Setting the Table

Gift ideas for inspiring togetherness, mindfulness, and thoughtful eating and drinking.

I once knew a woman whose personal battle in life was to keep her husband and two sons around the table for longer than the five minutes they usually took to scarf down whatever she put before them. To this end, she established traditions and special meals that were specifically designed to keep them at the table, talking and, well, being a family. The night before Christmas Eve, she always staged a time-consuming make-your-own burrito operation; on Christmas Eve, they had fondue. Because these days, food is more often than not consumed in haste without consideration for where it came from and what it took to get it to the plate, I thought of her when putting together this list of gifts that might inspire your friends and family to slow down and be conscious of their meal, the setting, and each other. LAURA CASSIDY

Farmers market goodie bags

Distinctive holiday gifts overflow the tables at local farmers markets, offering spankin' fresh produce (yep, even at this time of year), delicious baked goods, regional seafood, and, at the Broadway market, jars of raw creamed honey from Eagleman Farms. The honey is sinfully tasty, thickly textured, and was purchased from an eccentric vendor whose pet rabbit was licking his neck as I stood by. Who can resist a holiday gift that comes with a story about the character that made it? (Unfortunately, that particular market is now closed until May.) Neighborhood markets are ripe with opportunities to locate unique presents, and the Ballard farmers market (Sundays 11 a.m.–3 p.m.) and the ever-dependable Pike Place Market are open year-round. The U District and West Seattle farmers markets end Sunday, Dec. 18, although both reopen later this winter. Visiting relatives out of town? Port Angeles has two year-round markets on Saturdays, and the Olympia farmers market operates Thursday through Sunday until Christmas Eve. (For details about Puget Sound Area farmers markets, visit HEATHER LOGUE

Handmade tableware

Each Sunday at the Ballard farmers market, Port Orchard–based Hannah's Stoneware (877-323-1468 or e-mail offers a variety of pottery bowls, pitchers, and other serving dishes glazed in jewel tones—sulphur yellow, muted fuchsia, teal green, cobalt blue—that are cheerful yet somehow old-fashioned, as if the items were inherited from some high-spirited great-aunt. The pieces are modestly priced, with much of the collection in the $20 to $30 range, and moderately sized: large enough to be useful but small enough to be easily passed from hand to hand around the table. SARAH DEWEERDT

Newbie wine primer

For the twentysomething in your life who's transitioning away from the keg and toward the cellar, consider Thirsty Work: Love Wine Drink Better (Running Press, $24.95), by Jamie Oliver's pal and wine guru Matt Skinner. Swirling and sipping complex reds certainly engenders more table time and contemplative talk than chugging Rainier does, and Skinner makes the complexities of wine approachable. He also makes some pretty terrible jokes and can be a little too "street," and consequently, too simple—"Grapes rock!" Still, utilizing snowboarding metaphors and Aussie slang to illustrate viticulture history and food- pairing concepts, Skinner writes about wine with under-30 lingo that's accessible and easy to comprehend. Plus, the text's outside-the-box layout and format and large, glossy pictures make it modern and cool. Your neighborhood bookseller should be able to order this for you if they don't keep it in stock; will ship a copy within 24 hours. LAURA CASSIDY


Fruitcake may be a holiday cliché—and one that people dubiously indulge in—but this year your guests might like to try Great Harvest Bread Company's Yulekaka (or "yule cake"), a Scandinavian sweet bread traditionally served at Christmas. Old-time recipes call for cardamom, candied fruit, and raisins; this version is stuffed with currants and candied citron. A frosting pack comes with the round loaf so you can glaze it at home, delighting guests with the scent of warm icing—and maybe starting a new tradition. The loaves, which weigh between 1 and a half pounds and 2 pounds ($5.25 each), will be available on select days throughout December at Great Harvest's locations in Ballard (2218 N.W. Market St., 206-706-3434), Sand Point Village (5408 Sand Point Way N.E., 206-524-4873), and Lake Forest Park Towne Centre (17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, 206-365-4778).RACHEL SHIMP

Culinary pornography

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are not just cookbook authors (Hot Sour Salty Sweet) but compelling writers, reverent students of culture, and gifted photographers. Their latest work, Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent ($45, Artisan), is gorgeous and significant. Clear the table after dessert and, as you sip tea and coffee, flip through pictures of tiny brown babies in bangle bracelets strapped to their mothers' hips at markets in southern Orissa, and read about the rivers and oceans that supply exotic fish to the people of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Oversized and almost 400 pages long, Mangoes & Curry Leaves is part National Geographic, part postcard from nirvana, and part foodie porn. Oh yeah, there are recipes, too. Your neighborhood bookseller should be able to order this for you if they don't keep it in stock; will ship a copy within 24 hours. LAURA CASSIDY

Fondue pots

In a better world, the bad-for-you goodness of bread cubes robed in melted cheese would never go out of style. Downtown's City Kitchens (1527 Fourth Ave., 206-382-1138) and Sur La Table (84 Pine St., 206-448-2244, both offer France's Le Creuset fondue pot ($98 at City, $100 at Table), an enameled, cast-iron beauty as comfortable on the stove as over the burner it comes with, plus a no-fuss Cuisinart electric pot ($49.95 at both) and accoutrements like stainless-steel fondue forks ($9.95/set at Table). Throw in a membership to the Gourmet Cheese of the Month Club (, and your giftee can do the 'due anytime. NEAL SCHINDLER

Artisan serving pieces

The hand-carved cooking and serving implements fashioned by local woodworker James D. Wilson (Pacific Rim Kitchen Copper & Tool, 206-824-6268) from woods such as cherry, plum, and bird's-eye maple have a silky-smooth finish and one-of-a-kind artisan appeal. On a recent visit to Wilson's booth at the Pike Place Market (on the east side of the arcade, just north of Lowell's restaurant), we found a tasting spoon ($48) based on an ingenious 15th-century design; soup ladles that double as measuring cups, with increments marked on the inside of their bowls (half-cup, $58; 1 cup, $92); and broad, flat knives for spreading butter or soft cheeses (about $20 to $25). SARAH DEWEERDT

CSA Subscription

Fresh vegetables, salad fixings, eggs, and flowers—without getting your hands dirty; in fact, without any work on your part aside from payment. A Community Supported Agriculture subscription is a household-sized share of what a local, independent farm reaps, delivered to your door (or available for pick up) on a predetermined schedule. Many of the farms are certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. All of them offer you a chance to develop a relationship with the grower. Prices and delivery options vary; some farms deliver year-round, while others offer seasonal membership. A small box could cost $21 for the week with payment at the time of delivery, while a weekly delivery of a full share with flowers could run $495 for the season. The King County Agriculture Program publishes Puget Sound Fresh (, which lists participating farms. Washington state farms are listed at JOANNE GARRETT

S'more machines

In more innocent times, the classic melted marshmallow and chocolate sandwiches were made outdoors, with nothing but the gooey ingredients, a sharp stick, and a dying campfire. You might think such a rustic activity would resist commodification, but then you'd be underestimating America's small-appliance manufacturers. This season, a number of home s'mores kits are on the market, ranging in price from about $17 to $30. Most include two to four roasting forks, utterly gratuitous chocolate/marshmallow/graham cracker holders, and some kind of heating device—powered either by chafing fuel (such as the Lifetime Hoan Casa Moda S'mores Maker; $29.99 at or lightbulbs (Hershey's S'mores Maker; $16.77 at Outdoors enthusiasts will scoff, but apartment dwellers, overprotective parents, and camp-phobics might get a kick out of staging this sticky childhood ritual indoors. Of course, you could assemble a DIY s'mores kit from scratch as a gift, with a book of matches, a log, a couple forks duct-taped to a couple sticks, a box of grahams, a bag of Jet-Puffeds, and a Hershey's bar. But come on, folks, this is America—where more is always s'more. LYNN JACOBSON

Riedel tumblers

Austria's Riedel Crystal is the premier purveyor of fine wine goblets, but if someone you love is stemware-phobic and prefers drinking cabernet from old jelly jars, Riedel has an elegant glass for them now, too. More modern and less delicate than traditional crystal glasses, Riedel's varietal-specific tumbler series (about $20 for a set of two) are stout yet graceful vessels that feel good in the palm—and they also fit well in the cupboards. Specifically shaped for merlot, viognier, syrah/shiraz, and other varieties of vino, the O series is available at stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond (1930 Third Ave., 206-448-7905,, via, and at Sur La Table (84 Pine St., 206-448-2244, LAURA CASSIDY

Bodum double-walled glasses

Linger all you'd like over icy-cold or hot beverages; Bodum's award-winning design puts two layers of laboratory-quality borosilicate glass together to create a container suitable for just-steeped tea or chilled juice. Heat-resistant, thermal, and insulated, these special glasses defy temperature swings and are comfortable to hold. They look good, too, and because borosilicate doesn't sweat the way other kinds of glass do, you won't get water rings on your table. There are various sizes available; a 2-ounce shorty (about $16 for two) is great for espresso or shots, and a modern-looking 13-ounce specimen (about $27 for two) would serve a multitude of purposes. Peet's Coffee and Tea in Fremont (3401 Fremont Ave. N., 206-267-4688) carries the shorties as well as a larger size meant for lattes and cappuccinos. LAURA CASSIDY

Vintage pottery

Forget Pottery Barn. Laguna Pottery in Pioneer Square (116 S. Washington St., 206-682-6162) has one of the largest retail collections of vintage pottery in the United States. From rough-hewn Northwest art pottery of the '80s to sweet Roseville pieces from the '30s and '40s and midcentury plates and bowls to go with a gift subscription to Dwell, Laguna presents all kinds of opportunities for pretty presents and a stylish table. LAURA CASSIDY


Sometimes all it takes to keep the family reined in and gathered round is a curveball. When it's your turn to bring dessert to the party, instead of pumpkin pie, give them seasonal red-velvet cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting or gingerbread cupcakes iced with lemon buttercream from Cupcake Royale (1101 34th Ave., 206-709-4497; 2052 N.W. Market St., 206-782-9557). Dense, moist, and wonderfully flavored, these little babies could get your brood talking about the deep South, Hansel and Gretel, or the tryptophan levels of creamy, rich icing. LAURA CASSIDY


File this one under curveballs, too. Instead of showing up with a bottle of wine in a red Mylar bag, why not bring a bottle of sake and pair of masu? Wooden boxes originally designed to measure portions of rice, masu were so plentiful in ancient Japan that they were eventually employed as sake vessels. Most good Japanese restaurants and sushi bars serve sake in these sturdy little cubes, and Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave., 206-624-6248; 15555 N.E. 24th St., Bellevue, 425-747-9012; carries at least two different styles (plain blond wood and black lacquered) for about $7 to $10 each. As for the juice: Many chefs, especially on the West Coast and in Hawaii, are experimenting with food pairings for sake, so don't rule it out as a holiday dinner drink. Forest Grove, Ore.'s Momokawa is the premier stateside sake brewer; their newest blend is called G. At about 20 bucks a bottle, it's light and just a little spicy and goes well with lots of American dishes. LAURA CASSIDY

Sushi classes

Sometimes you do have to resort to trickery to keep your family around the table, so you might as well resort to trickery that yields delicious results. In January and April, the local cooking academy NuCulinary ( offers three one-night sessions ($60 each) of Sushi I, Basic Sushi Rolling. Sign up yourself and someone you love to eat and hang out with, and voilà! You've started your own slow-food tradition. Additionally, there are any number of sushi texts on the market. Start off with Sushi for Dummies (For Dummies, $16.99), and by next year, when they're ready to prepare avocado egg pudding and salmon skin rolls, give them the recent Nobu Now (Clarkson Potter, $45), by esteemed sushi chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. LAURA CASSIDY

Locally roasted coffee

Sure, you're feeling sad because Starbucks gobbled up the great local Torrefazione Italia chain and is now shutting its cafes. Have no fear. Not only can you continue to get Torrefazione coffee at grocery stores, but you can buy beans that are possibly even richer and more complex, thanks to Torrefazione founder Umberto Bizzarri's son Emanuele. The Torrefazione scion is a co-founder of the Georgetown roaster Caffeè Umbria. Though some glitzy places like the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas now serve Caffeè Umbria, not that many consumers know about it yet. Expensive but not prohibitively so at about $10 for a 12-ounce bag, it can be found at stores including DeLaurenti Specialty Food and Wine (1435 First Ave., 206-622-0141, and the Ballard Market ( 1400 N.W. 56th St., 206-783-7922). A nicely packaged gift of these beans is a great way to let someone feel in the know, and a freshly brewed pot will go well with dessert. Call Caffeè Umbria, 206-762-5300, for a full list or to order directly, or shop online at NINA SHAPIRO

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