Ah, the outrageous annual holiday gift guide from Neiman Marcus! Every year, they come up with fantasy gifts like a $1.5 million private plane, a stint at quarterback camp with Joe Montana for a cool $65,000, and a walk-on role in a Broadway musical for $30,000.
Insane! (Except for that last one, which is actually pretty cool.) And don’t even get us started on those diamond-encrusted bras from Victoria’s Secret.
Here on planet Earth, and specifically New England, stylish gift-givers go local, with unique, special items made by crafty types in our own backyard. This year, we’re big on repurposed, sustainable items, and anything that’s “cabin chic” or comfy. Tough times call for cozy.
Worth a few clams
Some folks make broth with their leftover lobster shells; super-creative types make home goods and jewelry. In the latter camp are artists Amy Douglass and Nicole Klam and owner Michelle Klam (Nicole’s mom) of Maine Shellware. In their Bangor studio, they use bits of reclaimed lobster-, clam-, and mussel shells, sourced from local restaurants and food processing companies, as earthy inlays to adorn their line of lamps, trays, soap dishes, bottle stoppers, cribbage boards, and shellfish crackers. We especially like the jewelry; who knew shellfish trash could look so kaleidoscopically cool? Their cuff bracelets will bring out her Inner Ariel. Bracelets from $22; lamps from $95. Available at gift shops including Twigs of Falmouth, Falmouth.; www.maineshell
All bark, no bite
“We are total tree-huggers,” says Eva Ilg of Abnormal Creations in Salem, N.H. More so than most, given that this mother-daughter team (Sharon and Eva Ilg) use bark from fallen birch trees and trees scheduled to be taken down to make their products. Birch bark is a base for paintings and a dandy material for star-shaped tree-toppers, while leftover wood — sliced by the chainsaw-wielding artists — is transformed into coasters, candleholders, and ornaments. Wildlife motifs — including hedgehogs — lend a retro-rustic vibe. Everything is handmade. Look for them at retail stores, including Feeney Florist in Chelmsford and Route 101 Gifts in Keene, N.H. Price range $5 to $120. www.etsy.com/shop/AbnormalCreations2.
The scent of a man
Wouldn’t that man in your life appreciate something wild, ahem, wildcrafted, for the holidays? “ ‘Wildcrafting’ means harvesting naturally grown plants, flowers, and trees and extracting the oils,” says Pete Sullivan, who founded Naked Pete’s a year and a half ago in Grafton. One of the ways he does it is by boiling pine needles in a still — yeah, pretty much the same kind used to make moonshine. With scents like forest mint, deep woods, and cedar grove, Naked Pete’s best-selling beard oil ($20), hand salve, lip balm, and candles have a manly appeal. Price range $4 to $20. Find them
at Crompton Collective in Worcester or order online at www.nakedpetes.com.
Let there be lamps
“Anything I can find, I can turn into a light,” says Jason Aleksa, designer and fabricator of Stonehill Design. Based in Fairfield, Conn., Aleksa draws a crowd at craft and design shows due to his flair for turning unlikely objects from flea markets and antique shops into industrial-chic lighting pieces. Here, a gas pump handle-turned-floor lamp ($199); there, a vintage gumball machine-turned-table lamp. The most popular item is a rotary phone transformed into light fixture. (“I sell every one I can get my hands on,” Aleksa says of the nostalgia-provoking item.) It’s a lamp and a conversation piece all in one, perfect for that hipster on your list. Most prices range from $100 to $400 for table lamps; larger floor lamps go higher. Visit Stonehill Design’s Etsy shop, or order online at www.stonehill-design.com.
Nothing says “home from work” (or “work from home”) like slipping into a pair of flannel pants. Family-owned Vermont Flannel Co. is out to flannelize the world, one man, woman, and child at a time. Since plaid is Vermont’s unofficial state color, Vermont Flannel Co. uses it with abandon, plus some patchwork and solids, in their line of flannel clothing and blankets. This is the Rolls Royce of flannel: thick and warm, hand cut, and Vermont-sewn. Sizes run from youth 2-4 to adult 2X; adult lounge pants start at $38.80. Visit their stores in Vermont, their holiday pop-up store at the Northshore Mall in Peabody, or order at www.vermontflannel.com.
Got an equestrian on your gift list? Nailed it! Horsewoman-turned-entrepreneur Elizabeth Kerr has taken the humble horseshoe nail and transformed it into heart-shaped pendants and earrings (some studded with semi-precious gems or Swarovski crystals) and ornaments. Kerr hand-bends and solders the polished steel pieces together at a studio at her family’s horse farm in Deerfield, N.H. We especially like the single-heart pendants (available in two sizes), strung on leather cord. No two are alike. Even if you don’t know a Percheron from Patrice Bergeron, you’ll think these are pretty nifty. From $14. See her at horse shows including Equine Affair, Nov. 9-12, in Springfield, or online at www.thebentnail603.com.
Maple syrup with a kick
Maple is having a moment, cropping up in recipes and cocktails as we back off from table sugar. There’s maple, and then there’s maple from Dorset Maple Reserve, a producer of pure maple syrup in Dorset, Vt. They’ve infused maple syrup with Serrano peppers (medium heat and a “crisp, smoky, fruit finish,” they say) in their small batch Smoked & Spicy Maple Syrup, great for cooking. They also make a Bourbon Barrel Aged version — as the name suggests, the maple syrup is hot-packed and aged in used bourbon barrels, drawing out the flavor compounds. You could drink this straight, it’s that tasty, but most people use it in cocktail concoctions, as a glaze for salmon, and whatever else could use a dash of sweet and smoky oomph. They also make good old maple syrup minus the flash. Specialty syrups, $13.99 for 8 oz.; $24.99 for 16 oz. They also sell sampler packs. Available at Ball & Buck in Boston, Grand Trunk Wine & Cheese in Newburyport, and online at www.dorsetmaplereserve.com.
Chocolates for grown-ups
Nothing against holiday-hued M&Ms, but the treats created at EH Chocolatier in Somerville are little morsels of cocoa-drenched joy. Artisanal chocolatiers Catharine Sweeney, Elaine Hsieh, and crew create confections like Maple Pecan Clusters made with Knob Creek Bourbon caramel, covered in 70 percent dark Valrhona chocolate, and Tart Cherry Bites that will make you forget all about those runny, chocolate-covered cherry cordials of yore. Prices start at $13. For the true chocolate-lover on your gift list, consider their Artisan Chocolate Club (starting at $115 for three months, runs October to May); the recipient gets a package of hand-made bonbons and a bag of confections. Purchase at their facility at 561 Windsor St., Somerville, or at stores including Formaggio Kitchen in Boston and Cambridge; www.EH
Mead me in New Hampshire
Thanks to our national obsession with “Game of Thrones,” things medieval are all the rage. That includes mead, the world’s oldest fermented beverage. (Never mind that nobody actually consumes mead on “GoT.”) Mead is made with honey, fruit, spices, and yeast, and nobody does it better, locally, than award-winning Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, N.H. Led by founder and mead-maker Michael Fairbrother, who started the business in his garage, this company is now the largest craft mead-maker in the United States. Forget the sickly-sweet potion you may have sampled at a Renaissance fair; this stuff is complex and unique — a great gift for that (adult) friend who’s always ahead of the trend curve. $18 and up; available at Craft Beer Cellar in Plymouth; www.moonlightmeadery.com.
Candles that rock
Who needs another candle? Anyone who’s ever seen the crazily realistic-looking rock candles created by Susan Loring Marullo at Seapoint Chandlers in Kittery Point, Maine. “I love to see people’s reactions when they pick up the ‘rock’ and realize it’s actually a candle,” says Loring Marullo. Using molds of stones from the coast of Maine, and casts of sea urchins and starfish (her husband is the mold-maker), Loring Marullo’s ultra-lifelike beeswax candles add an elegant, earthy vibe to coastal decor. The monkey’s fists and sea creatures are fun, but we’re partial to the rock candles, sold in groups of three; they give even those most chaotic homes a touch of Zen. $18-$45. Available at gift
shops including MINKA in Kennebunkport, Maine, or
online at www.seapoint