REMEMBER HOW Mom always said that homemade gifts make the warmest impressions? Well, I'm a gift-giving fool, and wrapping up a jar of jelly doesn't give me much of a jolt. But coordinated packages of sensual delights, partly homemade and partly extravagant, can be as much fun to assemble as to receive. Besides, they have to be delivered in person, so you should get as good as you give.
Most of these are intended for Sig- 6>nificant Others, of course. For example:
*Wrap up a Calphalon wok with two pairs of silver- plated chopsticks and then tuck a batch of homemade fortune cookies inside with appropriately insinuating personal messages. Instead of a card, get an italic pen nib (or hire a calligrapher) and work up a mini- menu with your names side by side, writing across the top, "Take one from Column A and one from Column B."
*Before there was Nautilus there was the home ice cream maker. But freshly churned ice cream isn't a chore anymore: There are several new countertop freezers -- ranging from $30 to $300, depending on how many gallons and how many designer labels you need -- that run by electric power rather than your arm's. Pair the ice cream maker with a set of soda-fountain-style footed sundae dishes, garnish with a few special additives (mint chips, toffee bars, slivered almonds) and crown with a large homemade jar of James Beard's wildly rich fudge sauce (see recipe below).
*For a woman with beautiful hands, buy a copper mold and make an old-fashioned charlotte russe ringed with ladyfingers; instead of a card, enclose a gift certificate for a manicure and maybe some delectable fuchsia-colored polish. There are also specialty sweet shops that sculpt whole hands of chocolate: Wrap one up with a solid gold false fingernail. *For a PBS fan who caught India fever, wrap up the six-cassette set of "The Jewel in the Crown," a gold-threaded scarf, a package of hand-mixed curry powder (much fresher than the preboxed sort) and a jar of homemade chutney. If she doesn't have a VCR, or if the Empire is too pricey at $300, substitute a boxed set of the original -- The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.
*Whodunit? Maybe you . . . with a boxed set of highball glasses engraved with "Name Your Poison," a bottle of home-flavored vodka (steeped for a week with white peppercorns or even jalapenos) and reservations for one of those murder- mystery weekends set up by luxury hotels. You could spring for tickets on the Orient Express, but the price tag is murder.
*For a gourmand with at least a rudimentary grasp of piscine anatomy, stuff a set of those fish-faced oven mitts with minijars of a variety of caviars, small grain and large, pressed and pristine. (Candy is dandy, but oh, that California golden!) Deliver with a loaf of fresh French bread, home-cultured cr,eme fraiche and a side of home-cured salmon. Top with antique silver fish fork and knife, or a set of mother-of- pearl caviar spoons (the traditional choice, because the shell won't affect the flavor). *Psyching up to propose? Pop the big one with a magnum of some- thing very fine (of Ren,e Lalique or Henriot Rothschild caliber), a pair of Le Must de Cartier fluted champagne glasses, and a silver-topped champagne recorker to protect the bubbly till the morning after. Chances are food will have limited appeal at The Big Moment, but consider a few oysters (especially if you're offering pearls), fresh strawberries or raspberries dipped in dark chocolate and perhaps some whipped cream.
*For a friend still working on last New Year's weighty resolutions, how about a bathroom scale with waist-high digital readout, a low-cal hot-air corn popper and a few bottles of Ch.ateau Corn du Pop, this season's ranking kernels? Then be a friend indeed -- prepare a few diet- conscious delectables of your own invention: giant Mediterranean shrimp poached in radicchio leaves, pickled okra, braised fennel.
*And for the Orioles fan, start with a brace of game birds (preferably pheasant or duck -- cornish hens are a little bush league) and either smoke them or deliver them hot from the roasting. Add season tickets if you can get them, or at least passes for Opening Day -- marked "Wait'll Next Year" -- and maybe one of those service station coupon books for fill-ups for the commute. Then buy an Orioles jacket and carefully snip loose the sleeves, hiding the vest part for reassembly later: Everybody knows the Birds need a few fresh arms. BEARD'S FUDGE SAUCE
12 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons strong coffee
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons cognac (or rum)
Melt the chocolates and coffee in a double boiler, add cream and cognac and stir till smooth. This sauce is simplicity itself, keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator and tastes like heaven.