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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