Many years ago, I was visiting some family friends who’d just bought a new house. I wanted to bring them some kind of present, but we lived in very different worlds. I was scraping by getting ready to start medical school. They were legitimately rich people for whom anything they wanted was within reach.
Wine was out, since I know nothing about it, she was in recovery and he was a connoisseur. Any tchotchkes would be out of my price range but not really high enough quality to count for much. What was I doing to do?
In my final bout of desperate frustration I went to the fancy cheese section of my local upscale market and picked something that at least I would like. It was good, it was a gesture, and it’d be gone quickly if they didn’t think it much of a gift.
And that turned out to be a surprisingly epic choice. When the present finally changed hands, my host was overjoyed. “I’ve read about this cheese in the New York Times and we just can’t get it here in Tucson!” #GiftWin.
Some people definitely rely on gifts to get things they need — clothes, tools, housewares, etc. But if you’re stumped, or getting gifts for people who already have it all, consider comestibles.
Here are a few of my favorite ideas, ranging from the daily to the super special.
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diversify your pantry
One of my favorite gardening and conservation groups, Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, deserves more attention outside the Southwest. Not only do they work to find, preserve and disseminate traditional seed crops adapted to the arid region, they’re also a great source of exciting spices, beans and even baking mixes. Check out their Sonoran Pantry for chilis you never knew existed, mesquite meal for baked goods and flavoring chiles, mole powders, soup mixes and much more. And, of course, you can buy their seeds, baskets, jewelry and more.
the subscription veggie box
Get veggies delivered right to your door in most of the Pacific Northwest and parts of Alaska with Fullcircle Farm. The boxes are customizable, super fresh and you can always skip weeks. I’ve been getting my veggies this way since before the pandemic. Use the code ZRNA7244 to get $15 off your first order. If you live in Alaska, I also recommend the Alaska Food Hub, which runs through Dec. 14 in Homer.
If you’re looking for the best fish, consider a box from the Wild Alaskan Company. Like Fullcircle, they’re a subscription company, but you can spread your shipments very far apart or just opt out entirely. These make great gifts for anyone with a bit of freezer space. Use this link to get $25 off your first box.
I got my fish through them regularly until discovering Schoolhouse Fish from Southeast Alaska. They’re the absolute best if you’ve got a group to buy in bulk, but they also sell gift cards and have some amazing smoked salmon for sale in household amounts.
the ultimate in healthy fast food
I met the founder of Captain Soup at a medical conference a few years ago. He created this line of frozen soup as part of his own health journey, supporting both healthy weight and an anti-inflammatory diet. I buy a new batch of frozen pints whenever I’ve got freezer space. My one recommendation: Add extra veggies to make a heartier meal.
Need something special for the foodie who has everything? Consider artisanal salts harvested along the Homer Spit on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
I know that last sentence was awkwardly constructed, but you have to understand the company’s location to get joke in the name of their prime product: Spit Salt. It’s just weird if you don’t know that the Homer Spit is a … well, spit of land that extends 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay.
The Alaska Salt Co. has a great newsletter, too; just be aware that it’s super salty, in several senses of the word.
real-deal olive oil
One more special foodie splurge: artisanal olive oil. This isn’t your traditional cooking oil (although I’ve certainly used it that way.) This is what olive oil should taste like. For the past several years I’ve splurged on both mild and spicy varieties from Durant Olive Mill, which sources its olives locally in Oregon and from Northern California. Consider their gift sets to try several of their extra-virgin olive oils or their variety of flavored ones.
the prescription for your chocolate addiction
If you must offer sweet treats, my favorites come from Missionary Chocolates in Portland. My med-school classmate Dr. Melissa Berry is the founder and chief visionary, offering a broad line of truffles and other chocolate goodies that are both delicious and food-choice and -sensitivity conscious.
Her products are free of gluten, dairy, soy and nuts, and sport full and sometimes unusual flavors (tamarind ginger! cinnamon chipotle! Meyer lemon explosion!) These make great presents for yourself, family, friends, coworkers or clients, and can be shipped anywhere in the United States.
P.S. Looking for some non-comestible gift options? I’ve got you.
- My 2022 gift list, including a cool way to support endangered medicinal plants.
- My four favorite herbal books from 2021
- Three great books from 2019
- My 2019 healthy gift list includes suggestions for kitchen tools and aspirational cookware.
- For more book ideas, check out my curated online bookstore.
Cover photo by Natalie Kristeen Photography.