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Got any terrific ideas for ''unfriendly economic times'' holiday gift ideas?

I have a few special gifts to give as well as family members to buy for, albeit,not many. My question is, what do you get for people during this time in our economy where money is scarce and gift cards are either boring or not very thought provoking or could be nonworking come January when many stores say they're closing for good?

I know the standard baked goods, like cookies or holiday quick breads or whatever, but do you like receiving those and do you really actually eat them or toss them? I don't want to go to the effort and expense if they'll just end up in the dumpster. Help is what I need here? How bout you? TIA...

If this subject has been started elsewhere, please direct me there, thanks again.

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  1. The problem with standard baked goods is there's a limited shelf life. If you receive a whole bunch of them, they may go in the trash because the recipient can't eat them all -- or they may be on a diet after all the holiday festivities.

    My vote is for something that lasts a long time like homemade vanilla extract or some homemade flavored spirits or some preserves.

    1. I have a seasoning blend that I make, and give as gifts. Some people use it as a rub and some use it as a seasoning type salt, although it is not very salty. I think spices and herbs are a good gift especially for people who cook a lot.

      I was thinking that I would get some restaurant gift cards for my daughter's, since they work and going out to eat is a luxury these days, but you have brought up a very good point about not knowing if a place will still be in business.

      1. I'm actually having a lot of fun coming up with gifts this year, precisely because of the economy! I replied to the birthday gift query with some suggestions -- one perfect cheese (a raw-milk camembert that Herve Mons does for Whole Foods that's to die for); a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil (great for roast chicken) that I saw at Fairway (wouldn't buy it for myself, but thought it would make a great gift, particularly at $14.50); some really nice salt; spiced nuts that I make myself. Oh, and for my friend who doesn't cook but who loves pesto, a few pints to keep in the freezer.

        Oh, and cookbooks. And gadgets (love my colanders, for instance, and my really great whisks, and my magnum pepper mill -- who knew?).

        But I think in the realm of cooking -- and for people who truly like to eat -- there are so many things that are special and not that costly that would make really thoughtful, personal gifts.

        If you are going to go for gift cards, perhaps lean more toward the wine shop -- again, for me, buying a better bottle of wine is still a luxury, so when i get a gift card from my wine shop I especially particularly enjoy it. And wine stores are pretty much recession-proof . . .

        1 Reply
        1. re: bebevonbernstein

          now this is to bebevon, I'm thinking more of people that aren't into food or aren't foodies per say. if they are, I'm all over with glee what to do on their behalf for the holidays. as for the drinkers in the family that need 'help' after the night before, please don't be offended but to me Sophia, not sure how happy a person would be to open something such as that. this day and age we're in, it's just a puzzle what to get for people and then there are the people that don't appreciate anything no matter what it is........

        2. if your friends/family are similar to mine, I have a cute idea: hangover survival kits. a cute gift basket with one of those single-sleeve boxes of saltines, a bottle of aspirin, a couple of cans of V-8, a nip or two of vodka, a bottle of tabasco/hot sauce of your choice, and a gel eye mask. all easily sourced from neighborhood stores.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sophia.

            This is a fantastic idea. I'm giving a basket to all of my close friends...for New Years Day

          2. http://www.squawkfox.com/2008/12/02/h...

            It's not terrific, but it does show that you actually put some effort into something. I'm always happy to get these.

            1 Reply
            1. re: madgreek

              bookmarked madgreek.......
              I just found at the Sally Annie store, 2 full boxes of quart sized ball jars with lids. They are all now steamed and ready for filling and I LOVE THIS LINK YOU PUT IN FOR US. thank you so much...............today, I'll make the biggest batch ever of granola with everything fabulous in it for all to enjoy, pretty ribbon on top and there you go............yeah!

            2. I know you said it's boring, but there's nothing more appreciated that I've received in tough personal economic times than gift cards. Then I can buy what I truly need instead of something I don't need. I mean, if I'm really having trouble making ends meet, I don't need vanilla extract or panettone, I need to buy some food.

              5 Replies
              1. re: rockandroller1

                I totally agree. I think in the hard times, it's better to get gift cards for stores that have a large enough selection to make anyone happy. While a big department store may not be that exciting, it's hard to see how anyone might have no use for it- be it for kitchen gadgets, towels, or a vacuum.

                1. re: queencru

                  And don't forget that major chain drug stores also offer a selection of food, kitchen gadgets, as well as other items. I love gift cards for place like that.

                  1. re: queencru

                    Target or Trader Joe's or any good grocery store gift card can be a really great gift. It can make for a really nice shopping trip for someone....so they can either splurge a bit on things they wouldn't normally get or have a really stress free week or two of grocery shopping or what have you. I think it can be a really nice gift any time, but especially in times when someone is worried about money. Even a relatively small amount at such a place can make a nice difference for someone.

                    1. re: ccbweb

                      We've gotten TJs gift certificates in the past and always appreciate them.

                  2. re: rockandroller1

                    I know but with gift cards, it's like cash, you never think the amount is substantial enough to make a different, if you're purchasing or putting together a gift, you can fudge every now and then by saving on ingredients or whatever it is you're buying.........but..........point taken and exactly right..........

                  3. Last year I gave a "breakfast basket" which included Kodiak Pancake mix (just add water and delicious) along with a nice maple syrup, coffee beans (or tea) and a syrup pitcher.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: LindaR

                      one year I worked in a dept store, a huge one, much like WM supercenter. our dept was having a christmas breakfast at the managers home at the beach in malibu, pretty fun to look forward to. we each picked a name out of a hat and that was the person we bought for, our budget = $10. back then it was doable. the manager got me and my name. he knows I'm nuts about any thing kitchen cooking or baking. he got me a pyrex glass small lasagna baking dish, a box of brownie mix, a bottle of cooking oil, egg substitue and a bag of chocolate chips and wrapped it all up in a kitchen towel, yep, it was a total of $10, I found that absolutely brilliant, thanks for the reminder Linda........

                    2. I make mandelbrot (like biscotti) and give them in decorative holiday tins. Everyone likes them, no one else makes them (at least in my crowd), you can make a lot at a time, and they keep much longer than most baked goods. I've also made truffles and packaged them in decorative candy boxes. I get buckeyes every year for Christmas from an Ohio friend. Don't see those every day either. But quick breads and Christmas cookies? No thanks. Just too many of those floating around this time of year like zuccini in the summer.

                      Another gift idea is to buy a bunch of inexspensive gift bags and tissue from Michaels and fill with a nice box of crackers, jam (especially if you've made it yourself), and a good hard cheese like aged cheddar or gouda (again, it lasts longer) and some cute cocktail napkins. For unique food items, try out Marshalls or TJ Maxx. You'd be surprised at some of the really nice quality things they carry at half the price of gourmet stores, especially preserves, candies, flavored oils, grilling and dipping sauces, sea salts, etc. they also lots of fun kitchen utensils. All depends on what you think your family wants/needs of course.

                      1. all of my suggestions have been covered, except one...a subscription to a food or wine magazine.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Yes, agreed. They are a relatively inexpensive gift that keeps giving throughout the year.

                          One thought, though, if economy is an issue (as it is for me). I give several subscriptions each year to a variety of magazines. It's almost easier to give a gift subscription to somebody you don't normally see on Christmas. You'll want to renew the subscription, but at the same time, you'll want a "new" gift for under the tree to be unwrapped, not just another renewal notice, which essentially means two gifts.

                          1. re: weem

                            Really? Is this as necessary for adults? I can see having something for children to unwrap, but I can't see adults really caring all that much if they are getting a wrapped gift. You can always buy a card with a nice note inside saying you renewed the subscription and stick that under the tree.

                            1. re: queencru

                              You're right. I guess it's more a question of what I want to be able to give than what the adults around me want to receive. Still, I thought I'd toss that out there if the original poster should happen to be of the same mindset. (And this year, frankly, working part-time at a struggling non-profit, the exorbitant amount I just spent on the plane ticket is going to have to serve as the gift. LOL)

                            2. re: weem

                              My aunt gives me a magazine subscription each year. At Thanksgiving she asks if I want to renew the same one or switch to a new one. The subscription is the only gift, not wrapped present necessary.

                              1. re: mpjmph

                                They make a kit at the bookstore that you can buy that is a magazine subscription but they get to choose and you have paid at the store so you don't get the same bill every year.

                            3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              or in my sons case, fisherman magazine or close to one, or other son, handyman magazine

                            4. My mom has made hundreds of Christmas/Fall baskets the last 10 years, and I've found the best goods are her Chex Mix (which is just the recipe off a Chex cereal box! I imagine most of it would already be in the pantry) and Banana bread. My favorite is the chex mix (and it always seems to go over well with the receivers), and will probably request that each Christmas after my parents move in February :o)

                              1. My daughter and I are making spicy tomatillo jelly from tomatillos that she grew in her garden. We are canning them so they don't have to be kept in the frig and will last for a while. I find that, when giving food items, it is better to give things that will last without particular storage since so many people have full frigs at this time of year.

                                1. I'm going to make champagne cheese spread for my neighbors with 2% cheddar and low fat cream cheese. Just haven't decided what to put it in.

                                  1. Themed baskets work well. One friend went to her local $.99 store and put together a romantic spaghetti dinner for two, which included pasta, sauce, wine, bubble bath, candles and candle holders. I think she even found some good chocolate too. I like to find good deals on nuts and make spiced nuts for friends and coworkers and include a recipe or two for using them in dishes that they may make after the holidays.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                      I'd forgotten that idea. One year, our beauty salon was doing a Christmas party where we'd all grab a name out of the sink, that we'd buy for, limit = $15. Husband and I went on a trip to Washington state weeks before. The things I found to incorporate into Kris's gift were wonderful. Even some free samples wrapped with logos from Washington state on them, like apple chips or nuts etc. Mini baby bags but they helped fill my quota of what I wanted in her gift basket. I found a wicker basket in Sally Annie's toll painted with Washington on it for a couple of bucks. Bought it, and started filling with Washington everything I could find. A mug, their apple cidar, their wine, their calendar, their state Christmas ornament. I thought it was a wonderful gift, all within budget, just had to really pay attention and keep a running tab.

                                      1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                        brilliant idea. I can go there and get lots of packages of nuts and dried fruits and chocolate chips and candy's and make a really terrific trail mix then slip it into the jars I bought, shoot, 1 quart jars?/? I'd better buy lots of the above ;)

                                        1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                          Not to knock her basket, I think it is a great idea. But as a Chowhound how would you feel if you received a basket of $.99 store pasta, sauce, and wine? On the wine board there are many who feel if they got a bottle of 2BC that the sink is the proper place for it. And there are those on this site who think that jarred sauce is the devil. But I guess it's one of those know the recipient things.

                                        2. For my friends who are creative in the kitchen I've made Moroccan style preserved lemons. Have the lemons nicely arranged in an attractive jar with some recipe suggestions and they can enjoy them throughout the year.

                                          1. Of course we eat edible gifts-usually I rip it open in front of the giver and take a taste so I can make LOUD yummy noises and then share it with everyone else. (I'll ask first if they mind my sharing)
                                            I noticed something at this year's cookie exchange: chocolate chip is still largely popular but people were more drawn to the unusual (like my saltine cracker toffee cookies).

                                            If I am doing homemade goodies as a gift, I will usually pick up a nifty (re-usable) gadget to use as the "dish" or if I'm going to use an actual plate, I get one that is unique & has some special meaning to the recipient. One thing about homemade gift 'baskets' is you can go a little nuts and end up spending a LOT. Case in point, I made a "basket" a few years ago for a couple we didn't know that well at the time, but the wife had expressed a love for dipping bread into olive oil. I lost my mind in the store and bought a GORGEOUS (and expensive) bottle of olive oil that had to be showcased in an equally gorgeous vessel, so then I found a beautiful macaroni strainer on feet and then of course I couldn't just do oil and seasonings I had to get some pasta, a good wedge of cheese (you see where this is going). The final gift was over the top and awkward for a couple we barely knew!
                                            I intend to keep it simple this year.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Boccone Dolce

                                              Either way Boccone, I love your story, it just made me smile and feel so badly for you as I've been there myself............. :)

                                            2. I'm making fudge. I've yet to meet a person who doesn't like fudge. I make a few flavors, and mix them up in tins, so everyone gets a variety.

                                              1. Hi

                                                I give my three brothers food that I made for them and freeze, vacuum sealed in plastic bags. I make the stuff that our Mom used to make and that they rarely get anymore - you know, the stuff that reminds them of her and Dad and our time with them. I try to give them enough for at least one family meal, usually two, depending on my budget. Since we're Middle Eastern, I always try to include a couple of packs of pita bread, also frozen, that I pick up at a local bakery that makes really good pita.

                                                I've also given people frozen cookie dough. I make the dough and scoop it into balls and freeze the balls on a baking sheet. When the balls of dough are hard, I pack them in ziploc freezer bags so that the person I'm giving it to can open the bag and take as many as they want to make at once. Don't forget to include baking instructions! I don't even thaw the cookie balls - I just throw them into a preheated oven and add a few minutes to the baking time to make up for the fact that the dough is still frozen. This way, your friends can have freshly baked cookies whenever they want.

                                                Just a few thoughts!

                                                Good luck!


                                                1. Maybe it's a NY thing, but I would be *thrilled* to get baked goods (unless we're talking the standard fruitcake)! It's just not done any more, whereas, quite frankly, it feels like more thought went into it than a basket of stuff. People never bake their own cookies or cakes anymore; they always buy from a bakery. I know I baked a layer cake for a friend's birthday and was walking it over to her house, and my god, the comments I got -- it was like I'd unearthed some ancient treasure or something!!

                                                  I just finished making cream of tomato soup from scratch, and damned if I wouldn't rather have a freezer full of that (and a nice chianti to go with it), than a basket full of stuff that I probably wouldn't use anyway.

                                                  And as I said before, I really do love my gadgets. They make me want to cook more, and I have to believe (or maybe hope) that others would find the same inspiration in them.

                                                  But again, I live in NYC, so maybe it's different other places.