I might be biased, but when it comes to gift-giving, it's pretty difficult to go wrong with food-related gifts. After all, everyone needs to eat.
But I also believe that purchasing gifts from local shops and artisans makes the experience even more special. Not only are many of the gifts one-of-a-kind, but they have a huge impact on both the local economy and the people who live and work here.
I spent the better part of two days "shopping" for this curated list of favorite items, all of which I’d be delighted to give (or to receive). I've also included links when they are available to order online (for pick-up or delivery).
So before you head online to order from a big box store or national gift box company, take a look at this list and see if you can find a local substitution (or something even better). It's also fun to peruse the other options in each of these local shops; you're likely to find unexpected treasures for others on your list as well. Need more ideas? Check out my gift guide from 2022 (a good number of items are still available).
If you have questions or need more suggestions for specific gift ideas, please email me at email@example.com. I’m happy to make recommendations or help however I can.
Happy holidays everyone!
Click to find gifts by category:
Food-inspired gifts for kids
Gifts for mushroom lovers
Grow your own
Serveware and kitchen tools
Beverage inspired gifts
Coffee. Tea. Cocktails. Wine. A person's drink of choice says something about them, and you can use those queues to guide your search for the perfect gift.
Frosty MKE tumbler
They'll be reminded of the beauty of Milwaukee while they sip their iced coffee, a chilly chai or any number of cold beverages. This frosted Milwaukee skyline tumbler comes complete with a bamboo lid that's lined with a silicone ring to help prevent spills and a BPA-free reuseable straw. Get it at Mixed Bag, 322 E. Silver Spring Dr., ($28).
Remind them that there's beauty in the world by lending a bit of glamour to their daily cup of coffee or tea.
This hand-thrown mug decorated in white and metallic gold polka dots was designed by local maker Kate Riley. To preserve the luminosity of the metallic accents, the mug should be hand washed. Get it at URSA, 2534 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., ($38).
Cozy coasters for a cause
These eco-friendly 4” wool coasters do a great job of protecting tables and counter-tops from spills and condensation. But they aren't for everyone. Buy them for someone who loves bright bold colors and appreciates their handmade charm and origin. Crafted from New Zealand wool and azo-free dyes, the coasters are handmade by a fair trade women’s cooperative in Nepal. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($28).
Sparkling with style
Know a sparkling wine lover whose style is just as bubbly? Treat them to a set of Italian glassware from Bormioli Rocco. Their art deco-inspired design is timeless and elegant, but suitable for every day use. Level up & pair a set of glasses with a bottle of bubbles. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($11-$15)
Tea for the Weisenheimers
Sure, they love tea. But do they also have a roaring sense of humor (and maybe a thick skin)? Give them the gift of a joyful cup with a selection of creatively named ModestMix loose leaf tea blends. From the “You’re F*cking Awesome” blend to the encouraging “Chai F*ucking Harder,” they’ll definitely think of you with every cup they brew. Get them at Swoon, $16.50
Know someone who likes to experiment with cocktails? Gift them one (or more) of these Mixy craft infusion kits (possibly with a bottle of high proof local spirits or wine) and let them play to their heart's content. Options include Pina Colada (infuse with silver rum and mix with coconut milk or coconut water); Rambler (a sweet spicy mix that’s perfect with tequila or vodka); and Red Wine Sangria (the jar accommodates a full bottle of red wine) If you're lucky, they'll invite you over for a drink. Get them at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($25 for cocktails, $28 for sangria).
Cocktail recipe keeper
Just like avid home cooks, mixologists often need a spot to jot down their favorite recipes. This attractive, expandable cocktail recipe holder includes plenty of blank cocktail recipe cards (plus a convenient hangable ring to keep them conveniently near the bar. Get it at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($24).
Glug that Glogg
Infuse their winter days with a bit of hygge by gifting them a jar of Familiar Soothing Glogg Blend, a locally made tisane of cinnamon, orange peel, star anise, lemon peel, allspice, clove, skullcap leaf and chamomile flower. They’ll think of you as they steep the spice blend in hot (not boiling) wine, fruit cider or even milk for a soothing beverage on a chilly night. Level up by pairing the glogg with a great set of handmade mugs. Get it at URSA, 2534 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., ($16).
This small batch chai concentrate is not only aromatic and spicy, it’s also made right here in Milwaukee with three simple ingredients: filtered water, spices and black Aam tea. OSO Chai's flavor profile is balanced, showcasing warming spices like cinnamon, star anise, pepper and cardamom. Since there's no sugar added, sweetness levels are flexible and customizable with additions like local honey, date sugar or maple syrup. The amber bottle is eye-catching and the concentrate is shelf-stable until opened, so it’s also easy for gifting. Get it at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($16).
I love the simplicity of these elegant hand-thrown mugs. Their dark brown glaze appears almost black and it has a smooth satiny finish. The shape of the mugs (slightly wider at the bottom and narrow at the top) makes them sturdy and particularly efficient at keeping your hot drinks hot. Bonus: They're made right here in Milwaukee! Can't you just picture a pair of these sleek mugs filled with OSO Chai? It's OSO perfect. Get them from Shelby Page Ceramics, ($42).
A daisy of a drink
These adorable long-handled ceramic daisy mugs are sure to incite a bit of cheer with their whimsical stamped flour pattern. Made in Milwaukee by Taylor Bucki, the mugs sport uniquely long handles that not only look cool and rustic, but make them easy to hold.
Get it at URSA, 2534 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., ($42).
All of these newly published tomes (plus probably a dozen more) are either on my coffee table or my personal wish list this year. So my guess is they’d be great bets for any of the serious (or curious) cooks in your world. All can be purchased or ordered from Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave. Order online for convenient local pick-up or shipping to addresses across the U.S.
“The Art of Extract Making: A Kitchen Guide to Making Vanilla and Other Extracts at Home” by Paul & Jill Fulton ($30). Folks have been making vanilla extract at home for years using random recipes from the internet. But, for the first time, the experts have weighed in on the process, offering tips on sourcing high quality ingredients, avoiding costly mistakes and recommendations for base spirits. This book by the owners of VanillaPura not only offers up 10 recipes for vanilla extract, but a cadre of others including coffee bean cinnamon spice, almond chocolate coconut and a laundry list of fruit-based extracts all of which can be used in baking, hot beverages, cocktails and more. It’s a treasure trove of experimental wonders for anyone interested in making extracts that are better than anything on store shelves.
“Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience” by Ron Faiola ($38). First published in 2013, this book has served as fuel for memorable road trips, a guide for restaurant recommendations and a resource that recalls the history of Wisconsin’s beloved supper clubs. The new 2023 edition features fifteen new supper clubs which have opened in the past decade, as well as updated stories from favorite clubs featured in the original edition. As always, the book celebrates these old school establishments which continue to dish out relish trays, pour brandy old fashioneds and serve as beloved gathering places for folks young and old.
“The Korean Cookbook” by Junghyun Park & Jungyoon Choi ($43.96). Last year, I delved headlong into the updated version of “The Food of Sichuan” by Fuschia Dunlap and learned so much about both Sichuan culture and cuisine. This year, it's my goal to dedicate time to this tome, which is likely the most comprehensive Korean cookbook available in the English language. Written by acclaimed chef Junghyun Park of Atoboy, Atomix, and Naro in New York and culinary historian and teacher Jungyoon Choi, the book is filled with gorgeous photos and 350 recipes covering fermented foods, rice dishes, savory pancakes, soups, noodles and dumplings. Even more, it contains profiles of ten artisans whose knowledge and techniques represent the country’s heritage.
“The New Art of Coffee: From Morning Cup to Caffeine Cocktail” by Ryan Castelaz ($30). If you love what the staff at Discourse is doing to advance coffee culture in our city, you’ll want to check out this book by owner and coffee creative Ryan Castelaz. Not only has he written a book that’s accessible and empowering for both coffee professionals and at-home enthusiasts, but he’s done so in a way that makes it useable on a regular basis (rather than sitting on a dusty shelf). Readers will not only gain foundational knowledge in the history of coffee culture, but also begin to understand the philosophies that guide the creative drinks at Discourse. And yes, there are also dozens of recipes categorized by mood: comforting, celebratory, rejuvenating and adventurous. And if you’ve always wanted to make Discourse drinks like Moonwater, Beetnik or Burnt Lemonade at home, this book will pay for itself in spades.
“Wisconsin Field to Fork: Farm Fresh Recipes From the Dairy State” by Lori Fredrich ($30). Yes, this is absolutely shameless self-promotion. But I’m so very excited about this book, which not only contains 70 recipes from talented Wisconsin chefs, but – even more importantly – the opportunity to get to know over 45 intrepid farmers who steward the land, feed and nurture its soil and harness both science and nature to assist in nourishing their communities. If you know someone who loves food and values the contributions of both chefs and farmers, they really will love this book.
Want me to sign your copy in person? Visit me at the Milwaukee Winter Farmers Market at The Table, 5305 W. Capitol Dr., on Saturday, Dec. 16. I'll be selling and signing books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ($5 from each book sold will be donated to the important work of the Fondy Food Center).
Experiential gifts have so many benefits. They don't take up space. They allow recipients to break from their usual routines. And they have the potential to create happy memories that can last a lifetime.
It’s going to be a long winter for restaurants. Give your favorites a boost by purchasing gift cards for the holiday season. The impact of gift card purchases on small restaurants is significant, making them some of the best gifts you can give this season.
Meet on Vliet
Vliet Street has become quite the scene these days, and you can explore it all with the new “Meet on Vliet” tin, a $20 investment that offers over $250 in discounts from 21 local businesses.
Participating businesses include restaurants and bars like the forthcoming Biersal Tavern, Charles E. Fromage, Fred’s Frozen Custard, O’Brien’s Pub, Wy’East Pizza and O’Malley’s European Foods, plus local boutiques, salons and more. Pick up a few for gifting at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($20).
Cooking a meal at home is one of life's greatest joys, especially when you've mastered the techniques needed. For those interested in learning a new skill or how to make a new dish, cooking classes can be an amazing gift (and one that keeps on giving). The following venues offer gift cards which can be redeemed for cooking classes. Check out their websites, call or stop in for additional details.
Semolina, 2472 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 249-4472
Pasta making classes: $65-$105 per person
Stop by the shop to purchase a gift card (and peruse their specialty food items!).
In this crazy world, there’s nothing better than taking time to be still, relax and care for both our physical bodies and minds. Whether you want a smaller item to gift or are looking for items to add to a basket of self-care items, these culinary-inspired products fit the bill.
Put the wine on your face
What’s better on a chilly day than a warming mug of tea and a sheet mask? Gift them an hour of solace with these cruelty-free LAPCO face masks.
Red Wine employs wine extract, blueberry and allantoin and a tightening cellulose pulp sheet mask to firm and elastize the skin. Meanwhile, Honey is powered by honey extract, hyaluronic acid, calendula in a lyocell sheet mask that leaves the skin glowy, supple and hydrated. Get one or both at Orange & Blue Co., 1809 N. Hubbard St., ($6 each).
Warm those hands
Sitting with a warm beverage in hand, even for just a few minutes is grounding; and – if one has cold hands – a mug of coffee or tea also acts as an instant hand-warmer while also providing a distraction from work, chores or chilling thought patterns.
These artfully made ceramic mugs were designed with exactly that in mind. All they need to do is fill the mug with something hot and tuck their fingers inside the handle for a blast of soul-filling finger-warming winter love. It's as simple as chai, but it might be just what the doctor ordered. Get them at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($22).
Center yourself with scents
Working from home on a winter day can be soul-sucking. But you can gift them a more cozy, amenable ambiance with something as simple as a clean-burning candle.
The Wild Herb Tonic candle from P.F. Candle Co., is likely to conjure the smells of a wild, edible herb garden filled with the refocusing powers of lemon balm, mood-lifting thyme, stress-reducing orange rind and relaxing fir. Meanwhile, the Teak and Tobacco offers up sweet, earthy and herbaceous notes that showcase grounding leather, calming teak, and stress-reducing orange.
Inspired, not incensed
The smell of a room sets the mood. Make any space more relaxing with the edible aromas of grounding wild rose, relaxing rosemary, sweet honey, and anxiety busting black tea.
Made with all-natural ingredients, the scent of Valley of Gold Incense from Misc. Goods Co. lingers for up to two hours after burning. Get it at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave., ($15).
Level it up: Pair up a pack of relaxing incense with one of these understated white glazed ceramic incense holders. The minimalistic holders mesh with any style of decor and effectively prop up incense sticks while efficiently catching their ashes. Get it at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave., ($16).
Food-inspired gifts for kids
I've never included a section for kids in my gift guide before. But, I think it's about time I offered up some suggestions for the younger set. After all, if we raise them up right, they will not only eat better, they'll know where their food comes from, appreciate the hard work of local farmers and develop invaluable cooking skills that they can pass along to their children.
“ABC Eat Local Wisconsin”
And I quote: "The first thing to know about these ABCs Is we're more than just apples and bratwurst and cheese."
This whimsical book by Wauwatosa author Rebekah Johnson teaches kids the ABC’s of Wisconsin fruits, vegetables and other farmers market finds. Told in clever rhymes, it’s a fun book to read aloud. Best for children up to 12 years of age. Pick it up at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St.; or order it from Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., ($20).
Children love to engage in the process of making things, and that includes food. So I love the inventive “Felt Food” sets from the goy geniuses at Melissa & Doug.
The pizza set is especially adorable. It includes four soft slices of felt pizza which can be customized with felt toppings. Even better, it comes with a durable pizza pan for “cooking” and a cardboard pizza delivery box that doubles as a storage case. Everything is soft, washable and a perfect way to engage with children aged 3 to 7. A sandwich set is also available. Get it at Rainbow Booksellers, 5704 W. Vliet St., ($22.95).
Children as young as two years old can get in on another Melissa & Doug creation: the Food Fun Combine & Dine Dinner Set, which includes realistic plastic foods that can be combined to create balanced meals.
This set includes ribs, a chicken drumstick, lamb chops, salmon, baked beans, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, rice, cupcake, orange, brownie, apple pie and a reusable menu card for “guests.” Get it at Rainbow Booksellers, 5704 W. Vliet St., ($29.95).
I love it when I see children ordering something they've never tried before at a restaurant. In most cases, they're naturally curious, and their parents have supported them in adventuring outside their usual comfort zone. But most kids could use a bit of a nudge when it comes to exploring uncharted waters. It's part of why this makes such a great gift.
This set includes 50+ hands-on activities in five different categories: food, crafts, games, festivals and ways of helping others around the world. I can’t guarantee it would get your picky eater to enjoy Indian fare; but you never know. They will definitely learn a bit about being better global citizens. The activities are best suited for children ages 7 to 9. Get it at Rainbow Booksellers, 5704 W. Vliet St., ($16.95).
I love cooking with my nieces and nephews, and this well-curated book from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen is a great reference for doing so.
It has over 100 recipes that appeal to kids (think soft pretzels, empanadas, pies, brownies, breads, cookies and cake), plus step-by-step photos that make the preparing and baking processes easy. The content is geared toward kids age 8 and up. Get it at Rainbow Booksellers, 5704 W. Vliet St. or Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., ($20). Level up and include some of the mini utensils available at Swoon (listed below in Serveware and kitchen tools).
Blame cottage core, the functional food movement or design trends; but mushrooms are having a moment. And the mycophiles among us coudn’t be happier. Here are a cadre of gorgeous items for the fungis (and gals) on your list.
Mushroom coffee is a thing. And what better to drink it out of than a mycelium mug?
These adorable hand-glazed mugs featuring a textured canvas and cheerful moss green mushrooms come in two sizes: 10-ounce or 16-ounce. Get them at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($35-$45).
A lucky new year
These handmade ceramic mushroom ornaments are perfect for the Christmas tree; but they’d also be a fitting addition to the decor in a home that pays homage to nature all year round.
The best part? Gifting a mushroom represents hope for good fortune in the coming year. Get them at Orange & Blue Co., 1809 N. Hubbard St., $28
Forest mushroom earrings
I’m a sucker for culinary-inspired earrings, and these forest mushroom earrings – lasercut with all the adorable little details – from Cut Carve were too cute to pass up.
Even more, the earrings are lightweight and made from laser-cut stainless steel, so they won't feel heavy and are safe for most to wear without irritation. Did I mention they're just so cute? Bet someone on your list thinks so too! Get them at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($24).
These ceramic toadstool stakes make whimsical additions to backyard gardens or houseplants (and creative types could probably think of even more ways to use them).
They’re hand-glazed and come in various shapes, sizes and cheerful colors and whimsical patterns. In fact, no two toadstools are exactly alike, ensuring your gift is truly one-of-a-kind. Get yours at Urban Sense, 5402 W. Vliet St. (priced $10-$24, depending on size)
Kitchen towels are an item almost anyone uses regularly, and since – especially in a food lover's kitchen – they don’t last forever, they are always a thoughtful gift.
This one offers up whimsical drawings of culinary mushrooms, both common and rare, so it’s perfect for both the casual mushroom lover or serious fanatic. Get it at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St.,$16
Know someone who appreciates a more vintage look in the kitchen? These hand-painted mushroom bowls might be just the thing.
They're well-sized for hearty portions of soup or salad and could even serve as a small serving bowl or accent/decor piece. Get them at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($12 each).
Feed their brains
There’s a reason why puzzle people love the challenge of a great puzzle. With each piece placed, the action of putting a puzzle together increases the production of dopamine, a chemical that regulates mood, memory, and concentration.
So this 1,000 piece mushroom-themed puzzle is not only a fun gift, it promotes brain health! Get it at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($30).
Mushroom fashion is in, and there are even options for the friend who likes to keep things uber-casual.
Take this light-weight funnel neck brushed jersey hoodie featuring mushrooms and ferns, for instance; or how about a mushroom print beach pull-over with raglan sleeves and a curved hem? You might just need to get both at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($54-$58).
Mushroom & fungi cards
These whimsical greeting cards were on my list last year. But I included them again because they are jut perfect for the mushroom lover in your life. They’d make the best thank you cards ever… and heck, snail mail is a lost art, so let’s bring all the love notes back! Get them from The Waxwing ($24).
Grow your own
Plants bring life to any home; but edible plants bring even more benefits. Consider these indoor edible garden kits as gifts for anyone who'd appreciate the joy of harvesting something fresh, even during the winter months.
Herbs for dummies
Not sure about you, but I’d love to glance at a set of these gorgeous jewel-toned jars in my kitchen window. I’d also love it if they successfully grew fresh herbs for me all winter long. Turns out, chances are good that they will. After all, these Modern Sprout Garden Jars are made for the black thumbs among us.
The kits are self-watering and outfitted with a passive hydroponic wicking system that prevents the plants from being over- or under-watered. In fact, you just need the jar, the included seeds and a sunny windowsill to make them work. Sounds delicious to me. Jars are available with basil, cilantro, mint or parsley. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($24).
Despite the fact that citrus fruit thrives in warmer climes, it is possible to keep a lemon tree (and get it to produce fruit as it matures). And that can be a fun project for a food lover to tackle. They just need a sunny room for the tree in winter, a sunny patio for it during the summer months and a bit of patience (and citrus fertilizer) as it grows. This 3+ foot tree already has a head start, so the foodie-with-a-green-thumb in your life can begin looking forward to plucking fruit for drinks, baked goods and more. In the meantime, the plant’s lush green leaves bring some life (and plenty of oxygen) to any room. Get yours at at Urban Sense, 5402 W. Vliet St., ($175).
Maybe I’m old school (or just really forgetful), but I often keep a notebook on hand in the kitchen to jot down impromptu recipes so that I can actually remember how to make them again.
Incidentally, I’ve also cut down on my magazine collection by jotting down the one or two recipes I tried and loved, rather than saving the whole magazine. I’m certain you know someone like me.
Get them this journal. They’ll love it. Get it at Orange & Blue Co., 1809 N. Hubbard St., ($30).
Summer & winter smells
I don't know about you, but I already miss a few things about summer. One of them is the smell of tomatoes picked fresh from the garden. Fortunately the soy-based Tomato Leaf candle from Fern & Nettle burns clean and puts off top notes of lemon peel and tomato leaf, herbal mid-notes and a base of green leaves and moss. Best of all, it's all but guaranteed to fill someone's kitchen with that intoxicating aroma. And that's positively priceless.
Prefer something woodsier to fit the season? The Rosemary + Sage candle is all that and a bag of fir trees. Heady with eucalyptus and pine, this candle also offers up savory notes of rosemary and green floral along with base notes of sage and cedar. It's lovely. Get one (or both) at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($18 for 8 ounce tins).
Serveware and kitchen tools
Oil & vinegar storage
You need a pretty bottle for that Oro di Oliva EVOO you just purchased as a gift? No problem. Pick up one of these amazingly colorful olive oil bottles. It’s a great way to ensure they can always tell their bottles of fancy oil (or oil and vinegar) apart!
Bottles are handmade and hand-painted in Spain with stainless steel spouts. Even better, they’re dishwasher safe. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($32)
Don’t let their small size fool you. Count these mini utensils among the kitchen tools you never knew you needed.
Indispensable for spreading butter, quickly scrambling just a few eggs or brushing pies with milk or egg wash, they also take up less space in your utensil drawer. They double as perfect utensils for kids in the kitchen. Get them at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($3-$3.50 each)
I know what you might be thinking: "Hello, the 1980s would like their swirly neon-colored serving platters back!"
But let's be real. Not everyone is content with simple white plates that stay nicely in the background. And that's just fine.
These brightly colored geometric square trays are perfect for the cook who’s not afraid to get bright and bold with their flavors... or their serveware. Get them at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($36).
This year, a friend traveled to Italy and brought back a little grater bowl for me.
I was struck by what a brilliant little tool it was for quickly grating small amounts of garlic, hard cheese, chocolate, nutmeg, ginger root, bread crumbs, lemon zest and more. Add olive oil (and maybe some salt) and you've got a dipping sauce or marinade ready to go.
I'd actually love a larger one (*hint hint) to use for onions or tomatoes in the summertime (grated tomatoes are the secret to making quick, fresh sauces; and they're a must-have for Spanish pan con tomate)! Get yours (small or larger) at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($15/$28).
Elegant hand-carved wooden spoons
Wooden spoons are a staple in any kitchen. But these beautiful hand-carved spoons are as elegant as they are functional thanks to their long lines and dual-colored handles.
Not only are these hard- working staples great for stirring pots and tossing salads, they’re lithe and thin, so they’ll even fit into the bottom of glass jars, allowing you to scrape out the last bits of goodness with ease. Find them at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave., ($30-$35 each).
There's something special about these whimsical rainbow drip mugs made by the local artists at Pottery Cat. And I'm absolutely certain that there's someone on your list who would adore them as much as I do.
They're bright and colorful. They don't take themselves too seriously. And they are the perfect size for those days when only a double dose of coffee or tea will do. And yes, they’ll warm up cold hands in no time at all! Find them at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($38).
Keep it fresh
Know someone who lets their produce and herbs wither away in a produce drawer? We've all been there. But, there is apparently hope, thanks to this nifty little gadget.
These handy food-safe propagation plates fit on top of any standard drinking glass or canning jar and they promise to keep herbs and leafy greens fresh for up to two weeks. Just keep the glass filled with fresh water. The plates are made from responsibly sourced renewable materials: bamboo, corn starch and BPA-Free melamine
Bonus: The Produce Keeper can also be used to root cuttings from plants, sprout avocado pits or regrow vegetables like scallions and garlic. Pretty nifty. Get it at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($10).
The loveliest of cheese boards
Charcuterie boards definitely make great gifts. But you’ll stand out from the crowd when you give your cheese and cured meat-loving friend one of these stunning wooden boards enhanced with artful pops of color.
This board is made in Milwaukee from upcycled cherry wood with a deep purple epoxy inlay. If you’d prefer, this maker also offers an equally lovely board featuring swirls of green epoxy . They're both lovely. Get them from PourMiki on Etsy, ($79.99; reflects 20% off through Nov. 30, 2023).
Spread the joy
These silver-plated vintage spreaders are not only great for butter, cheese and spreads; they’re the perfect reminder to "Spread the Love, Peace, Hope, and Joy” every day of the year.
The spreaders are hand-stamped by Kelly Weathers of EOJ Studios in Madison and each one features a different flatware pattern, making them one of a kind. Get them from EOJStudios, ($49).
Beautiful bowls for bountiful carbs
Got a pasta lover in your life? These gorgeous Pion bowls are made from dark stoneware clay that changes color slightly, depending on the light. They’re the perfect size for a heartwarming bowl of pasta, but they’re shallow enough to make the perfect serving vessel for any number of dishes. Gift a set on their own or pair them with a bag or two of housemade pasta from Semolina pasta shop just down the street. Find them at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave., ($22).
Handmade salt cellar
When I came across these gorgeous wooden salt cellars made from painted sycamore wood, I fell in love.
I've been on the hunt for the perfect storage vessel for my everyday salt, and this one ticks off so many requirements on my list. It's stylish, appropriately sized and boasts an inset lid, so it stays put. I also really appreciate the bright pop of color! This cellar is also available in terracotta/red and black. Get it from QH Woodworking ($65).
Some gifts scream for a celebration. Such is the case with this whimsical ceramic tray which brings all the festive feels with its fun, colorful confetti pattern.
Measuring 11 inches across, this round platter is the perfect size for a decorated layer cake, a mountain of muffins or a bountiful display of delicious cookies. One could also use it for serving appetizers or other party fare. And yes, it's microwave and dishwasher safe, so clean-up is a breeze. Get it at The Waxwing, ($38).
These are the little indulgences that make our everyday lives more delicious. They spark the imaginations of daring cooks, round out the pantries of those who have “everything” and encourage new cooks to experiment. Some are fancy. Some are fun. Every single one is delicious. (And yes, a number of them packaged together in a basket or other cool vessel would make an amazing gift!)
Tinned & trendy
Europeans have been eating tinned fish for years, but in recent years the delicacy has finally taken off in the U.S. as well. And you probably have a friend who is loving every second of it. Encourage their healthful omega-3-rich habit by gifting them a few excellent tins. The Village Cheese Shop in Wauwatosa has a very nice collection of options, including lovely finds from La Brujula (sardines and mussels in conserva) and Jose Gourmet (calimari ragout, mackerel, sardines with lemon) a brand that boasts artful cans designed by artist Luis Mendonça. Get them at the Village Cheese Shop, ($7.99-$19.99 per tin).
No beans about it
I take that back. This is all about the beans: delicious, locally grown beans from Meadowlark Organics. Once you’ve had freshly harvested, dried beans, you’ll never go back to those tough beans they sell you in the grocery store. And that discovery alone makes these beans a great gift. Choose from Cayenne Beans (small, plump and creamy; great for chili, refried, and baked beans); Eclipse Black Beans (great for soups, bean pots, refrieds); or Cranberry Beans (great for soups and stews). Even better, a portion of the proceeds bean (and corn) sales are donated to the Native American Food Sovreignty Alliance, an organization supporting Native communities to revitalize indigenous food systems. Order them online from Meadowlark Organics ($4.50-$6 per one-pound bag; larger bags available).
Grill something Deliciouser
There’s a grillmaster in every circle and every single one could benefit from The Deliciouser Grill Collection, a seasoning sampler that features excellent blends like Bottle Rocket (sweet, hot, slightly smokey BBQ rub); Pacific Smoke (red alder wood smoked salt); Sparkler (sea salt spiked with ghost pepper); and Umamier (an earthy savory blend of mushrooms, miso, onion, garlic and ginger).
The blends are made in Madison, Wisconsin by a team of entrepreneurs led by Milwaukee native and Lombardino chef Patrick O’Halloran. You can get them online at The Deliciouser or at The Deliciouser shop, 931 E. Main St. in Madison ($42).
Next level cheese boards & desserts
There’s something magical about halva, the global confection that’s become a popular treat from South Asia to the Balkans. Seed + Mill makes theirs with Ethiopian sesame seeds, which give the sweet dessert a beautiful mouthfeel and distinctive nutty flavor.
This sweet nutty treat is delicious on its own. But it will also level up any cheese and charcuterie board. Fruit and halva boards also make great dessert option after a heavier dinner. Creative bakers will get a kick out of it for its versatility. Pieces of halva are amazing stirred into brownies, used as a topping for pies or in fillings for cakes. Available in Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut or Pistachio. Get it at Scout Wine Merchants, 4512 N. Oakland Ave., ($12.99).
Sparkles & pancakes
Who wouldn’t want to eat pancakes or waffles topped with flavorful real maple syrup that also has edible sparkles in it? (Don’t tell me you or we can’t be friends).
Give the fun folks in your life a bottle of Runamok Sparkle Syrup; it’s just the sort of thing that will help their day get off to the right start! Get it at Scout Wine Merchants, 4512 N. Oakland Ave., ($20)
Level up by pairing it with a bag of Lonesome Stone Pancake mix made with organic white whole wheat pastry flour and organic rye flour grown and milled at Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway, Wisconsin. Order it online from Meadowlark Organics ($5 for a 1lb bag). Check out the Meadowlark Organics Deluxe Pancake Kit while you're there!
Better dates guaranteed
You needn’t be a matchmaker to get your friends to “Date Better.” In fact, you can just gift them these craveable date-based snacks.
Not only are they delicious, they come complete with wise dating advice like: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts;” “We have standards, so should you;” and “These dates won’t ghost you.” Flavors include Cashew Lime Crisp, Almond Java Crunch, Hazelnut Praline and Peanut Butter Crunch.
Oh! Did I mention they’re also a great addition to a charcuterie and cheese board? Get them at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave.; or Scout Wine Merchants, 4512 N. Oakland Ave. ($7).
There’s no local charcuterie more delicious than that from Underground Meats, a Madison-based operation that makes a slew of salamis and meat-based spreads.
My favorites include their fennel-ful Tuscan Finocchiona; Black Garlic Salami (full of umami with a subtle sweetness from the fermented garlic); ’Nduja (spreadable salami flavored with Calabrian peppers, smoked paprika, and flavorful local pork); and Ghost Pepperoni, a spicy take on the classic cured pepperoni. Get their products at Scout Wine Merchants, 4512 N. Oakland Ave., Bavette La Boucherie, 217 N. Broadway; or West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, 6832 W. Becher St. (or at the Milwaukee Public Market), ($7-$18). Underground Meats also has a selection of holiday boxes available to order online.
Ordinary seasoning salt might be sold as a magical way to jazz up any dish; but few do the job quite like the elusive Magic Unicorn Salt.
It begins with briny ocean salt and blends it with a mystical combination of smoked paprika, garlic, rosemary and celery seed. The result is a slightly smokey, herbal flavor bomb that livens up just about anything, including your housemade bloody mary mix.
The blend is also packaged in a special magical rainbow tin, and – while I'm not sure that has any impact – it sure makes the salt way more fun! Get it at Scout Wine Merchants, 4512 N. Oakland Ave., ($11).
Really good olive oil
I'd argue that good olive oil is an everyday must-have (hence why this is a returning item on my gift list). But, it can also seem like a luxury, especially in our current economy. So why not give them the gift of something special while also supporting local?
Oro di Oliva delivers on fresh (see the harvest dates on every varietal), flavorful extra virgin olive oils that have been carefully selected from trusted sources.
As extra virgin olive oils are concerned, I have a love affair with the Picual Spanish olive oil, which is gorgeously grassy and a bit peppery with hints of tomato leaf; but when it's not in season, it's fun to taste through the other options to find a flavor profile that's equally appealing (right now it's their South African Favalosa). In terms of flavored oils I’d highly recommend the harissa oil, which is spicy, slightly smokey and perfect on so many things from potatoes and salmon to roasted chicken; it plays beautifully with orange zest ($15 for 200 mL).
Oro's rosemary olive oil is another of my go-to’s; it adds an herbal depth to everything it touches, from scrambled eggs to roasted cauliflower ($16 for 200 mL). I’ll also never go back to store-bought roasted sesame oil after trying Oro’s. It’s deep and rich and a little goes such an incredibly long way. Try it on popcorn or drizzled over ice cream. Seriously. ($16 for 200 mL). Get them at Oro di Oliva
Magic mushroom salt
There really is something magic about the umami that mushrooms bring to the table. And it’s exactly what makes the Umami Salt so incredible AND incredibly giftable.
Cooks can anything up a notch with the Original Umami Salt (shiitake powder and flakey sea salt) or kick it up a notch with Umami Salt-Black Garlic (black garlic, shiitake mushrooms, garlic, onion, sea salt). Kick your gift up a notch by giving them a sweet little container in which to store their new favorite seasoning. Get them at URSA, 2534 S Kinnickinnic Ave., ($13/$16).
Practical & pretty
Cloth napkins are practical and eco-friendly. And when they sport a floral pattern as cute as these do, they also make a great gift. These handmade Fiona cloth napkins are made from cotton and flannel and weigh in at 10" square. Made in Milwaukee by Liddle Handmade, they're soft, absorbent and hold up to being washed in the washing machine. Get them at Mixed Bag, 322 E. Silver Spring Dr., ($28 for a set of four).
Bright & beautiful
Not every apron is created equal. But these Linen Tales aprons not only come in a rainbow of fantastic colors, they are made to last, even with heavy use.
Made of soft, breathable eco-friendly linen, the aprons are comfortable, even when worn in a warm kitchen. They also feature convenient front pockets for hanging towels and stowing away tools to keep them conveniently at hand.
The aprons are available in cheerful hues like mustard (pictured), moss green and red. A variety of prints are also available. Get one at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($46).
Fish fry towel
Is there a more beloved tradition than the Wisconsin fish fry? I think not.
And I've officially found a cotton flour sack towel for Wisconsin fish fry devotees. This whimsical towel showcases illustrations of all the iconic elements of a Friday night fry.
I'm guessing this would make a pretty fine gift for that food-loving friend or relative who celebrates the week's end in dimly lit quarters with beer battered fish, a slice of rye bread and a Wisconsin style Old Fashioned. It's available at Swoon, 5422 W. Vliet St., ($20).
For the baker
Flour sack towels work great for drying dishes. But they are also the perfect tool for whisking away the flour from countertops and soaking up the little messes that come along with an afternoon of baking.
But, this isn't just any old towel. This is a statement piece for the butter lover, the avid home baker and, quite frankly, virtually anyone who lives in a dairy-rich state like ours. Best of all, it is likely to incite a smile if not a full-on laugh. Get it at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($12).
For the music lovin’ dishwasher (or dryer)
Got a friend who jams out to hip hop while cleaning up after dinner? A Snoop Dogg fan who entertains like Martha Stewart? Or an avid cook who stays on task thanks to their Spotify playlist?The “Chop it Like It’s Hot” flour sack towel is a perfect gift for any of the above.
Of course, it's likely a good fit for anyone old enough to remember the song. After all, mundane tasks like drying the dishes get done much faster when fueled by a complementary mid-2000s-era earworm. Get it at Barcelona Artful Living, 5708 W. Vliet St., ($14).
There’s nothing like a pretty kitchen towel to cheer up one's kitchen, and I recently found a slew of lovely options that run the gamut from sweet and floral to modern vintage.
These indispensable flour sack towels are made right here in the Midwest. Not only are they super for drying dishes, their gorgeous prints make them equally eye-catching when not in use. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($18).
The best of the best
And now that I've sold you on any number of cute, clever and pretty towels, I must admit that I've saved the best for last.
These gorgeous Linen Tales towels are the perfect gift for someone special. Not only do they come in deep, rich colors and prints (I love the muted purple), they also boast a big leg-up over most towels (yes, even the long-praised flour sack towels).
More eco-friendly than cotton, these linen wonders absorb more water and dry faster. They are lint-free after a wash or two, so they are perfect for drying glassware. They also get better and softer with regular use. Get them at Goodland Home & Goods, 2565 N. Downer Ave., ($19).
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.