Sunday, June 14, 2009

Father's Day gift ideas

Now that the hockey playoffs are behind us--and they were seriously great this year, thanks to the vigilance of the referees calling holding, hooking and obstruction penalties--it's time to turn our attention to the most important holiday of the year: Father's Day!
....Hold the whipped cream pies, ladies. I'm trying to do you a favor here. At the end of your rope trying to think of something to please the father in your life? Here are four ideas to meet every budget guaranteed to bring a smile to Daddy Dearest.
1) A fogless shower mirror.

I will never understand why every American man doesn't shave his face in the shower. Actually, I do understand it. Most showers don't have mirrors, and most men are too lazy to put a fogless mirror in their shower and don't like to shave without one. So they shave in the sink, as their father's did before them, making a mess, dribbling on the front of their shirts, leaving little nubs of facial hairs behind and flecks of shaving cream around their ears, resenting the daily chore. Or, worse, they use an electric shaver! All so unnecessary! When you shave in your morning shower, it's pure pleasure, extending the time in which a man can stand under a hot, restful stream of water before having to face the day. They're so inexpensive it's incomprehensible why every shower doesn't have a fogless mirror pre-installed. The mirror pictured above sells for $24.95 at this website:ShavingDirect.
It has two slots from which you can hang your razors--most shower mirrors do--but the best feature in this model is a locking suction device that keeps the mirror from falling. I've found that the ordinary, press-on suction cups that come with other mirrors eventually wear out, and the mirror starts to crash to the floor. They are shatterproof, but it's still an annoyance.
....Fogless mirrors arrive with a protective coating that repels fogging, but that coating eventually wears out. So you should order a spray bottle of anti-fogging cleaner when you order the mirror. Once a week or so--whenever the mirror starts to fog--just spray the mirror with the anti-fogging agent and it will work as good as new again. You can also spit on it, as you would into a snorkeling mask. But it's disconcerting to spit into the reflection of your own face. This is a gift that will literally provide years of daily enjoyment!

2) A barbecue smoker.
.....I'm not talking about a grill for hamburgers and steaks. I'm talking about a smoker, in which Dad can slowly smoke ribs, fish, chicken, brisket, or turkey, infusing them with the rich, delicious flavor of hardwood smoke while appearing capable and manly.
....You can spend thousands of dollars on a smoker. Or you can make your own out of a 55-gallon drum. They can be heated with wood, charcoal, propane, or electricity. An electric smoker is the fastest and easiest type of smoker, but it's also the least flavorful. I like a smoker that uses charcoal for its heat source and chunks of green wood to provide the smoke. I cut the wood from my backyard maple and apple trees.
You have to choose between the offset smoker, in which the charcoal is not beneath the meat, and the upright smoker, which uses a pan of liquid to shield the meat from the heat source. This is a picture of the offset smoker:
....Looks good, right? I think so, though I've never owned an offset smoker. The charcoal and the green wood chunks go in the little chamber on the left, and the meat, fish or poultry go in the longer chamber on the right. The smoke and heat is channeled up and around, past the meat, then out the little chimney. The heat can be controlled by the various air vents. The key to good smoking is long and low: a long time over low heat. I've read that the offset smoker requires some trial and error to determine how to keep the heat even and steady. But one of its advantages is the large grill space you have to work with. This actually looks like a lot of fun, and they can be ordered online from websites like smokersshowcase.comfor $269, plus shipping.

....I, however, use an upright, water cooled smoker like this one which is made by Weber. The Weber Smokey Mountain sells for about $250, and is vertically integrated, everything you need beneath one roof. At the bottom is the pan of charcoal, then a pan of water/beer/wine/herbs to shield the meat from the heat. Then one grill. Then, a level above that, a second grill. At the top is a heat thermometer. The two-level, upright smoker probably ends up holding as much food as the offset smoker, but to get at it, say to baste it, you have to disassemble the top levels, which takes time and a clean place to set the meat. Smoke and heat inevitably escapes during the disassemblage. It's not a big thing, but it's something. On the plus side, the water in the pan unquestionably helps keep that which you are smoking moist. No one likes smoked meat that is dried out. And an upright smoker is easier to store and less expensive than the offset smoker. If you order a Brinkman's smoker like the one pictured here, you can buy an upright, water cooled charcoal smoker for as little as $79. I've kept a Brinkman's smoker at our cabin in Wisconsin for 20 years, and it still does a wonderful job. The Webers are great, but to some extent you're paying for the name.

3) A subscription to Netflix.
If your father doesn't have Netflix, he should--assuming he can use a DVD player, which may be a bold assumption. (If he can't, maybe you should get him a DVD player instead, and teach him how to use it.) But for $9 a month, you can give him access to a virtually unlimited supply of movies, old and new, foreign and domestic, TV and Hollywood, major motion picture and niche documentary. The rating system Netflix has devised is dependable, the website easy and fun to navigate, and the shipping fast and dependable. The one drawback: occasionally one of the movies is dirty or scraped and it either skips or gets stuck when played on DVD. Tip: when this happens, put some liquid dishwasher detergent on the disk and gently sponge clean. Except in the case of bad scrapes, this nearly always works.

4: The book Final Rounds. by James Dodson. A funny, poignant, wonderful read about a father and son who take a golfing trip to Scotland after the father learns he has just a few months to live after being diagnosed with cancer. The book is filled with wit, wisdom and humanity, and is ultimately uplifting in its message. You don't have to be a golfer to love it, anymore than you have to be a fisherman to love A River Runs Through It. But it doesn't hurt.

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