I’m particular about everything that makes its way into my kitchen. I read ingredients lists religiously and have a strict “no junk allowed” policy. No unnecessary ingredients, nothing I can’t easily identify, and nothing that sounds more like a science experiment than actual food. Bonus points are always given to producers who are sourcing locally, using sustainable methods, and generally paying attention to all the details. I’m a sucker for good packaging, too.
This might sound like nothing is allowed in my kitchen, but I swear that’s not true. I love edible gifts, and have rounded up a few that pass all my tests, and that I’d be happy to receive. Don’t let the word “fancy” put you off—I don’t think it always has to mean expensive. High-quality? Yes. Good ingredients lists? YES. Special in some way? Of course. Most importantly: delicious.
Tahini is a staple in my kitchen, and the tahini from Seed + Mill in New York is a current favorite. It’s perfectly silky, never dry and chalky, even after sitting in the fridge. It’s freshly milled in their store, with the date handwritten on the label. The pretty packaging is a nice bonus.
The halva from Seed + Mill is one of my ideal sweets. They have a nice selection of flavors, from chocolate and orange to salted caramel—I'm crazy about the rose oil because it's so pretty and delicious. You can buy it by the slice or get a whole halva cake for extra festive occasions. I'd proudly set out a halva cake at a holiday party, just saying.
Miranda Rake makes her jams from special ingredients that are nearly impossible to find outside of their growing region. She sources from local farms in her area (Portland, Oregon), and keeps her ingredient lists pure. Each jar contains about half a pound of fruit, some sugar, and lemon juice. I’ve never seen or tasted a tayberry, olallieberry, or marionberry, and the fact that Miranda is sharing those ingredients and flavors with the rest of us makes my heart flutter.
These are the most interesting apples I’ve encountered. They smell floral—when I first opened the box they arrived in I couldn’t believe the scent, and when I left them in a bowl on my kitchen counter they made the whole place smell like the prettiest perfume. The pink flesh is stunning either fresh or baked into some kind of treat, and I’d be more than happy to receive a box (or several) of these as a gift, seriously (if I have any friends reading this, I really, really mean that). Perfect for bakers or fruit obsessives.
Canned fish is a decidedly un-fancy sounding gift, but sardines, mackerel, octopus—I’ll have it all. Jose Gourmet is a company from Portugal producing high-quality, sustainable, and delicious products. Their packaging makes these humble-seeming canned foods feel special, maybe even a little chic. There’s no shame in opening a tin of trout pâté or small sardines for a dinner party appetizer (or for lunch, or for a snack, or a dinner for one).
Greek Honey Cookies and Pasteli | Navarino Icons
I have a soft spot for Melomakarona. Greek honey-soaked cookies that have a crumbly, sandy texture, and are traditionally made and shared around Christmas time. Of course, homemade is best, but I’ve found a pretty good substitute. These are made by hand and have no preservatives or stabilizers. The buttery parchment paper they’re folded in makes the package feel like it was sent from a doting Greek relative.
Pasteli—a mix of honey and sesame seeds—are also undeniably delicious. Give those things out all over the place.
For anyone who cares about how their food is grown, or who is interested in historical foodways or generally curious about rare grains: anything from Anson Mills is a special gift. Their flours and grains are all milled and shipped to order. They grow a wide range of heirloom grains that have nearly disappeared from the American farming landscape. I’m convinced that the effort they put into what they do is evident in every product. Everything they produce is good, but one of my ultimate favorites is their waffle flour.
Mario Bianco was a somewhat legendary “apicoltore” in Italy. He had an ability to identify honeys in blind tastings the way master sommeliers can. His brand is still meticulously run by his sons. Each Mario Bianco honey is vintage-specific, dated with the year of production, and differences between years are noticeable (just like with wine, the weather has a big effect on the harvest). The honeys are made exclusively from nectar from a single type of flower, so you can get very specific: light and bright? Try Tiglio (lime blossom). Dark and moody? Go for Castagno (chestnut). The packaging is sleek; the honey is exceptional.
I’ll admit that when I first read the words “non-alcoholic spirit” I was confused. Still kind of am on that, but here’s what: this stuff, when mixed with a little tonic or soda water and a squeeze of citrus, is lovely. It’s also a nice ingredient in cocktails. This is a perfect gift for anyone who doesn’t drink or doesn’t like to drink too much, or who does “dry January,” or for someone who likes playing bartender at home. So, basically, anyone.
These dried fruits live a better, more pampered life than you do. They're given daily massages for over a month to slowly dehydrate them while concentrating their sugars until they form a delicate dusting of fructose on the surface. The result is a dried fruit as tender as any gummy candy with a deep, caramelized sweetness that lingers on your tongue.
Here's something actually fancy in the true sense of the word: a fresh truffle. If you like someone enough, or want them to like you forever, do it. The founder of Regalis is New York's youngest truffle importer, and his obsessive knowledge guarantees you a good one. If you don't want to gift a truffle, a truffle slicer for your fanciest friend-who-has-everything is an easy way to go.