Gifts: Panic-proof presents

I don't think a gift can be too small, or that money spent equals a great gift.  (See my post from last holiday season on hand-and-homemade gifts that cost little, and see the comments, too!)

For fear of too much/too little/getting it wrong, some of us, who know we are going to give a gift anyway, delay. Then it's the lacklustre gift basket stuffed with odds and sods, few of which are very good. I once read a funny piece about Christmas gifts from the 7-Eleven, but we can do better.

Where to go when panic strikes? My nominations for Best Last-Minute Gifts (Adult Division), below. Options given for your local vendor or the big names, who pack professionally, gift wrap and offer express delivery.
Zyliss silicone spatula

1. Buy fresh new essentials from your local kitchenware boutique or an online seller like Williams Sonoma.

Most of us let our housewares get grungy, and new ones are far down the replacement list.

Grab a handful of spiffy implements, a cutting board or good paring knife; throw in a linen dishtowel. Stay away from weird-flavoured oils and overpriced dish detergent in scents like gingerbread.

Get down!
2. In northern climates. something down.

You cannot have too much down in a cold snap, and if you take that to hea(r)t this minute and get fast shipping, you could score a snuggly Land's End Flannel Lined Down Robe  (Price, $150.) It's hiding in the mens' section but an be worn by women too. Love the northwoods vibe.

Moroccan stuffed apricots

3. Nibblies, sweet or savoury

Here is a terrific assortment of easy, tasty appetizers; choose one or two to  make the day before, or in the morning, and deliver to a friend. Yes, you need to buy the ingredients, but there is nothing that a dash to your nearly-always-open market can't handle. (The stuffed apricots pictured are TDF!)

Brooks Brothers shoe horn
4. Personal grooming gear par excellence

Bet you thought I was going to suggest a spa gift certificate. If you know someone has a favourite place and treatment, okay– but then you are not panicked.

Think beyond fragrance or makeup to find those finely-crafted items that are useful, but also a treat: A real horn shoe horn, a German nail-clipper, a lighted vanity mirror, or for big budgets, a luxe washable cashmere blanket.

Drop by your local haberdashery, best drugstore or salon, or follow the links to online vendors.

High quality pillows
 5. Sweetest dreams

I love to sleep on good pillows and they've always been happily received as gifts.

A little knowledge of sleeping habits helps; a peek in the bedroom will reveal whether you're buying standard or a larger size. If unsure, a small boudoir pillow is a pretty treat for madame, especially if offered in a charming case.

Go to your nearest department or linen store, or order online from Garnet Hill or other vendors with fast shipping. Price, $50 and up.

6. Bacon, beloved of boys

Carnivores, especially males, lose their stuff over a smoky slab. If you have a major 'vore to enchant, consider Bacon of the Month Club. (Price, $99-189.)

Zingerman's, the online purveyor of fine foods, offer three-month or six-month shipments. And you don't even want to know about their Forbidden Foods Club.

You could design your own version, making the faithful deliveries yourself. A friend did this with Cheesecake of the Month for her daughter and son in law.

7. Naughty is nice

Hello, kitty!
A lace headband and/or eyemask: Why not be the aunt who gives something not really, uh, sporty? Or the lover? These accessories are available from aptly-named eBay seller just4fungifts and you can get express shipping. I've also seen these at local craft shows, scooped up by young women who plan to wear them to New Years' Eve parties, concerts or just because they can.

If I have saved one person from receiving a drab gift card, my work on this planet is finished. You might also file these ideas for other occasions, as they are not especially Christmas-centric.

PS. Back for another year: Here's my Spiced Nut recipe, which knocks it out of the tree lot: quick, delicious, luxurious and so easy that you can make it with a child.

Spiced Walnuts
(adapted from New York Times Sunday Magazine)

1 pound walnut halves
(or pecans, or skinned hazlenuts)
1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp kos
her salt
Generous pinch cayenne pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp cardamom

1 egg white,
room temperature
1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 300F.
Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, cardamom and cinnamon; set aside.

Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, toss till evenly coated.

Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour nuts into a bow
l, breaking up any pieces that stick together.

Package in a mason jar, or make a paper cone.


Frugal Scholar said…
All great ideas, as expected. But the real treat was remembering all our visits to Zingermann's--we used to live near Ann Arbor and ate many a sandwich in that tiny hole-in-the-wall (circa 1986).
Susan B said…
These are inspired. I love the idea of the kitchen utensils; you're right that people don't often replace their own until broken.
laurieann said…
This is a great series of articles. Duchesse, you have answered a few of my pressing gift issues. I was needing a few additional ideas for a particular friend and something small yet thoughtful for my husband. He's a stickler about caring for his clothing and his personal grooming so your upmarket suggestions are appreciated.
materfamilias said…
Great ideas! Your giftees are lucky folks indeed!
LPC said…
Are you implying I ought, with very little purchased, to be panicking?

There are some lovely ideas there. By the way, the "h" is missing from the beginning of the clipper url, if you haven't repaired it yet. I mention that because I loved poring over tweezers, clippers and such. I don't know of any shops that sell good ones any more; long ago they were available at the glass counters of department stores, as were good-quality combs. Your all-important "nibbles" url is also missing some element.

Funny, I've given a certain type of silicone spatulas to several friends. Silicone pastry brushes, which we use mostly for spreading a small amount of oil in a pan, are also popular. It helps to have Quincaillerie Dante round the corner...

I noticed that the cashmere blanket comes only in queen and king. Guess all their giftees have large bedrooms.
I cannot use that link as Blogger says I must be invited!
I was hoping to see your recipe...
great thoughts on gifts Duchesse.
Deja Pseu has a similar post, great minds think alike!
Susan Tiner said…
I really like the idea of giving kitchen utensils. In fact maybe we'll give some to ourselves :).
Anonymous said…
Oh Duchesse, I can't access the nuts recipe and I am in need! I don't have a family and most of my friends are Jewish so Christmas isn't that big a thing for me, but one or two do have trees and have even hidden them behind curtains from the Rabbi!
Duchesse said…
Bourbon and hostess: I've edited this post to include the recipe.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I've fixed the links; for smaller cashmere blankets (throws) see:
Anonymous said…
Your spiced nuts sound yummy--I will definitely be trying them!

Oh--and three cheers for Bacon-of-the-Month; the catalog alone is a hoot, and the bacon is delicious.

Lorrie said…
Great ideas! Little luxuries that make life easier, more pleasant, or tastier.
Rubiatonta said…
Another nice gift for girly-girls is a new set of make-up brushes. A foundation brush, a big soft one for blush/powder, one for eyeshadow, and a retractable lip-brush are all good basics.
Duchesse said…
Rubi: I'd love to get that! Thanks.

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