Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crabs in Baltimore

Gift Idea: Crabs in Baltimore
Age: 10+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$40 - $100+
Category: Outdoors, BaltimoreKitchenCooking

You can't visit Charm City without noticing that there is a huge abundance of crabs in Baltimore. Of course, there are many ways to enjoy nature's most delicious crustacean, but here are a few great gift ideas that should appeal to any fan of the species. Here I'll cover the full gamut of of Callinectes sapidus, otherwise known as the Chesapeake Blue Crab, from cooking and catching to decorating and eating.

Crab Cooker

Once you've picked up a fresh bushel of Maryland crabs you'll need a proper crab cooker to steam them in. For this, I recommend none other than the Granite Ware 33-quart crab cooker.

The 33-quart capacity allows for more than enough room for steaming a little over 3 dozen crabs at one time. Of course, the large size means it will take up almost two burners all to itself, but by allowing for 40+ crabs to be steamed at once you'll be sure all members of your crab feast have plenty of crabs to eat after the first round of cooking. Trust me... There's nothing worse than sitting down at a crab feast and finding each person has to limit their crab intake until the next batch has been cooked.

In addition to its massive capacity, the Granite Ware crab cooker has a stylish design that fits perfectly in any modern home. Obviously the full, rich taste of your crabs is the most important detail to any crab feast... But you might as cook them with style, and the Granite Ware crab cooker provides exactly that. Whether cooking on stainless steel or a vintage-style range, you'll be sure to get welcomed comments when your guests see this mammoth beauty in your kitchen.

Crab Door Knocker

Having lived in the Greater Baltimore Area nearly all my life, I'm more than familiar with the anomaly of natives to the region that somehow do not enjoy eating crabs. While the general consensus is that they're "too much work," for one reason or another some people just don't enjoy a fist full of delicious jumbo lump, back fin crab meat. To each his own, I guess, but no one can deny that crabs are a cultural staple of this region.

For crab-lovers and naysayers alike, I still recommend a quirky, classy, and culturally significant crab door knocker. Currently they're not yet as commonplace as a stained-glass address above the front door of an old school Baltimore row home, so they add a welcomed change of pace to anyone who approaches your home. If you have the option of ringing a grimy doorbell or lifting a sturdy crab door knocker to announce your presence, which would you choose? This knocker is guaranteed to put a smile on your guests' faces before they even enter your home, making it the perfect Baltimore gift idea.

Crab Pot

Even if eating crabs isn't your favorite activity or you don't have your own door to install a crab door knocker on, the outdoors man among your loved ones will definitely appreciate the Protoco X-Large 4 Tunnel Crab Pot.

Coming from one of the biggest names in crab pot producers, this 4 Tunnel crab pot allows for crabs to enter (but not escape!) from four different directions. The Blue Polyethylene coating protects this crab pot from salt water corrosion, ensuring successful crabbing for many years. Whether your favorite crabbing expert fishes a few miles off shore from the comfort of their flashy fishing boat or only has a local pier to drop their chicken neck baited traps off of, the 4 Tunnel Protoco crab pot will make an excellent gift idea.

Best Crabs in Baltimore

Finally, if cooking, crabbing, and door knocking don't seem to fit into your idea of the perfect Baltimore crab experience, most people in the area still enjoy picking and eating some delicious jumbo lump back fin crab meat. Whether you're from out of town or a life-long Baltimore native, everyone must experience eating crabs at least once while they're in town.

Since there's nothing worse than devoting a dinner towards nature's most delicious crustacean you should be sure to find an historically delicious seafood restaurant that is known for their crabs. While I would love to tell you a $100 gift card to Legal Sea Foods, they unfortunately closed their Baltimore branch quite some time ago. Instead, I will recommend Captain James Seafood and Bo Brooks Lighthouse as the two best crab places I've experienced throughout my many years of devouring crabs in Baltimore. If you're looking for the best crabs in Baltimore, those are the only two places I can honestly recommend exploring.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Table in a Bag Outdoor Light String

Gift Idea: Table in a Bag Outdoor Light String
Age: 18+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$60
Category: Outdoors, Rooftop DeckBaltimore

Again with the rooftop decks... Maybe I'm going overboard here, but honestly, they're one of the best parts of Baltimore...

I can't tell you how many times I've been outdoors on my rooftop deck, playing cards with my friends near sunset, only to find that there wasn't enough light to continue and we had to scramble to find something bright enough to continue our game. The Table in a Bag Outdoor Light String fixes that problem permanently.

I must admit that I have absolutely no idea why the hell it's called a "Table in a bag," but I do know it works and it works well. This professional strand of lights provides clear and full lighting for your rooftop deck year-round and doesn't have the same problems that cheap Ikea or Wallgreens lights do... If one bulb burns out, the whole strand doesn't go dark. The material is solid rubber, made for outdoor usage. Also, the lights aren't so bright that they're obtrusive and blinding... Assuming you get the 11-watt bulbs.

Yes, unfortunately the strand does not come with bulbs included. However, the good news is that you can buy a set of 15 11-watt Bulbrite bulbs for under $1 a piece. Between the bulbs and the light string, your rooftop deck will never be short on lumination again... And with their solid rubber, commercial-grade construction, you can rest assured that after buying your Table in a Bag Outdoor Light String you'll also never have to purchase another set of outdoor lights for your rooftop deck again.

Char Boil Quantum Infrared Grill

Gift Idea: Char-Broil Quantum Infrared Grill
Age: 18+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$280
Category: Cooking, Rooftop Deck

Baltimore is known for many things... Old Bay, Natty Boh, "Hons," The Wire, and the Baltimore Ravens are a few among the many notable trademarks of the city. However, few things are as frequently referenced when discussing Charm City as the rooftop deck.

There are many items that can make your rooftop deck stand out among your neighbors', but before you can get fancy with decorations you have to have a few staples... The first and foremost of these staples, of course, needs to be a grill. Whether it's gas or charcoal, grill will provide a wide variety of summer dining options for all your rooftop deck guests.

I've had many grills while living in Baltimore, but none have proved to be quite as reliable as the Char-Broil Quantum Infrared grill. The Char-Broil Quantum is small, compared to other grills in its class, making it perfect for carrying up several flights of stairs to the rooftop deck. However, weighing in at about 100 lbs., you'll want at least one other person to help you carry it up there (a good weight if you have street access and are worried about potential theft). The folding shelves on either side of the grill also make it easy to transport and store; a great feature for space-limited rooftop decks.

The temperature gauge on this grill measures the heat at the grilling surface, rather than the hood, providing a more accurate reading. Anyone who considers themselves a "grillmaster" will appreciate this feature, as it will help you better determine what temperature your culinary masterpieces are actually cooking at... unless, of course, you cook your food directly on the hood...

Lastly, the Char-Broil Quantum Infrared Grill cooks quickly. If you're used to casually sipping a Natty Boh while grilling you may want to consider chugging that sucker because the infrared technology will quickly seal in all the juicy goodness of your meal.

So, if you find yourself with an affinity for hosting rooftop deck parties in Baltimore, spare no expense and buy yourself the sexy, sleek Char-Broil Quantum Infrared Grill. Your guests and their taste buds will thank you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Historic Photos of Baltimore

Gift Idea: Historic Photos of Baltimore
Age: 10+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$25
Category: Books, Baltimore

Since moving to Baltimore, few things have captured my attention more than the wide collection of historical photos scattered throughout the many establishments of the city. Whether it's bars, restaurants, museums, houses, or my own office, every building I walk into seems to have a collection of historic photos of Baltimore.

Being one of the oldest cities in the country (founded in 1729), the birthplace of our National Anthem, and the largest seaport in the Mid-Atlantic region, Baltimore has an extremely rich history. Mark Walston's Historic Photos of Baltimore captures that history displays the stark difference between "old" and "new" Baltimore throughout its 206 pages of photographs and short essays.

Published in 2008, Historic Photos of Baltimore follows the history of the city from its inception up to present day. The book description states

Historic Photos of Baltimore introduces viewers to the people, places, and events that helped define what, in 1827, President John Quincy Adams dubbed the "Monumental City." Within these pages are such culture-changing innovations as the nation's first railroad, research university, dental college, battle monument, museum building, and more. Filled with more than a century of richly detailed images, Historic Photos of Baltimore offers a revealing journey through time, appealing to anyone with an interest in how the city contributed to America's progress.
However, it ultimately boils down to the fact that the nearly 200 photographs in this book make an excellent conversation starter and a necessary addition to any Baltimore resident's (or native's) coffee table. Buy your copy of Historic Photos of Baltimore and you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Teroforma Scotch Rocks

Gift Idea: Scotch Rocks
Age: 21+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$20
Category: Baltimore, Kitchen

This holiday season, get your favorite Baltimore binge drinker one of this year's hottest items... Teroforma Scotch Rocks. Any fan of fine scotch whiskey is well aware that it's best served slightly chilled, but adding ice to your drink makes it diluted and can ruin the flavor... Unless you drink it so fast that the ice doesn't have a chance to melt.

With scotch rocks (or "whiskey stones" as some call them), you don't have to worry about diluting your drink whenever you want to add a slight chill to your favorite spirits. I am personally a fan of mid to high-range bourbons as well as the occasional glass of scotch. While I enjoy a variety of tastes, certain whiskeys naturally have more of a bite than others (I'm looking at you, Maker's Mark). However, upon adding a few Teroforma Scotch Rocks to my drink, it quickly becomes much cooler (though not ice-cold). The lower temperature takes the harshness of the whiskey away, allowing for a much smoother drinking experience.

The best part about Scotch Rocks is that you don't have to be from Baltimore to enjoy them. Anyone with an affinity for fine scotch or bourbon will enjoy these as a gift, and they're cheap enough to buy for just about anyone on your holiday shopping list.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jaybird Freedom Ultra-Stable Bluetooth Workout Headset

Gift Idea: Jaybird Freedom Secure Bluetooth Workout Headset
Age: 10+
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$99
Category: Entertainment, Gadgets, Music, Athletics

If you're looking for a pair of in-ear headphones that will actually stay in your ears while working out, then look no further. I received the Jaybird Freedom (JF3) headphones as a gift this past year and can honestly say they are the only in-ear headphones I have ever worn that actually stay securely implanted in my ears while running.

The secret to these ear buds staying in your ear is a small piece of rubber that ships with them (of varying sizes for customization) that hooks into your inner lobe. The headphones themselves sit in your ear just like any other pair of ear buds would, but the piece of rubber hooks in such a way that even after drenching them in sweat and running for several miles, they never once needed to be readjusted.
In-ear cushion via
If for some reason the in-ear cushion does not fully prevent the ear buds from coming out while running, the Jaybird Freedom also ships with behind-the-ear hooks that can be attached for extra stability.

Of course, while a secure fit is very tempting in and of itself, that's not the only thing these headphones are good for. Their sound quality is as robust as any mid-range in-ear headphones I've tried in my day. They're not "tingy" like iPod ear buds, but they're also not as robust as the Dr. Dre Beats headphones I recently got with my new HTC Rezound. They're also plenty loud enough to be heard clearly over the noise of city traffic.

The built-in Bluetooth controls work well with my phone, allowing me to pause and skip songs, change the volume, answer calls, and send voice commands with ease. However, I did notice that while running outdoors they continually dropped signal each time I moved my phone more than a foot-and-a-half away. Therefore, it's recommended that you also purchase an armband if you're going to be using these outdoors. Indoors, however, the signal was strong and I was able to walk up to 20' or so away from my phone before I noticed any skipping.

The battery life is impressive as well, clocking in at roughly 5 hours and 30 minutes of continuous play time. However, the only charger the Jaybird Freedom comes with is USB. This is bad for two reasons; the USB attachment is uncommon (not micro USB), and a USB-only charger means slow charging. From fully drained to fully charged using the supplied charger, it took the Jaybird Freedom roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes. The tip for the charger is unlike anything I've seen before. It appears to be similar to micro USB, but the only thing I could find it named online was 'Gomadic Tip Number 98'. If you want to charge your Jaybird Freedom faster than 1 hour and 30 minutes, you'll have to get a wall charger with this specific tip. Fortunately, Amazon carries them for less than $20.

Overall, I would have to say the Jaybird Freedom Headset is hands down one of the best pairs of headphones that I've owned to date, and the simple fact that they stay in your ears so securely during a workout should be reason enough to buy them. If you've been looking for a good pair of Bluetooth headphones, regardless of how often you work out, then you need to add these to your holiday wish list now.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Baltimore Art | Robert McClintock

Gift Idea: Genuine Baltimore Art by Robert McClintock
Age: All Ages
Sex: Both
Cost: ~$10-$1200
Category: Art, Baltimore

No one captures the spirit of the city of Baltimore quite like artist, Robert McClintock. His paintings cover every aspect of the city imaginable, from dogs and cats to firefighters and Hon girls. He presents the city in a vivid and fascinating light and does so on a colossal scale.

The Robert McClintock gallery is located in the heart of Fells Point and is filled with a dizzying amount of artwork. There you can buy most of his works in sizes ranging from a 3x5 print to a massive 40x60 painted canvas. You can take a virtual tour of the art gallery on McClintock's website and see for yourself.

McClintock's art is perfect for any occasion and really adds life to any home or office space. In addition, the varying prices of his works make it the perfect gift for any budget.