Eight nights of my favorite things

Pajamagrams for the whole family, Rover included.

BY ELLEN FUTTERMAN

I’m not all that keen about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens or bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens — wool makes me itch — but brown paper packages tied up with strings, now you’re talking. So with that in mind, and drawing inspiration from Oprah and her favorite things, here is the first of what I hope becomes an annual tradition, the News & Schmooze Hanukkah Gift Guide, with eight Hanukkah-themed selections, one for each night.

Home sweet Hanukkah

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Admittedly, I was a little surprised to find this first item at, of all places, McArthur’s Bakery (located in south St. Louis, Kirkwood and Chesterfield). But this Jewish take on the Christmas gingerbread house is likely where Hanukkah Harry would live if he were, in fact, something more than a figment of my imagination. Although the Hanukkah house is entirely edible, why would you want it for anything other than a fabulous holiday table decoration? Kept in its clear, cellophane wrapping, the folks at McArthur’s swear it can last for up to 20 years (provided there is no mouse in the house). Custom names can be placed above the doorways if requested. Orders are needed at least two days ahead, and prices start at $51.50. For more information, call 314-894-0900 or go to www.mcarthurs.com.

Sleeping with the stars

Some years ago my husband thought it was a good idea to send me a Pajamagram for my birthday. No sexy lingerie, just a pair of flannel pjs that were about as flattering as a down coat and equally as warm. Why any man would send a woman of a certain age flannel pajamas is beyond me, but I know it was the thought that counts. In any case, I’ve been getting Pajamagram catalogs ever since.

This year I noticed something new and kind of sweet — Hanukkah pajamas for the entire family. Short-sleeve ringer cotton tees with either a menorah or dreidel on the front paired with full-length cotton pants with an all-over Jewish star print.

And here’s the best — there’s even matching pet pjs for your dog and cat. Prices start at $19.99 for the pet pajamas, $29.99 for toddlers, $34.99 for children and $49.99 for adult sizes. Available at www.pajamagram.com.

Where Torah meets nail art

Just for fun, Rabbi Yael Buechler began painting her fingernails each week according to themes of the Torah portion. She then offered an elective class to middle school students at Solomon Schechter School in Westchester County, N.Y., where she is an educator, as a way to connect her students to the Torah readings.

Turns out Buechler thought about getting licensed to become a manicurist but knew she wanted to be a rabbi — “Midrash Manicures” incorporate her passion into her profession. For Hanukkah, she has designed Jewish nail decals that allow users to apply stars of David, dreidels and miniature latkes over their polish. Each pack comes with an educational quiz and two sets of decals, smaller ones for girls, larger ones for women. They sell for $11.99 a package at www.midrashmanicures.com.

Perfect peeling and pairing

What would Hanukkah be without potato latkes? The two go hand-in-hand. The trouble is that my hands, and fingers, ache at having to peel dozens of potatoes for this fine holiday tradition. So I went on a hunt to find the perfect potato peeler and came up with Kyocera’s advanced three-in-one Perfect Peeler, which rotates to vertical, horizontal, and 45-degree positions. It fits small, large, left, and right hands and features an ergonomic, non-slip handle and an ultra-sharp ceramic blade.

I found mine at Sur La Table for $19.95, though when I recently called, the Frontenac store was out of stock. However, it can be ordered online for $17.95 (plus shipping and handling) at www.kyoceraadvancedceramics.com. A less expensive version, without the rotating positions but with an equally sharp ceramic blade, is available for $9.99 at Cornucopia in Kirkwood.

And for a perfect host or hostess gift, consider pairing the peeler with Israeli olive oil. A 0.9 fluid ounce bottle of Galil extra virgin olive oil goes for $9.99 at Kohn’s in Creve Coeur.

A-dough-able

On the subject of holiday treats, Nicole Anderson and her team at Dough a Deer in Orange County, Calif. have come up with a doosie – Hanukkah “dough baby pops.” Choose your colors and customize these mini-doughnuts on a stick with a Star of David, dreidel or whatever Hanukkah symbol you would like. Just know this preciousness costs some dough — $68 for four-dozen plus shipping. Order directly from Anderson by email at www.doughadeer.com or at www.etsy.com and allow two to three day for delivery.

Curl your enthusiasm

I don’t know about you but it seems whenever I have an occasion where I need my hair to cooperate, it decides to take the day off. I am convinced it has a mind of its own. Isn’t that where the term “hair brain” comes from anyhow?

Enter, Blown Away, the new blow dry bar in Ladue (just east of I-70) started by Jewish mother-daughter team and St. Louis natives, Betty Goran and J.J. Krane. The concept here is to outsmart your hair by having it professionally styled in 30 minutes for $30.

At first I thought this was just for women with straight hair and not us curly girls. But I was wrong. The stylists here know their way around a curling iron and can perfectly tame frizz and add order and balance to unruly curls. Even better, if you show up with you hair already washed and dried, the style will cost only $20. They do make-up as well; $30 for full face and $15 for eyes, cheeks, and lips. Gift certificates are available and if you buy in bulk, you can save yourself some dollars.

Ugly knows no religion

For years, I’ve marveled at the Christmas sweater. Red and green knitted cardigans bedecked with repetitive images of Santa and Rudolph and jingle bells (that sometimes jingle) and Christmas trees (that sometimes light up). Nowadays, websites abound with ugly Christmas sweater collections while seasonal parties celebrate the wearing of this Holy Grail.

But what about us Jews?

Thanks to Geltfiend, makers of, you guessed it, the tacky Hanukkah sweater, we too, can play in any reindeer game. There’s the “Borough Park Chanukah Sweater,” a homage to our “Hassid peeps who keep it real 365 days of the year,” the “Geltdigger Sweater” (my favorite), a gelt-patterned acrylic V-neck sporting menorahs and Jewish stars and the “Spinmaster (for him) or Spinster (for her),” a cardigan replete with nifty dreidel print and “ultra-classy” buttons made from sustainable wood. They sell for $60-$65 and can be ordered at www.geltfiend.com.

Being handy

Something handmade is never a bad idea. Whether it’s made by the hands of our children or the hands of a master craftsperson, that someone took the time to create something unique is a true gift.

It is with that in mind I suggest you scour (and support) temple gift shops for beautiful Judaic items (B’nai Amoona and United Hebrew, come to mind) as well as The Source Unlimited in Creve Coeur and Craft Alliance in University City, which is my favorite place to buy handmade gifts in the city. Yael Shomroni, one of the artists whose work is displayed there, moved to Webster Groves from her native Tel Aviv in 1987 and recently became an American citizen. What’s so cool about Shomroni’s signature glossy cobalt blue vessels is that besides being showpieces, they are food and oven-safe and affordable, with prices starting as low as $25. Another wonderful Jewish artist, Randi Chervitz, crochets intricate jewelry pieces out of precious metals. Her Star of David silver necklace, with tiny pearls woven into sterling silver ($155), would make the perfect Hanukkah gift for any young woman. Last year, Chervitz opened up a store in Kirkwood called Brando, where her work and those of a dozen other craft and jewelry artists, are featured.

Remember, the first night of Hanukkah is Saturday, Dec. 8. So you best get busy!