Everybody eats, everybody drinks, which means that there's an unusual food-related gift for each and every one of us. For example:
Instead of simply tucking a pretty gift subscription card for a food magazine into a stocking, purchase the latest issue, buy the nonperishable ingredients for a recipe in it and pack it all in a box. For example, the December issue of Bon Appe'tit contains a recipe for Chocolate-Hazelnut Panforte: Buy the hazelnuts, dried Calimyrna figs, dried apricots, candied citron, Dutch-processed cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. Then invite yourself over for the results.
A pretty 9 1/2-inch tall cylindrical tin of sugary Cornish gingerbread cookies ($9.50 at Williams-Sonoma) is simple and sweet. Delicious too are six-ounce bags of dried cherries for $5.75 from Williams-Sonoma. La Cuisine in Alexandria also has dried cherries ($5.50 for six ounces and $12 a pound) and dried cranberries (six ounces for $4.50).
For those who can't be without their coffee or tea, how about an unbreakable pint-sized thermos from Nissan that keeps its contents hot and fits into handbags and briefcases (about $40 at Crate & Barrel, Brookstone, coffee and gourmet shops)? Or, a microwave coffee maker from Mr. Coffee that brews 10 ounces of coffee into its own commuter mug in five minutes. Or, Salton's Commuter Hot Spot, a mug warmer that plugs into a car's cigarette lighter ($15 at Kitchen Bazaar). As for stocking stuffers, for the glasnost-minded -- Romanoff Russian Tea blends, lighter-than-English teas with good taste and faraway sounding names such as Czar Mikhail, Winter Palace, Chainaya. For the single drinker, a one-cup permanent tea or coffee filter by Swiss Gold ($13 each at Kitchen Bazaar). For a cosmopolitan crony -- an ibrik for making Turkish coffee ($15-$25 at the Daily Grind). For the de-caf devotee, a tin of Bencheley's Blackberry tea bags ($2.39 at coffee stores and some supermarkets). For the Anglophile -- imported Fortnum and Mason teas (at the Daily Grind).
Give a one-year membership in the American Institute of Wine and Food that includes invitations to food-related lectures, tastings and social events, six bi-monthly newsletters and the quarterly Journal of Gastronomy. The gift membership costs $60 per person and $85 per couple; call 1-800-274-AIWF for details.
For the young party giver, there's a set of napkins along with the book "Napkin Folding 44 Ways" ($6.95), available at Kitchen Bazaar and other cookware stores. The book may lead to some surprising table settings at home (not the least surprising being being the fact that the table may actually be set by someone other than you). The book may also serve as entertainment for young ones when they go out to dinner, letting them create fanciful napkin displays while they wait for their food. Who knows, maybe they can show the maitre d' a thing or two.
For the wine buff, perhaps the idea is the ideal corkscrew. It's the Hallen Screwpull "Lever Model," about $100 in basic black. Though Hallen is better known for its highly popular standard Screwpull (about $15), this model was actually developed first by founder Herbert Allen, an oil drilling engineer who still holds key patents in the drilling industry. Popping a cork has never been so easy. The cork is liberated with two almost effortless swipes. Its available from some wine retailers as well as Williams-Sonoma and Kitchen Bazaar.
For those who can't pass a deli without stopping for a piled-high pastrami sandwich, a poster with photos of famous delicatessen doorways could be just the thing. A montage of black-and-white photographs ("A Dozen Delis To Die For!") by a local photographer has captured not only the New York bagel spots, but includes our own Parkway in Silver Spring. The $20 poster is available at the Jewish Community Center gift shop in Rockville or can be ordered from the artist, Howard Kolodny, 601 North Tower, 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md., 20814. There's also the Great Chili Poster ($15), sold at Santa Fe Style in Georgetown that illustrates and gives the source and use for each fiery pepper.
Treat a recipient to a local cooking class. Place a decorative card listing the class, the location and time in another gift: the pocket of an apron, an index card in a recipe holder or inside the mitt of a potholder.
Strosnider's Hardware in Bethesda is legendary for its eclectic selection of stuff. Among stocking items are an instant-read thermometer ($11.99), the Ekco fat-skimming measuring cup ($3.99), wooden toast tongs ($1.98) and tons of magnets.
Glass mugs with cedar, sassafras, oak or pine lids filled with pecans roasted in butter with rosemary, cayenne and salt are available from Takoma Kitchens in Wheaton for $6.95. They're red hot and good.
Guide a friend or relative on an ethnic food adventure, ending the day with dinner at an ethnic restaurant. Local possibilities include the Eden Center, a complex of Vietnamese shops and restaurants in Fall Church, a drive up Rockville Pike, or explore the Asian and Hispanic markets of Langley Park/Silver Spring/Takoma Park area. Complete the gift with a copy of "The Washington Ethnic Food Store Guide" by Jim C. Lawson (Ardmore, $9.95).