In Wicker, With Love

Show you care with a personalized basket of love.

Let's face it, Hickory Farms is for hicks. And a box of blushing fruits from Harry and David is always agreeable, but doesn't exactly convey the personal touch. Why not, this season, put together your own gift basket as a hostess gift or even the main attraction? Baskets made by the distressed inhabitants of Third World countries have never been cheaper at import stores, and with an embellishment of tissue paper and ribbon, you can whip up a confection that will put the commercial packages to shame. Even better, go creative on your choice of "basket"; pack your Italian goodies in an empty amaretto tin or, if you want to go hog wild, a heavy copper polenta pot. Instead of one gift, you'll be giving half a dozen, which is surely six times the fun for both parties to the transaction.

Lush life

Relatives streaming through the living room (not all of them people you recognize), crinkled wrapping paper, icy roads, and crowded malls can all lead to one thing . . . the need for something warm, comforting, and alcoholic. Assuming that your loved ones are feeling the same way, share the holiday spirit this year by giving spirits. Start with something that encourages creativity, like a Starter Brew Kit from Pike Place Market Cellar Winery (1432 Western Ave., 206-622-1880), which includes a glass carboy, air lock, bottle caps, capper, hop bag, priming vessel, brewing spoon, racking cane, filler, hose, and hydrometer ($69.95). After decoratively displaying the kit in your chosen basket (a sawed-off keg would be my pick), gingerly add a bottle of holiday wine to the loot; a rich 1999 Washington Hills merlot (about $10) from Market Cellar Winery should do the trick. Next, I suggest the makings for that timeless holiday favorite, hot buttered rum. Find vanilla ice cream at Gelatiamo (1400 Third Ave.; $7/ pint) and get Cruzan Rum ($11.95/750 milliliter) from any liquor store. The rest of the ingredients (butter, brown/fruit sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon) can be found at the nearest grocer. Top this intoxicating basket off with a healthy sprinkling of Kahlua and Cuervo candies (about $2/box), also found at liquor stores, and raise a glass to the holidays! HEATHER LOGUE

Lights, camera . . . popcorn!

To me, the phrase "popcorn movie" means simply this: If the movie sucks, at least there's popcorn. Better yet, avoid the multiplex this holiday season and substitute a well-chosen rental and a basket of movie-friendly grub. Cold, rainy nights and Dr. Zhivago go beautifully with hot cocoa from Fran's Chocolates; a 9-ounce container costs $10, either online (www.franschocolates.com) or at Fran's two area locations (2626 N.E. University Village, 206-528-9969; 10036 Main St., Bellevue, 425-453-1698). On the other hand, you could fight winter's chill with a surfing documentary like The Endless Summer and a case of ice-cold pop; look no further than vanilla cola ($1/bottle at most grocery stores) from Seattle's own Jones Soda Company (800-656-6050). If Junior Mints seem too downscale, substitute a few mint-filled bonbons (also $1 per) from Dilettante Chocolates (416 Broadway Ave. E., 206-329-6463; 1603 First Ave., 206-728-9144). Then there's the classic American movie snack: popcorn. Action flicks like The Bourne Identity demand it; Marek Kettle Corn, owned by a local couple, has been popping it since 1999. The company currently supplies its sweet, crunchy wares to every PCC in the area, plus select other markets; visit www.akettlecorn.com for a complete list of stores, or call Marek HQ at 206-781-0168. NEAL SCHINDLER

Mamma mia!

Here's a combo that anyone who's progressed beyond Prego will appreciate: fixin's fit to bring out the latent paisan in the home cook. Start with a kilo of authentic organic stone-ground Italian polenta grits (around $4.50) and a bottle of exquisitely fragrant new-crop Ponticelli olive oil ($16). A bag or two of chestnut- or porcini-flavored egg pasta wouldn't hurt ($7–$8). A kilo can of salt-packed anchovies ($16–$17) will keep indefinitely (in a plastic bag, in the reefer) , as will real Italian olive-oil-packed tuna ($3.25; not much more than Bumblebee). A tube of Italian tomato paste ($3) can be a godsend when you notice (five minutes before showtime) that you need a dab to finish the recipe. A quarter-liter bottle of 8-year-old Vecchia Emilia balsamic vinegar will set you back about $13 and last nearly forever. Fill in the gaps with a packet or two of porcini mushroom bouillon cubes ($2 for a packet of eight) and few handfuls of dainty paper-wrapped Lazzaroni amaretti cookies ($11/box). They're not really for eating straight; more for dipping in your cappuccino or grinding up as an almond- flavored topping for desserts or ice cream. All available at DeLaurenti (1435 First Ave., 206-622-0141) and other fine Italian specialty stores. ROGER DOWNEY

Ripe for the Picking

Products bursting with flavor await your imagination at the Body Shop (Pacific Place, Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, 206-624-4929, and other locations; www.thebodyshop.com). Consider a nuts and seeds gift package with Almond Oil Daily Hand & Nail Cream ($12) to repair the skin's moisture barrier, (Brazil) Nut Foaming Bath ($16) for blissful aromatherapy effects, Coconut Hair Shine ($7) to leave an exotic delicate scent, and Sesame Soap ($3), a natural rich moisturizer. Perhaps a fruits and berries basket? There's Blue- berry Body Butter ($16) loaded with antioxidants, Mango Show- er Gel ($10) to soften skin, and Papaya Dry Oil Mist ($9.50) to keep the moisture in. Seal the deal with Africa Spa Hand & Feet Honey Butter ($18). There are many, many more flavors and products, and if you're not feeling creative, the Body Shop has you covered. The Chocolate & Orange Gift ($25) includes shower cream, bath syrup, shimmer soap, and a bath towel. Ah, the aroma of an indulgent "dessert." JOANNE GARRETT

First, Do No Harm

Cooking supplies are vital even to saintly idealists who'd even refuse Mom's homemade cake in the name of would-be baby chicks and the hens that laid 'em. For beginners, Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet (Harvard Common Press, $32.95 hardcover, $21.95 paper) is a staple among my own neo-hippie friends. For experimentalists, there's Raw: The UNcook Book by slightly obnoxious raw food guru Juliano (Regan Books, $32). Every good chef should own spices, especially those who dare to mess with egg and cheese substitutions. Dandelion Botanical Co. (708 N. 34th St., 206-545-8892) sells bulk organic herbs and spices like rosemary ($1.05/ounce), cinnamon ($1.25/ounce), and oregano ($1.50/ounce). A good bottle of organic olive oil, like Trampetti Olio extra virgin ($26.99/16.9 ounces), and organic balsamic vinegar, like Lorenzi Fine Balsamico ($5.99/8.45 ounces), are must-haves for any gourmet (Whole Foods Market, 1026 N.E. 64th St., 206-985-1500). Vegan-friendly breads, like the Essential Baking Co.'s Rosemary Diamante ($3.15) or Ciabatta ($2.85), are divine dipped in the oil and vinegar (available at many grocery stores and at the Essential Bakery Cafe, 1604 N. 34th St., 206-545-3804). For a loved one that you plan to love a long time, invest in an appliance that'll simplify a painstaking culinary routine. The Omega Juicer 4000 ($249.95 at Sur La Table, 84 Pine St., 206-448-2244) and a bounty of fruits and veggies (check out the dreamlike prices at Rising Sun Produce, 6505 15th Ave. N.E.) say "I love you, and that's why I want to make sure you get enough nutrients in your quest to save the animal kingdom." To top off this basket o' bohemian basics, bundle up half a dozen vegan chocolate chip cookies ($1.70 each) or vegan coconut macaroons ($1.90 each) from the Flying Apron Bakery (4759 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., 206-526-2903). EMILY PAGE

The Local Yokel

For that proud Northwest native on your list—pick up a 54-quart-capacity Coleman Cooler ($119, or $109 for the shiny colored models if he/she is into retro) at any sporting goods store and load it up with "homemade" gifts. Pike Place Market (First Avenue and Pike Street, www.pikeplacemarket.org) is a great place to start; we suggest stopping by Sotto Voce's retail shop for a bottle of their excellent flavored oils or vinegars (any true, damp mossback ought to love their olio ai funghi). Next grab some tea at World Merchants (and don't forget some pepper jelly and dried fruit, too). Since you're packing all this in a cooler, you can treat your giftee to a selection of local artisan cheeses from Beecher's Handmade Cheese, and you'll probably want to pick up a bottle (or even a half bottle) of Washington wine from Pike & Western Wine Shop. In a pinch, you can get lots of Washington goods at the grocery store. Look for another retro favorite, Aplets and Cotlets, and check below the rows of Star-kist for cans of St. Jude's canned albacore—the smoked and Mediterranean flavors are amazing. And whatever you do, don't forget the Frangos, available at any Bon-Macy's. LAURA CASSIDY

Here comes Santa Claus

Out comes the mistletoe, and in comes the sexual tension that says "holiday." Screw the fruitcakes and coffee gift cards (not literally), and get straight to the point with a basketful of sex-themed gifts. The Erotic Bakery (2323 N. 45th St., 206-545-6969) supplies everything you'll need for an orgy of tantalizing treats. A custom erotic cake will make for a great Christmas-dinner closer, and you can even add a special message for no additional charge—oh, and they even make their own "cream" frosting. Hmm. But in case you feel like baking your own cake for that special someone, the Boobie Cake Pan ($10.97) will come in quite handy. For a less sweet treat, the Penis Pasta ($5.97) will probably taste rather scrumptious with a creamy "white sauce." And don't forget the Sex Soda ($2.98 each), to wash down that oh-so-sinful pasta. This herbal aphrodisiac energy soda contains ginseng and horny goat weed, and comes in three flavors: citrus, berry, and kola. The Gummi Panties ($3.97 each), and Head Candy ($5.97 a pack) will come in useful for "adult playtime," and the Fruit- Flavored Penis Suckers ($1.95 each) will help beat the postholiday blues the next day. You won't fail with this gift—you horny goats. MICHELLE REINDAL

The Un-basket

For that friend who's perpetually simplifying their life—who already has everything and truly does not want anything else and threatens to withhold the eggnog if you show up at the party with an actual, tactile present—with this kind of wet blanket, you're going to have to get creative. Dinner Plans (www.dinnerplans.com), an e-mail-only service that provides just what the name implies, is the latest from chef Gabriel Claycamp's Culinary Communion. A week's worth of carefully outlined, cross-referenced, inventive, and reasonably easy-to-prepare menus— complete with grocery and mise-en-place lists and truly thoughtful timesaving tips—are sent each Friday, so your friend has a useful, enjoyable gift that can't be stuffed into a closet. With dinners that include pan-roasted steelhead with blackberry dill sauce and dried cherry and pistachio couscous, you're contributing to their culinary know-how—and if you play your cards right, that's a gift that will eventually come back to you. And because Dinner Plans is designed to streamline kitchen time and utilize everything on the shopping list (when a bunch of fresh basil is called for, rest assured that you'll need fresh basil more than once that week), you've helped them in their quest to simplify as well. A sub-scription costs a mere $4.95 per week. LAURA CASSIDY

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