Let's pause a moment and give thanks for the foodies of the world, shall we? They're the ones who sniff out new restaurants, always know what wine to take to the party and insist on (copious amounts of) real butter for the (whipped, not mashed) potatoes. So when gift-giving time comes, it's important to do right by the foodie in your life.
Every good cook knows the importance of salt, and so does every good kitchen store, which is why they're all stocked up with gourmet salt. Gray salt from Brittany, and its fancy cousin fleur de sel, still considered the best "finishing" salt in the world, are good bets; a five-ounce jar can usually be had for $10 to $12. Paired with a salt box (Bee House makes a nice ceramic one with a wooden lid for about $22), it's a lovely gift that will no way, no how go to waste. If your darling foodie is in a retro phase, consider a ceramic salt pig (various makers, $8&–$10). The open design makes it easy to reach in and grab a pinch.
Another retro pig-themed device is the classic cast iron bacon press ($9&–$12), a wooden handle and a slab of iron that's embossed with a cute little piggie; it keeps bacon from curling, though it will severely test the strength of a stocking.
For the home cook in search of a challenge (or—let's be honest—the home cooking consumer in search of variety), nothing delivers like a foray into ethnic cuisine. Courtesy a James Beard Award&–winning author comes 'At Home With Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka' ($35). The title says it all, and accompanied by a mortar and pestle and spices like coriander, asafetida and cardamom will get things rolling in a tasty new direction. Similarly, Najmieh Batmanglij's 'Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey' ($39) with a small jar of saffron and a bottle of rosewater, or 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' with muslin bags for bouquets garni and a bottle of Lipitor (kidding!), can help a loved one break out of a culinary rut.
Dessert wines, with their silky, honeyed texture and intense flavors, are an underappreciated luxury. For the classic foodie, a fine bottle of sauterne waiting in the cellar is like a muse inspiring culinary greatness: is this meal-worthy? Several California dessert wines earn high marks from those in the know, among them Dolce Napa Valley Late Harvest 2006 ($85), a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend praised for its approximation of a true French Sauterne, and Joseph Phelps Eisrebe Napa Valley ($50), made of Scheurebe grapes that are harvested and then frozen before pressing. A more economical choice is Bonny Doon Vineyard's Vol des Anges ($30), a lively nectar concocted from botrytised Roussanne grapes grown in Arroyo Seco.
And finally, because it's not just what you do but how you look doing it, we arrive at aprons ($20&–$40). Blame it on Mad Men, blame it on the home-canning craze, blame it on Sarah Palin, but those frilly little festivals of frippery are back, and they mean business. Anthropologie is even in on it. Flouncy floral numbers from Funktion, whimsical versions from NowDesigns and classic prints from April Cornell are all over the kitchen stores, running the gamut from near-lingerie to granny-worthy and crying out to be given to a spatula-wielding empress of the domestic domain. Why resist any longer?