This holiday season, you could bake cookies for your friends and family; you could watercolor landscapes on postcards; you could knit oven mitts or press flowers or compose clever little poems about fruit and write them by hand on scraps of vintage wallpaper. There really is nothing quite like a personal touch, especially in a year when personal touch has been hard to come by. Then again, you could always just buy things from stores. Perhaps this is less loving and intimate than a kombucha scoby you’ve named after their favorite child. But if you are planning to engage in gift-giving, it’s always helpful if the gift actually exists—and if you’re anything like me, your creative ambitions are far greater than your capacity to actually create, especially in (ahem) these uncertain times. So here is a collection of nice things that would make nice gifts, mostly along a theme of the edible, or the edible-adjacent. Whatever you decide to give, I would suggest throwing in a sweatshirt or coffee mug or baseball cap from a favorite restaurant (yours or the recipient’s), to help these essential small businesses and their workers stay afloat during the difficult winter ahead. Look up individual restaurants’ Web sites and social-media accounts to see what sort of souvenirs they have available—or check out sites like Merch4Relief or Care of Chan, where you can find aggregations of gear from restaurants around the country. (Nota bene: It’s unlikely any of these will arrive by Christmas. That’s O.K. Time is a false idea, especially this year.)
Eleven Feet of Salami on a Cable Drum
“Sausage making is an outcome of efficient butchery”: I stumbled upon these eight words, several years ago, on the Wikipedia page for “Sausage,” and since then I have considered it an ideal sentence, both pithy and graceful. There is something similarly appealing about this Bavarian wheel of meat, which consists of 3.5 metres of a slender salami, wrapped, efficiency of all efficiencies, around a wooden spindle (about $18). The product page advertises that it “tastes very good” and is an excellent gift “for all real man . . . whether at the pool, the lake, or the beer garden.” True enough, but I’d like to think that individuals of any gender could appreciate this much sausage. A downside: it ships from Germany, which diminishes your chance of it arriving before Christmas. An upside: a D.I.Y. version could easily be fashioned with a few packets of salami whips (about $12) and a cord reel ($8.36).
This Year’s Paper-Towel Shortage Was a Sign From the Universe
Whether your loved one eats her meals at a dining table, on the couch, or hovering over the sink, cloth napkins will make her experience more lovely. Bolé Road’s embroidered Ethiopian cotton napkins ($95 for a set of four) are washing-machine-friendly and gorgeously geometric; for the friend trying to transform her three-hundred-square-foot apartment into a rustic Provençal farmhouse by sheer force of will, try Food52’s unbleached linen set ($85 for four), edged with jaunty blue stripes. Even a solid cotton set will add liveliness to the table: I like these simple poplin napkins ($15.92 for eight, on sale), which come in cool young-people-these-days colors like dusty pink and mustard yellow. Or, depending on the nature of your relationship, just buy your beloved a set of five hundred shop towels ($94.99 for the white, which is the only color worth getting, in order to be able to douse them in bleach like a Real Housewife flinging a glass of Chardonnay), the thin cotton rectangles designed for heavy-duty industrial use. When Americans next descend into irrational panic and overload our paper-goods supply chains, whoever holds the durable cloth household items will hold all the cards.
Many Varieties of Banana
The Gros Michel (“Big Mike”) was the primary cultivar of banana until the nineteen-fifties, when a fungal wilt swept through a huge swath of the world’s banana plantations. Within a few years, Gros Michels had all but disappeared from the market, and virtually all commercially sold bananas in the United States were of the Cavendish variety—less floral, less sweet, less delicious, but more resistant to disease. If this knowledge fills you with a great sense of loss—if you yearn for the days of bananas with flesh as bright and dazzling as the sun—the South Florida produce vender Miami Fruit is here to help. Its Web site boasts eighteen varieties of fresh banana available to ship throughout the country, including the vanilla-flavored Nam Wah, the fluffy-fleshed Praying Hands, and, of course, the long-lost Gros Michel. If you can’t pick just one, spring for a banana variety pack ($57 and up), the fruit basket of kings.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Wanting Nice Things
After a year spent largely within the confines of our homes, I hope we are finally ready, as a culture, to throw away the notion—smug, joy-hating, ultimately misogynistic—that deriving pleasure from beautiful objects is somehow frivolous. Wouldn’t it be nice to reach for the salt and find it not in a ragged box or a clogged-up shaker but, rather, an olive-wood cellar ($39.50), with its mesmerizing knots and whorls? Wouldn’t it be nice to decant one’s daily litre of seltzer into a faceted pink pitcher ($115), and sip it from a delicately green-tinted tumbler ($28)? To stand gazing into the middle distance before Jungalow’s peach-hued woven fruit bowl ($75), eventually extending a hand to grasp an apple? To rest an afternoon Martini on a Portuguese-linen cocktail napkin shaped like a fat-bellied pink elephant with a little swirly belly button ($84 for four)? I can’t think of a better way to spruce up one’s nightly ice-cream sundae than by spooning it out of a Helle Mardahl Martini glass that resembles an alien marshmallow ($420) using a ceramic spork ($18) handmade by Aleisha Ellis, of Utility Objects, or of a more dramatic counterbalance to the drudgery of mise en place than mincing garlic atop abstractly geometric cutting boards ($931 for a set of four) that, when hung together on the wall, resemble a topographical map as dreamed up by Ellsworth Kelly.
The saturated, high-glamour absurdism of “Toiletpaper,” a biannual magazine produced by the Italian artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, lends its over-the-top aesthetic exceptionally well to homewares. Naturally, they’re offering a duvet set printed all over with heavily sauced spaghetti ($330); to turbocharge the effect, add a matching spaghetti candle ($70).
A Neat-Looking Vintage French Wine Jug
In the early nineteen-fifties, the American singer Peggy Lee recorded “Apples, Peaches, and Cherries,” a jazzy ballad, written by Abel Meeropol, warning young women against the erotic allure of fruit venders. It was such a hit that, in 1958, Sacha Distel, a silken-voiced French singer who, until then, was best known for being Brigitte Bardot’s boyfriend, released his own version, which rocketed to the top of the charts and cemented his career as a superstar. Distel, alas, had never cleared the matter with Meeropol, who took Distel to court, and won what Meeropol’s son Robert (who, with his brother Michael, was adopted by Meeropol after the federal execution of their parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg) described in his 2003 memoir as “a windfall.” The song’s refrain, a very jazzy “scooby-dooby-oo,” provided Distel with the title of his version—”Scoubidou”—which the French adopted as the name for the then-faddish plastic-thread craft known, in the U.S., as lanyard weaving. Rather than using the colorful wires to make keychains or bracelets, in the summer-camp tradition, les français wrapped them around glass wine jugs in kaleidoscopic patterns. They’re so cool. You can find vintage scoubidou bottles at almost any French flea market or antique shop; if that’s not a tenable shopping plan between now and Christmas, dive into the considerable stock available online, at ritzy housewares stores or on online marketplaces like Etsy (prices vary; watch out for international shipping fees).
Get Your Pantry In Gear
We live in the golden age of excellent pantry goods with compelling backstories, delivered in beautiful packaging, which are ideal for accidentally leaving in the background of Instagram food posts, for the optimal oh-this-old-thing moment. They’re also great for cooking. Some of my favorites, lately, include Tart vinegars (and their preserved lemon paste, if you can manage to catch a jar while they’re in stock); the Mala spice mix from Fly By Jing, a warm-fiery-sweet blend that’s brilliant on everything; Chefing While Black’s smoky-fiery jerk dry rub; Shaquanda hot sauces, made by the iconic Brooklyn drag queen (I’m partial to the Mx. Green Sass variety, but they’re all terrific); the L.A. pastry chef Max Boonthanakit’s Boon Chili Oil, which ups the ante on the now-ubiquitous condiment with the addition of anchovies; and Omnivore Salt, a fennel-and-cayenne seasoning blend whose packaging bears, improbably, an endorsement by Werner Herzog: “Congratulations Angelo! Finally your salt is in the market and I do not need to steal from your kitchen anymore.”
A Potato Basket
Billie Ruth Sudduth—a former school psychologist from Bakersville, North Carolina, whose artist’s bio mentions her penchant for the Fibonacci sequence—hand-weaves unbelievably beautiful baskets designed for storing potatoes ($93.50). Since potatoes are best stored in darkness, and hiding these works of art in a closet or basement would be a crime, I might suggest using the baskets to store something else. Sudduth also makes onion baskets ($75), which are slightly smaller and woven in a striking red.
A bottle of nail varnish is just a bottle of nail varnish, but the way Unkosher Market, an astonishingly schticky hipster-Jewish novelty shop, packages together cream-cheese-white, salmon-pink, and an everything-seasoning glitter coat for their lox-and-bagels polish set ($28) channels an entire Sunday-morning gestalt.
A Drink, and Something to Drink It Out Of
As I suggested in last year’s gift guide, the bottle of booze is, with good reason, a reliable gift, especially when it’s given along with something nice to pour it into. This year, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Uncle Nearest 1856 ($54.99), a relatively new-to-market whiskey that celebrates Nathan (Nearest) Green, an enslaved Black man who was born around 1820 and who, after his emancipation, became a master distiller for Jack Daniel; by most accounts, Green taught Daniel everything he knew. To go with it, try a pair of the designer Sophie Lou Jacobsen’s clever borosilicate drinking glasses ($25 each), whose chubby ripples make it easy to eyeball your pour.
Very, Very Good Pepper
Most people take pepper for granted, but this pepper is to the standard-issue stuff what biting into a fresh clementine is to the reconstituted orange juice they serve in hospitals and on airplanes. Aranya peppercorns from Diaspora Company ($12 and up) are harvested from a family farm in Kerala, India, and—upon being crushed or ground—release a floral fire and a dusky, spicy roundness that verges on intoxicating. Wrap a glass bottle full of them alongside a sculptural cast-iron pepper grinder ($64), or pair it with Burlap & Barrel’s unbelievably funky, flavorful fermented white pepper ($9.99 and up), which is grown and aged by a father-son team on the Indonesian island of Bangka, for a full peppercorn wardrobe.
A Loving Homage to the Diner
Nevermind the gifting part: buy yourself 2.75 pounds of loose pillow mints ($7.39, with discounts for bulk orders) from an online restaurant-supply store, put them in a glass candy dish near your front door, then rifle through them with unwashed hands every day until you&rsq
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