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[whitespace] Christopher Simpson
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Basket Case: Christopher Simpson shows off some of the bounty of condiments available for quick and tasty gift giving at Chefworks.

Bearing Gifts

So many parties, so little time--a few good ideas for hostess gifts with more pizzazz than cost

By Christina Waters

ONLY A PHILISTINE would show up empty-handed at those holiday parties you're looking forward to. Your hosts are knocking themselves out stocking up on bubbly and Brie, so make sure you reciprocate with something thoughtful with a culinary theme.

You could do worse than to hit downtown Santa Cruz' Chefworks (1527 Pacific Ave.), one-stop-shopping for holiday gastronomica. Consider something simple yet luxurious, like salt and pepper grinders--there are two shelves of choices at Chefworks. We love the clear lucite orbs from Ultra ($36) to wrap up along with a bottle of Tellicherry peppercorns.

Since every holiday party, by law, must serve cheese, you could present your party giver with a new cheese board. We like the 8-inch round one made of thick butcher-block oak. Check around in the back of the store, where inspiration awaits--tiny cocktail knives and forks, or sets of designer paper napkins and plates. These are niceties people often don't buy for themselves but adore as gifts. (Always ask yourself, "Would I kill for this?" If the answer is "Yes!" buy it.)

Here's another inexpensive idea disguised as a luxury item: a café presse coffee maker, very French, starting at $20 for individual-cup models. The Swiss company Rösle makes drop-dead-gorgeous kitchen sculpture for the serious home chef. Give any one of their sleek stainless steel whisks or peelers or ladles. They're not giving these away--$33 for a simple basting ladle--but you'll be looked upon as a true Santa for life.

No kitchen can have too many digital timers. They're fun, interactive and useful for a billion things. Consider Big Digit--yeah, it does have very large, readable numbers--and can track up to 20 hours.

Put together a holiday gift basket of handmade jams, jellies, herbs, spices, vinegars and oils. Start with a Lemon Pear Marmalade from Stonewall Kitchen ($7), add the incredible Earth & Vine Blackberry Peach Jam ($7.25) and then throw in a burlap pouch of Herbes de Provence or Tuscan olive oil.

Flavored mustards are brilliant--especially for guys. Men adore mustards for reasons only Freud knew. Make a future pasta dinner memorable with a jar of roasted tomato sauce from Lulu ($6.75). Lulu also makes exceptional Fig Balsamic Vinegar in slender glass bottles ($12 and $17). Cotton dish towels make good gifts, especially if they're wrapped around a bottle of Roudon-Smith Merlot or Storrs Zinfandel.

The fantasy teapots by Cardew Design feature Alice in Wonderland motifs or acres of teddy bears. Our favorite is a spherical pot imprinted with a map of the world--sort of a globe with hot tea inside ($39-$55).

DOWN THE BLOCK, at the wonderful ID (1515 Pacific Ave.), we spied amazing high-gloss bowls and pitchers by Terramoto. Striped or polka-dotted in red, yellow or blue and white, these are fabulous kitchen items for $7-$42. No party giver on your list can have too many candles and candle holders--of which there is an ocean at ID.

They also have candles at Cost Plus (450 River St., Santa Cruz) and a whole lot more. For sheer wit, try giving a vacuum pack of Pacific Northwest smoked salmon accompanied by a fish-shaped wooden serving tray ($12.99). Also on the cheese theme, you'll like the wooden cheese server with one of those huge glass domes to keep dust, lint and children's sticky fingers away ($14.99).

After you've purchased that gift bottle of Ca' del Solo from Bonny Doon Vineyards, you can present it in a gorgeous brocade wine carrier, embroidered with silver threads from India ($5.99). To complete the oenological theme, you owe it to your intended to stop by Annieglass (109 Cooper St., Santa Cruz), next door to Gravago Gallery (111 Cooper St.), a store which is Christmas unto itself--and snap up a few gold-rimmed wine coasters ($20).

If you get stuck, try to channel your host/hostess' passions (not that way). She likes to bake: give her fine copper cookie cutters. He enjoys gardening: bring him a few potted cooking herbs like oregano, basil and thyme. For the hard-to-please host who has absolutely everything already, present an elaborately gift-wrapped Y2K care package: a six-pack of toilet paper, a jar of peanut butter and a gallon of spring water. They'll laugh--but they'll stash it away for millennial use.

Joyeux Weinachten!

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From the November 17-24, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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