So it's that time of year again, and you're as stuck as a wooden stick in a Fudgsicle. You simply have no idea what to give the gastronome in your life. Well, relax. I'm here to save your sorry imagination with a list of the wackiest, weirdest, and most useless culinary-oriented gift items, and as a lagniappe, I'll even tell you who to get 'em for and where to make your purchases. Don't bother to thank me for doing your shopping for you. But if you really feel you must, there's this Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia herb garden at Walgreens I've got my eye on.
Christmas pickle: It's actually a tree ornament, and it dates back to old-time Germany, where it was always the last decoration to be hung on the boughs. Traditionally parents hid it deep in the needles, and the kids would search for it on Christmas Day. The kid who found it was gifted with good luck and garlic breath. For the half-sour inner child in all of us or the twelve-stepper who has no other way to get pickled. (www.plowhearth.com, $7.95)
Salad tossers: These salad and pasta tools are made of blue, green, red, or yellow acrylic, and shaped like a thirteen-inch pair of hands. Left and right hands come as a pair; gloves not included. For the working mom who can always use an extra pair of hands. (www.flaxart.com, $13.50)
Eye chart shot glasses: Obviously thought up by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, these four shot glasses feature blurry vision tests on them. So even if you've only had one shot, it reads like you've had ten. For the optometrist who's had a hard day at the office. (www.RestorationHardware.com, $14)
Fur stoles: Now, don't get all bent out of PETA shape. The fur is faux, and the stoles -- a set of four -- are not for your shoulders but for the necks of your wine bottles. After all, you wouldn't want your cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz, or Chateanuef-du-Pape to catch a chill, now would you? Choose between espresso and ivory colors, which sounds so much better than brown and off-white. For the wino who wants to be on the best-dressed list. (www.potterybarn.com, $18)
Car coffee warmer: Exactly what it sounds like. Plug this baby into your cigarette lighter and you've got a heat source for your java, along with a spill-proof sixteen-ounce cup. Only problem is you'll have to light that first butt of the day with matches. But the caffeine jolt is worth the sacrifice. For anyone who lives in Kendall and owns a car. (www.NormThompson.com, $19)
Long handle salt-and-pepper set: Picture a golf club, 'cause that's what this utensil looks like. Sixteen inches long, the stainless-steel handle ends in a dual shaker that you can fill with salt and pepper or with barbecue rubs and other seasonings. It's ideal for sprinkling whatever's on your grill without burning the hair off your forearms. The gadget that keeps on giving. For anyone of the male gender. (www.Solutions Catalog.com, $19.50)
Sushi candles: Shaped like a six-piece roll, these candles are packaged in a take-out container and wrapped with chopsticks. But that ain't wasabi in the middle; that's a wick. Each candle is made of rolled beeswax and burns for approximately one hour. For the sushi aficionado who wants to shed a little light on the subject, these candles also are perfect for a practical joke. (www.flaxart.com, $20)
Pino funnel: A good thing he's a liar, because this Cyrano-nosed Pinocchio makes for a highly functional funnel. Giepetto couldn't have designed him better. For the cook who cheats on recipes. (www.chiasso.com, $20)
Green Acres cookie jar: Of course, dahlink, it's shaped like a barn, and yes, dahlink, it plays the theme song from the TV show every time you lift the lid. For those who like to get caught with their hands and their brains in the, ah, cookie jar. (www.spilsbury.com, $24.95)
Shiitake mushroom patch: I know, I know, you've always wanted to grow your own fungus. Well now you have the chance with this kit that enables you to have a home supply of organically grown mushrooms for up to two months. One warning: Cats might think this is a litter box. For those who have no pets. (www.whiteflowerfarm.com, $34)
Wine charms: We've all seen the miniature champagne bottles that clip on to partygoers' wine glasses; they're a trendy and precious way to distinguish your vino from somebody else's. Now it's time to drop the cutesy corkscrews and get attitude. These wine charms boast sayings and compliments like "snappy dresser" and "quick-witted." For the guest who gets just a touch arrogant when tipsy. (www.chiasso.com, $36 for a set of six)
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The container clock: A timely way to store dried pasta, hard candy, or cereal. This twelve-inch diameter clock doubles as a clear acrylic container with a handy-dandy plug for quick-change action. Now you can time your pasta and keep it, too. For the chef who cooks by the clock. (www.flaxart.com, $39.95)
Straight-Up(tm) Checkers: Seriously, it's a checkerboard where all the pieces are shot glasses in round and square shapes. Fill with different colored liqueurs (or red and white wine) for even more of a contrast. For the alcoholic who has everything. (www.winejazz.com, $74.95)
Supermarket print: Artist Ben Shahn created this framed, hand-colored serigraph of seven shopping carts, drawn with the complexity and colored with the jeweled intensity of stained glass windows. For the sap who really believes the Publix slogan, "Where shopping is a pleasure." (www.mfa.org/shop.com, $85)
Vegetable extravaganza: We won't get into that age-old argument over whether the tomato is a vegetable or a fruit. 'Cause here it's a playhouse. Just as the carrot is a slide, the eggplant is a seesaw, and the pumpkin is a sandbox built for two. This playground is a garden of Eden for the young'uns who would rather play with their vegetables than eat them. (www.fao.com, $465 for four pieces).