Advent calendars containing chocolate, non-charity Christmas cards, fake Christmas trees. I have a long list of "Things I Don't Approve Of" and many of these are Christmas related. Top of the list are useless and unwanted presents. It can be next to impossible to know what your loved ones would like without asking them outright. A present that can be read, eaten or drunk is the most likely to be useful.
I'm a book obsessive and I believe a present involving books is somehow more morally upright than any other (I have very funny notions, see non-approval list above). Books can and do change lives.
A subscription to Books Ireland is a must for book lovers in Ireland (and abroad). Buy it for yourself or as a gift subscription. Published every two months, every time it arrives on the mat during the year it will remind the lucky recipient what a wonderfully thoughtful person you are. Bonus! I'm a subscriber and occasional contributor (don't let that put you off) and I still get very excited when it arrives. It's great for keeping up to date with all the books being published in Ireland including children's books and reading it informs my book buying every time.
I wrote a piece for Books Ireland on Irish food and drink books and can recommend the following new books that have come out this year:
Sláinte by Kristin Jensen and Caroline HennessyA Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen (new edition)
The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen (new edition)
Gubeen by Giana Ferguson
We are still working our way through the blackcurrant jam mountain of 2013 (not to mention the green tomato chutney lake of 2011) so several people this year will be receiving homemade goodies. Whether it's Christmas puddings, biscuits, jams or chutneys they always go down very well.
I think you all know that I am a big fan of drinking. More importantly I'm very keen on drinking nice things out of nice glasses. It's easy to go and buy a bottle of champagne or a bottle of a spirit as a present but much better is the drink related present that keeps on giving: bitters! They add so much to a cocktail and last forever. While Angostura Bitters are a classic and widely available consider giving a bottle of a less well known bitters. I would highly recommend the following:
Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters
Any of the range from Dr Adam Elmegirab
Cambridge Wine Merchants on Cherry Hinton Road often have Rhubarb Bitters. In Dublin the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson St have a great range and I LOVE the website masterofmalt.com for all alcohol related purchases.
If you have time, consider looking through charity shops and antique shops for cocktail glasses. This is where I get most of my stash. If you don't have the time for the search (and it is getting a bit late now) John Lewis have a delightful and affordable own brand range including these bad boys.