We put our thinking caps on and combed through our records to come up with fifty top notch gift ideas for this holiday season. Covering a range of interests and activity levels, we think there’s a little something for everyone!
Gift Idea Index
Jump quickly to a gift idea.
THESE BELONG BY EVERY BACKDOOR. That is the title of this short ode to L.L. Bean’s Rubber Mocs - available for both men and women. We ❤️ these shoes because they are like rain boots, but an easy, slip-on version. As such, they are perfect for all those moments when you need a pair of shoes that can withstand the elements, but allow you to dash out the door with nary a pause - be it walking the dog, collecting the newspaper from a snowy front walk, or nipping out to the corner store in the rain. Mud? Phwa! Puddles? Pssht! Neither present any problem with these mocs and, what’s more, our other shoes - be it sneakers or sandals - are spared the attendant grief. In addition to being highly weather-helpful, these are the only shoes we use for working in the garden. If you are looking to give a gift to someone who loves gardening, or to someone who has cause to nip out of the house with frequency (particularly if they live in a damp or snowy part of the world), we suggest these are a winning gift idea!
FOR THE HOME CHEF. A beautiful wooden cutting board can be a real work of art - good not just as a cutting surface, but versatile enough to use as a cheese board, or hors d’oeuvres platter. We especially like Ed Wohl’s Bird’s-eye Maple boards, available in a range of sizes at Simon Pearce. You can order online, but if you’re near one of their locations, we recommend going in person. Each board is unique so it’s nice to be able to choose your own.
RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY. But, in the meantime, let’s keep things fun! Awesome umbrellas are the new trend as far as we’re concerned. We’ve splashed out on several so that we can choose one according to mood, but also keep friends and family sheltered from the rain should they forget theirs. The cheeriest of the lot by far and, we confess, the one we probably choose to use most often is our rainbow umbrella. We chose it because it showcases a larger range of colors than most other rainbow umbrellas on the market. We’ve had it going on three years now and it still manages to make us grin on the inside when we have cause to go out in the rain. Another go-to is a traditional black umbrella on the outside, but blue skies underneath. It’s perfect when we fancy a slightly more subdued (but still cheery) umbrella. The one we originally bought had a wooden handle. It doesn’t seem to be available at the moment, but this one from MoMA looks very similar. Last but not least, in terms of smaller umbrellas, we have both a simple mini umbrella (the one we invariably tuck in our computer bag when we’re headed to the library, it measures just shy of 11 inches) - and, our mini London umbrella (a touch longer at 12 inches) which we swap in when our Anglophilia comes on strong! Our umbrellas aside though, there are many more options out there than we had ever expected, so do have a browse - chances are, the perfect umbrella for your recipient is out there somewhere - maybe an umbrella in deep purple with a pink trim? Or, perhaps bright red with a navy underbelly bedecked with white polka dots? Or, for a member of your wolfpack (or your favorite lone wolf), a howling wolf umbrella? Or, possibly an umbrella that looks like a 19th century parasol - maybe in black with a bit o’ lace, and a touch of ribbon, or ivory with black polka dotted detailing at the seams? We’re sure the perfect umbrella is out there!
FOR THE BEACHGOER AND SAILOR. Depending on the level and range of aquatic activities of your recipient, you may wish to consider one or more water resistant or waterproof bags. We have given this pair of water resistant bags to a sailor we know, ideal for keeping things like seagoing snacks dry. And, to the beachgoer, we have gifted a waterproof phone protector which still allows you to use the touchscreen. For ourselves, we purchased an Itzy Ritzy Travel Happens medium wet bag a couple of years ago - in the intervening period, it has been perfect for protecting our camera at the beach (when we’re not actively using it) from both sand and moisture. Depending on the needs of your recipient (and their fashion sense), there are a host of options out there - the ones we mention here only scratch the surface!
DON’T PANIC. DO PICNIC. It’s possible, of course, to picnic very happily without a dedicated basket and/or utensils - a whole host of different carrying cases can get the job done. But, if you are looking to get a gift for someone who loves the great outdoors, who loves beach picnics, or backyard picnics - and, most especially, if you’re giving a gift to someone who likes attending outdoor concerts while enjoying some delicious edibles and imbibables, then a dedicated picnic basket is worth considering. For a straight up basket, do check out Peterboro Basket Co. We haven’t ordered from them personally but have family members who have done so with rave reviews. If you prefer a picnic basket that is all kitted out with cutlery and plates, be sure to check out Picnic Time picnic baskets and picnic totes. We have given a couple of their baskets as gifts and will likely do so again. If you are UK-based, we like the looks of the hampers offered by Fine Food Store on Amazon, so much so that we recently gave one as a gift to a newly engaged couple.
FOR THE LETTER WRITER AND/OR JOURNALER. The internet makes it supremely easy to source some marvelous accoutrements that we suspect would be happy additions to the desktop sundries of your favorite letter writer or journaler. Vintage stamps are something we’ve recently cottoned on to - sure, you pay more than their intrinsic value, but in return you get not just postage but a fun way to decorate envelopes. You can proceed by theme - baseball players, flowers, wildlife, color palette, or works of art - there are so many choose from! There are lots of vendors out there, but if you are looking for a place to start, we recommend checking out the following vendors on Etsy: VintagePostageShop, MailMaidStamps, EnfieldPost, ThePostagePlace - as well as the independent website SendMoreMail. In addition to vintage stamps, a killer pen or two (or set of pencils) can be a wonderful gift. If you are going luxe - a Mont Blanc fountain pen - or, for something more modestly priced, do check out our blog post where we list some of our all-time favorite pens and pencils. To pair with top notch writing utensils, top notch stationery and/or a high quality journal is an ideal accompaniment. For stationery, you may wish to check out Crane & Co., G. Lalo, Sugar Paper or Original Crown Mill. For a splurge, check out Smythson or Dempsey & Carroll. Smaller, bespoke printers that are on our radar thanks to Instagram are: Ink Meets Paper (Charleston, SC - USA) and Sesame Letterpress & Design (Brooklyn, NY - USA). As for journals, we are big fans of Moleskine’s ruled A4 workbook (as well as the rest of their products) but Rhodia journals and Michael Roger “decomposition” books also look very smart. Last but not least - a finishing touch both gift-wise and for the letter writer, could be a wax seal. Kustom Haus in Australia has a wonderful selection of both traditional and contemporary seals - or, they do a marvelous job of working with you to make a custom seal. Pick up some flexible wax sticks through them at the same time - or, place an order with King’s Wax in Canada if you need a supplier in North America that offers an exceptional range of colors and wax varieties.
FOR THE CAFFEINIST IN YOUR MIDST. Few people we know get through their work day (or their leisure days) without coffee or tea in some form. If a caffeinist (yes, we are making that a word) who is near and dear to you often travels with their brew - whether they are hopping about to meetings all day, or regularly commuting in with their morning cuppa, it may well be worth your while to consider a top notch travel mug as a gift. And, we have two we think are worth a look. First is Zojirushi’s stainless steel mug which we have personally given as a gift to a hot coffee drinker who, months after receiving it, reiterated her appreciation for the gift, marveling at the mug’s ability to keep her morning coffee hot for a long period of time. It has a wide mouth opening and uses vacuum insulation to keep beverages hot or cold for lengthy periods of time. The second mug we’d highlight is Contigo’s West Loop stainless steel version. This is the one we own and use daily ourselves. We almost bought the Zojirushi, but what tipped us to the Contigo was the mouth opening - a small matter of personal preference, we just happened to like the way it’s shaped, a bit smaller than the Zojirushi and without a flip top. We’ve been using our Contigo for about a year now and are still impressed - it really does lock tight, preventing inadvertent spills, to the point where we feel comfortable tucking it in our computer bag when we go to the library. And, if you opt for the stainless steel version like we did, all the parts can go in the dishwasher (painted stainless steel bodies need to be washed by hand). Conclusion: both the Zojirushi and the Contigo are excellent travel mugs - which one you choose will likely come down to design preference.
CHAMPAGNE WITH A HISTORY. We love us some good bubbles - but, you know what we love even more? Good bubbles that make us feel glamorous. That’s why we prefer to drink ours out of coupe glasses like a 40s film star, and why that opening pop never fails to delight. In terms of giving a bottle of Champagne as a gift, getting the best tasting bottle of bubbs within your budget is presumably always the #1 consideration. As for #2 though, we would like to posit that choosing a bottle with a good story or a bit of history behind it will allow your recipient to savor the Champagne even more - because, don’t you find that when you know a bit about where something comes from, about the people who made it possible, you experience the thing - in this case a wine - in a an entirely different way? As long as the story is a good one - be it interesting, happy or humorous - it tends to make the experience noticeably more enjoyable! To give you an example, in the past, we have ordered a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne for someone who is an admirer of Winston Churchill. Purportedly, Pol Roger was Churchill’s favorite Champagne - to the point where they even have a Prestige Cuvée that pays homage to the man. So, if you know a Churchill admirer too, may we suggest giving them a bottle of their hero’s favorite celebratory tipple? Perhaps with a notecard quoting the man himself: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” Another Champagne house that lends itself to a good quip and story is Bollinger. Lily Bollinger said to a Daily Mail reporter in 1961: “I drink [Champagne] when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.” Her words have always given us a chuckle - and, wouldn’t it be a great quote to share in a notecard that accompanies a bottle of Bollinger Champagne? (Insider tip: to view the source information for both of the above quotations, nip on over to our Quotations page!)
LET’S TALK LINEN. We’re talking real linen, folks - not just using the word in the generic sense of bedclothes and such. As with most things, true linen comes in diverse levels of quality and durability. Good quality linen, however, can last several generations, getting softer and ever more luxurious with each washing. Yes, it may take a little bit more effort to care for, but by golly gumdrops, it’s really worth it when you sink into those heavenly sheets - or, if you find yourself drying your face with a linen towel, it feels gentler and kinder somehow to your skin. Another thing - linen is grand year round, but it especially shines in the summertime. A summer sheet, for example, offers coverage and weight, but also wonderful breathability when it’s hot and humid out. But, where to source it, you ask? There are lots of suppliers out there, but one we’d bring to your attention is Rough Linen, based in San Rafael, California. They have a lovely range of items, ranging from full-on bedding bundles, to towels, to bathrobes, to marvelous pinafores - perfect for the baker, gardener, or, honestly, just as a fantastic fashion statement. We dare you to check out their site and not spot something that would be welcome in your recipient’s house or home.
A CUP OF COZY: HOT CHOCOLATE. We grew up on Swiss Miss and, don’t get us wrong, we have many fond memories of building snow forts, followed by piping hot mugs of Swiss Miss. Since those days, however, our eyes have been opened. We were first introduced to true cocoa nirvana by L.A. Burdick’s. We’re lucky enough to have local outposts here in both Boston and Cambridge so, occasionally, we’ll treat ourselves to a cup of hot chocolate in the cooler months - or, in the midst of sweltery summers, to an iced hot chocolate (yes, that’s a thing - a very delicious thing!). In the past, when we have wanted to share this eye-opening cocoa with a friend or loved one who is not local, we’ve purchased a bag of Burdick’s drinking chocolate (they come complete with a mini whisk!) and popped it in the post, but they also have an online store. We incline towards a half and half blend of dark and milk chocolate when we order a hot chocolate in store. Online though, that would necessitate ordering two bags, so if you are unsure about which drinking chocolate to get, our vote is for the dark chocolate (or spicy dark if your recipient likes a little bit of heat!). That said, you know your recipient’s tastes best, and milk or white chocolate are ideal for someone who likes things on the sweeter side. If you plan to give their drinking chocolate in person (i.e. you’re buying in person, or you’re having an online order shipped to you), may we recommend making some homemade marshmallows to accompany your gift? We really love Jeni Britton Bauer’s recipe for “Vanilla Bean Marshmallows” in her book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. P.s. Burdick’s chocolates are also among some of our favorites (those mice, tho!) but that is a post for another day! 😊
VINTAGE POSTERS FOR THE WIN. We kind of happened upon the amazing world of vintage posters a bit by accident - the amazing baker and cookbook author, Dorie Greenspan, shared an image of a World War II era poster back in 2015 which sent us on an online voyage of discovery. Government issued posters were only the tip of the iceberg - the first half of the 20th century seems to have been particularly rich with beautifully designed posters advertising all sorts of things - from cars, to movies, to Champagne, to perfume, to exotic travel destinations. Depending on your recipient’s hobbies, passions and interests, you may well find that the perfect poster is out there, just waiting for you to gift it! As to where to start? Well, Ebay, of course, has a wealth of options, but we’d also recommend checking out Fine Old Posters, a shop based in Maryland with an online catalog.
FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER. Speaking of Ebay - if you are looking to give a gift to a photographer, a vintage camera is an idea worth considering. A bonus - oftentimes, they’re quite affordable too! We’ve purchased a couple of vintage cameras over the years, from an old school Polaroid, to a Canon AE-1 Program. Factors that will affect the purchase price are whether or not the camera has been tested (ones that are definitely known to work are generally a bit more expensive) and whether or not it comes with accessories, like lenses, a case, etc. One thing which is often overlooked are instruction booklets. If you are looking to gift a vintage camera to someone, we recommend bidding on one that is selling with its instructions - or, where it is possible to buy the necessary instruction booklets in a separate lot (we purchased the instruction manual for one of our cameras this way and boy were we glad we did, especially when it came time to load the film). An instruction manual will make the gift a whole lot more enjoyable for your recipient because they won’t have to worry if they’re opening the film compartment right, or whether they’ve really understood the settings options. The other thing to consider is film costs. The main cost with an original Polaroid these days is not usually the camera itself - it’s the accompanying film which is only made by Polaroid Originals. Something like the Canon AE-1 takes 35mm film which is more readily available - for color, we like Kodak’s Portra 400 film and for black and white shots, Kodak’s TRI-X 400. And, last but not least, we should mention that some older cameras require batteries, sometimes ones not readily available at the local drugstore but easily order-able online. So, if you’d like to make sure your recipient can enjoy their gift from the moment they open it, do a little advance research to see if you ought to purchase a new battery for the camera.
ONE MORE FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER. If you have a photography enthusiast in your gifting sights, consider Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription tailored for photographers. For $9.99 per month, one gets access to both Lightroom and Photoshop - the former is brilliant for organizing one’s photos and doing most edits, while the latter is famous for its ability to do highly sophisticated editing. Together, they are hard to beat in terms of a software package for today’s photographer.
FOR THE CHILD AT HEART. Why is this on a gift for adults you ask? Well, a few years ago we might not have included children’s books here, but then someone gave us a copy of Red Ranger Came Calling as part of a Christmas goodie bag. It was the first thing we pulled out, unfurling it with curiosity and, moments later, we were so absorbed in the story, we ended up reading it cover to cover right then and there. True story: it made us teary-eyed and lumpy-throated in the same way (and for the same reasons) that The Polar Express did when we read it for the first time in adulthood. So, don’t dismiss children’s books out of hand. For adults, it’s almost like including a greeting card on steroids - usually conveying some marvelous sentiment but with a few more words. Plus, you typically get the benefit of exceptionally memorable illustrations and there’s generally plenty of room for a nice inscription. To our amazement too, many children’s books these days can be had for the price of a fancy greeting card. For all of these reasons, we think a wonderful children’s book can make an excellent gift for an adult - and, if that adult happens to have children they can share it with, well, that’s a bonus!
FOR THE RAW BAR RAIDER. For someone who loves the taste of the sea and who enjoys rolling up their sleeves and digging right into things, may we suggest pairing a lovely oyster knife with a sack of oysters? An oyster knife can be a real tool of beauty - check out the knives made by Sam Densmore on Cape Cod - gorgeous, no? As for where to get oysters (or a gift certificate for oysters), if you’re based by the seashore, you may already have a preferred source. But, if not - or, if you live inland - we refer you to oyster expert Julie Qiu, the lady behind the blog, In a Half Shell. She has a list there of several online suppliers she recommends and we would happily trust her recommendations (and, we can personally vouch for the Fishers Island Oyster Farm oysters!).
COFFEE LOVERS UNITE. Looking to splash out on a coffee lover? Consider the Baratza 586 Virtuoso Coffee Grinder and/or Technivorm’s Moccamaster KBT 10-Cup Coffee Brewer with Thermal Carafe. The former is a top of the line burr grinder which preps coffee for optimal brewing. Why is a burr grinder better than a blade grinder? A burr grinder grinds beans into more evenly sized pieces, allowing for a uniform extraction of flavor. In contrast, blade grinders yield particles that are more likely to vary in size, leading some to be over-extracted (a chance of bitterness) and others under-extracted (missing out on some of the flavor in your beans). Arguably, a good quality burr grinder (such as the Baratza) is even more important than a top notch coffee machine (such as the Moccamaster), because a good coffee machine cannot compensate for an uneven grind. That said, if your recipient is already sorted on the bean-grinding front, the Moccamaster makes a pretty amazing cup o’ joe. We know, we’ve tried it. Not only that but it’s quick to brew. Moreover, you can opt for a model that brews straight into an insulated carafe or one that is kept at optimal temperature on a hot plate (with auto shutoff after 100 minutes). The one we link to above is one with the carafe which we like because it uses slightly less energy and because we like to be able to tote the carafe to the table without worrying about heat loss. We could go on about the fact that Technivorm only focuses on making coffee makers, about the Moccasmaster’s ability to maintain an optimal water temperature for brewing, or several other winning points, but we’ll leave it at that and just say that they both contribute to brewing exceptionally delicious coffee day in, day out.
READY FOR COCKTAIL HOUR? Continuing on the theme of glassware and booze, are you looking to give a gift to a Lillet lover or scotch enthusiast? If so, we recommend checking out these double old fashioned crystal glasses from Schott Zwiesel. In hand, they feel nice and weighty (but comfortably and comfortingly so). They are a touch smaller than some other whiskey glasses on the market, but we rather like that - they can double up as juice glasses but are also a perfect fit for a single large ice cube. Speaking of which, if you are looking to pair an ice cube tray with your gift, look no further than the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray. A single cube from this tray fits neatly in the Schott Zwiesel glasses and will keep a digestif or aperitif elegantly chilled. Highly recommend.
FOR DOG AND CAT LOVERS. Yes! Cat folks and dog folks DO have something in common! Both are strong candidates for “gift of the month” or pet-themed gift boxes - there seem to be some pretty great pet-oriented gift box options available out there. For doting dog owners, the following caught our eye: BarkBox, or PawPack. For caring cat owners, you may wish to check out: KitNipBox, meowbox or, for one-off boxes, The Cat Kit. And, catering to both cat and dog owners are: Surprise My Pet, and Rescue Box. Pet Gift Box is another option - or, more economically (from the same umbrella organization), Pet Box. To date, we haven’t ordered from any of these companies ourselves (still longing for the day when we can add a dog to the family!), but we wanted to give you a place to start researching and hope the links prove helpful.
SALT AND PEPPER MILLS. Electric salt and pepper mills are a luxury - we can all grind or smash salt and pepper as needed, but electric mills make things that bit faster and easier. Personally, we own (and have gifted) Küchenprofi salt and pepper mills over the years. Unfortunately though, the last time we went to gift them, we discovered that they had recently been discontinued. So, we went back to the drawing board and did our research. Eventually, we found great replacements in a pair of iBunny mills, offering all the same features as ours - the ability to adjust coarseness levels, a button at the top for easy on/off activation, and a light that turns on when your grinding - that we gifted instead. The light? Yes, that sounded a but odd to us at first too, but it’s actually quite handy. It helps you see how much seasoning you’re adding when you don’t have a stove light or your lights are dimmed for a bit of ambiance. Side note: if you are looking to include some salt with a mill (or pair of mills), we highly recommend a box of Maldon sea salt flakes (very dry and perfect for a grinder).
FOR THE STYLIN’ TRAVELER. Is your prospective recipient a frequent traveler? Whether it’s for business, leisure or both, a travel wallet is a great way to stay organized on the go. Things to store in there: a passport, frequent flier cards, extra passport photos, vaccination record book, travel cards, small change for tips and/or a baggage cart on arrival - and, if headed to a seaside locale, perhaps a dive log. Not sure where to start? We had a scan round and like the look of the Travelambo wallet, available in a multitude of colors on Amazon. Another option that caught our eye was the travel document holder by Leatherology. And, if price is no object, you may wish to check out Smythson’s gorgeous (but pricey) selection.
CAKE OR BOOZE? HANDILY HANDLE BOTH. If your recipient loves baking and also enjoys entertaining (and serving a good punch at his/her gatherings), we have the gift for you - a combo cake plate and punch bowl. We bought Anchor Hocking’s 2-piece cake plate with dome mainly for its cake plate function. However, when we do not have a cake in the larder, the dome gets flipped upside down and we use it as a fruit or display bowl on the kitchen table. This versatility, we think, makes it an ideal gift especially for someone who is short on kitchen space. We’ve had ours for seven years now and it has been a real workhorse. It has proved to be a simple (yet elegant) way to present cakes and one that’s super easy to clean. As well, because it is made of glass, it has a nice weight to it and doesn’t feel flimsy or cheap. Highly recommend for the baker/punch-lover in your midst. Final note: Anchor Hocking have also introduced a slightly stouter 4-in-1 model that includes dip and chips functionality - a pretty great addition!
THE TASTE OF TRADITION. When an artisan of any kind focuses on doing one thing and doing it well, that’s often when the transcendent is born. Dare we apply that word in this case? Yup, we do. Panettone - the traditional Italian holiday bread - was something we didn’t particularly fancy growing up, partly because it contained dried fruit and sometimes nuts (and weren’t terribly keen on either in our bread in our earliest years), but primarily because the panettone we tried were more likely than not cheap imitations of what this holiday bread should be. Well, now we’re happy to say, we have two sources for you if you are based in the States: the first is via a former employer, Formaggio Kitchen. Every year, a special order is placed with Pasticceria Perbellini in Italy and when their panettone arrive, the shop is stacked to the brim with jewel-colored boxes and cheery brown paper parcels - but not for long, because those in the know know that they need to snap one up quickly before they’re gone! Perbellini’s delicious creations are what converted us from being naysayers, to passionate fans of panettone. So, for that reason, we were primed to pay close attention when a former Formaggio colleague told us that master baker, Roy Shvartzapel, had opened a new bakery focusing solely on panettone right here in the States. We immediately had to give it a try so click-click-click and boom, just like that we’d ordered one online. It was elegantly packaged (i.e. lovely as a gift), but since we were self-gifting, our focus at that particular moment was on flavor and taste. To say that we were impressed is putting it mildly. If you’d like to “wow” someone with a marvelous holiday treat, Chef Shvartzapel’s panettone has to be a top contender. Fair warning: order as early as possible from either/both Formaggio Kitchen and From Roy as high demand means they quickly sell out. Perbellini panettone are only available from Formaggio Kitchen in the run-up to Christmas but From Roy makes panettone year-round so if they do sell out, eventually they will replenish - it’s just that that may be after the holiday has come and gone (although there is something to be said for ordering outside of the usual season - we did, and it was a real treat)!
BAD HAIR DAYS BEGONE. For years, we used a rickety old hair dryer that took about five hours to do the job in hand - and that’s only a slight exaggeration. Then, as was inevitable, one day, it stopped working. In the course of researching what hair dryer we should buy next, we realized we’d probably been using the worst of the worst, and hair-wise things could only get better going forward. Words and phrases like ‘ceramic,’ ‘tourmaline,’ and ‘negative ions,’ were all being bandied about in the reviews we read and, to be honest, we’re still not totally clear as to the science behind how all these things make our hair better. All we know is that we bought the RUSK Engineering W8less Professional hair dryer and now we have a compact, lightweight dryer that dries hair quickly but without frying it to bits. If you have a loved one who regularly uses a hair dryer but has an antiquated model, this might be a grand opportunity to treat them to an upgrade.
FOR THE LIFE LONG LEARNER. Some things about the Internet Age aren’t so great, but some things are absolutely marvelous - like the ability to do so much learning online! If you are looking for a gift for someone who is ever-curious, who loves learning new things, we have two options for you. The first is Lynda.com a site we have used repeatedly to do some learning - whether it pertained to coding, e-publishing or design. Courses are divided up into mini videos which makes it easy to digest things in pieces and go back to segments of importance at a later date. Importantly, we have found all the instructors to be clear, well-organized and very knowledgeable. In a similar vein, with the option to watch online, but also to order DVDs, The Great Courses offers a wonderful array of classes. Whereas Lynda.com tends to focus more on practical skills (coding, taxes, graphic design), The Great Courses tends to focus a tad more on theory, history and philosophy (although we took National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore’s photo class and that was all sorts of practical!). Depending on your recipient’s interests, you may wish to explore one or both as gift options.
DECK THE HALLS WITH A PERSONALIZED ORNAMENT. Cindy Thurston is the marvelous talent behind Etsy shop Heavenly Treasures. She hand paints lovely Christmas ornaments, working off of photos supplied by customers. We have been a customer of hers more than once and she does an exceptional job. As a final precautionary measure, she always checks in with images before your ornament gets sealed, just to make sure you don’t have any final tweaks or suggestions. Praises aside though, we’re going to lay all our cards on the table: it’s already too late to order for Christmas 2017 because these little works of art are in high demand. The first time we placed an order, we did so in late October and that was cutting it close. Most recently, we placed an order in the spring, so there was no looming deadline, and it was much less stressful for us (and hopefully for Cindy too!). Personalized decorations like these are something that easily become part of that marvelous ritual of unpacking the ornaments and decorating the tree, joining the papier-mâché ring made in nursery school, or the toothpick and paper tissue star you made in third grade. It’s ornaments like those and Cindy’s that can make each family’s tree so special and unique. If a custom ornament appeals, we suggest placing an order in early 2018 (maybe after January so Cindy has time to recover from the holiday rush). Pro tip: it is possible to order either glass or shatterproof ornaments, depending on your safety needs and/or tactile preferences.
FOR THE GARDEN EXPERIMENTER. Did you know that it’s possible to graft the branches of varying kinds of stone fruits onto one tree? One of the most ambitious plans for this kind of grafting is Sam Van Aken’s “Tree of 40 Fruit.” Imagine a tree like that in the spring, with flowers blooming in a variety of colors, nevermind the convenience of harvesting multiple types of fruit from one tree - pretty spectacular, no? Now, forty-variety trees are not something one can find at one’s local nursery or even online, but there ARE sources for multi-grafted trees that vary more modestly, ranging from two types of fruit, to five (the most we’ve been able to find). Two things to note here, before you proceed: we’ve read that there is some risk not all branches on a multi-grafted tree will survive. For example, if you purchase a five-graft tree, you may end up with one or two that don’t make it. We tell you this not to discourage multi-grafted gifting, but rather to manage expectations so there are no big surprises. Second, we have not actually tried growing one of these trees - we wish we could but, unfortunately, right now space does not permit. As such, we cannot personally vouch for any multi-grafted tree suppliers, but we found a couple online that look like promising places to start your research if you are interested in giving a gardener a truly unique project and gift that may well yield fruit (both literally and figuratively!) for years to come. From what we have gleaned, Dave Wilson Nursery is a key source for multi-grafted trees, but they do not sell directly to consumers. However, their site has a lot of information about trees they cultivate and the vendors who carry them, including Peaceful Valley and Bay Laurel which are both brick and mortar locations in California but with an online presence too. Side note: we’re not sure if this is still possible, but we read in an online forum that Bay Laurel may also be able to take special orders for Dave Wilson trees if you do not see the one you are looking for.
FOR THE SUPERHERO IN YOUR LIFE. Did you know that Underoos for adults are a thing? We didn’t. Not until recently, that is! If someone you know and love had Underoos as a child - or superhero underwear of any sort - an adult set may make for a wonderfully fun and funny (yet practical) gift. We hazard to guess that one or more of these might fit the bill: Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Superman, Captain America, or Batman.
PORTABLE MUSIC. A portable speaker can be a grand gift, especially for someone who spends a lot of time at the beach, enjoys camping, lolling about in the backyard hammock, or sipping a cold beer on the patio. We’re big fans of Altec Lansing’s wee Orbit speaker - our first one lasted for years and was quite cheap when we purchased it, only giving up the ghost when clogged with too much cinnamon and flour from non-stop music duty above the baker’s workbench. Our second, updated model of the Orbit, purchased to replace the bakery casualty, is still going strong. But, we are sorry to say, it seems as though it’s no longer being made - nor is the version that succeeded it. However, Altec Lansing’s Mini H2O is a speaker that looks worthy of consideration - it is waterproof, it floats, connects over Bluetooth (but also via jack) and it’s super small. Based on the ratio of speaker size to sound quality we’ve enjoyed with Altec Lansing’s Orbit, we’d wager it’s a trooper too. Another portable speaker that caught our eye as we were researching portable speakers is Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ speaker that is splashproof and also allows for both Bluetooth and jack connectivity. It comes in several sizes but the Angle 3 Ultra looks to be a solid update to the previous model (which was extremely popular) with increased power, longer battery life and clearer buttons. And, last but not least, if you fancy pushing the boat out, Bose’s Revolve+ looks to be a really fantastic piece of equipment. Bose products are generally well known for their sound quality - this particular model has the added features of being water resistant and Bluetooth compatible. It even has a handle for easy portability!
FUN AND FUNNY. Looking to keep things lighthearted and silly? Consider a fun drawing of your friend or loved one. A caricature is one way to go - in which case, we liked the look of those drawn by Kalin Dilovski, sold through his Etsy shop, KalinCaricatures. Alternately, if your recipient is a Simpsons fan, you could get them Simpson-ized! Etsy vendor TinyCanvas based in Sevierville, Tennessee looks like to be a strong option worth exploring if that is of interest. And, if manga is more your recipient’s thing, you may wish to check out the following Etsy shops: SandyFordDesign and ArtPaintingGift. Last but not least, we’d highlight Mauricio Millan Silva’s Etsy shop, MyAvatart, where he offers Simpson-style, Disney-style AND anime-style portraits (both for humans, and for pets), as well as Andrew of CartoonPortrait who does several of the above-mentioned portrait styles too but also does word-text portraits which we think are pretty cool and might be just the ticket for an English major, journalist, budding novelist, or avid reader.
FOR SNACK LOVERS AND MOVIE AFICIONADOS. We admit it, we have a popcorn problem. We can eat popcorn for dinner - and have done so on many an occasion. Growing up, Orville Redenbacher was the house staple but now, in adulthood, we’ve been introduced to the wide range of corns out there. Our go-to is Crown Jewel Gourmet popcorn, especially the Petite Princess Amber and Baby Blue Sapphire varieties. Both pop up smaller than the likes of Orville Redenbacher with a lovely crunch and excellent flavor. In our experience, the Baby Blue Sapphire tends to have a few more “old maids” (those half popped kernels) which we rather like sometimes - that’s why we get both varieties. That said, Crown Jewel stock a sizeable range of popcorns and the first time we ordered, we got their sampler so we could assess which were our favorites. If you are looking to give a gift to a popcorn snacker, or old-fashioned movie lover, a popcorn sampler is a fun (and delicious!) gift worth considering, wethinks!
A DICKENSIAN CHRISTMAS. We’re going to give you the link to this one, but if you happen to be reading this post at any other time of the year than November or December, chances are it won’t lead you to the goods: real mince pie filling made by June Taylor. Ms. Taylor makes all sorts of gorgeously delicious goodies, with a heavy emphasis on preserved things, from conserves and marmalades, to candied fruit peel and pickled onions. Among her seasonal specialties is an absolutely stunning jar of traditional mincemeat, made in the old fashioned way, with suet. If you are a vegetarian though, fear not - she has a vegetarian version too. This has been a special treat for several Christmases now - we’ve baked it into mini tartlets, consumed at tea time by the whole family. If you are looking to give a gift to someone who is a bit of an Anglophile or, frankly, anyone who loves a good little fruity pastry to accompany a piping hot mug of tea (and enjoys baking), then we suspect this might be a winning gift! Note: if you go to Ms. Taylor’s site and don’t see the mincemeat listed, it may be because it has sold out or because it’s usually only available in the run-up to the holidays.
THE PERFECT COCKTAIL. A machine that helps you mix the perfect cocktail? It exists! And, it’s called the Perfect Drink Pro. We’re a little bedazzled that somebody thought of this - and, it’s a pretty nifty gift for the Gimlet loving gal, or Moscow Mule loving man in your life, don’t you think? Although we haven’t personally tried it, let’s just say we’d be thrilled to give it a whirl - or maybe we should say, shake? 😉
KEEPING IT LIGHT-ED. Know someone who’s always asking for a light? Well, things have changed a lot since the days when Prometheus was punished for stealing fire from the gods. May we recommend a classic, brass Zippo lighter (perhaps paired with some lighter fluid), or a Maratac Rev 2 for your flame-strapped friends? Classy looking and practical, either will keep fireplaces warm and toasty this winter, and campfires at the ready come summer!
A KEYCHAIN (DE-)LIGHT. Prometheus and light sources provides the perfect intro to this gift idea: a keychain light. But, we’re not talking a cheapo light, we’re talking quality products here, like the Prometheus keychain light. Check out this excellent video about how they were developed to get a sense for the thought and care that went into designing them. The other keychain light we’d bring to your attention is the Maratac peanut which, unlike the Prometheus light, is not one that we have personal experience with. But, it was on our shortlist for its wonderfully appealing stout shape, high reviews and its slight edge in terms of affordability. Plus, you can recharge it via USB (it comes with a little adapter you swap onto the light when it needs to be charged) which sounds awfully handy!
FOR THE RECORD. We’re not talking newspaper subscriptions folks (although those can make excellent gifts too), we’re talkin’ vinyl, and turntables, and going old school. More and more people we know are getting interested in taking a dip in the hot tub time machine, and dialing back the decades. It may be that they have rediscovered an old LP collection up in the attic, or realized that many contemporary albums are being released on vinyl again, or perhaps it’s the musical equivalent of the Slow Food movement - Slow Music - savoring the sound and process. However, there are two sides to this coin, because the right turntable can also be a grand gift for someone who wishes to update their music collection. Some of the newer record players (like Audio-Technica’s AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive turntable) can be connected to your computer, making it possible for you to record old LPs as you play them. If someone you know and love has a large collection of records that are currently languishing because they find digital formats more convenient, this would be a great way to help them merge the old into the new. Final note: if you’d like to secure a record or two to accompany a turntable gift, depending on your location, here are a few online shops you may wish to explore - Amoeba (US), The Mixtape Shop (US), Red Eye Records (AU), eil.com (UK), Watson Records (UK), Jazzman Records (UK), and Discogs, an online marketplace to buy and sell LPs with offices in Portland, OR and the Netherlands.
KITCHEN SKILLZ. Trying to find a gift for someone who is a passionate about cooking, or about baking? Perhaps consider an online cooking class subscription? There may well be others out there, but a few have popped up on our radar as of eminent interest: first up is ChefSteps Premium. Produced by the team behind the groundbreaking six-book series “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” these courses focus on sous vide cooking and what’s nice about this gift is that it’s a one-off $39 payment so, if you have extra $$ in your budget, or fancy splashing out, you may wish to pair it with their Joule sous vide cooker. Next up is America’s Test Kitchen online cooking school. Gift one month of membership or a full year and give your budding chef access to a whole range of instructional videos, both savory, and sweet, grouped into three levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate and advanced. And, last but not least, this one’s for the aspiring pastry chef. We happened upon Kirsten Tibballs’ Instagram feed where she shares mouthwatering pics of the things she makes for her online courses. She and the Savour School are based in Australia but, thanks to the internet, classes can be accessed from any time zone. We haven’t taken any courses as yet, but it’s something we’ve earmarked for when our schedule frees up a bit. As with ATK’s courses, the Savour School offers both a one month and a one year subscription option.
FOR THE CAMPER AND CAPABLE OUTDOORS PERSON. This Estwing hatchet has to be one of the most stylish looking hatchets we’ve ever seen. More important than looks, however, are quality, usefulness, and durability. According to well over a thousand Amazon reviewers, this tool excels in all of these respects. Know a gentleman or gentlewoman who is a skilled outdoors person (i.e. knows how to handle an axe) and appreciates good tools? This may well be the gift you’ve been looking for, especially if they are often called upon to sort out the kindling for the fire - indoors, or out!
ICE CREAM FLOATS AND TOPPINGS GALORE. Last Christmas, we received Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams as a gift and, boy, were we wowed! We knew we would be wowed by the ice cream - Jeni’s is one of our super special treats - but we had no idea it could be shipped across the country AND shipped so well and stylishly! Take it from us, an ice cream parcel from Jeni’s will knock the socks off any ice cream loving dairy fiend friend. However, due to the need to promptly receive one’s shipment, we think gift certificates are the best way to gift Jeni’s - that, or be sure to coordinate directly with your recipient about shipping. If you go the gift certificate route but wish to have a physical gift to give, may we suggest Libbey ice cream float glasses, long spoons perfect for scooping out the ice cream at the bottom of the glass and/or a selection of awesome ice cream toppings, so that your friend or loved one is ready for their snazzy orange parcel? In the topping department, we’d flag the following as potential candidates worth exploring: Mallow Bits, Stonewall Kitchen’s dessert toppings, Dylan’s Candy Bar sprinkles tackle box - or, a more traditional rainbow sprinkle set. Alternately, whip up a batch of honeycomb candy. It’s quick and easy to make, crumbles easily - and, most importantly, is a delicious, crunchy ice cream topper!
FOR THE KITCHEN (AND BAR) SCIENTIST. Continuing in the culinary vein, perhaps your prospective kitchen-ready recipient would like a chance to push to boat out a bit? To experiment with some of the science behind it all? Enter Molecule-R’s Molecular Gastronomy Kit. We haven’t yet splashed out ourselves, but this kit is something we’ve been eyeing for a little while now for some kitchen fun and, we suspect, a little learnin’ too! If your recipient is more of a cocktail swiller than a cook, you may wish to consider their Cocktail Kit, Gin and Tonic Kit, or their Mojito Set.
FOR THE COWBOY OR COWGIRL IN YOUR LIFE. Were one to make a list of items that classify as Americana, you can bet your woolly knickers that a Stetson cowboy hat would be on that list. They are truly iconic, with a robust tradition of quality and functionality. If a traditional cowboy hat doesn’t fit the bill, keep in mind that Stetson also offers many other types of hats - Panama style hats, sun hats, straw hats, wool caps, just to name a few. We were gifted a straw hat some years ago and it amazed us then (and still does now) with how light, yet well shaped it is. Suffice it to say, we recommend checking out Stetson’s website and having a browse of their collection. Fair warning though: it may be hard to resist self-gifting.
THE PERFECT SWEATSHIRT. Folks’ idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie ranges from full-on crispy, to cake-like. Similarly, one could probably argue ‘til the end of days about what constitutes the perfect sweatshirt. Those made by American Giant, however, would definitely have to be among the top contenders. We were first alerted to their products through a 2012 Slate article by Farhad Manjoo entitled, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made.” The focus in that article was on the gentleman’s hoodie, but we’re here to tell you that there are lady coders (cough us!) who will vouch for their top notch sweatshirts too, based on daily, personal experience. Their sweatshirts are a little more expensive than the average but for a very good reason: quality. To take a look at the sweatshirt options for ladies, click on through here, for the gents, this is where you’ll want to go. Pro tip: their sweatshirts (particularly those marked slim fit) run a little smaller than some - we went up a size from our usual - so, if in doubt, we recommend ordering the larger of any two sizes you are considering.
A TASTE OF PARIS. Did you know that it’s possible to purchase Ladurée macarons here in the United States? We didn’t until just recently. Macarons have existed in France for a long time, but pastry chef Pierre Hermé is widely credited with their recent renaissance, introducing all sorts of new flavor combinations first as head chef for Ladurée and, now, at his own boutiques. Although Chef Hermé has yet to open a US-based shop, there are one or more Ladurée locations in Miami, Los Angeles, Washington DC and in New York. Although it is not possible to order online as yet (apparently that is in the works), you can call their customer service line - (646) 213-2806 - to place an order. Boxes are available in sizes of 12 or 24 macarons and orders are shipped Monday through Thursday via Fedex, packed with dry ice to keep the macarons in peak condition. Opt for either a selection of their most popular flavors or choose your own. A little heads-up: we’re told that in the last two weeks before Christmas, the phone pretty much rings off the hook, so it’s best to get your orders in early. Bon appétit!
DIGITIZE NEGATIVES AND OLD PHOTOS. Know somebody who has a lot of film negatives lying around? Old family photos? VHS cassette tapes? Slides? Perhaps they need help scanning them - or need a bit of restoration work done? If so, we recommend checking out ScanCafe’s gift box - it may well be the perfect place to start. This is a gift we recommend for: old time photographers, keen family historians, genealogy buffs, the family archivist, and really anyone who took photos prior to, oooh, maybe 2005.
DNA TESTS FOR ATHLETES AND FITNESS BUFFS. There are a fair number of DNA analysis websites out there these days, but did you know that there are several specifically for athletes? We didn’t until a good friend (and avid runner and triathlon competitor) told us about the one she did. If you know someone who is a keen competitor, a gym habitué, is looking to improve their general health and/or wellbeing, or enjoys the challenge of beating their personal best, you may wish to check out DNAFit or FitnessGenes as gift candidates.
FOR THE WIN(E). Know a wine aficionado who fancies nothing more than repairing to an armchair with a book and a glass of something delicious? You may wish to consider getting them a gift that speaks to their twin passions of wine and reading: a copy of “Wine Grapes A Complete Guide.” This volume is the combined work of wine experts Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, and botanist José Vouillamoz. It features not only beautiful illustrations but information on 1,368 vine varieties, making it a truly stellar reference book for any wine lover.
EASY OUTDOOR SEATING. We’ve had our original model Crazy Creek chair for donkey’s years and it has been a real trooper, from forest, to beach, to public park. If you know someone who loves camping, beach picnics, going to concerts or movies in public parks, then this chair will allow them to enjoy all of the above in easily-portable, collapsible, foldable comfort.
BACK IT UP, DIGITALLY-SPEAKING. If your recipient does a lot of creating online and they’re not already actively backing up their work, tools to assist with digital safety could be a top notch gift. A sizeable external hard drive, like a 1TB or 2TB WD drive, is a great place to store backups of essays, articles, novels, photos and/or other creative work. Or, if your recipient has a Mac, they can use it to implement the Time Machine feature. Another thing worth considering might be a subscription to a service like BackBlaze, a cloud based backup service. With no limitations on quantity, users can choose to back-up select folders, their entire hard drive and/or any external drives they have attached to their computer. Hardware fails and these are a couple of solutions to help stave off irretrievable losses.
OLD SCHOOL JIGSAW PUZZLES. Most jigsaw puzzles one buys in stores these days are made out of cardboard - but did you know that they used to be made out of wood? And, not only that but that there used to be “novelty” pieces, pieces that were shaped like identifiable things, often associated with the picture on the puzzle? We didn’t either until a family member resurrected a 1930s era puzzle from the basement. Turns out, there are still artisans making beautiful puzzles like this - among them, Liberty Puzzles and Artifact Puzzles. We’ve ordered from the former and were super impressed by the puzzle quality and the promptness with which our order shipped. Pro tip: Liberty allows you to choose whether or not you want a picture of the finished product on the cover of your puzzle’s box - nowadays it’s common but, apparently, in days past, no picture was provided to allow for maximum challenge as far as the puzzling was concerned. We decided to go the old school route - and if you’re gifting to a keen puzzler, you may wish to do the same!
A GUEST BOOK. We have fond memories of going through our grandmother’s guest books, looking at all the entries we made and that our cousins made, first as children and later as teens - it was a marvelous record not only of our artistic pretensions, but also of all sorts of special occasions, from birthdays, to Easters, to Thanksgivings. Whether it is for a family member, an inveterate entertainer (or both), a guest book is often a grand gift that in the years to come will be a lovely reminder of times shared and the nudge triggering all sorts of fond memories. In terms of where to look, we recommend checking out Bar Harbor or, if you’re looking to splash out, T. Anthony.
LOCAL ACCESS. When we were doing research for our blog post about gift ideas for teachers, we were told about a group of parents that pooled to get the teacher in question an all-access annual auto pass to California’s parks and beaches. The teacher-recipient was thrilled with the gift, and we thought it was a pretty swell gift idea too. Whether it is park access, beach parking, or membership to a local museum, access to a local attraction is often a winning gift. Boston peeps, there are some pretty fantastic annual subscriptions or memberships unique to our town too: the Brattle Theatre, for example, shows all sorts of fantastic classic films AND they serve local brews and popcorn with real butter. For kiddoes, a family membership to the Boston Children’s Museum is sure to be a hit. The Boston Museum of Science is grand for all but the newborn among us, as is membership to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (which actually gives access to four museums). Last but not least, for the ice skating enthusiasts in your midst, did you know that it’s possible to purchase a variety of membership packages to the Frog Pond in the Boston Common? Definitely something to check out for the Boston-based winter lover on your list!
Tags: Christmas, food gifts, gift cards and certificates, gifts for a couple, gifts for her, gifts for him, gifts for parents, gifts suitable for anyone, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, pampering gifts, practical gifts, the perfect gift, useful gifts
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