As Christmas approaches, I am once again pondering the great gifts for this year. Inevitably I like all the food related gifts and now that I am in the US, I am indulging in their take on the ‘holiday season’ and the wonderful offerings over this side of the pond.
My parents went into a shop the other day and were greeted by a guy on the door who smiled, welcomed them and then added: “Don’t deny yourself anything”. Only in the US, I know you are saying, but I love the fact that our experience has been that everyone is engaging that way with us. There are a load of cynical Brits who automatically hate the US way, but personally I would rather have that man greet me in the shop than the majority of people I see in the UK. There is no doubt that the yanks do Christmas so well, combining sights, smells, colours and flavours in each and every shop adding in a huge dollop of great service plus incredible offers to tempt.
So in the spirit of no denial, here are a few ideas and places to inspire.
I tend to prefer small one off independents to shop in but when in the US, there are a few places that I frequent. For gifts, we are now blessed with Anthropologie here in the UK so that treat is available here now. Still to venture over here are my three other favourites: Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma.
Pottery Barn has lost its sparkle in recent years and whilst Crate & Barrel do a great job, it is Williams Sonoma that really do excite me. Their merchandising skills are second to none telling great stories and bringing products together in an interesting and shop-able way.
The first thing I saw on entering the shop was this gorgeous little boy. How cute is this? and of course, he wasn’t alone as he was standing amongst a whole waffle display with waffle mixes, waffle makers and stirrers and bowls. What a welcome at the front door.
One of the displays that struck a cord with me was the popcorn. This has to be the product of 2012 on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether it is a popcorn making machine, a stove top or microwaveable popping vessel, the corn itself or the many accessories to go with it, popcorn in all its guises makes a great family present. For interesting corns, try Zaramama. And if you are feeling adventurous, I can recommend Bill Granger’s caramel popcorn recipe which is a lovely home-made addition to any popcorn gift.
The other range of products that interested me in Williams Sonoma was the many branded products coming from top chefs such as Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller. It amazes me that chefs of this calibre feel the need to produce long life retail products. They follow in the footsteps of places like Sprinkles and their cupcake mix but I am just not sure that this is a route to take. For me it cheapens their brand but maybe the money is worth it.
The range of food gifts that most interest me sit under the banner DIY and Homemade Kits. Homemade is clearly a big fashion and this year there have been many books published to tell us how to do it along with a range of gift packs and Williams Sonoma showcases the best here. The butter and cheese sets are lovely, but the one that drew me were the mushroom logs which allow you to cultivate a range of different mushrooms. Delivered in chilled boxes, these are just wonderful. Go online and peruse the shop yourself. They do ship internationally even if Christmas is rushing towards us.
Finally, I need to make special mention of this Ginvent calendar which I first heard about on The Foodinista’s blog. She always has her finger on the food and wine fashion pulse so is worth looking into and invariably I will take her recommendations. When I looked into this calendar, I found that you can buy it, or a whisky version, here in the UK. I just love the fact that they chose gin as this is by far the trendiest spirit of 2012 and these samples cover tried and tested as well as interesting brands to try…and all in this lovely packaging. I will definitely earmark this for next year.