte FITIN, all of which are department store-like establishments, with department store-level prices). Friends who know the area well told me that there are more wholesalers to the east and northeast of Yulgok-ro and Jangchungdan-ro (roads that take you south from Dongdaemun station), but I didn’t have the wherewithal to browse further.
If you are still in this area at mealtime, check out 진옥화할매원조닭한마리, which serves a whole chicken cooked in broth (₩20000). The menu is in Korean, but several servers speak fluent Chinese, though not much communication is required—as soon as you are seated, a server will bring over the above pot with a chicken in it without prompt. After they cut up the chicken, you likely won’t get their attention again until you are close to the bottom of the pot, at which point you are asked if you want to add rice or noodles to the remaining broth. There’s no need to make a trip for this chicken (there are innumerable well-known chicken soup places in Seoul), but if you are already in the area and there’s no line, this is a good dining option.


I was generally unimpressed with the quality of clothes found in Seoul with under $70 price tags, and styles that are exceptional in quality and design typically cost in excess of $500. There were only two stores that I felt were worth visiting—one is CherryKoko in Sinsa-dong, Gangnam (pictured above) and the other is Lize and Milkcocoa in Hongdae (discussed later in this post). Both have online presences that ship internationally, but it’s still nice to see their designs in person.
The barbecue place I wanted to eat lunch at (투뿔등심) hadn’t opened by the time I finished touring Sinsa, so I killed time at Sulbing, a Korean dessert cafe which overlooks the streets of Sinsa. The “Mango Cheese Snowflakes Sherbet” (₩10000) pictured above is substantial in size, but honestly not very good (they use frozen mango chunks that were still icy when served). The setting is ideal, the desserts less so.


I wandered over to Sejongno primarily in search of fried chicken at 미락치킨호프, but found it closed at lunch time (still unsure why). Coincidentally, one of the top attractions in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung, was in the area so I went over there to tourist-watch. I especially enjoyed gawking at people in hanbok casually strolling around the sites as though they were characters in a period piece.


Milkcocoa is one South Korean retailer that I’ve been really interested in, but couldn’t commit to ordering from. I serendipitously stumbled across its physical store in Hongdae, and proceeded to spend an hour looking through and touching everything. I ended up purchasing this festive red wool dress with bows on its sleeves for ₩49000 (net; cash payments yield an immediate 10% discount, but no receipt is provided so you cannot claim additional tax refunds. Another shopper who purchased a dozen or so items got a 15% discount on her purchase, so if you are someone who has mastered haggling, you might do well here.)

I worked up an appetite shopping and made a beeline for KyoChon, the real reason why I was in the area. I like American KyoChon outposts, but think the Korean locations make even better chicken. A whole fried chicken served in soy garlic and red sauce costs ₩16000 and is best shared among two to three people. They also deliver, so ideally you would order fried chicken and eat it in your hotel room late at night, as nature intended.
Opinions might diverge on this, but I personally think odds are favorable that you’d find a good meal by walking into any barbecue place in Seoul. I found 구우소 a few steps outside the Hongik University station, and while this was far from “the best Korean barbecue meal” I’ve had, it was still pretty delicious and affordable (I ordered the “Olive Pork Belly” and “What Straw Pork Belly,” each order of meat cost ₩12000). Similar types of restaurants can be found all around the city, so if you aren’t sure what to eat and don’t want to consult a crowd-sourced review site, you can’t go wrong with barbecue.
There are also tons of trendy street food around Hongdae; it’s easy to fill up your stomach snacking.

Ewha Womans University + Sinchon

If you are already in Hongdae, you may want to visit Sinchon and Ewha Womans University on the same day as they are consecutive stops on the same subway line. If you get off at Hongdae and walk east on Sinchon-ro, you’ll end up in Sinchon within 15 minutes, and Ewha in another 15. All three areas have vibrant streets with lots of shops and restaurants.

I am not much of a planner so didn’t do much research before my trip, but something that shoppers visiting Seoul seem very excited about are ubiquitous shops that sell ₩1000 socks or ₩10000 bags. The socks were pretty cute, but the ₩10000 bags are F21 quality. I passed on both, because I didn’t feel like lugging home more than what is necessary.

National Assembly

I had set aside a whole day to bike along the Hangang, but all of the bike rental shops were closed that day. No one I approached seemed to know why they were closed, or when they might open. One person told me flatly, “they closed some time ago, and haven’t been open since. I don’t know why.” My timing may have been bad, but this park was beautiful. Biking would’ve been fun, but the long stroll I took was still a highlight of my trip.


At the foot of YTN Seoul Tower (aka the Namsan Tower) is 목멱산방; this quaint little restaurant (slightly difficult to find; it may be easier to ask for directions after you’ve taken the elevator to the observatory) serves decent bulgogi bibimbap, but its real appeal is the great wooded location.

Fast Food

I realize this may be an unpopular opinion, but Western fast food in Seoul was not good. The fried chicken sandwiches were all served lukewarm (most of the Popeyes chicken sandwiches were described on the website as having “chilled” chicken), and the burgers were at best mediocre. I visited each establishment at least twice to try different menu items, but couldn’t find anything that I would return for.
I did finally get to try Lotteria, a subsidiary of Lotte (the conglomerate and maker of Koala’s March). It is by far South Korea’s largest fast food chain, with about half the market share. Their menu blends Western staples and local flavors, selling Korean fried chicken alongside Bulgogi burger. I can appreciate the ingenuity, but the food was just okay.

Trip notes

• Google Maps works more or less like an offline map in South Korea. If you are even slightly Korean-literate and dislike ambiguous direction, use Naver Maps instead. Traffic intersections in Seoul use a combination of crosswalks and underground passages, so it takes some adjusting to for first-time visitors.
• I arrived in Seoul late at night, was lazy, so elected to forgo renting a Wifi egg at the airport. I would immediately regret this, as T-mobile’s free international data is slow at best (and unusable at worst) in Seoul. Rent a portable Wifi device or buy a local SIM card, you can thank me later.
• My Korean is limited to ordering at restaurants and counting (in thousands), but thanks to the shopping power of the Chinese middle class
who flooded the streets of Seoul, most shops have at least one
salesperson who speaks conversational Chinese. Since English isn’t a lingua franca in this part of the world, expect to struggle a little with communication. Many of the restaurants I mentioned in this post have menus in three or four languages (Korean, Chinese, English, and occasionally Japanese), so dining is a little more accessible than taking public transit or shopping.
• The exchange rate when I visited was ~1 USD to 1100 Won.

Holiday Gift Guide

The most celebrated holidays of the year are upon us so I decided to share a holiday gift guide with those of you who haven’t finished holiday shopping (for other ideas, you can consult last year’s guide here).

An update: I still don’t own a 93″ teddy bear despite dropping non-subtle hints to family members over the last year. I got thisclose to just buying it for myself (home delivery became an option this year) but the bear sold out during my indecision (story of my life).

Fret not: bigger and better things are on the horizon.

This year’s I-Found-Ten-Million-Dollars-In-My-Backyard-And-I-Am-Going-To-Spend-It award goes to the Cluster Bomb Drinks Cabinet, an eight-foot, 600-pound drinks cabinet with an estimated retail cost of $100,000.

Okay, so even with a windfall I probably wouldn’t buy this because 1) I have no room for it 2) it would be a waste on me, who drinks moderately and never at home. But I thought we could all take a few seconds and marvel at this marker of capitalism.

On to something with slightly more practical use: a bag that also serves as a charging station for your phone. While gimmicky, this bag still has a certain appeal for people who often forget to charge their phones. Of all the designs from this Kate Spade/Everpurse collaboration, I liked the clutch (pictured below) best. Although this mostly-business tote might be a better option for those in the market for something like it.

Everpurse x Kate Spade New York Quentin Wristlet Pouch

A number of my friends will receive a copy of the Notorious RBG, as they are all fans of the RBG meme and even bigger fans of this Supreme Court justice. I enjoyed the book and found it equal parts cheerful and solemn; read the NYT review here.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg via Amazon

Another book that I am gifting this year is An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments. It is the perfect coffee table book (takes < 30 minutes to read and is accessible enough for children) and the illustrations are adorable. The book is available online for free here.

For someone really special, you might consider getting them the Complete Calvin and Hobbes box set, now available in paperback.

A (fairly dependable and inoffensive) gift that I got some colleagues (and had gotten for past Secret Santa) is the Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug. It is (imo) the best travel mug out there and is also easy to re-gift should the gift recipient find no use for it.

I also like gifting food items because they are impermanent and everyone (to various degrees) eats. When I feel really anxious I like to browse Amazon’s Grocery & Gourmet Food section and use my Prime membership to buy something new and (kind of) absurd. I have been eyeing this jumbo 10-pound Toblerone for weeks and may get one as a gift for myself the next time I do something unexpectedly kind for someone else.

And while I am not a child, this Gummy Candy maker looks like pure fun.

For other overgrown children, the LEGO Architecture Studio set will likely be the best gift that they receive this holiday season. For those who may need a little help getting started, include the LEGO Architect with the set.

Happy shopping, all!

Holiday Gift Guide For The Person Who Has Everything

So this is really *my* wishlist but we are going to pretend that its use is more universal. I am difficult to shop for because I indulge my whims and wants frequently so figured I would pitch a few gift ideas here for the difficult loved ones in your lives.

Most people who love plush toys will probably love the Costco 93″ Plush Bear; I couldn’t manage the logistics necessary to take this one home (car not big enough), which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t swear my permanent allegiance to the person who surprises me with it.

If I hadn’t gotten this Poler Wearable Sleeping Bag earlier this year, I would definitely have gotten this Selk’bag Wearable Sleeping Bag. Sure, it is just a more padded version of animal onesies but I love cocooning myself in plushy things (who doesn’t?)

Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist was such a hit last year with a few of my friends that I’ve decided more people need it on their bookshelves. It is about to overtake All My Friends Are Dead as my favorite book to give. Both are really paradigm-shifting works of literature. I normally avoid giving books (unless it’s for the expressed purpose of “borrowing” at a later time) because close friends whom I would know well enough to book shop for and I routinely borrow from each others’ libraries and it poses a pretty clear conflict of interest.

Source: Black Lupo

I swear I give most gifts with the sincere hope that they improve the lives of the gift recipient so the joke’s really on cynical friends who unwrap gifts and start laughing uncontrollably and maniacally because they think what I’ve given them are gag gifts. They are not. The Morninghead Cap is one such gift.

And since becoming a Converse convert earlier this year, putting non-athletic sneakers in the hands of non-hipster friends has become a pet project of mine. I love that you can order Customized Converse Sneakers at a small premium.

Also, Legos. Missing the Taj Mahal set is a mistake that continues to afflict me (secondary markets have a solution but I am too cheap to pay the 3k that resellers demand on eBay) Currently have my eyes on the Tower Bridge set.

On food: Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own wrote, “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” In that vein, I consider gummy bears a part of that delicate food equation. And while I encourage you to explore the Giant Gummy Bear as a gift option, I would also encourage you to discourage the gift recipient from consuming the bear in one sitting (I have tried and regretted). If gummy bears aren’t your thing, then exotic flavors of Kit Kat ought to be.

And if all else fails, socks are a safe choice for many for good reason. Look at all of these fun choices!

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Happy shopping. And please share your unique gift ideas in the comment section!

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