When I was younger, the goodies Santa left in our stockings were just as exciting as the presents left at the foot of the tree. We’d find all kinds of exciting treats: jewelry, headbands, makeup, stationery, gift cards. Santa always made the holidays that much more special by leaving us some big ticket items in our stockings, and it’s a tradition I plan to carry on in my own little nest. Because Mr. Magpie and I are planning on scaling back on gifts this Christmas (as Mr. Magpie put it, “Don’t you think this year was extravagant enough?” — and he’s right: a dramatic engagement at a gorgeous Virginia hotel — Keswick, how I love you; plenty of travel; all the many wedding-related purchases and festivities leading up to the big day; the showering of gifts from friends and family; the Big Day itself; bride and groom gifts; and then the decadent honeymoon at Turtle Inn in Placencia, Belize. Yes, this past year has been over.the.top.), I’m thinking that in lieu of big presents, I’ll opt for the perfect stocking, filled with all of Mr. Magpie’s favorite things (and a few bonuses). It occurred to me that this might be a novel approach to gift-giving this holiday season in a more general sense — something a little different, and a bit more inventive. Test drive for yourself with some of the ideas that have been stewing around in my little Magpie mind for awhile now:
For the Foodie…
Mr. Magpie is a serious food-lover and an accomplished cook to boot. I’ll begin with some of these cheerily-colored Kuhn Rikon knives. We already own (and dearly love) a few of their paring knives — they have unique carbon steel blades that quite frankly never dull, they come in a rainbow of peppy shades, and they are shockingly affordable ($10 a pop, Kuhn Rikon):
Mr. Magpie is also a coffee snob. Folgers just won’t do — we tend to score our beans at Baked & Wired in Georgetown (he grinds ‘em every morning and prepares the perfect cup for me), which carries Intelligentsia and Stumptown coffee. A nice bag of the good stuff would be a welcome addition to the Christmas lode, although his parents rave about Illy, so I might just have to upgrade for the holidays ($28 for 2 cans, Illy):
And although we already have quite the spice collection (I mean — they pretty much have taken over the five shelves that constitute our “pantry cabinet”), a couple of well-selected newbies wouldn’t hurt, especially from a higher-end provider like Penzey’s or Dean & Deluca (as shown below — $55 for set of 9, Dean and Deluca):
I like that the French spice set above comes in a pretty little silver box — I’d just tie it up with gold and silver curling ribbon and tuck it in at the stocking top! Spices are the perfect accompaniment to a gift of upscale grilling implements — I read about this Le Prince Jardinier brand awhile ago, and have always thought Mr. Magpie would adore them ($126 for set, Artedona):
Just thinking about all the yummy things he’ll make me on the grill leaves my stomach grumbling — and also makes me want to treat him to some specialty meats, ordered from a high-end, organic butcher like Niman Ranch (below; Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa swears by their bacon — and I’ve seen it carried relatively inexpensively at Trader Joe’s, at around $4 for 12 ozs), Surry Farms (their “Surryano Ham” is supposed to be ri.dic.u.lous and they are local Virginians! Love!), or Vanderose Farms (Williams Sonoma carries their hams — and for a pretty penny: $169 for 18-21 lbs!):
We’ve recently gotten a little picky about our olive oils. Our top choice is Frantoia’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($17.99, Amazon), which we first discovered at our favorite restaurant and fish market, Black Salt — it is fruity and oh-so-flavorful, and would be a happy surprise for Mr. Magpie, who insists that we not get too accustomed to the liquid gold, for fear of running our wallets empty on such unnecessary extravagances.
(We conserve the pricier olive oils for salad dressings, drizzles, etc — it would be wasteful to really cook with it! For everyday cooking, we use Whole Foods’ house brand, which is remarkably well-priced and far more flavorful than any of the run-of-the-mill brands, like Pompeii.) Shifting gears entirely, Mr. Magpie has a major sweet tooth, and though he has a soft spot for my Linzer Cookies (well…Martha Stewart’s Linzer Cookies) and chocolatey treats like SmittenKitchen’s Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares (which disappeared with alarming alacrity when I made them a few weeks ago for a dinner party), I’m sure he’ll find room in his stomach for these unbelievable peppermint pretzel slims that I just discovered at Trader Joe’s (yum, yum, YUM), or perhaps their Fleur de Sel caramels:
Finally, no foodie’s stocking would be complete without a little holiday cheer — Mr. Magpie is a beer guy, and he’s seriously into Victory right now, so I might consider a sampler of their finest. Alternately, I might go with a classic Saison Dupont ale, just because it’s good (I’m not a beer-drinker, so I have this on good authority from my friend and beer expert, Orr Shtuhl, who writes the “Beerspotter” column for Washington’s City Paper) and it comes in a green bottle, so it fits with the holiday theme:
Of course, I know I’d never go wrong providing Mr. Magpie with his favorite of all beverages — bourbon. He’s a fan of Woodford Reserve, but if I’m considering shaking things up, I always consult BlueKitchen, which provides rankings and descriptions for all of the best bourbons in the country. And if your man doesn’t yet have a flask (Mr. Magpie inherited his uber-masculine, leather-front flask from his father), consider going with the classic Stanley version ($20, Stanley) — he’ll probably love that Teddy Roosevelt sipped whiskey out of his Stanley back in the day (and Hemingway sipped absinthe out of his).
(W.C. Fields was famous for having said: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.” Mr. Magpie would love that quote.) And — for those of you whose boyfriends/husbands are into this kind of thing — there’s soon to be a new liquor on the shelves: Moonshine, bottled. 80 proof. Not to be messed with, in my opinion.
For the Outdoorsman…
The Stanley flask is a good segue into gifts for the huntsman/outdoorsman — Mr. Magpie’s self-appointed role in the later years of our lives. (When we stopped in Middleburg, VA for a dog show a few weeks ago — classic, upscale hunting town — he firmly made this decision.) I like the idea of gifting a new hat in unexpected but hunting-appropriate khaki (Mr. Magpie and I went to UVA, so I’d pick this one from our classic ‘hoo gear retailer, Mincer’s — $17) and then rolling up a perfect flannel shirt (APC, $195, Stuart and Wright), wrapping it in a red bow, and stuffing it in the stocking as well, as an unexpected, high-end surprise:
A pair of classic Duck boots by L.L. Bean might be a welcome replacement for the grimy hiking boots Mr. Magpie currently stows in his closet ($64, L.L. Bean), while these Ray Ban aviators ($139, Ray-Ban) would seal the deal:
And because you can never have enough plaid: this wallet — in bill-fold or credit card holder form — is a perfect upgrade from his somewhat old, tattered leather version ($125 and $95, respectively, Jack Spade):
The same “you can never have enough plaid” adage goes for these classic Penfield vests (comes in a variety of fabrics/patterns/colors, many of them featuring plaid in one way or another — $140-$300, Penfield):
Now, while Mr. Magpie already has a classic Swiss army version, this rosewood, anchor-adorned pocket knife ($45, BrookFarmStore) reminds me of him:
Perfect for outdoor escapades. Speaking of outdoorsiness: I’ve found that the “tougher” guys are oddly stubborn about using any products that might be perceived as feminine, so I can think of more than my fair share of gents that could benefit from a manly hand lotion, like this almost crudely titled “No Crack” cream ($11.90, Vermont Country Store), used by outdoorsmen around the world:
A key candidate for this cream would be my father, the ultimate manly-man in my eyes — just a few weeks ago, I happened to be at my parents’ house, and he came back from handling some type of yard work with blood literally gushing out of his leg. When I asked concernedly if he was OK, he looked perplexed and then glanced down at his leg — casually — and shrugged, “Oh, just a scratch.” (He’s 65, and still tough as nails.) My father — like many of the outdoorsy type — is a consummate fisherman, and I can only imagine his glee at receiving this hardwood walnut fly book ($119, Orvis) along with some cherry-picked dry flies (this used to be my annual gift to him as a child — I would carefully pick out the prettiest dry flies from the casing at one of the angling shops in Aspen, CO, where we spent our summers growing up, and proudly present them to him on Christmas morning):
And — for inspiration — have him check out Hemingway’s short fiction (which, in my opinion, represents some of the most technically perfect writing you’ll find in the short story form — l.o.v.e. — $13.69, Amazon):
I’d originally titled this section “For the Gent,” but quickly discovered that the smorgasbord of items I was throwing into this category really fit no narrower a classification than the “Just Because.” First up? Some manly correspondence cards. I’m in.love with Jack & Lulu’s stationery (I ordered some of their darling calling cards featuring my new last name within days of tying the knot!) and these notecards in stately gray-and-gold, featuring crossed swords (reminiscent of the UVA crossed sabers), are just about perfect ($18, Jack and Lulu) for Mr. Magpie:
Meanwhile, these Thomas Paul melamine coasters featuring sailors’ knots are right up Mr. Magpie’s alley ($16 for set of four, Orange and Pear), and would be perfect for protecting our wood furniture from the condensation on his monogrammed scotch glasses ($72 for set of 4, Williams-Sonoma):
I know that Mr. Magpie had his eye on a textured wool tie while we were shopping for his fall wardrobe at Ralph Lauren a few weeks ago (he’s a Ralph enthusiast — and that’s putting it mildly; I’d guess that about 75-80% of his wardrobe bears Mr. Lauren’s name), and these plaid Gitman Brothers ties would likely fit the bill ($49 apiece, Gitman Vintage):
Perfect for Christmas dinner. Also perfect for Christmas? These warm but masculine leather gloves, lined with checked thinsulate (Woolrich, $145, Need Supply):
…and just.because he deserves a little indulgence — not that I necessarily endorse gaming — I know that he’s been secretly eying the recently-released GoldenEye game for the Wii ($39, Amazon):
In reviewing the list above, I’m realizing that I have a lot less stocking stuffers than I do proper gifts. Eh, well. Looks like I’ll put off scrimping and saving til next year…no one wants to be a Scrooge!