Gifts: Stranger things

I was invited to a birthday party for a woman whom I had once, briefly. Because she was leaving soon for India, I gave her a travel journal. She said, warmly, "Imagine! I got a wonderful present from someone I don't even know!"

I can easily remember some lovely gifts I've been given by near-strangers, and each shows the giver had the grace to go beyond the generic, though I'd always appreciate a box of Baci.

In the window today, gifts for acquaintances, but they may also delight those whom you know well.  This is not the realm of the splashy present, so I have chosen examples under $US 30. (Note: Some items may now be sold, but you can find similar if you scout around.)

I like gifts that are useful and don't take up much space, but also provide pleasure—otherwise everyone would get Tupperware. If you can be briefed ahead on interests, that helps.

Below, two things a woman would likely enjoy unless she a) never makes mistakes, or b) doesn't sleep.

Left: Scented pencil erasers, $7 each by Aster de Vilette at LuckyScent. Maybe not essential, but are they not delightful?
Right: Breathable bamboo sleep mask, about $12 from Lucy & Mabs on Etsy. (The breathable ones make all the difference.) Handy for travel; planes or hotel rooms are often not as dark as a home bedroom.

A small china ring dish holds rings, earrings, keys; I look for handmade pieces that echo the recipient's style.

Left: The Queen Bee ring dish by California ceramic artist Manuela Marina is about $30; I love the motif and luxurious 22k detail.
Right: A vintage deep cobalt ring dish was made in Bavaria; price, about $20 from Etsy seller ClockWorkZoo, based in Vancouver.

Show me a woman past fifty and I will show you a nose that drips more often. Are we not beyond shredded tissues? Find a pure cotton or linen hankie that will look good peeking from a jacket pocket, or pulled out on the street. (Note: Shipping can cost more than the item, or can be reasonable—so your local vintage store is worth a look.)

It's especially thoughtful to give a hankie that fits the season, so she can carry it right away.

Clockwise from top left:
Winter: Pink shellfish! Perfect for those for whom winter means sunny destinations. A witty Swiss cotton hankie; price, $15.
Spring: Circus acrobats balance chairs and umbrellas; a hankie with the sticker still on, by the renowned textile artist Tammis Keefe; price, $20.
Summer: Demure pink with white daisies; price, $10.
Autumn: Vintage fall leaves and acorns in unusual colourway; price, $13.
For vintage pieces, check the condition in the listing.

Homemade gifts 

A delicious treat is always appealing. Though I'm passionate about chocolate, unless I know the recipient adores it too (and what sort), I go to fruit.

One of the very best gifts was given to me many years ago by Marion Kane, the Food Sleuth, whom I knew through my good friends Bob and Merle. She came to my party and said in her British accent: "It is gooooooseberry season!", proffering an exquisite tart that I can taste to this day.

Your gift need not be fancy; Marion has posted a recipe for an easy, excellent yogurt cake.

Gardeners, even casual ones, might make a kokedama, the fashionable Japanese moss ball, which elevates even humble plants like African violet or philodendron to an ornamental arrangement for tabletop or hanging.

I would absolutely adore one of those, in any size.

One last idea, respectful of budgets often stretched this time of year. DIY Pink Salt Foot Scrub uses reasonably-priced ingredients, looks pretty, and soothes winter feet jammed into boots.

Just don't buy that pink salt in a tiny, pretty box at the grocer's; order the big bag from Amazon or a bulk grocer's. (I buy YuPik, by the kilo.) What you don't use for the scrub, use in the kitchen.

The biggest investment is the essential oil but it's not necessary to buy several; just one is fine. If you buy lavender, you can dab the leftover oil on cotton balls to stow amid your woolens, to discourage moths.

If you have gifts that have delighted acquaintances, please tell us! We can use your ideas now and all year round.



That yogourt cake is a variation of one of the first things children in France learn to bake. I'm sure that if I made it with maple syrup (and rum, of course) it would be plenty fancy for most recipients. That site looks like a hoot.
angiemanzi said…
Such wonderful ideas! Even for close friends or family. Thank you for the suggestions!!
materfamilias said…
I'm by-passing all the Christmas gift-buying and giving this year, but these are great ideas that stretch well beyond the winter festivities. I like to give beautiful soaps as well, the substantial single bars rather than the (to me) fiddlier, less useful small, decorative guest soaps. And a 5-pack of attractive, artisanal notecards makes an attractive, simple, useful gift, imho. . .
OH! quite smitten with that wee bee dish...your list has something for everyone.
I'd love to receive the foot scrub especially of it were presented in a pretty jar.

We give consumables as gifts to our friends...cookies, rum balls, jams, candles, soaps, bath salts and linen tea towels...
the grandchildren get books and a toy.
Leslie M said…
I like to give coconut cranberry chews. Everyone loves them! I first found the recipe in Sunset magazine as their season winning cookie recipe. Here is a link

My dearest friend and I like to gift fun socks for the holidays. We both enjoy the hunt and the warm toes, thereafter.

The sleep masks and handkerchiefs are great ideas. Different and beautiful. Thank you for the suggestions.
LauraH said…
One of these days I'll get my act together and make that foot scrub:-) Lots of lovely ideas here, those handkerchiefs are especially enjoyable.
Jane said…
I'm late to comment, but those kokedama moss balls are adorable! I had to send the idea along to eldest son. He's an apartment dweller who loves plants. Apartment scale gardening!
Susan said…
We give bottles of wine, homemade banana bread or the NY Times no -knead bread. Also, there is L'Occitane verbena bath soap (large bars), linen kleenex box covers, books (including coloring books and colored pencils), sea salt, special olive oil, even gourmet biscuit mix, jams, homemade granolas, special maple syrup, note cards, brandy, compilation of favorite recipes, etc. etc.
Unknown said…
Marion Kane here. Where, when and how did I meet you? Sorry but I have no recollection of a gooseberry pie, Merle ... Help!
Duchesse said…
Marion: I can’t say, in the mists of time, exactly we met. I was a friend of Jeri Ballon of Dr Cheese and the Cake Lady, the chef Bob Penman, and his girlfriend Merle; Pearse and Taras. The era before Babe Ruth.

You came to my little house on Fenwick with that tart, which,remains a bright example of a generous gift to a person whom you did not know well. Oh, and you printed my plum tart recipe in your column. Thank you again, Marion, and lovely to hear from you.

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