Major thanks to Abigail Koffler of food newsletter This Needs Hot Sauce, who shared her advice for giving the very best gifts this week.
This time of year, the temptation to shop is everywhere. With more gift guides than anyone could know what to do with, it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and pressured to spend. The price filters are also intimidating—since when is a gift under $25 considered the bare minimum?
If you’re looking for another way, get off the internet (once you’re done reading this). As Maris Kreizman so eloquently put it last year in the New York Times, “It’s risky not to have data, to be without numbers you can plug in when you’re looking for something or someone to love. We think we know exactly what we want. But I hope that our guts remain true to our hearts, and in this world measured by clicks and stars and highest customer reviews, we remember that some rules are made to be broken in the most delightful of ways.”
No matter what you give, always write a card, which is its own gift. You can make funny cards using old pictures of your friends and print them at your office, or draw or paint one if you’ve got some art skills. I enjoy buying stationary at local markets and bookstores since it’s an affordable way to support artists. Postcards also make great cards and then double as wall decor, so I always pick those up when traveling.
Now onto the gifts.
Make it a surprise: No matter what you’re planning with your friend or family member, some suspense will take it up a notch. If you’re home with family, book everyone movie tickets or plan a game night and then send a mysterious invitation a few days before. This is more fun if you really commit to it, so build anticipation by dropping hints or instructions for the surprise ahead of time.
Give an edible gift: When you’re short on time, one big batch can yield many thoughtful gifts. Baking is especially nice if you know someone with dietary restrictions. A few favorite recipes: (Vegan) spiced mixed nuts (buy in the bulk bin and add pretzels and sesame sticks), which you can give in jars, Ziplocs or deli containers, (dairy free/nut free)pumpkin muffins which freeze really well, a bag of (gluten free) granola for holiday breakfasts. If you and your friend are into drinks, you can bring the fixings for a favorite cocktail like holiday penicillin with ginger, lemon, honey and whiskey.
Give back: Donating to a charity in someone’s name is extremely thoughtful and shows how well you know them. Stalk your friends on social media to see if they’ve been supporting any specific organizations. Make sure to write them a note explaining why you gave in their honor.
Cook together: I spent an amazing evening with a friend this summer and we each spent $5 — $3 for ice cream cones and then $2 each on groceries (avocados, plantains andbroccoli). We added some black beans and hot sauce for spicy bowls and spent hours catching up. Cooking together is a great way to bond and much more affordable than dining out. To reduce costs, see what you already own. Usually, my friend and I select a recipe, do a quick kitchen inventory and then make one little grocery trip to grab the stuff we’re missing. One of us will do the shopping and the other will bring a bottle of wine. You might feel silly lugging ⅓ cup of tahini all day in a container but by the time you sit down to a delicious meal, you’ll have no regrets. Some favorite recipes for this include chickpea pasta, miso eggplant bowls, spicy squash salad with lentils, and tofu mango cabbage wraps.
Self-care squad: We all own a bunch of face masks, right? So pool them together. Doing multiple masks (like a clay one followed by a moisturizing one) feels super luxe and pairs well with trashy TV. You can also do manicures, light some candles, and drink tea to get all kinds of relaxed. The informal setting really helps people open up.
Explore your city and support the arts: Comedy shows, concerts, book signings, plays, lectures, live podcast tapings are great gifts for people you share interests with. They’re usually not too pricey, especially at smaller venues, and you can grab a slice of pizza or cheap beer after to digest what you saw.
Quality time: This is arguably the most important gift. The best part? It’s not time sensitive or expensive. Book time with the people you care about during the holidays and all year round. This is a tough (and busy) time of year for many so the real work is often showing up.