I have friends and family who spend days baking so they can arrive with a triumphantly wrapped smorgasbord of sweet confections. Some of my more farsighted friends offer customized brews or infused liquors. The crafty in my clique adorn us with richly knitted scarves and crocheted beanies.
I love these gifts, not only because they are so thoughtful and took so much time to make, but because they are actually useful. Even the humblest bottle of homemade hooch will find a willing taker at some point!
Unfortunately, I hate baking. I don't brew, knit, scrapbook or take memorable photographs. (Unless someone is dying for a calendar that features my three scruffy Jack Russells sleeping in various positions.) But I know what my friends like, and I know where to buy it. The following gifts are easily personalized and general enough that you can stock up and always have the perfect present on hand.
Summit Spice and Tea Co. custom boxes
For anyone who bakes, cooks or eats — that's, um, everyone — Summit Spice and Tea Co. is like a library filled with aromatic, edible stories. Gift a travelogue of Morocco with North African Blend (a combination of Spanish paprika, cumin, cinnamon and coriander, to name a few of the bazaar-evoking ingredients) and precious saffron. Or put together a local compendium with Girdwood Mushroom Blend, Halibut Cove Fish Rub and Denali Dry Rub, which is a favorite for moose and caribou. Jams, teas, honey and chocolate, plus convenient, premade gift boxes (about $30-$40), ensure that every recipient will be appreciative. Bonus points for pairing it with Copper River salmon or reindeer sausage. (3030 Denali St., Unit 2; 907-375-1975)
Crush Cellar Wine of the Month Club
Crush Bistro offers two tiers of the club for the same price ($39.50). The Cellar Wine Club includes two bottles that are new to Alaska, while the Collector Club is one bottle that is "extremely rare and enjoyable now, but with cellar potential." The Combination Club ($74.50) includes all three wines and is suitable for the friend who hosted you and your entire family for two weeks. Chad Culley, Crush sommelier and wine expert, writes many of the pairing notes, which are in-depth and educational. Recipes are included as well, or you can go one better and add a gift certificate to the bistro, because nothing says thank you like a heart-warming dish of mac 'n' cheese. (343 W. Sixth Ave., 907-865-9198)
Sweet Caribou macarons
I used to think I didn't like macarons — then I tried them freshly made. The experience was expletive-inducing. They are ethereal (not rock hard!), subtly flavored and gorgeous to behold. Sweet Caribou opened a brick-and-mortar shop this fall next door to my yoga studio, and with Fromagio's just across the parking lot, I think I am barely breaking even. If you want a stunner of a hostess gift and have offered to bring dessert, there's only one way to go: the macaron tower (starting at $60). Once you get a taste of rose lychee or coconut lime, the next logical thing to do is stop at Anchorage Yoga afterward and sign up for a membership. Or get cheese. I won't judge. (701 W. 36th Ave., 907-223-5160)
Butcher Block No. 9 charcuterie board
There's a new butcher in town and I am smitten. I like to peruse Butcher Block No. 9's Facebook page on a regular basis for love letters like this: "Fresh lamb for the weekend and Alaska Grown beef roast with herbed bone marrow butter wrapped in caul fat." Beautiful.
Right now, Butcher Block is putting together charcuterie boards so you don't have to. Grab some gifts, and grab yourself a smoked ham for Christmas dinner. My favorite thing about all of these places (besides simultaneously allowing me to be self-serving and generous) is that the owners of these businesses are my neighbors. Small Business Saturday is past, but the spirit lives on. (11108 Old Seward Highway, Suite 3; 907-349-1560)
Riza Brown is a food writer and owner of a catering company based in Anchorage.