At a time when budgets are so stretched that twentysomethings are joining AARP for the discounts, giving gifts that are meaningful but not super-spendy is definitely on trend. Extra points for sparkle, and an element of giving back to the community. As always, New England makers have created many wonderful things this year; we only wish we had 50,000 words to devote to their efforts. Here are a few things that stand out.
Dune Jewelry, Boston
Imagine a gorgeous piece of jewelry. Now imagine that same piece personalized with sand and earth elements that reflect someplace near and dear to the recipient’s heart — say, sand from the infield at Fenway Park, pressed flowers from her wedding bouquet, or tawny grains from his favorite beach. That’s how they do it at this “experiential jewelry” company, launched by Holly Daniels Christensen in 2010 in her Cape Cod kitchen (now in Boston).
Choose from Dune’s Sandbank, with materials from more than 5,000 places around the globe, or send them your own. They’ll even use cremains. The Dune team will mix your material with a blend of polymers to create a handmade, custom piece of jewelry (a choice of metals is available). The collection includes pieces for women and men, pet tags, and home goods; we especially love the pieces that incorporate more than one cherished material for a cool stacked look, like the Rope Seven Sand Cuff Bracelet. A portion of each purchase supports coastal and global causes. When you hand over this gift, be sure to have tissues handy. Prices from $38. Rope Seven Sand Bracelet, $340; Boho Stack Ring, $130; available at The Paper Store, West Roxbury, and other locations; Crafty Yankee, Lexington; and online at www.dunejewelry.com.
Rugged Seas, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
In a triumph of repurposing, Nikki and Taylor Strout transform fishermen’s old, worn hauling pants (a.k.a. bibs, or waterproof overalls) into durable totes, packs, clutches, watch caps, trucker caps, and hoodies. Made from heavy-duty, waterproof polyester, the bibs would otherwise be thrown away. Every step of the process happens in Maine, and the couple donates 1 percent of proceeds to the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. (Taylor Strout himself is a fisherman.) Their team has set up drop sites for donation; then, a local company cleans the gear and brings it back to life. Among their partners is Guy Cotten, maker of hauling pants, who supplies remnant materials.
Considering their heritage, you’d better believe these products are tough. There’s not a kid on the planet who can destroy a Rugged Seas backpack. We especially love the waterproof clutch — handy for the beach and kayaking, it’s a cool gift for the outdoorsy type on your list. The large version can hold a cellphone, keys, credit cards, and cash. Small clutch from $28; large clutch $32; available at retailers including Padanaram Outfitters, S. Dartmouth; Beach Grass in Kennebunkport; their pop-up location on Commercial Street in Portland; and online at www.ruggedseas.com.
New Hampshire Bowl & Board, Contoocook, N.H.
Charcuterie boards are having a moment; witness wellness boards, French fry boards, melted cheese boards, you name it. That’s what makes this gift a slam dunk (cheese dunk?) for the foodie on your gift list. This small New Hampshire workshop sources wood from arborists, builders clearing lots, road crews, and managed wood lots to create beautiful serving boards. You can even add a personal, hand-engraved message to the board. Boards come in cherry, walnut, or our favorite, the cool, stripe-y multi-wood. One side has a juice ring, the other side is a large, flat surface that works as a cutting board and a charcuterie board. They also make salad bowls and wooden utensils (the wooden pie and cake server, from $30, looks like a piece of sculpture) but the hand-crafted, hand-stamped serving boards are an irresistible combination of form meets function. There’s even a round Lazy Susan version. 18-by-12-by-¾-inch board, from $110. Purchase at their shop in Contoocook, N.H., or online at www.newhampshirebowlandboard.com.
Bridgewater Chocolate, Bridgewater, Conn.
Did you really think we’d do this story without mentioning chocolate? Right now, we’re obsessing over Bridgewater Chocolate, launched in 1995 by Swedish chef Erik Landegren. Think about childhood favorites like peanut butter patties and chocolate-dipped marshmallows — now conjure those familiar flavors elevated with creamy European ganache, buttery toffee, and oozing caramel. A nod to New England: Pilgrim hats with a soft caramel center. Because, frankly, not everyone appreciates a truffle filled with lemongrass, lavender, or Pop Rocks.
You won’t find freaky flavors in the best-selling Bridgewater Assortments, hurray. Packaged in pretty hinged boxes, ranging in size from 10 to 109 pieces, there’s not a stinker in the mix — just turtles, toffees, caramels, truffles, peanut butter patties, hazelnut pralines, bark, mints, and other favorites, all uncommonly delicious. Put the spectacular Big Santa ($89.95) under the tree, and the kids will spasm with joy. The solid chocolate dreidels and Hanukkah gelt are wonderfully detailed, too. Stocking stuffers $14.95 each; Bridgewater Assortments from $35. Available at their shop in Westport, Conn., and online at www.bridgewaterchocolate.com.
Anchor Bend Glassworks, North Kingstown, R.I.
Three Ocean State natives (and longtime friends) comprise this glass art collaborative, founded in 2003. Michael Richardson, Justin Tarducci, and Timothy Underwood fuse energy and originality into each piece they create, a wow-worthy collection of blown glass sculptures and ornaments. With themes taken from nature (octopi, Skipjack fish, blue waves that capture water in motion), these will please any lover of beautiful things. We’re smitten with their pine tree sculptures, available in a range of sizes and colors. Some trees feature a single transparent tone; others are a mixture of opaque and opalescent accents. The branches are hand-cut solid glass. “We finish the piece with a molten hand stamp and slowly cool for a day,” says Richardson. Some newer designs incorporate gold, silver, and copper leaf.
If the giftee is enchanted with this present (and why not), you can add to their forest of glass each year. Single trees from $66. Available at galleries including The Artful Hand, Chatham, the company’s flagship gallery in Newport, R.I., and online at www.anchorbendglass.com.
Beantown Blankets, Middleton
Blankets are among the most-requested items at homeless shelters. For every blanket bought from Beantown Blankets, the company donates a blanket to those in need. Talk about warm fuzzies!
Maxwell Perry started the business as a freshman at Babson College in 2016; to date, they’ve donated nearly 500,000 blankets to shelters in 43 states. (We sure hope he got an A.) Products include picnic blankets with soft fleece on one side and waterproof material on the other (perfect for impromptu picnics and watching kids’ sports), cuddly sherpa blankets, baby blankets, and knit beanies. (Warm hats are another much-needed item on the streets, so the company donates those as well.) Prices range from $40 to $50 for blankets; baby blankets and beanies are $20. A caveat: the entire blanket isn’t made in Massachusetts, but they do their packaging and embroidery in Middleton. Given the social mission, how could we not include them? Order online at www.beantownblankets.org.
Runamok Sparkle Syrup, Fairfax, Vt.
Breakfast is the best meal, but, frankly, it could use a little zhoosh. Enter Sparkle Syrup. “We produced this product during the height of the pandemic to help bring a smile to people’s faces during a challenging time,” says Runamok’s Dan Robbins. Our kiddie testers, in particular, were delighted with this pure maple syrup infused with sustainably-sourced pearlescent edible mica. It adds a touch of shimmering sweetness to dipping sauces, a stack of pancakes, and even in a Bourbon Smash. Why not get fancy and create a breakfast gift box with Sparkle Syrup, and, say, a box of blueberry pancake and waffle mix from Maine’s Stonewall Kitchen, and a bag of coffee beans from a local roaster?
Or maybe pair it with a jar of honey. Hot honey is trending right now, and Runamok’s Chipotle Morita Honey is perfection — they infuse clover honey with smoky/spicy chipotle morita chile peppers. It’s great drizzled over grilled shrimp, fried chicken, roasted veggies, homemade pizza — anything that can use a jolt of flavor. Sparkle Syrup, 8.45 ounces, $18; honey, 10 ounces, $12.95. Order online at www.runamokmaple.com or find it at specialty food shops including Salt & Olive, Cambridge; and Cellar Door, Ipswich.
Darn Tough Socks, Northfield, Vt.
Mom always tucked a pair of fun socks into our Christmas stockings. She would’ve fallen hard for the guaranteed-for-life socks made by Vermont’s Darn Tough: They’re hardy, comfy, and some are printed with cute critters like flying pigs. If someone on your gift list loves a statement sock, check these out. The line includes Hike, Lifestyle, Run, Snow, Athletic, Work, Hunt, and Juniors’ (kids) styles. Our tiny tester gave the highest compliment to her junior hiking socks: “Not itchy!”
Founded in 2004 by Ric Cabot, a third-generation sock maker operating out of Cabot Hosiery Mills, the Darn Tough brand is 100 percent US-made, using a blend of either ultra-fine, premium Merino wool or Coolmax®/Thermolite®. This is another company with a focus on giving back: So far, they’ve donated more than 1 million meals to the Vermont Foodbank. Darn Tough is also launching a new online exclusive, limited-edition sock made from overstock yarn, to be released each quarter. All profits will go to the Vermont Foodbank. Adult socks $18 and up; kids’ $16 and up; available at Marathon Sports, Boston; REI, Cambridge; and online at www.DarnTough.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com