Are you making your list and checking it twice? Our annual collection of holiday favorites strikes a balance of practical, thoughtful, and economical, with a little something for everyone! 🎁
This year, I am not going to save my holiday gift preparations until the last minute. (I figured if I made that proclamation here, I’d be more likely to hold myself accountable!)
I’ve also been thinking as to how I can use my holiday dollars to better support local businesses, many of which could really use our help. And because this holiday season is going to look different for so many of us, something as simple as a quart of homemade soup or spaghetti sauce may be the thoughtful gift that makes a neighbor’s day.
Please join the conversation, commenting if you have ideas that others may enjoy. Readers always tell me that comments are helpful, and I always appreciate them, too!
💌 The year of the gift card:
If ever there was a year for gift cards, this is it. After months of COVID restrictions and no relief in sight, countless businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. Purchasing a gift card from a local restaurant will help that business stay afloat while providing a night of cooking relief to the recipient. (Tip: do consider curbside pickup and takeout options as needed where the weather may now be too cold for dining outdoors.)
Similarly, independent retailers like clothing stores, gift shops, and bookstores are facing increased competition from online vendors, so consider those establishments as well. Along those lines, money is tight for many right now, so gift cards to practical places like local markets, grocery stores, and anywhere your loved ones may frequent for the basics (be that children’s clothes, sneakers, home improvements, self-care items, etc.) are likely to be much appreciated.
🧴 Specialty hand sanitizer, scrubs, and more:
Practical products with amazing aromas: A few weeks ago, a friend pulled a small container from her purse and said, “Smell this!” It was a bottle of hand sanitizer, and much to my surprise, the scent was delightful with barely a notice of the typical alcohol odor. With so many people relying on Purell and similar products these days, it immediately occurred to me that these little vials could be a very well received holiday gift or stocking stuffer.
I called Kim, the creative genius behind this product, to see if she had enough stock to feel comfortable with me including the lovely smelling sanitizers (which she makes in a variety of scents including lemon drop, orange mimosa, cinnamon fireball, pumpkin spice, and mint julep) in this holiday collection. She does, and she also ships through her website and Etsy page.
While talking to Kim, a graphic designer by day, I learned that she also crafts pottery and a broader line of all-natural body items with essential oils (like scrubs, bug sprays, and yoga mat mist). She sells adorable, handmade plates for cat lovers and tennis players, trinket dishes with inspirational messages, and “wine bags with attitude.” (Note an example of the inspirational messages she includes with her products in the picture above). Many of Kim’s items can be seen on her Instagram page, too.
🖼 Special keepsakes with decorative appeal
For a timeless gift that has the power to bring back special memories and add functional beauty to any room in a house or apartment, monogrammed frames are the answer. The frames pictured above are examples of gifts that my family has given, and they came from Details, a local store that will ship.
Sara and her amazing staff will even text or email pictures of various frame sizes and styles, monogram fonts, prices, etc.－and they wrap, too. (She makes shopping so easy!) You may also stumble upon another specialty gift, like something for the kitchen or a personalized ornament while you’re browsing online or in the store.
🍶 Olive oil…practical meets thoughtful
Olive oil is practical, thoughtful, and beautiful, in the case of these bottles by Brightland, a small California company. (It scores bonus points for being heart-healthy, too!) A family friend sent me the above-pictured oils and vinegar as a thank you gift a few months ago, and using them has felt like a real treat. Each olive oil has a subtle flavor－basil, lemon, and a mildly spicy chili－which have been easy to incorporate into my every day cooking.
For those who like to buy gifts with added purpose, Brightland is currently involved with a non-profit collaboration where 100% of the proceeds from really cool limited edition bottles go towards The Slow Factory Foundation and its climate and environmental justice efforts.
👚 Comfy lounge wear that dresses up or down
Many of us are embracing casual, comfortable clothing these days, myself included. A month or so ago, I purchased a pair of animal print joggers from Fillings, a local clothing store, and they were one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time. They look cute, are super soft, and feel like pajamas. I can wear them with a simple t-shirt or sweatshirt, but if I pull on a sweater or nicer top, they dress up quite nicely.
Theo & Spence is the brand I purchased locally, and I found several color options retailing for $48.00 online (but not the cheetah print). A similar print and style by Athleta is pictured above, and that pair retails for $89.00. Less expensive and very similar styles can be found at Gap ($49.95) and Old Navy ($34.99).
♨️ An air fryer (that’s much more than an air fryer)
Despite being “all the rage” for several years now, I long resisted the urge to buy an air fryer for several reasons. First, counter space. When appliances aren’t on the counter, we tend not to use them as much, right? And my counters were pretty well maxed out. Secondly, which model would I buy? There are oodles of choices with a myriad of options and wide variance in capacity. Of course, if you opt for decent capacity, the counter space issue becomes more significant. Also important are questions like which models are most reliable, which are quiet, and so on an so forth.
After doing my own research over time, I almost bought several different models. I finally gave in when a friend professed her love for the Cuisinart model pictured above and linked here. This friend uses her air fryer almost daily and had previously owned two different models. My family has always used a toasted oven, so I appreciated that this air fryer would replace that.
Although this appliance is larger than our toaster, it still fits in the same space and works SO MUCH BETTER. The air fryer also has bake, broil, convection, and warm settings and cooks evenly and quickly. I’ve been experimenting with cooking all sort of things from whole mini eggplants and peppers to chicken, winter squash, and polenta “fries” (pictured above before cooking－they were delicious!). Even on the oven setting, the fryer cooks faster than my conventional oven and saves countless minutes in preheating time. It’s great for quick reheating, too. Even a slice of leftover pizza seems to taste better.
Price, capacity, etc: this model will toast 6 slices of bread, air fry 3 pounds of chicken wings, bake a 12-inch pizza, or roast a 4 pound chicken. At posting time, the price on Amazon was $197.17. Dimensions and other details can be found here.
☕️ Perfect for coffee and tea－even soup
My friend, Christine, has a small collection of handcrafted Healing Touch ceramic mugs, and I’ve been admiring them for years. The mugs nestle in your hands so nicely and coffee and tea always seems to taste a little better when served in them. What makes the New Hampshire-based company’s product line unique is the use of birthstones and healing stones on the mugs, which are available in a variety of shapes and glazes.
All of the pottery is made on a potter’s wheel and is dishwasher safe and microwave safe.
🍳 What every kitchen needs…plus a helpful gadget
Once seasoned, a cast iron skillet becomes the ultimate nonstick pan and is quite versatile. It’s ideal for typical stovetop cooking and can be used for baking in ways far beyond the classic cornbread—think casseroles, baked oatmeal, apple crisp, even brownies. Skillets with a diameter of 10- and 12-inches are quite versatile and roughly correspond in size to a 9×9-inch and 9×13-inch baking dish, respectively. A 10-inch skillet made by top-rated Lodge was recently on sale for $15.92 on Amazon with a regular price of $26.68.
Love cast iron pans but don’t like their weight? Lancaster Cast Iron is a new local company that developed a pre-seasoned, quick-heating cast iron skillet that weighs approximately four pounds, which is a full pound lighter than the traditional skillet. The 10-inch pan, which has garnered a sea of 5-star reviews, prices out at $149.99 with free shipping in the USA and Canada.
Wondering what that chain-like thing is in my skillet (pictured above)? If you’re giving a skillet or know someone who regularly cooks with cast iron, this little gem makes an excellent gift. My sister gave me the stainless steel scrubber for Christmas five or so years ago. I had no idea at the time how much I would love it. (True confessions, at the time I didn’t even know what it was!) The flexible scrubber cleans beautifully and, despite what it may seem, does not scratch the skillet. (That said, it will scratch other surfaces, so reserve it for cast iron only.) My sister found the one she gave me at a local kitchen store where she lives, but similar models can be found in stores and online, generally in the $10-$20 range, like this one listed for $12.99 on Amazon.
🔥 Quick, even heat for both inside and out
The warmth that emanated from this Presto HeatDish Plus Parabolic Heater captured my attention right away. It was an even heat that felt so good on a nippy day. My first thought was that it would be a perfect gift for my husband, as his third floor office gets rather chilly in the winter. Additionally, with so many of us trying to prolong our time outdoors this year, it seemed ideal for that, too.
I purchased this model for my husband from our local Costco for $79.99. Additional product details: The electric heater uses a computer-designed parabolic reflector to focus heat and feels three times warmer than a 1,500 watt heater, while using a third less energy. You feel the heat almost instantly, and it’s described as being well-suited to any size room and even open spaces.
🎁 Homemade gifts that are fun to make and give
As I mentioned above, this is not the year to fret that a restaurant gift card feels impersonal. (Think of them as practical and helpful!) That said, those who have the time and inclination often enjoy adding a personal touch with the gift of food.
For festive packaging, many of the following suggestions can be stored in a Mason jar. Simply add a gift tag or label and tie with a colorful bow. 🎀
Following are several ideas that I’ve gifted over the years:
- Easy Hand & Body Sugar Scrub has been a popular blog “recipe” and is extremely easy to make. In the winter months, I keep a jar near my kitchen sink because it really does help dry, cracked skin.
- Homemade Limoncello and Bailey’s Irish Cream offer unique gift ideas for those who enjoy a cocktail. (The Bailey’s makes a delicious coffee creamer, too.) The Limoncello isn’t difficult but requires time to age, while the Bailey’s can be mixed up in no time.
- Homemade Dog Treats － So many of us really don’t need anything, but we love to spoil our pets. These healthy dog treats are totally gift-worthy and are certain to be appreciated by the dog lovers among us－and the dogs, of course!
- Magical Reindeer Food is a fun Christmas Eve tradition that doubles as an easy activity. If you have young children or grandchildren who want to give a little something to their friends, this is an economical idea that truly embraces the magic of the season.
- Salted Hot Fudge Sauce is a perennial favorite and the recipe can be scaled as needed. It’s perfect when you need a little something thoughtful for teachers, neighbors, coworkers, hostess gifts, etc. For a holiday dessert that everyone enjoys, we serve this over vanilla ice cream and pass a plate of cookies.
- 3-Ingredient Cinnamon Ornaments are fun-to-make decorations that will last (and smell delicious) for years to come. Choose the rustic look or decorate as desired.
- (Slow Cooker) Chocolate Peanut Clusters with Sea Salt offer a welcome, bite-size alternative to cookies that recipients can freeze if they wish and enjoy after the holiday onslaught. The recipe makes a big batch.
- Peanut Butter Pinecone Bird Feeders and Birdseed Ornaments are two more ideas that are fun for kids to make and give. These ornaments have been a popular activity with people of all ages and many have used them as gift toppers and teacher gifts as well as party and shower favors. (The sugar scrub has been popular in this way, too.)
- Other popular gifts of food include Spiced Pecan Chex Mix (pictured above), homemade granola (I have lots of options, including low-sugar, chunky and pumpkin), a jar of homemade marinara sauce (or this slow cooker meat sauce which provides a larger yield) and this hard-to-resist Spiced Glazed Nuts & Pretzel Mix. Similarly, Spiced Pecans have been a longtime favorite in our family, and a few of us have been known to bicker over Caramel Popcorn with Salted Peanuts.
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