Christmas Shopping for the Panic-Stricken

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Christmas is less than 100 shopping hours away. You’re strapped for cash, travelling with weight restrictions, and haven’t got an idea in your head. Don’t panic. Forget the huge terracotta pots and the astronomically-priced gold earrings. Use your feet and imagination, and you can track down plenty of quirky gifts ‘Made in Italy’.

For the cook and gourmet: Articles made from olive wood, such as salad servers or spice bowls (rub with oil after washing!), found in kitchenware stores like Bartolini and Mesticherie, specialized houseware stores. Prowl around these emporia and you’ll see lots of other items that make great presents, like truffle-slicers or pizza-cutters. You won’t find many things lighter or cheaper than the Lilliput cookbooks produced by McRae Books Srl, carried by most stores selling English-language books. How about some essential ingredients for the genuine cucina italiana? In my supermarket I spotted packets of saffron, used in Risotto Milanese, for just over €1; bags (85 grams) of capers from Pantelleria, packed in sea salt (the best way of preserving them), excellent in pasta sauces, with pork chops, in rice salads, etc., less than €1 per bag; and packages of dried porcini mushrooms for risotto and meat dishes, at around €8 (price depends on quantity and quality; always check expiry date). My favourite food present is fennel seeds. Don’t buy the cultivated variety, which you can find in America and the UK. Ask your Erborista for Sicilian fennel seeds, and buy them loose, not pre-packaged.

For the sweet-tooth: Bored with Baci? Try the Piedmontese specialty, Cuneesi, chocolates with a creamy rum and chocolate filling. Usually without preservatives, they should be gobbled up as soon as possible after purchase. Carried by confectioners, including Alessi and Pegna.

For the artist and amateur: Small wooden mannequins, stocked by art supply stores; in the shop in via de’ Cerchi, I spotted roll-up carrying cases for pens and pencils, made of canvas and leather, useful and not expensive.

For Moms, aunts, sisters, etc.: Eyeglass holders made of Murano glass beads, sold by shops specializing in Murano ware; key-rings with leather trim, available in shops selling fine leather goods; little cardboard boxes, frames and clips covered with traditional Florentine paper, to be found in the many specialty stores around town; tiny containers made of radica wood, seen at a stationer in via Condotta; pot-pourri, like the one put together by the Farmacia di S.M. Novella, gathered from the hills around Florence; nappine, or little tassels, which will lend a note of elegance to the keys of wardrobes and chests-of-drawers, and which are probably the only affordable items in Passamaneria stores, traditional suppliers of the braids, fringes and tassels used to trim the furniture in grand palazzi.

For nephews, nieces, grandchildren, etc.: Are you fed up with electronic gadgets that are out of date before the year is over? Go to a numismatic store and ask for the price range of their old Italian coins. Some early twentieth-century coins are still cheap. An assortment of these, with a bit of historical background, is a wonderful way to arouse the curiosity of youngsters and get them started on a hobby that doesn’t have the shelf-life of computer games.

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This page last updated: December 19, 2006.