Your Last Minute Holiday Gift Guide
Need a hostess gift for that last minute holiday party? No clue what to get for your mother-in-law? We've got your back, dear reader. Here are fifteen gift ideas that range from fun to elegant, festive to year-round.
I dunno about you, but I love making gift baskets of food. Chalk it up to the five years I spent on cooking shows, but there’s something wonderfully soothing about compiling flavors, textures and themes to create the perfect basket. And let’s be honest – getting out into the holiday grocery hustle and bustle to ‘taste’ (devour) cheese, wine or chocolate isn’t exactly a dull afternoon.
I scouted around Boston and found a diversity of awesome baskets you can put together, from the breath-taking cheese counter at Formaggio Kitchen in the South End, to the excitingly authentic foods at Jia Ho in Chinatown. So come with me, and I’ll take you on a trip through our city’s best bets for funky and fun foodie gifts.
The South End: Formaggio Kitchen (pictured above)
A Boston favorite, Formaggio Kitchen has beautiful locations in both the South End and Cambridge. Each sports a joyful array of canapé fixings – or what I like to think of as picnic foods: local patés, creative jams and honeys, chocolates, and an array of crackers that will knock your santa hat clean off. This is the place to put together a basket for your newlywed friends, your foodie cousin, or the person in your life with a passion for party planning.
$25 or under
For around $25, you can get a lovely selection at Formaggio Kitchen. I say go for a quarter pound of Ombra Cheese, which comes across like a smooth, nutty, aged manchego – but if that’s not your style, their SUPER smart cheese counter employees can steer you true. Couple your cheese with some of Potter’s Winter Wheat Crackers and Chocolate Moderne’s Blood Orange Bergamot or Dark Chocolate Marzipan, and you have a delicious gift for anyone on your list!
$50 or under
If you want to add a little more to your budget, switch out the Chocolate Moderne for two pillow boxes of McCrea’s caramels – one in Single Malt Scotch and one in Black Lava Sea Salt. Throw in a tub of Boston Smoke Fish Company’s Bluefish Pate, and balance it out with Karpos Co. Wild Honey in Greek Pine (dark, earthy) or Cotton (creamy, light). Voila! The perfect night in front of the fire.
$100 or under
But maybe you have the level of budget to go wild at Formaggio Kitchen (and believe us – it’s not difficult!). You’re in luck, because their shelves are also flush with a great selection of wine, beer and local cider to add to your cheese, crackers and pate. But don’t stop there! Grab one of the great June Taylor Jams in stock (we’re dying over Santa Rosa Plum & Provencal Lavender, and their Quince, Apple & Tart Cherry), and add in a few sweets: the McCrea’s Caramels Full Flavor Family sample which offers flavors like cape cod salt and single malt scotch; a quarter-pound of candied lemon and grapefruit peels; and our personal favorite, a half pound of raisins on the vine. Not only do they taste good, but they look pretty darn nifty, too!
Somerville: The Boston Shaker
I wrote an intro to The Boston Shaker back in August, and honestly, I couldn’t wait to return to include them in this article. From the cool glassware to their huge collection of cocktail books, this place is a must-stop for any holiday or hosting gifts. Even better? They do the work for you, putting together some really awesome gift box ideas for both the novice mixologist to the dedicated aficionado.
Boston Shaker can get you set up with their Shaker Set – a kit that provides all the basic tools for the home mixologist. The expected 28oz/16oz two-part Boston Shaker is accompanied by a four prong hawthorne strainer and a julep spoon. Perfect for your friend who’s always playing bartender at parties. But maybe your friend has their set-up down and could really just use a little inspiration. For that, check out the new line of Woodford Reserve bourbon barrel-aged bitters in Spiced Cherry, Aromatic, Sassafras and Sorghum, Orange and Chocolate. Or check out the locally-mader Partea line – a kit that allows to infuse your liquor with flavors from Mocha to Orange Spice – and pair it with one of the Shaker’s great tiki mugs.
$50 – $75
Mid-range presents are aplenty at the Shaker, with their wide array of drink-specific gift boxes. Their Manhattan kit features a book on the iconic drink, a bottle of Dutch’s Colonial Cocktail Bitters, Wild Amarena Cherries and two perfect glasses. The Old Fashioned is slightly more pricey at $75, and comes with a book and bitters, as well as Bourbon and Rye barrel-aged maple syrup, and two old-fashioned glasses. Similarly priced is the tiki kit; along with a book and bitters is an Orgeat syrup and two tiki mugs. Is $75 a little too out of your budget? No problem! The folks at the counter are more than happy to craft something similar within your price range.
The big’un of all the kits at the Boston Shaker is their Home Bar Kit. Get this bad bad boy for your kid sister that just turned 21, or your friend who just bought their first place – it’s perfect. Starting with an 18oz/28oz Boston shaker, they add in a Yarai mixing glass (read: a gorgeous glass to stir - not shake! - those martinis in), a Peak ice tray, an elegant Japanese jigger, a teardrop bar spoon, Hawthorne strainer, premium julep strainer and a citrus peeler.
But there’s plenty more to choose from at the Shaker. Pair their Trinity Bitters set (Angostura Aromatic, Regan's Orange and Peychaud’s) with some gorgeous glasses from their glassware section, a recipe book and one of the Peak ice trays. Get a Tiki or Old Fashioned kit and throw in a fifth of their favorite liquor. Keep ‘em warm this winter!
This Harvard Square classic is filled floor to ceiling with gourmet candies, great liquors, and other sweets and savories that make perfect gifts for everyone on your list. And if you’re way too busy this holiday to curate your own basket Cardullo’s has you covered! They feature several high end baskets with themes like “Taste of New England” or “Tea Lovers” – which you can even get packaged in an authentic wooden cheese-wheel box!
$25 or under
It’s really easy to drop twenty-five dollars in Cardullos – especially if you get lost in their chocolate selections – so it’s always good to go in with a plan. If you’re looking for sweet, check out their selection of shortbread cookies & jams. I’m particularly partial to Lark Fine Foods Shortbread Trio with Thursday Cottage’s handmade Lemon Curd, or swap out the curd for Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig and Walnut Butter and pair it with a bag of our local Q’s Nuts' Sweet Roast Pecans. If you’re buying for a fan of the savory, go all in on a nice bottle or tin of Extra Virgin Olive Oil – A L’Olivier or Terra Medi both come highly recommended.
$50 or under
If you’re looking to upgrade your box a touch, create a classic Christmas offering with Cole’s Stollen Christmas Pudding, paired with either Harney & Sons’ official Cardullo’s tea blend, or local coffee-roaster No. Six Depot’s official Cardullo’s coffee blend. But if you’re looking for something a little less sweet, Cardullo’s carries Fine English Charcoal Square crackers, a funky, cheesy cracker with a light flavor. Match it with a La Tur 3 milk soft ripened cheese, Jasper Hill Clothbound Cheddar, and Drunken Goat, a goat cheese cured in red wine. Use your remaining money for a decent bottle of wine, and you’ve got a gift to win over any holiday gathering.
$100 or under
Hey big spender – so you’re looking to blow it out in the present category? Buying someone ingredients for a full meal is the perfect way to arrange your present, and a great way to get them through the final rush of the holiday. Cardullo’s has got you covered, with the perfect pieces for a nice Italian meal. Start with Tarallini Classico salted cracker knots, a classic snack often served with apertifs. Move to the cheese course with a La Tur three milk soft ripened cheese, accompanied by Marabissi il Panforte, a sweet bread in Black Cherry and Red Pepper or Almond and Citrus. For the main course, grab two bags La Piana Mezzaluna with basil pesto filling, and get a can of Urbani Truffles with Artichokes or Mushrooms to top. To finish up the dinner, get No. Six Depot’s Cardullo Blend coffee and a nice bottle of wine. Or swap out the wine for the decadent John Kelly eight piece truffle box, a new item to Cardullo’s shelves – and one that can only be found there. Enjoy!
I have Polish roots, so I’m sure you can understand how delighted I was when I discovered Bazaar Boston as a young art student. Their huge selection can provide the perfect introduction to Eastern European classics, or give your friends a little taste of home. And while the International grocery store is perhaps best known for their strong presence in the Eastern European community, they work hard to represent food from around the world. Not only are countries like Russia, Poland and Ukraine represented, but also Maldova, Georgia and Uzbekistan, and even Israel and Australia.
$25 or under
Start with a box of Honey House Herbs and Bees Tea – I recommend ‘Northern,’ a delicate and delicious blend of buckthorn, mint, chamomile and caraway, or ‘Novgorod’, a blend of currant leaves, wild apple fruit, mint, willow and calendula. Next, head to their bakery for a section of Smettanik, a honey cake that that comes layered with cream filling and either cherry, black currant or walnut – or to the Deli for a couple samsas, a buttery, rich Uzbek pastry filled with chicken, beef or mixed filling. But take note, both pastries are made fresh in house, and will need to be purchased in the 24 hours before gift giving. Finally, spice up the whole gift with a bottle of Krupnik, a traditional Polish honey liqueur that is meant for sipping – or for adding to that tea! – or a bottle of Moldovan wine.
$50 or under
Bazaar works hard to stay at the center of the European communities in Boston, and one of the ways this effort pays off is in their dedication to presenting authentic food. And while their bakery serves fresh-made bread, they also offer a selection of bread freshly baked from dough that is made in Germany before being frozen and shipped to the U.S. Grab a loaf of the Borodinsky, or Country bread, and pair it with their special holiday White Truffle Butter, a package of Maltese herring – a Polish Christmas tradition – or their made-in-house smoked salmon, and a pint of homemade pickles. Finish it off with a bottle of Zyr Vodka, for a decadent late afternoon cocktail, or make that meal kid friendly with a container of Mielu honeycomb, a box of Sharon Persimmons, and a box of Honey House Herbs and Bees Tea in ‘Northern’ or ‘Novgorod’.
$100 or under
Bring the party to their New Year’s Eve with a bottle of Russian Champagne and a quarter pound of Trident Caviar, or swap out the Champagne for a Beluga Vodka Gift set, complete with swizzle and mixing glass. But a good friend never abandons someone to the all-too-familiar New Year’s Day Hangover, get your friend a basic European breakfast, with Bazaar’s Country Bread, a quarter pound of Black Knight Cheese or Svalia Cheese, tomatoes from Bazaar’s über fresh produce section, a tub of white truffle butter, and a quarter pound of their smoked-on-site salmon, or another selection from their extensive meat counter. Give them an alternative to open faced sandwiches with a jar of Vita’s tart and juicy Lingonberry jam, Tamara’s Green Walnut or Rose Petal Preserve, and finish it all off with Sadaf Pine Honey with Comb.
Chinatown: Jia Ho
While Jia Ho in Chinatown appears to be a predominantly a Chinese and Korean supermarket, my knowledge of deliciousness tends toward the selection of Japanese foods they carry. While there are an abundance of Asian groceries in Boston, I’ve always loved Jia Ho – the narrow aisles, the wide selection of spices, noodles and candy, the freshness of the fish… I’ve never cooked a bad meal after visiting the place. And after consulting with close friends with an even wider knowledge of asian cuisine (thanks, AJ), I’ve compiled three baskets that will allow you to bring some fun new snacks and customs to the culturally/culinary adventurous in your life.
$25 or under
It’s hard to go wrong with snacks at Jia Ho. Whether buying desserts for a holiday party or putting together a basket for your snack-hungry friend, you’ll find an awesome selection of the sweet and salty here. Start with two or three boxes of Pocky – I recommend coconut chocolate and almond crush, but you can also get chocolate banana, strawberry, matcha, cookies and cream and more – and add on Koala’s March chocolate creme cookies, which are a hit with kids and adults alike. Throw in a little savory with Senbei Rice Crackers (I’m a fan of the ‘Hot-Kid’ flavor) and salty with Nori Maki Arare (seaweed wrapped rice crackers). Add in a couple bottles of Ramune (Japanese soda with a marble in the cap to add to the carbonation) and matcha flavored Kit-Kat’s, and you have a snack box to die for.
But if your giftee isn’t a big snacker, you can absolutely simplify. Grab a teapot, a nice little mug with a lid, and a pretty glass jar of Ka Xing Trading Jasmine Green tea. Or, if you’re buying for a real tea nerd, just grab a jar of White Dragon Ball tea, a green tea that is formed into tiny balls that ‘bloom’ when steeped – and despite what might seem like a steep price tag for dried leaves, believe a former tea-tender: it's worth it.
$50 or under
In Japan, ‘toshikoshi soba’ is a noodle dish served on New Year’s Eve, meant to carry you over from the old year into the new. Why not bring this custom to your friends' celebrations? Throw some kombu seaweed, bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin rice wine, dry soba noodles, a fish cake, and togarashi chili mix in your basket – the basis for the dish. Add in about ten dollars worth of fixin’s – think spinach, green onion, cilantro, jalepeños or chiles, yuzu, eggs, or some fish – and grab a couple of soup bowls and spoons from the housewares section. Finish up your basket with a small dessert or snack, like the aforementioned Pocky or Nori Maki Arare, for munching as the clock counts down.
$100 or under
If you’re aiming to go big with your gift, I think your best tactic to do a little extra footwork. Get yourself a basket full of yum with toshikoshi soba, bowls and spoons, and a jar of White Dragon Ball tea at Jia Ho. Then complement that with a nice bottle of sake – unfortunately, as far as we know, the Boston sake scene is pretty dry in the liquor stores (if you have other information, please tell us!). If you have the time, we recommend ordering Rihaku Wandering Poet through a local liquor store or Drizly, which will take a couple days, but will be worth it. Otherwise, try Gekkeikan Horin Junmai Daiginjo Sake, probably the best of the ubiquitous Gekkeikan brand.
Hopefully I found something that hit the mark for folks on your holiday gift list! But if you want to add a little WGBH cheer to someone’s life, our events team has a special offer going on right now: purchase two tickets to WGBH's annual Craft Beer Festival for $75, and receive a WGBH membership – or purchase two tickets to WGBH's annual Craft Beer Festival for $120, and receive a WGBH membership and 2 beer chalices.
Have a lovely holiday season!
Formaggio Kitchen: 268 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118, (617) 350-6996. Open 9a – 8p Monday through Friday, 9a – 7p on Saturdays and 9a – 4p on Sundays.
The Boston Shaker: 69 Holland Street, Somerville, MA 02144, (617) 718-2999. For the Holiday season, they're open 11a – 8p Monday through Friday, 10a – 7p on Saturday, and 11a – 6p on Sunday.
Cardullo's: 6 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, (617) 491-8888. Open 8a – 9p Monday through Thursday, 8a – 10p Fridays and Saturdays, and 10a – 7p on Sundays.
Bazaar: 424 Cambridge Street, Allston, MA 02134, (617) 787-1511. Open 9a – 9p.
Jia Ho Supermarket: 692 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111, (617) 338-9788. Open 8a – 8p.