We all have those one or two people on our list for whom we have no clue what to buy; hence the rise of the gift card. After all, it’s as easy as hitting “print” from Amazon’s website and requires almost no thought. It seems perfect, right? Wrong. The gift card is an impersonal torture device. Everyone knows it requires no thought, including the recipient. Then those cards sit there taking up space in our wallets, filling us with guilt and obligation, neither of which is assuaged until every cent on that card has been spent. There has to be a better generic gift, other than a bottle of wine or a Yankee Candle.
Personally I love to give and receive edible presents. It’s the perfect gift, since all of us eat and most of us really enjoy it. I’m not talking about an assortment of candy in a yellow box or a Hickory Farms Beef Stick (if you ever cruised the Lincoln Mall back in the day, you know – and miss – Hickory Farms Beef Stick). I’m talking about something unique, original and locally made; something that makes the recipient say, “You know me so well!”
If you like this idea, start at the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market at the Hope Artiste Village. There you’ll find vendors selling locally made jams, chutneys, salsas, hot sauces and condiments from places like the Backyard Food Company and Poblano Farm – something for everyone. You can also get your browse on at Stock Culinary Goods on Hope Street. They too carry a wide assortment of fun, local, food-themed gifts, and their wrapping is so stunning your friends won’t care what’s inside.
One of my favorite places to go Christmas Eve Day is Federal Hill. After a delicious lunch at Angelo’s or Café Dolce Vita, stop at Venda and fill up a basket with imported pastas, Italian cookies, marinated mushrooms, vinegar peppers and espresso. Looking for some locally made cured meats? Daniele Charcuterie in Pascoag makes their own salami, capicolla, mortadella and other things Tony Soprano always had in his kitchen. They even make those delicious stuffed peppers with the provolone and prosciutto – a personal favorite with crusty bread and a glass of Chianti.
If you’re buying for a beer lover, head down to the Tilted Barn. I visited this place a couple of weeks ago and can’t stop thinking about it. Yes, the beer is that good. Yes, you’ll have to wait in line, but you wait in line at Best Buy and they don’t serve beer while you wait. The barn is the only place you can purchase their stunning IPAs and swag, so your beer-loving friend will know you put in some effort and thought. If distilled spirits are more what you have in mind, Sons of Liberty has seasonal whiskeys like honey chamomile and pumpkin spice. Or for never-ending holiday joy, Newport’s Thomas Tews makes an overproof (135 to be exact) white rum room called Widow’s Walk.
Does your friend like to cook? If so, your job just got so much easier. Ocean State Pepper Co. carries an incredible assortment of handcrafted seasonings and spice blends. You can purchase a pre-made gift set or select only what you like. For the spice-crazed, check out their devil dust – a combination of the world’s hottest peppers ground up to deliver both heat and flavor. It’s $19.99, making it a perfect gift on its own. Then there’s olive oil, which, now that coconut oil has been demonized, we can all go back to enjoying. Any would-be-chef would be thrilled to get high quality infused olive oil, nut oil or balsamic vinegar … or maybe all three. The Olive Tap in Providence is the perfect place to sample and then purchase your favorites.
If you have a sweet freak on your gift list, pick up some homemade fresh cream truffles or premium chocolates from Hauser Chocolatier in Westerly, or grab some coffee or mocha flavored syrup from Dave’s Coffee.
If all else fails, then and only then may you resort to a gift card. But whatever you do, resist the urge to phone it in by stopping into CVS and pulling off a gift card to Starbucks or Olive Garden off the rack. Instead, make the trip to your friend’s favorite restaurant, café or store, or maybe a hot spot they’ve been wanting to try like PVDonuts. Your friend will appreciate the effort and maybe even invite you along for the ride.