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Dinner for Two That's Easy for You
We know you'd like to be like Michael Symon and dazzle her with an impressive home-cooked meal. We also know that your culinary skills don't extend beyond hot dogs and microwavable Kraft Cheesy Mac. With the help of Chef Scott "The Chubb" Groth, you can feign Iron Chef expertise and serve your partner a complete homestyle dinner. Groth's catering company, The Chubby Cook, offers delicious, hearty meals ready to carry home, heat, and serve. If she's a true Clevelander, she'll appreciate Groth's lightened-up versions of such C-Town favorites as chicken paprikash over buttered spaetzels, stuffed cabbage rolls, meatloaf, kielbasa and kraut, Italian sausage, and stuffed peppers. Entrées are $6 to $8 per serving, sides $2.50 to $3.50 each.
3365 Richmond Rd., Beachwood, 216-342-4840, thechubbycook.com
The Rock Star of Soaps
These gently fragranced, long-lasting, rich-lathering Chinese soaps, once unavailable in the U.S. and still hard to find in stores, have long had a cult following. A four-bar set of the hard-milled soaps, available at Cleveland's Asia Plaza, includes Ginseng, Jasmine, Rose, and the very popular Sandalwood fragrances, in characteristic colorful packaging with paper gold medallions. At just $2 each, they make an attractive holiday stocking stuffer that can also be used to scent a closet or dresser drawer.
Americana Marketing, Asia Plaza, 28999 Payne Ave., 216-771-0088
Baseball Not Included
Johnny Smatana wants you to know that one of his Johnnyville Sluggers is, for a baseball fan, "the greatest gift under $150 in the history of the world." What started as his "silly backyard hobby" has become a burgeoning business in the rapidly revitalizing Ohio City neighborhood. The hyperkinetic Smatana, who earned "unbelievable money" in the freight business, says he's now infinitely happier fulfilling his creative dream. He performs 99 percent of the manufacturing processes in the workshop behind his store: sanding, dipping, and staining oak, maple, ash, and curly maple wood into gleaming, collectible bats. His Johnnyville Sluggers are available in a dizzying variety of custom designs: military, corporate, pro sports, the Cleveland skyline, Texas hold 'em, and movie and music themes — most notably a pearl-white Elvis slugger.
1825 West 25th St., 216-470-4838, johnnyvilleslugger.com
It's not enough these days to just manufacture products and make money; sustainability and social good are also essential ingredients to modern business success. While she lived in Mexico, accomplished seamstress Sharie Renee started connecting with talented artisans living in poor conditions. The designs they showed her launched her on a mission. Her fair-trade business, Cosmic Bobbins, employs Mexican artisans, United Cerebral Palsy clients, and urban kids from Youth Opportunities Unlimited to create funky, one-of-a-kind accessories and handbags (such as the Clutchette, for $65). "It's all about giving back," Renee says, modeling a pair of toasty Arm Warmers ($32), fashioned from upcycled sweaters and embroidered with a "Tremont" logo inside a red heart. Another charming, original gift idea: a Melted LP Bowl ($5) made of an old record album baked in the oven, which also helpfully answers the question "Whatever happened to JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader?"
1445 East 47th St., and at Cosmic Bobbins' Pop-Up Boutique at 2406 Professor Ave.
It's Sock Art. No Really ...
Jerry Seinfeld once noted that if the recipient says the name of the gift as he opens it, he doesn't really like it. "Oh! Tube socks!" A far more enthusiastic response will be elicited by the gift of a clever, impressive piece of locally made pop art: Hanes tube sock painting/sculptures ($30 a panel, or four for $100), created of latex paint on vintage chenille by the talented, hard-working Tremont artist Dana L. Depew, founder of Asterisk Gallery. The Hanes work is one of many canvases available from the justly acclaimed Depew.
2393 Professor Ave., 330-304-8528, danadepew.com; also at Cosmic Bobbins Pop-Up Boutique, through December 22, 2406 Professor Ave.
The Cure for What's Bug in You
Perhaps the woman you're buying for is too hip for traditional holiday gifts? Connie Zhang, the friendly manager of Sister's Gift Shop in Cleveland's Asia Plaza, offers an array of edgy imported jewelry to cater to the most daring tastes. Take the bracelet featuring a real bumblebee encased in a plastic, glow-in-the-dark medallion on an adjustable crocheted wristband ($7.95). Other insects, in bracelets and necklaces, are available. Get one for yourself too: Zhang says insect jewelry is very popular with guys.
28999 Payne Ave., 216-404-5185
Do the Doo
The Zoo is your No. 1 source for No. 2 gifts. "We had so much fun with our special Scoop on Poop exhibit last year, we thought we'd start a movement in our gift shop too," says spokesman Joe Yachanin. The gift shop is filled with products made from (yep!) recycled dung: Christmas ornaments, notepads, greeting cards, magnets, picture frames, stationery sets, and photo albums. They're all natural, organic, and, yes, odorless. Prices vary.
3900 Wildlife Way, 216-661-6500,
Wherever life leads you in 2012, you can always carry a little piece of Cleveland with you, wearing one of Phoebe Marie's Tiny Polaroid Necklaces. The local shutterbug's awesomely original photographs have been made into handmade plastic charms that resemble tiny Polaroid images of arty Cleveland landscapes. They're hung on multicolor chains and packaged adorably by Phoebe Marie herself. It's a great gift for any Cleveland loving gal, and they're only $12 at the Breakneck Gallery in Lakewood (formerly the Pop Shop).
17020 Madison Ave., Lakewood,
Chocolate + Beer = Happytown
That's exactly the formula perfected at the Tremont candy and beverage boutique known as Lilly Handmade Chocolates. Owners and chefs Joshua and Amanda Montague pair their delicious handmade chocolates with exotic beers and wines. Try combining Thirsty Dog Brewery's 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale with a Lilly Alexander (a white Chocolate truffle spiked with Maker's Mark Bourbon, brandy, Grand Marnier, and gingerbread spices) and celebrate Christmas for your taste buds. Chocolate prices range from $11 for six to $75 for the Luxe Box.
761 Starkweather Ave., 216-771-3333,
The Gift of Geekiness
With more than 340 interactive exhibits and a six-story Omnimax Theater, the Great Lakes Science Center makes learning fun. You can bring that fun home — or make a gift out of it — at the Science Center gift shop. Buckyballs ($44.99) are a cluster of rare earth magnets that can be formed into an unlimited number of structures — a great desk toy. Perhaps a junior astronaut suit ($49.99) is more your speed? There's plenty more uniquely geeky stuff at the store and online.
601 Erieside Ave., 216-694-2000,
A Local Dip for Your Chip
The Cleveland Botanical Garden's Green Corps program deploys teams of teens to reclaim inner-city lots and turn them into urban farms, turning city kids into future farmers in the process. But they don't just grow; they learn about food processing too, using the tomatoes and peppers they've grown to make Ripe From Downtown Salsa. The kids worked with chef Sergio Abramof to develop their current warm, tangy recipe. It's become a hit at area farmers markets; it's also available year-round at the Garden Store for $5 a jar.
11030 East Blvd., 216-721-1600, cbgarden.org
You don't have to leave Cleveland to have a romantic night or weekend getaway; you and your significant other can escape the everyday grind and revisit Cleveland's elegant past at this four-story 1874 Victorian townhouse, a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places and lovingly renovated in 1976. The house, a favorite of visiting theater types, is a survivor of Cleveland's erstwhile Millionaires' Row, boasting gorgeous period details like French wallpaper, arched doors, high ceilings, and a marble fireplace. Innkeeper Robin Yates is a knowledgeable, accommodating host who personally serves guests breakfast in the formal dining room. Best of all: An evening at the Brownstone will set you back no more than $95.
3649 Prospect Ave., 216-426-1753, brownstoneinndowntown.com
Pour Some Sugar on Yourself
For the last 101 years, Richards Maple Products in Chardon has been perfecting the process of making sweet and sticky maple syrup. Today it's the largest full-time maple retailer in Ohio, harvesting pure maple products from its tree farm and adjoining "sugarbush," selling syrup in sizes and prices from $20 to $100. And it's not just syrup: Richards makes maple candy, maple mustards, maple BBQ sauces, maple-coated nuts, maple dressings, and maple granulate sugar. "With all the choices, you can have maple morning, noon, and night," says manager Jen Freeman.
545 Water St., Chardon, 440-286-4160, richardsmapleproducts.com
Fresh Roasted Rasta
Reggae musician Carlos Jones is one of Northeast Ohio's most beloved performers, spreading his sunny vibes at area clubs and festivals. So it's fitting that his special blend of Brazilian coffee, produced by Berardi's Coffee of North Royalton, is called Carlos' Jones Positive Vibrations. It's available for $16 a pound at littlefishrecords.com or at Jones' gigs, where you can also pick up a copy of his new four-song EP, also titled Positive Vibrations. It's music as warm and comforting as the java you'll be sipping.
Rock Your Walls
Know someone who never stops talking about that classic concert they saw back in the 1970s or '80s at the Agora or the Coliseum or Music Hall? Janet Macoska was there too, and she's got the photos to prove it. The noted Cleveland photographer captured rock's most legendary artists as they paraded through town in their heyday — everyone from Led Zeppelin and Queen to David Bowie and the Ramones. Need another reason to emblazon your walls with a frozen moment of Cleveland rock history? Each 11x14 print Macoska regularly sells for $250 can be yours for half that price — just mention where you read the news.