gift ideas

Holiday Gift Ideas 2011

In our family, we draw names at Thanksgiving for the "grownups" to each get one other "grownup" to get a gift for. We decided after my niece and nephew came along, that it was more fun for us to buy gifts for them and none of us really needed more stuff. I like that idea more as time goes by and we re-think what is important. Who needs more stuff? The myriad ways that we take care of each other during the year are more precious to me than any item someone may purchase with hard-earned dollars in an uncertain economy. (God forbid you risk pepper-spray or stampedes to get a popular item for someone! How is THAT in keeping with the spirit of the holidays?)

This year, my family, like many others has our share of challenges, financial and otherwise. We drew names and have begun asking others for "wish lists." I never have one, really. It occurs to me that not only would this be helpful to the person who drew our names, but that the ideas I may have about what make a useful, thoughtful gift might be helpful to anyone shopping for friends and family at this time of year.

So there may not be anything earth-shattering or newsworthy here, but I'll bet there's one or two things you may not have heard of, or hadn't thought of. I hope it helps you choose wisely, give well and enjoy the giving.

Remember, it's not about checking items off the list, it's about bringing a smile to someone you care about.


Homemade Gifts:

How about some easy-peasy Orange Pecan Bourbon chocolate truffles or a hand-blended spice rub in a pretty jar?

Five spice powder on left. Thanksgiving spice rub on right.

Both of these hand-blended spices have multiple uses (pork, chicken, turkey) and the reusable jars will last and last. I love my homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder.



Get a pretty tin they can reuse, or just stuff any old box with pretty tissue paper and wrap a batch of cookies inside. Try these Snappy Gingersnaps.


...or these Monster Cookies from Robin Asbell's Big Vegan cookbook (Vegan cookies my husband loved!)


How about a big jar of homemade granola? Delicious and healthy - this DIY Granola with a touch of chocolate - would be a welcome gift.


  • Reminder: when giving food gifts, please have a list handy of the ingredients, you never know when an allergy might have developed and it could really ruin the surprise.


Practical gifts:

Get Organized: Who doesn't love the Container Store or your local independent hardware or kitchen store? I bought those cute little jars above at the Container Store. I also installed a sliding rack to access deep cabinets. Oxo storage bins, and other organizing tools for any spot in your home make this a go-to destination for obsessives on your list. Gift certificates make it easy.

New Babies/Growing Families: Have a new Mom on your list? Why not give Oxo measured baby food storage containers. Slip a "free babysitting" coupon in an empty container.

Gifts for Cooks: Support independent stores like KitchenWares on Newbury St. and get your favorite cook a new kitchen gadget. Think of pairing a small tool like a melon baller or apple corer with a cookbook like Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. New silicone spatulas, or Oxo tools would be appreciated by any cook. (Remember if you give a knife for gift to also give a penny for luck!)

Tea, Please: I love the idea of a proper cup of tea in a china cup. Why not find a lonely survivor of an antique set at your local vintage store. Buy it and give it along with a sachet or tin of a new tea.



Homemade treats, cookies and spices are great for everyone who loves to eat, right? Other consumables make great gifts, the real cooking enthusiasts on your list:

Real Southern Cooking: Virginia Willis has developed fragrant spice blends (Pecan Smoked Salt, Quatre Epices and more), local artisanal grits, brownie mix and so on under her "My Southern Pantry" label. You could get any of these for a lucky person on your list and if they've been extra good - pair it with one of her books: Bon Appetit, Y'all or Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

Hit the Turmeric Trail: Raghavan Iyer has just come out with Turmeric Trail spices. While I've not tried them yet, you can rely on this recommendation, as his 660 Curries is splattered and dog-eared proof of his reliable and friendly introduction to Indian cuisine at home. We have enjoyed so many terrific meals thanks to Iyer's guidance. So many different dishes will come together easily with the addition of his new spice blends, and this Thanksgiving I began to ruminate on how lovely Indian spices are with so many traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Oil and Vinegar: Next up on the consumables gift list are oil and vinegar. An artisanal vinegar or oil will elevate most any meal. Katz Vinegars are a favorite around here and Pasolivo makes lovely pressed olive oils with old Italian varieties of olives. These are so well-crafted they stand head and shoulders above anything you might find in the grocery store.

Gourmet Foods: This Thanksgiving we were hosting an extra-large group and I was delighted to put out some D'Artagnan pâté. One of our guests brought a D'Artagnan ham that was so good it disappeared before I got a nibble! Locally we buy our D'Artagnan hams from Panzano in Sudbury. Panzano also carries a lovely selection of artisanal products from various parts of Italy as well beautiful cookbooks and of course, great wines.

Fennel Pollen: A unique gift any cook would enjoy experimenting with - then quickly find indispensable. Try Fennel Pollen Ranch.

A gourmet pantry: stocked with giftable ideas: The Earthy Delights site ships chef quality specialty ingredients to you. I remember how wonderful my harissa was, using their dried peppers. Must. Make. More.



Explore: Give a parks membership like Friends of the Reservation membership which includes entry to Crane Beach. Or, how about a Children's Museum or New England Aquarium membership? Long after the baby outgrows the onesies everyone gave them, the expectant or new parents will be thanking you for giving them a gift that helps the new family share an adventure.

Excite: "Museum" sounds dusty and ossified. A favorite thing to do is to visit the ICA Institute of Contemporary Art when a new exhibit comes to town. They also have dance performances, guest lectures, and classes for a wide range of interests and ages. This cantilevered ice cube hovering over the harbor is like a giant gift box you can open again and again. Even gift certificate for the super cool gift shop would be great. (Hint to Mom: I love this swirly leaf candleholder.)

Expand: The Museum of Fine Arts, with its soaring new wing and dedication to improvement, have made a good museum even better. Spending time there was truly one of the highlights of going to Northeastern Law School across the street! Classes, exhibitions, concerts in the courtyard and films are bringing record crowds to the MFA. Free days exist but a membership affords one the luxury of enjoying the museum without the crowds.


How about a Terrarium? Bring a little green promise into a friend's winter by creating a terrarium in a reusable vase or hurricane vessel.