If you’re looking for an affordable bottle of wine to gift, check out these selections from some of DC’s top sommeliers.
Select something that people are craving at the holidays, but probably won’t get elsewhere…i.e. punch. Eggnog can be easily purchased at the store (doesn’t hurt to provide it at your bar), but the punch is what people are really after. Martha’s collection of punches has something for everyone whether you’re seeking a sparkling, mulled, or citrus packed recipe.
If you’re tasked with bringing the ingredients for a holiday concoction, look for recipes made with pinnacle. It’s a fun and sweet alternative to regular vodka.
I often find that I spend more time brainstorming gifts for the people who are secondary to my family and close friends. Below you will find a collection of themed-gifts in a variety of price ranges. Each set features gifts for the host/hostess because it doesn’t matter if you’re going to the your neighbor’s house, your spouse’s boss’s estate, or a cousin’s neighbor’s apartment, you need to bring a gift to the host/hostess; the anxiety-provoking Secret Santa or Yankee-swap because we want to make sure our gift is a pleaser rather than a dud; the “other” category for the person who doesn’t fit into the family/friends category but requires a nice gift (significant other’s parents, sibling’s significant other, newlyweds, etc)
Tumblers: If you would like to go the cheaper route, the dimpled tumblers from West Elm come in a variety of sizes (the juice glasses are $16 for the set). The color selection makes them look like a complete set for a vintage kitchen. The Pink Moroccan Tumblers ($32) are a bit more substantial but will impress anyone with ethnic or ecclectic taste. Perfect for a hostess gift, Secret Santa, or someone with a new home.
Champagne Flutes ($11): Perfect for a single girlfriend who may not already have a set. There are plenty of cheaper versions available at Crate&Barrel to suit your needs. I purchased a set at TJ Maxx (check there for cheaper sets) last spring and am happy I have it for occasions requiring some bubbly. If you need to bulk up the gift, pair it with a bottle or the Tiny Bubbles book (under $10) or the Little Giant Encyclopedia: Toasts and Quotes ($10).
Bottle Stoppers ($9): I buy these at Homegoods on the regular so that I have a stash in case I need to bring a bottle of booze. I tie one around the neck of the bottle to add an extra touch. You can find these all over the place in a variety of themes and pricing.
Brandy Glass ($32): This would go into the “other” category for that person who probably has everything, but may not have an entire bar’s worth of glasses. Or, for a newly married couple who did not have this item on their registry. Pair it with the Hot Toddies book ($10).
Mr. & Mrs. Glasses ($18): Although I’m quite over the moustache-motif, these are perfect for newlyweds.
Coasters: I am obsessed with the celestial coasters ($32 for four) and bring them as a housewarming gift to nearly anyone who purchases a new home, rents a new apartment, etc. They come in a slew of colors which makes it great for mixing and matching if you visit an Anthropologie store. They come in a set of four which makes a great gift. I have given these to friends and friend’s parents as housewarming gifts, so they are perfect for a significant other’s parent (extra bonus if you can match it to the decor of their home). If you’re looking for a lower-priced, holiday without the cheese-version, these zig-zag coasters ($18 for four).
Ice Bucket ($20): This is another go-to item for me for engagement and housewarming gifts. I like the “cheers” inscription because it can be used at the holidays in addition to or in replacement of an everyday ice bucket. Currently, the item is on sale on the West Elm website, not sure about in stores.
Tea for One ($23): For any tea drinkers out there, this is the perfect gift, and in comes in three adorable colors. A great generic gift for a ladies Yankee-swap.
Monogram Mug ($8): Perfect for a hostess gift and adds a bit of variety to the traditional monogram mug from Anthropologie. Throw in a nice tea or coffee, wrap it in cellophane, tie a bow around it, and you’re good to go. Another idea is to tie it up with cellophane and attach an “Eat Dessert First” engraved spoon or vintage spoon with the bow.
Shot Glasses ($2): Another great gift for newlyweds or a young adult who is out on their own. This will give that friend of yours the opportunity to rid the cabinet of What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas and Jersey Shore inspired shot glasses. As with almost everything else in life, I’ve found some great sets at Homegoods. If you go this route, stay clear of the sets that have a lot included: i.e. colors, a rack and all that nonsense, it actually cheapens the gift. Of course, you can pair this with a nice vodka for a host/hostess gift.
Beer Glasses ($8 for a pair): Although I don’t drink beer, it’s important to have glasses in a well-stocked bar for those who do. These are great for a lady since they are more aesthetically pleasing than the manly beer mug and used for lighter beers. Here is another set of four.
Ikat Bowl ($8): Yes, I’m aware this item has circulated the inter-webs, but it’s still a go-to gift in my repertoire. It comes in three colors and can be used in the bedroom as a catch-all, in the kitchen, or on the buffet or bar for decoration. The gold trim makes it look a bit nicer than the price.
Trays: Trays make fantastic gifts because they can be used in a variety of ways based on teh recipient’s choice, making them a great Yankee Swap gift. I have included four in a variety of price ranges. The gold tray from Pier1 ($8 and $12) can be accompanied with a gourmet olive oil or drink mixer. The acryllic tray (sale $20) is a fun item that anyone would be happy to take home from a Yankee swap. The zig-zag tray ($22) is one of my favorites; you can find additional color combinations and less expensive alternatives at Furbish Studio. I am especially smitten over this mirrored tray ($28) which would add a feminine touch to a bathroom vanity or bedroom dresser.
Dessert/Cocktail Plates: Not everyone has dessert or cocktail plates for the holiday. If they do, they are most likely filled with a cheesy, outdated pattern. I like the Egg Press Dessert Plates from West Elm ($8) for their modern appeal and ability to capture the holiday spirit without a ton of red and green. These are something that will probably go on sale at the end of the season, and will be a good steal for the following year. If you’re looking for a fun friend gift, I am obsessed with these “Love you more than french fries” plates ($6). I have gifted each of my potato-obsessed friends with a pair.
Cocktail Napkins ($20): I love these colors! Cocktail napkins are probably more practical in a paper, you can find great ones at Ikea. Pair them with some decorative paper plates, a few appetizer forks (which can also be found at Homegoods), and you’ve got yourself a can’t-go-wrong host/hostess gift.
Kitchen Tools: Any of the following items would be a great addition to a seasoned chef (Oh say a significant other’s mother) because they are completely unnecessary, but novelty. Let’s start with the measuring cups ($38) and measuring spoons ($14). They come in a unique print that would appeal to everyone from a country-chic mom to an urban newlywed. The rolling pin is even more unnecessary but any good baker would appreciate it. It seems the selected one from Anthropologie is out of stock online, but here are unique alternatives. I know my aunt, an avid baker is a fan of the handless pins. Again, a great gift for a significant other’s parent who spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. An apron ($32) is a great gift for a single friend who spends time in the kitchen. This is something that married women probably received at their shower and an unmarried lady probably doesn’t want to spend on; a great gift for a sibling’s significant other.
Herbs, etc: I love these herb markers ($27) for an eco/organic/green friend who probably grows her own or at least buys from the farmer’s market. If not, then get her a fresh pot of herbs ($20) and put it in this earthy pot ($14) which can probably be found at a local garden store.
Books: Two new ones to add to your collection: a book centered on would-you-believe-it HOMEMADE items titled none other than, Home Made ($40). I would probably give this to a friend who has set some resolution about how homemade cooking does NOT involve a can of soup in a casserole dish. As for the Fried Chicken and Champagne ($38)? Leave this for your finest Bell of the Ball friend.
Cheese and such: I discovered cheese honey from Savannah Bee Company on a trip to Charleston, SC. I think we spent more time in this honey shop than any clothing, jewelry, or home furnishing boutique. The pairings were delicious, yet simple and you can bet that every time I entertain there is some form of honey, fruit, cheese, nuts, etc. Find unique recipes on their site based on the honey you select, type it up and include it with the gift. Now for my favorite housewarming, engagement, host gift (of course these come in a range of prices)…a cheese board ($20). Pair these two items together and you’ve got a great gift or even give them separately and you’ve got a great gift.
Tasty Treats: My parents’ hosted some overnight college guests who were unable to travel home for Thanksgiving. On the day of their arrival, we received a beautiful dried fruit ($30) arrangement which was absolutely perfect. It was such a nice gift for this time of year and we served it in between dinner and dessert over a few boardgames. These are readily available at variety of grocery stores or could be assembled on your own before showing up for a holiday party. Delectable brownies courtesy of Fairy Tale Brownies ($15) are a great item to send or bring along to a party. Finally, finishing salt ($30). Any good chef knows that finishing salt can change the entire taste of a dish. Do some research, check our your local culinary shop and pick up a few jars. Salt is an practical, “on-trend” gift that will be well-received.
Soap: French-milled soap ($8) is something we should all be using, but don’t make it a part of our health&beauty run at CVS. Pick up a package of this at Homegoods or a gift shop and you’ve got a nice hostess gift. I am loving these rock-inspired soaps ($12) that would look lovely in a bathroom.
Votives: These are easy to find, easy to gift, and can be found on the cheap. A few years ago I found them at Pottery Barn for under $3, threw in a few tea lights, wrapped them up in a nice cellophane/tissue ensemble, tied an ornament around the top, and had one of the best holiday gifts for my colleagues. All four selections are from Z Gallerie. The metallic-mercury votives ($5) are perfect for someone at work. I saw these flower votives ($10) in about every gift shop on a trip to Atlanta, but was unable to find them back at home. Here they are, affordable and ready to go for a hostess gift. These tealights ($8) are perfect as well if that is the look you’re going for, or glitter covered candles ($15) for your most glam hostess of all.
Flames: I am not a big candle-giver or luster. However, I liberally gift these two scents and may burn down my house someday with the frequency this scent is lit in my apartment. Still obsessed with Capri Blue’s Volcano scent ($25). This jar is a bit more holiday-friendly than the traditional blue glass. I find many of Voluspa’s scents rather offensive, but was sold on the Crisp Champagne ($16), its fresh and light, good for a bathroom or bedroom. If you’re looking for a pricier gift in a scented form, I am positive Tocca candles ($38) are for you. I am an Cleopatra wearer myself, but can only imagine that the candles smell as delightful as the perfume. Finally, these cork candles ($12 for 4) are a clever twist and could be used as an ornament around the top of a bottle of wine for the host/hostess.
Jewels: Two great options for an inexpensive yankee swap or Secret Santa gift: The Ibiza bangles ($12 for 5) come in a variety of colors and I can assure you will be more unique than the enamel bracelets from J.Crew. I love all things peacock; these Aspen earrings ($18) fit the bill and would be a great gift for a sibling’s significant other. The Kendra Scott Kiri Necklace ($40) comes in a variety of colors and is equally as versatile. This would be a great gift for a significant other’s sibling if you want to spend in this range or a great gift to recommend to your significant other for his sister. Hopefully he can help you out with the color selection. They also have great earrings if you are looking for a pricier piece. While we are on the topic of sibling’s significant others and significant other’s siblings, how about an affordable monogram watch ($28)? This piece would be perfect for a funky, younger sibling. It will show that you have taken the time to select a gift in advance, rather than gifting (or worse, regifting), because you realized that she came prepared with a gift. Finally, if you’re looking for a more expensive piece for a friend, sister, or cousin, this EmersonMade engraved necklace ($68) is PERFECTLY unique. The necklace comes in six designs and each one carries an inspirational phrase in Latin(??). These are anything but cheesy.
Warmth: How about a nice blanket for a hostess gift or for a couple of newlyweds. There are amazing monogrammed blankets out there with to-die-for designs. Here is an affordable and (hopefully soft) version from West Elm (sale $20). Every girl needs a pair of fingerless gloves. This pair from Zara ($17) will add some sparkle to her winter wardrobe. Slippers are an obvious, but often overlooked gift. This pair from Target ($23) is cozy and comfy, and about half the price of the Minnetonka’s. However, if she says she wants the Minnetonka’s, get her the Minnetonka’s.
Accessorize: A vintage-inspired or better yet, straight up vintage, envelope clutch is a necessity in any girl’s wardrobe. It will accompany a laid back look and provide a great contrast against a gussied-up girly look. This one from Fossil ($25) is a steal and can be used inside a large bag or used as a clutch after hours. I have been thoroughly impressed with Fossil’s new direction over the last year or so. For their effort, I would definitely choose this envelope sleeve, clutch, whatever you want to call it, for gifting. This hat from Forever21 ($19) looks fun and is a bit pricier than their normal going. Therefore, I would venture to say, it’s a keeper. Your choice of three colors will give your most stylish friend an instant wardrobe update.
Men: Two gifts for the “awkward gift-giving” men in your life: a host, boss, sibling’s significant other, etc. Whiskey Stones ($20) are the perfect gift for one of these gentlemen. The stones will keep your drink at the perfect temperature without causing it to water down. Need to add an extra boost? Pair it with a bottle of Johnnie Walker, and you’ll be the best brother’s girlfriend or boyfriend’s sister, ever. If you need a gift for an older man, Marble Solitaire ($95) is a pleaser. My mom found these at Bombay for about $40 before they went out of business. I think every male in our neighborhood and family has their own set. I’m sure you can find a cheaper set if you do some research.
My philosophy behind streamlined packing (see yesterday’s post), is a tribute to my mother who says, “if you forget it, you can always run out and get it”. Contrary to traveling, “running out to get it” is not an option when you’re working. There is nothing worse than a hang nail that needs picking, a paper cut that seeps onto a stack of papers, or foot pain that causes you to remain stationary at your desk.
You never know when you, a student, or a colleague is going to need one of these essentials:
Ream of copy paper: You never know when the copy room will run out, and one ream is enough to print any essential papers that you may need. This has been a lifesaver for me!
Footwear: I am known to arrive at school wearing mismatched footwear because I’ve left behind the pair that I actually need for my outfit under my desk. The one pair that I am sure to have in my desk drawer is a basic flat that will match with anything. Nothing fancy, just a pair that I can throw on if my pumps are bothering me, my shoes get wet on the way to school, etc.
Slippers & Socks: I picked up a pair of cable-knit cream slippers for $1.97 at Target about two years ago. They don’t owe me a thing! I wear them as soon as the bell rings at the end of the day. I’m not embarrassed to wear them throughout the halls at the end of the day since they can almost double as a ballet flat. I also keep an extra pair of socks in case I’m wearing nylons and need to change out.
Note cards: You never know when a student drops a gift on your desk. I keep an assorted pack of note cards, a few birthday cards, AND sympathy cards tucked inside my desk drawer. They have come in handy many times and I never miss an opportunity to Congratulate someone or send along my condolences.
Make up Portfolio: I purchased this kit on Gilt Group about a year ago. I use it for traveling when I want to pack light, and also keep it in my desk drawer. Although I
rarely never wear make up to work, I like to keep it in case I make last-minute plans to go out after work.
Bobby Pins and Hair Elastics: Things that are important to middle school students don’t always seem obvious. In a tour to incoming students, I overheard a tour guide informing the new class about the essentials for my room: “Miss O. is really fun, she gives a lot of homework, AND she wears her hair on top of her head!” Very important information. When the students wait to enter my room, they can always tells if I’m in a good mood based on my hairstyle. Hair on top of the head usually means we’re going to get down to business and the previous class may have required a little elbow grease, aka, hair up! If I can’t find an elastic I use clips, clothespins, or anything else that does the trick.
Cleaning Products: Clorox wipes, wet wines, hand sanitizer, and Febreeze are self-explanatory essentials.
Toothpaste/Toothbrush/Mints: I’m a dental hygiene fanatic. This means, brushing my teeth after eating breakfast (if I prepare oatmeal at school) and always after lunch. There is nothing worse than a teacher with bad breath. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
Wrinkle Releaser & Tide Stick: Ironing is a hobby of mine, but sometimes you just never know. Also, suit jackets tend to get wrinkled when you wear them all day. If you need to freshen up before going out after work, the wrinkle releaser can be a magic potion. Who can possibly eat lunch without spilling when you’re simultaneously helping students with homework, retests, projects, etc. Students will love it too if they have an occasion spill or marking on their clothing.
Feminine Products: I never remember to pack them in my bag, so I keep a stash at school at all times. Half the box usually goes to my students, but if it saves them a trip to the clinic, or embarrassment, I’m happy to be of service. Maybe it will teach them to be prepared when they become an independent woman.
Band-Aids: I rarely let students out of my room for the bathroom, clinic, or any other matter. A small cut can easily be remedied with a stock of your own band-aids.
Tea: A necessity for late nights, early mornings, rainy days, cold winter nights, “sick but I’m still going to work” days etc. (basically, every day out of the year)
Nail File: I can not get through my day if I’m constantly picking at my nails. I’ve used regular scissors until I realized a nail file needed a home in my desk drawer.
Snacks: I keep a stash of healthy snacks in my desk at all times, no.matter.what. Dried fruit and nuts are a good thing to give you enough energy to hold over into the the after school hours.
There you have it! The essentials. If it seems like you have a packed desk, keep a concealed bag under your desk to store some of these items! You can thank me later.