Daylight is diminishing, and my thoughts are turning to twinkling lights, the drifting scent of tree sap, and a constant stream of cardamom-laced cookies. I'm a huge advocate of getting the holiday shopping done early so I can sit back and enjoy the snapping fire and the creamy eggnog free of the pressure of all the things I "should" be doing. To brighten your holiday gift-giving, I've compiled a list of ideas for all your favorite Italy-lovers. Like last year's list, these gifts are designed to encourage your loved one to carve out space to really dig into what they love about life. These aren't so much "things" that get shoved in the back of a drawer by the time La Befana, the Italian Christmas witch, flies by in January. Rather these are intended to create a daily celebration of la dolce vita.
1) A personal connection to wine: Wine Fathers offers a unique way to become part of a wine family. Choose an Italian winery from their list of projects that describe the wine, the owners, and the mission, and then choose a level of kinship. The greater the financial contribution, the more perks available, such as bottles of wine, a stay at the winery, and a sampling of local products. All are designed to create a real family-like connection between the lucky recipient of your gift and the winery you choose.
2) For the language-lover on your list, you can create a "Learn Italian!" gift box. Include a movie in Italian, a language-learning app (here's a link to a great list of them, free and paid), directions for how to access a fun Italian podcast, a book in Italian, a workbook, and/or lessons are your local language school. My perfect language learning gift box would include a subscription to Babbel, a gift certificate to Speak! Language Center in Charlottesville, a Pride and Prejudice mystery in Italian, an Italian workbook and my favorite Italian movie of all time, Pane e Tulipani. Tuck an article about the benefits on language learning for the mind and soul for added inspiration. Bonus is that your loved one will be on their way to their best New Year's resolution yet.
3) We all have someone on our list that seems to have everything. But I bet they don't have cinghiale. Place an order for wild boar at Broken Arrow Ranch (I sampled their game meat in Houston, and they are top notch), and include a recipe for stew or ragu. More recipes can be found here, as cookbooks are often light on boar. For reasons passing understanding.
4) Life moves too quickly. Why not support your loved one in instituting an aperitivo hour? Give a family you love Aperol and prosecco to make spritzes, and the beloved game of scopa. Every time they turn off their phones, fill their glasses with a jewel-colored cocktail, and settle around the patio table to play scopa as a family they'll think fondly of you. If you are feeling really fancy, stock their gift with peanuts, olives, and chips with glass bowls. Add an Italian music CD (see below for some ideas, or go old school opera), and they'll really feel like you've given them the gift of Italy.
5) The earthquakes in central Italy decimated some storied towns, like Amatrice and Castelluccio. Why not make a donation to earthquake relief to help those hit hardest by the earthquake, in your loved one's name? Include a package of bucatini noodles and a tin of fabulous San Marzano tomatoes to make classic Amatriciana pasta (the earthquake hit the week before Amatrice's 50th anniversary of the celebration of its namesake pasta sauce). Need a recipe to include? I got you.
6) Reading is an escape for many, so for the bookworm on your list, you can't do better than books set in Italy. My favorites? A Room with a View, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Under the Tuscan Sun, The Enchanted April, Brunelleschi's Dome, Beautiful Ruins, the Elena Ferrante trilogy (begins with My Brilliant Friend), The Flames of Rome, People of the Book, The Sixteen Pleasures, and The Monster of Florence. Also, there's this refreshingly honest and poignant memoir (SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION ALERT) of a family living in Spello for a year, and how the magic of Umbria works to change them all. It's called Il Bel Centro: A Year in the Beautiful Center. Maybe you've heard of it? Huffington Post recently named it one of "Ten Fascinating Books about Living in a Foreign Country" (insert modest head duck here—no, seriously, being surrounded by giants like "A Year in Provence"? It feels a little overwhelming). Just in time for the holidays, if you buy THREE copies of Il Bel Centro, I'll send you a signed copy FREE! Those three copies can be electronic and/or print, just email me the receipt. You can give that signed copy as a personalized present for a special friend, or keep it for yourself, though if you are hoping to have it by Christmas, you'll need to send me the receipt by December 14th (US customers only, if you live abroad, let me know and we'll see what we can do). Deal ends December 22nd.
7) Music connects me to the feeling of Italy. It gets in the backdoor, and transports me to memories of diving past fields of sunflowers to the castle over the hill—even if the music isn't music I listened to in Italy. It's like all the music has that sensibility, that feeling. Now, this is a tricky one unless you have an Italian iTunes account, but you can find some of these on Amazon and some of these on American iTunes: Jovanotti (my favorite of his albums is Ora, which you can find on iTunes in the States), Daniele Silvestri (my favorite album is S.C.O.T.C.H., again on American iTunes), Antonio Maggio (I could only find his album on Amazon), Malika Ayane (her Naif album is on American iTunes, as well as Amazon), and Max Gazzè (this one you might have to do some hunting for). And here are some music videos to watch to get you in the mood: Antonio Maggio's "Mi Servirebbe Sapere", Max Gazzè's "Sotto Casa", Jovanotti's "Tutto l'amore che ho" and Daniele Silvestri's "Ma Che Discorsi", which I'm listening to as I type.
8) Few experiences are more evocative of Italy than cafe culture. Because no matter where you are in Italy—a car ferry crossing the Bay of Naples, a podunk museum in a town whose name you'll forget even while the memory of the rabbit ragù you had at lunch lingers for decades, or the hippest coffee shop in Rome—you are pretty much guaranteed an excellent brew. Why not help your loved one recreate that sense of anticipation around a dash of caffeinated bliss on Main Street, U.S.A.? I recommend a set of espresso cups you'll find in any corner cafe in Italy—either the super simple variety, like this Konitz set that comes in at just a shade over $10.00 for four cups and saucers, or this higher brow Lavazza set that's $16.00 for two (or you can buy a larger set). Feel like splurging? Add in a tin of Rome's famed Sant'Eustachio coffee for $20.00, a moka for making coffee the traditional way, or a bottle of bombardino, a staple of the Italian Alps. Add a dash of this eggnog-like liquor to coffee to make a calimero. And now you know where the dog in IBC got his name.
9) Last year I suggested delighting your loved one with a pasta board and rolling pin for hand rolling pasta (infinitely easier and more satisfying than a cold, metal machine). Why not make 2017 the year of gnocchi? A gnocchi board makes the perfect gnocchi with ease, and is surprisingly wallet-friendly. Pair it with Italian-milled 00 flour or a cookbook (such as Mastering Pasta: The Practice and Art of Homemade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto), for a treat that could change your loved one's culinary repertoire.