When did the phrase "experience gift" become popular? It carries guilty memories of those construction-paper coupon books that you used to present to your mom on Mother's Day offering everything from "1 free hug" to "1 garage cleaning," which -- admit it -- you never honored. Much better were the kits: the model ship kits, the latch hook rug kits, the string art kits -- which only required an adult to finish after you freaked out at how much work they actually involved and collapsed in frustration in front of the TV.
A few local stores are selling experience gift kits for adults: something tangible to wrap, something actually enjoyable to do.
Theo Chocolate has come up with wine-and-chocolate and beer-and-chocolate pairing kits ($24), which are available online and at the factory store (3400 Phinney Ave. N.). The kits are genius. If the recipient never bothers to invite her friends over for a pairing party, the guilt's on her. And if she never makes it to the store to pick up the appropriate beverages listed in the pairing guide, she still has five bars of chocolate to pair with whatever mood she's in when she encounters the kit in her kitchen cabinet.
Right above its cheese display, Madison Market/Central Co-op is selling cheesemaking kits from Portland-based Urban Cheesecraft (they're also available on Etsy). You supply the milk, and the kits supply the rennet tablets, cheese molds (the plastic kind), thermometers, and other tools, as well as an instructional booklet. Cheesemaking is just as romantic, and timely, as bacon curing and kimchi fermenting. This kit allows your recipient to serve his friends housemade ricotta or feta, the 2010 equivalent of...
...home-brewed beer. Along with hunting mushrooms and buying technically superior, exercise-specific workout gear, home brewing is a skill that every Northwesterner is supposed to have. All the tools and ingredients to make 5 gallons of red ale, dark porter, lager, or wheat beer come in Cellar Homebrew's $99.95 home-brewing starter kit, available online or at Cellar Homebrew's retail store at 14320 Greenwood Avenue N. Helping your significant other/child/child's second-grade teacher brew beer is easier and safer than picking out clothes for him or her.