Besides charitable giving, this year I’m focusing on clutter-free gifts: experiences and consumables. While experiences are great gifts, consumables give you something to open and enjoy Christmas morning.
Unclutterer.com has some nice suggestions for theme-based consumable gift collections, such as bulbs and seeds for a gardener, spice collections for someone who enjoys cooking, and the always-popular bath sundries collection for anyone who enjoys self-pampering. There’s even a very utilitarian garage-themed collection idea with motor oil, work gloves, etc.
My tastes run a bit more colorful, as I believe the holidays provide a great chance to give premium consumables, little luxuries life might not otherwise afford us.
My favorite food and drink gifts include:
* Aged Balsamic Vinegar – It’s a surprisingly flexible gift, suitable for everything from salad dressings and bread dips (include some fresh loaves of bread for an irresistable gift basket) to marinades and even as a topping for ice cream. There are a range of prices and qualities available, and The Splendid Table has a great guide. Print out some relevant recipes and include them, too!
* Wine – Even better when paired with a gift certificate to a BYOB restaurant and maybe a cute wine tote, but there’s so much you can do with wine gifts. A nice bottle you’ve tried and enjoyed, different vintages of the same wine so the recipient can sample and compare, or a selection of bottles from a region with accompanying reading material on that region’s wines can make a memorable gift. You can find nice, well-rated wines for less than $20 a bottle. Wine Club memberships are wonderful too if you have the budget.
* Say Cheese! – Last year one of the best gifts I got was a stylish reusable tote filled with a variety of fine imported cheeses, candied nuts, and crackers. Food gifts made for sharing are perfect for holiday entertaining. There are plenty of places out there which sell preassembled gift baskets, but I think the best approach is to find a local cheese shop or market and try things out yourself. Add fresh or dried fruit and nuts and you can make your own extravagant gift for much less than you’d pay at Harry and David or Williams-Sonoma.
* Sweets – Speaking of indulgence! Last year I gave my father-in-law a set of dark chocolate bars made from cocoa beans from different countries for a comparative tasting. Homemade cookies or cakes are always appreciated, and can provide a more economical gift alternative. I’m partial to british candy as a fun and inexpensive gift.
* Citrus Fruit – Sweeter than candy, the juice from Temple oranges is a rare treat in the cold winter months. I order them now for delivery January through March from Nokomis Groves. You could make a fabulous gift basket around a citrus gift (think breakfast kit) or let its sunny glory stand on its own.
* Salumis, Seafood and Special Meats – Salami, bacon, proscuitto, ham, smoked turkey, scallops, salmon – whether you spend a lot for a fine imported meat or seafood product or assemble your own basket from a local specialty shop, there’s much to choose from.
Whether you’re seeking truffles from France or salumis from Italy, finding a great source is key. If you can’t find these imported items at a local market, you can find them at a markup at Dean & Deluca, but you can also try your luck finding better deals and culinary rarities at sites like EthnicGrocer, Gustiamo (Italian), La Tienda (Spanish) and French Feast.
Amazon has a great collection of gourmet gifts under $25 worth checking out.
You can also take a look at Food411’s Holiday Picks or Sur la Table for more inspired gift ideas.
Image Credit: Sur la Table
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published December 4, 2007.