Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Practical Guide to Christmas Gifts for Foodies

As we saunter ever closer to the holiday season, more and more Gift Guide posts are popping up all over the internets. Generally, I dig these things, because
  1. I need present ideas. Badly.
  2. This year, most of the suggestions seem to be under $25. (Thanks, economy!)
  3. Who knew the Buttered Toast Wallet even existed?
Sometimes, though … sometimes the suggestions can seem a tad impractical. Don’t get me wrong – adorable novelty items have their time and place. But if you’re looking to purchase a useful, pragmatic gift, $12.99 swizzle sticks may not be the way to go.

Instead of offering specific options, we at CHG present these utilitarian-but-still-tremendously-exciting guidelines. Readers, if you’d like to add or dispute anything, fire away in the comments! I’d love to hear your advice.


…buy a piece of kitchen equipment with only one use. Chestnutters are cool-looking, no doubt, but they perform exactly two functions: 1) they slit chestnuts, and 2) they take up space in your kitchen. Instead of choosing an appliance someone will use once a year for ten minutes, consider a multi-purpose tool like a silicone cutting board, a decent pairing knife, or the all-important spatula. You can jazz ‘em up in different colors for fun, and your friend/mom/boss will still appreciate the sentiment.

…procure ANYTHING larger without consulting reviews first. From Target to Macys and beyond, most shopping websites offer consumer soundboards now. And it’s a good bet that if a product doesn’t score at least an 85% approval, it’s not worth a second look. This year, be on special lookout for ratings distributions, which are popping up all over the place on sites like Yelp and Amazon. Statistically, a cookbook with 149 five-star and 30 four-star ratings will probably yield better results than one with 89 five-star and 90 four-star ratings.

…grab something just because it’s on sale. Next time you get the chance, take a gander at the discount rack at Barnes & Noble. I guarantee at least one whole shelving unit will be comprised of poorly-selling cookbooks. While this may be tempting, remember: they’re usually discounted for a reason (i.e. they suck and/or are fairly useless). This goes double for larger appliances and space-sucking utensils. Sure, champagne pliers are a nice idea, and a bargain at 33% of their original cost, but … champagne pliers? WHAT?

…attempt holiday-themed kitchen equipment, unless someone is really, REALLY into the season. My friend the elementary school teacher has more reindeer mugs than anyone else on Earth, with the exception of her fellow elementary school teachers. (Side note: she’s a soda drinker.) If your Grandma’s goal in life is to own every Christmas platter ever made, be my guest and add to her collection. Otherwise, see DON’T #1.

…purchase foods that will derail a dieter. The stomach is a cruel master, and no one knows that better than the perpetual Weight Watcher. If your loved one is making an earnest effort to bring his/her poundage down, avoid adding to her woes with Godiva care packages. Fruit, popcorn, and jams are good alternatives.

…forget space restrictions. I’m speaking for all the apartment dwellers out there when I say, “Aunt Alice, I love you very much. But my kitchen is 8x8, and I can’t possibly fit any more breadmakers, waffle irons, or copies of Larousse Gastronomique without knocking down my neighbor’s wall. Please, THINK OF THE CHILDREN.”

…buy anything you can make yourself for 1/5th of the cost.
Citrus salt from an online gourmet: $6.29.
Citrus salt made in your kitchen: waaaaaaaaay less.

…purchase crap. Crap is like porn: it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Sure, inflatable toast might seem like a glorious flash of inspiration at the time, but ten seconds after its unwrapping, the hilarity is over. Then, all that’s left … is inflatable toast.


…give to food-focused charities. In case your Roth IRA hasn’t told you (and HOLY COW mine has), the fiscal outlook hasn’t been too spiffy lately. Philanthropies need financial assistance more than ever, so why not make a donation in a family member’s name? Charity Navigator is a fantastic resource, as is CHG – we’ve been featuring food charities in our Thursday posts for more than a year now. (Search for “Organization of the Week,” quotes included).

…consider gently-used items. Extraordinarily frugal and much easier on the environment, already-owned appliances make excellent Christmas gifts. (In fact, it just took me ten seconds to find a $125 KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Craigslist, which is a $70 savings off the cheapest model’s sticker price.) Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with idea, purchasing refurbished kitchen equipment is a solid (albeit pricier) alternative.

…buy food the whole family can eat. Wine and chocolates are fun, but what’s five-year-old Sarah Jane gonna eat while mom and dad are dining on adult delectables? If you’re providing for a family, consider the kids. Again, fruit and popcorn are stellar edibles, but a little imagination can go a long, long way.

…try gift certificates to someone’s favorite restaurant or cooking school. Not only will you sate a loved one, but you’ll get them engaged in an activity. DOING stuff is always way better than HAVING stuff, and gift certificates can go a long way toward creating fun memories.

…make dinner. Instead of all the partaking in the all the kerfuffle surrounding Christmas, why not just cook a meal? Invite some friends, turn Band Aid up to 11, crack a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, and you’re good to go for the year. It’s all about the memories, man.

For more fabulously practical tips, check out any one of these fine CHG articles (writer-tested, reader-approved):
Readers – suggestions? Ideas? Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear.

(Photos courtesy of Cooperative Living, Oriental Trading, and Men's Health.)

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leanne said...

I have to say, the Chestnutter may be a single-use item that takes up space, but if you know anyone who makes a habit out of roasting chestnuts at home every winter, it's an invaluable tool. Even carefully using a knife to make cuts in chestnuts, I used to seriously cut a finger every year until I got a Chestnutter. Yes, it may only come out once or twice a year (store it with the Christmas decorations), but it makes roasting chestnuts so much safer.

Beth D. said...

How about Foodie Fight Trivia Game? less than $20 at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Looks like fun, and no calories! Plus, wouldn't it be great to have a pot-luck-game-night with your foodie friends?

Ali said...

Great post! My hubby and I have decided to go the party route over giving our closer friends gifts this year. How many years in a row can you really buy someone barware before it gets old?? I am going to toss together a half dozen or so not too pricey appetizer dishes and I am 100% no one will be missing a single gift. - Ali

kazari said...

OK, I'm breaking your first rule this year. i'm buying my husband a coffee machine (a small one!)
He has been lusting after one forever, and can not live without espresso in his veins.
Otherwise, I completely agree with you.

Heidi said...

I am embarrassed to admit that I gave someone in my family that exact snowman mug in a gift exchange and I am nearly positive I saw it last week at a Christmas store with donated items at their church! Oops...bad gift.

Daniel Koontz said...

Great suggestions Kris.

A few years ago, our family collectively agreed to not do gifts anymore. We give little things to the granchildren, but the adults no longer give gifts to each other.

Perhaps some might see this as taking things to an extreme, but oh, how this has changed *everything* about our holidays. All that extra energy we all used to expend on shopping we can now spend making memories with the family. The holidays are much less stressful and a lot more sincere now.

Casual Kitchen

Michelle said...

For a birthday, I bought someone a neat leather potholder. Neat looking, multiply useful, and relatively inexpensive. Also, if you have more than 1 potholder, that's just fine. I got mine at Balducci's but I'm sure they're generally available.

Anonymous said...

Beth, thanks for the Foodie Fight Trivia Game suggestion. I ordered it this morning. Just what I was looking for! Deb in MA

Kris said...

Heidi, that's hilarious. Think of it this way - you got a really good story out of it :)

Bigs said...

Here are some interesting ideas for gifts for foodies.

Alli411 said...

Here are my gift suggestions for foodies:More at

Flame Body Spray- $14 (includes shipping) This is hysterical: Burger King created a body fragrance that smells like burgers, or as they put it "flame broiled meat". For the man or woman in your life who loves burgers and has a sense of humor. This is a fun gift.

Bodum Pavina Tumblers-$19.90 for a set of 2
Love them! They are my favorite glasses. The tumblers are comfortable to hold in my hand and best of all, they are made of heat-resistant, scientific glass that can hold both hot and cold drinks. I hardly use my mugs anymore. They come in many shapes and sizes. The 12 oz. glass is under 5 inches tall. It looks like it holds a lot less liquid than it actually does. The glass is scratch resistant and can go in the microwave and dish washer. You can include some of your favorite tea or cocoa with the gift.

Fresh Oranges direct from Sequoia Orange Company-$30
Forget about expensive fruit baskets. These oranges are shipped straight from the grower, a much better deal. There are about approximately 35 oranges in 1/2 of a carton of fresh oranges. Most fruit companies charge the same for 9 pieces of fruit. You do the math. I love to arrange the fruit in a bowl and put it in my living room. It adds great color, smell and is a healthy snack.

Culture Magazine-$40
While in the Berkshires at Rubiners, one of my favorite cheese stores (that doesn't have a website), I discovered Culture, the new glossy cheese magazine that debuted this month. It is a fun gift for cheese lovers. It has a comprehensive list of cheese stores throughout the US.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena aged over 30 years-$112
This vinegar is a real treat. It is so sweet and delicious. I know, $112 is a lot of money for a tiny bottle. If you look at it that way it is. On the other hand, you only need a small amount so it lasts about 6 months for me. Whenever I host parties, my guests ooh and aah over the salads partly because of this ingredient.