Useful with a bit of luxury, that's what you want in a holiday present. Scout out things that taste good, smell good, or (make you) feel good, and you can't go wrong. So, in this mode, the PQ holiday gift list, for starters:
Now, wait a moment. This isn't MY gift list, although I'd make a happy home for any and all of these things (hence the glaring absence of coconut, foie gras, blue cheese, Godiva chocolate, and overly scented candles in the shape of little jars of blueberry jam). Back in the day, I spent a LOT of time doing gifty round-ups for various newspapers and guidebooks, and I still love to sing the praises of very good things you might not have heard of. Nearly all of these are produced by small local businesses that are a boon to their neighborhoods--the next best thing to making all your gifts yourself.
Christmas cake from June Taylor Jams. This was discussed exhaustively in the previous post, but suffice it to say, an absolutely delicious treat, and miles better than any candied-cherry monk-baked monstrosity. Not to be wasted on anyone who is not already a true fruitcake believer. In fact, you may not be able to bear to give it away. In that case, either buy two, or invite a few dear friends over, cut your own loaf in very thin slices and serve with:
Spiced Christmas Tea. Also available in tea bags and loose in a box, but the festive red-and-black tin makes an especially nice gift. Can be found at many specialty food shops and tea-and-coffee emporia. Black tea festooned with bits of lemon and orange peel and cinnamon bark. Add a little tot of dark rum and you'll be toasting the Empire in style.
Later that night, fill up the tub, pour a glass of something cold and bubbly, and lather up your sweetheart with a bar of soap from Juniper Ridge. So what if you couldn't spring for a weekend snuggled in a massive four-poster at Manka's Inverness Lodge? Not only does Juniper Ridge make all their soaps by hand, they also go out and pick the plants themselves, scenting each bar with real wildgathered Western juniper, California bay laurel, desert pinon, Port Orford cedar, or coastal sage. Each one captures a real scent of the West, and they'll make even the most boring little shower stall smell like a beautiful redwood sauna under the stars in Yosemite. The charming and useful 4-bar gift pack is tied together with ribbon and adorned with a little sprig of pine. I stock up on these every time I'm out in SF, and use them every day until only the saddest little olive-green slivers remain. A particularly nice gift for the butch girl or guy in your life, as the scent is subtly fresh and woodsy. Like camping!
But for those of you of the girly persuasion, what you and/or your lovely girlinas need is a gift certificate for a cucumber, pumpkin pie, or honey-walnut pedicure at Sweet Lily Spa in Tribeca. Cozy chintz-covered chairs, cute enameled basins for soaking your tootsies, manicurists who don't pummel your calves or skewer your cuticles: this place will pamper your feet like they're a pair of very rich, very fluffy little dogs in a pink cashmere puppy tote. They use the real stuff here: freshly sliced cukes, a slather of honey, lotsa pumpkin--you could eat your feet! Or someone else could, if you both like that sort of thing. The last time I walked out of Sweet Lily, my feet were so baby-smooth that they kept slipping around in my socks.
You don't have to limit your holiday giving to people you know. New York Cares, a great organization that makes volunteering all around NYC as easy as the click of a mouse, is running their annual coat drive through Dec. 31st. Any gently used coat (adult, teen, or child-sized) can be donated, and will be distributed throughout the winter directly to those in need. You can also organize a coat drive at your workplace, through a community group, or at your church, synagogue, or other house of worship/gathering place.