Last-minute cooking, gaming, and movie-going gifts for what's been a Charlie Brown Xmas tree kind of year

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      Ever been to Home Hardware on Commercial Drive? If not, it’s a truly magical place, for no other reason than that they always have everything, whether it’s sash cord for a circa-1910 double-hung window or roofing nails by the brown-bagged pound. What they don’t have this year is normal Christmas trees. Unless, that is, your idea of normal is a Charlie Brown Xmas tree—they’ve got plenty of those, and while hopelessly sad-looking, they are also kind of fitting for what’s been a year to forget.

      On that note, in case you’ve forgotten a gift for that certain someone on your list and are down three quarts on seasonal inspiration, the following suggestions will help. And before you slip them under that Charlie Brown Xmas tree, don’t forget to wrap the base of that little fella with a security blanket. We all need a little extra love this year, and it’s the small gestures that count.

      T-fal Mirro Aluminum Pressure Cooker

      As myths go, it’s one of the most fascinating ones of modern times. At some point someone decided that pressure cookers were more dangerous than smoking filterless Export As, eating raw Dollar Store chicken, and throwing cans of Miss Clairol into a campfire. But Google “Famous pressure cooker accidents” and all you get is links for an army of ambulance-chasing lawyers who are clearly hoping that someone’s pressure cooker explodes—preferably taking out an eye, limb, or large section of the neighbourhood—because it’s good for business. Here’s something we learned days into lockdown: used correctly, pressure cookers are not only perfectly safe, but insanely useful. Quite frankly, you’re in more danger from what the Basques like to call a zakarrontzia sutan. Quick point of clarification here in that we’re not talking an electric Instant Pot, which takes the guess work, and hence half the fun, out of everything. Instead, like Julia Child, rock things old-school with the T-Fal Mirro Aluminum Pressure Cooker, knowing that it’s a 30-minute express pass to stuff that normally takes hours and hours to execute: coq au vin, beef bourguignon, Irish lamb stew, and Japanese pork curry. (And don’t even get us started on Urvashi Pitre’s crazy-easy but authentic butter chicken). Invented in the late 1600s by France’s Denis Papin, pressure cookers use high thermal heat from trapped steam to cook food in a quarter of the normal time. Those who like being in the kitchen love gadgetry, and this one’s a game-changer. Just remember—for old time’s sake—to stand back and duck and cover before opening. ($49.99 at Canadian Tire).

      Immortals Fenyx Rising

      Is the gamer on your list still reeling from the fact that this year’s big Legend of Zelda release was not the Breath of the Wild sequel they were hoping for? It’s tempting to say that Immortals Fenyx Rising is the next best thing, but that would be doing the new Ubisoft game a serious disservice. The many similarities in plot and gameplay are undeniable, though. In Fenyx Rising as in BOTW, the player controls a character who has awoken into a world in the grip of calamity. There are puzzles to solve, baddies to fight, and an open world to explore. In this case, that open world is based on Greek mythology. The monstrous Typhon has escaped from his imprisonment by Zeus and is exacting his revenge on the gods. Can Fenyx, a mere mortal, step in where the Olympian deities have failed and restore order? Fenyx Rising was developed by the same Ubisoft Quebec team behind Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and some aspects—particularly the fight mechanics—borrow heavily from that title as well. So it’s not just a straight-up Zelda clone—but it will fill the void nicely for anyone waiting for Nintendo to finish Breath of the Wild 2. (Available for PS4, PS5, Stadia, Switch, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Rated teen.)

      Maenam: A Fresh Approach to Thai Cooking by Angus An

      With the economic future of, well, the world more uncertain than it’s ever been, saving money has become a thing in 2020. And a big way we’ve done that is by skipping Skip the Dishes and honing our cooking chops at home. Vancouver’s Angus An helps you up your Thai game in a major way with Maenam, which also happens to be the name of one of his restaurants. One of the great things about the book is that it will get you out of the house to source ingredients like galangal, pak chi farang, and kaffir limes—none of which are difficult to track down in our fabulously multicultural city. Another is how An straddles the line between traditional Thai cuisine (Geng Gari Roast Chicken, Panaeng Curry of Braised Beef Rib) and recipes with a decided West Coast flair (Salad of Grilled Sockeye Salmon, Hot Sour Soup of Halibut and Thai Basil). But the best thing about the book? Your giftee will actually learn something, especially if they’ve spent the past decade making pad Thai at home with ketchup instead of tamarind sauce. ($35 at Maenam, 1938 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver.)

      Rio Theatre gift certificates

      Thanks to provincial health orders in response to COVID-19, the Rio Theatre is currently closed. (The owners are petitioning the province, reasoning that since bars and restaurants are allowed to remain open, cinemas should be.) The beloved East Van institution is hoping to reopen return to normal business in January, but until then it could use some support. By which we mean money. Kill two turtle doves with one stone by helping out the Rio while also stuffing the stocking of your favourite cinephile. For $15, give them a single movie pass; $25 will give them a solo date night. The latter includes entry to any single regular screening and includes one medium popcorn, one medium fountain beverage, and one small candy. Where they choose to take their date when the movie’s over is none of your business. A $50 gift certificate will cover a date night for two, which is just like the solo date night only everything comes in pairs. (Available at