I know, I know, it's not even December yet (pretty close, though!). I like to be organised, though, and start thinking about Christmas presents a wee way out from the day itself so I can think long and hard about what people might really like and maybe even nab some bargains (if you can save $10 or $20 on what you had budgeted to spend you can add some delicious chocolates, which always seem to go down pretty well).
So what do I think makes a great gift? I would say anything that involves food but that's not quite true - a tin of baked beans might not quite cut it. ;-) For me, things that cost a bit more than I can justify on 'grocery' items, things that a bit unusual or new on the market, or nifty tools and consumables are always welcome.
One of my key tips for gift buying is to spend time thinking, not buying. If you figure out what you want most of the time you can nip in and out of the shops - and though I do like shopping most of the time, it's not really my favourite thing in December! Even better, you can get most of this stuff online - which leaves you lots of time to wrap it prettily.
Food hampers are always great - the pre-made ones can be bland and boring but if you know your audience and choose items specially they can really have the wow factor. And doesn't everyone love having some unusual treats to nibble on during the holidays - you know, some spiced nuts to break out when you get peckish in the afternoon, or a fancy sauce to drizzle over your ice-cream at pudding time. You can provide eat-straight-from-the-packet items for folk who just love the eating, or go more for the ingredient side of things for keen cooks.
Barbecue rubs and marinades are a more manly take - for a distant rellie a little bottle of marinade might do it, or for a more elaborate gift team up a snazzy apron or some tools with a selection of flavourings and even perhaps a recipe book. I love gifts like this - they show thought, you can hand-pick every aspect. Apply any relevant theme - last year I gave pie-themed bits and bobs to my youngest sister; pie dishes, pie weights, some tins of fruit for fillings, a pastry brush - you get the idea.
Another twist is a selection of baking consumables - well, they're consumable, so keen bakers will always appreciate well-targeted supplies. Cupcake papers are the obvious choice - and there are so many pretty designs now you're spoilt for choice. Pretty sprinkles, lustre dust, disposable piping bags and gel or powder food colours are other fun ideas. Again, a nice wee box or kit can amaze - a shoebox or other unwanted container can be covered with wrapping paper, padded with shredded paper or tissue and used to beautifully present such things.
And of course, there's the whole baking ingredient category - go for the more upmarket versions of everyday ingredient: Valrhona Dutch process cocoa, for example, or Billingtons muscovado sugar in place of normal brown sugar. More unusual things like the wild hibiscus flowers in syrup I got for my birthday or cacao nibs add intrigue and interest.
When it comes to kitchen gadgets things get a bit trickier - unlike with consumables, where it doesn't matter so much, you want to go for something your recipient doesn't already have, especially since these things can cost a bit more – but there are still lots of options. I really appreciated the digital thermometer I received for my birthday, love my brulee torch and couldn’t live without my electric hand beater or kitchen scales. Quirky cake tins – like the Nordicware ones (Mr Cake gave me the train one a couple of years ago) are great, and pretty specialised so you’re unlikely to double up – and the cupcake carrier is a very handy transporter for cupcakes and cakes alike.
Last, but definitely not least, are the more experiential gifts – my chocolate tour at She Chocolat was my birthday present, and they do courses as well. There are all sorts of cooking classes and experiences around the country – Milly's in Auckland have great cake decorating courses - and of course restaurant vouchers, chosen to suit the diners, are another fitting gift. For a more personal touch you could make your own voucher for a meal cooked by you: the ultimate meaningful gift – plus you’ll get to enjoy it too!
Hopefully there are a few ideas in there to help inspire you – now maybe you can help me a little. ;-) What are your best gift ideas? And do you start well ahead, or leave all your shopping ‘till Christmas Eve?
Living & Giving