Even though we mostly give charity donations as our holiday gifts, we DO like giving a few more tangible gifts as well, ones that are not too pricey and give a big bang for the buck. So we’ve compiled our eclectic list of favorite things to give…and get.

In addition, on Friday we’ll be talking about some Homemade Food Gifts on public radio’s The Splendid Table (for last year’s food gifts, see the links below). And if you were to type “GIFTS” or “KIDS” into ‘the improvised life”s Search box, you’d find lots of gift possibilities we’ve written about over the past year and a half, from books to leather-welding-gloves-as-oven-mitts (not to mention my brilliant sister’s oddly brilliant gift ideas).

One of the most appreciated gifts we’ve given lately are these French paring knives with colorful painted handles, made by the venerable knife company L’Econome.  They are inexpensive as paring knives go – about $10 each – and do what any good paring knife should: feel good in the hand, sharpen easily and stay sharp, look good, even as they age and weather. EVERYBODY needs a good paring knife. A green handled one is now the favorite knife of my friend Maria, who LOVES green. (We buy them in different colors to keep in our “gift” drawer, just in case.) We were hopeful about the cheap-o knock-offs made in China that we found on Amazon (four for $13.99). But the rivets stick out too far, they don’t feel – or look -quite right, and the few reviews on Amazon revealed their inability to age well. Be warned: the brand is MIU France, though there’s nothing French about them.The Nogent brand that Amazon carries IS made in France and looks promising.

Malted milk powder, the very old-fashioned soda fountain flavor, might seem like an odd gift, but everybody we give it to goes “Ohhh, I forgot all about this stuff” and are especially happy to have it once you tell them that all they have to do is stir it into milk for a satisfying midnight snack…AND that malted milkshakes can be whipped up at home by throwing it into a blender with some milk and chocolate or vanilla ice cream. We print out the post we wrote a while back that tells its story and includes our recipe for sublime Chocolate Malted Pudding (easy!) to accompany the gift.

We don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Legos, and now that there are Lego stores all over the place, you can give a bag of Legos in cool colors. Or ONE color, like white, or black, or clear for the minimalists. Package them in cello bags, bake-shop bags or buy little gift bags from the Dollar Store.

Amazon now stocks Ikea’s great Ikea Tekla red-striped French-style dish towels either for yourself or as a gift. They make surprisingly stylish dinner napkins. Ten for about $17. If you can get to Ikea, 25 of them will only cost about $12. (They also make great gift wrapping.)

Since we were given a subscription to Canal House Cooking last year, we find ourselves eagerly anticipating the newest issue of the charming self-published cookbook series by Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Each volume is full of  good ideas, with lovely photographs and art. (Frank Stitt’s primer on artisan champagnes is, in itself, a trove of brilliant gift ideas.) Buy single issues ($19.95), a subscription, or the whole set of five that have been published so far.

One of our favorite tools are Restickable Glue Sticks, ($3.99) which allow you to make sticky notes out of any piece of paper. You can stick magazine clippings or photographs onto walls without damage; make custom sticky notes by cutting plain paper to the size that really works for you and running a stripe of glue on the back. It is one of those miraculous little things that everyone needs but no one seems to have. As with our food gifts, we attach a note (a homemade sticky) that gives some ideas of how to use it.

iTunes is a great resource for e-gifts in the form of music, video and spoken work. Make a selection from their huge inventory and select “Gift This Album” from the drop-down menu to have it emailed to your giftee to download. Our current favorite music gift: the once rare 1955 classic, Thelonius Monk Plays Duke Ellington.

Who wouldn’t have fun with a tiny Remote Controlled Helicopter to fly around the house $31.89?

While we were researching our post about famously experimental chef Wylie Dufresne a while back, we read that he smoked blanched lettuce with a hand-held smoker. We tracked down the PolyScience Smoking Gun and the reviews and videos were so compelling, we gave it to a friend who is a serious cook. Now every time we call, he and his teen-age son report their newest forays…smoked mashed potatoes, and Thanksgiving Turkey and salmon…because it makes a cold smoke, you can even smoke ice cream…a bargain at $79.95. It is definitely not a gadget to languish in a cabinet. (We’re going to do a longer post on this soon).

Related posts: Food Gifts: Homemade Chocolates for Improvising
Our Homemade Holiday Food Gifts on ‘Splendid Table
Unwrapping the Holidays: Alt-Gifts, D-I-Y Wrap and….
Double-Duty Gifts with Heart (and a Card)
D-I-Y Food Gift: Prunes in Armagnac (recipe)

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2 replies on “holiday gifts: cheap + fun/useful/cool…

  1. Thanks for the tip about the knives and the malted milk. Along with a gift to Heifer International, my husband will be pleased with his Xmas stocking!

  2. What a nice combination of gifts. I love Heifer…

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