What does one bring to this adult birthday party?
February 3, 2023 6:47 PM   Subscribe

A medium-level family friend is hosting a birthday get-together. They are too opinionated, too frugal, too practical or too hippie/crunchy for the standard "mini luxury" grownup gifts. It's too late to track down the perfect book. What on earth do I bring?

This is a person who grows much of their own food ; in the past they have thanked me warmly for bringing sweets over, but visibly not eaten them. They don't wear fancy clothes or cosmetics, they don't have fancy decor, scents or houseplants in the house, they don't drink fancy cocktails or wine, they have a big family and are super busy so little self-care consumables would probably be seen as silly. Not really close enough to offer any kind of service (like babysitting) as a present, even if they needed it. They have niche taste in music and books that I'm not very familiar with, and anyway I don't have time to order anything elaborate.

Someone suggested buying an electric blanket for cuddling up with a book, which actually sounded like an OK idea. But beyond that, I'm at my wit's end. I'm not actually 100% sure whether a full-on birthday gift is called for on an occasion like this, but I surely can't show up with absolutely nothing. Any ideas?
posted by Bardolph to Shopping (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by athirstforsalt at 6:58 PM on February 3 [6 favorites]

Alright, this will be weird but pause to contemplate: a mushroom growing kit? There are many, the one I linked is just a random sample, and it would seem to be A) mildly unusual, B) plays to the "growing own food" angle and C) tends to skew "crunchy"?
posted by aramaic at 6:59 PM on February 3 [14 favorites]

Were those earlier chocolates explicitly fair trade or slavery-free? Fair trade chocolates might be the key here.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 7:01 PM on February 3

A fancy seasoning? Dried porcini mushrooms or mushroom powder?
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:04 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

Something nice to cook that homegrown food with that they probably aren't making themselves, like an interesting local olive oil, spice mix, tea, or honey?
posted by Stacey at 7:04 PM on February 3 [8 favorites]

Buy them a premium gardening tool, such as a trowel with a stainless blade and a replaceable hardwood handle, for example.
posted by jamjam at 7:05 PM on February 3 [9 favorites]

A bottle of fancy olive oil? Gourmet beans or spices? Maybe brands that are earth friendly. I sometimes bring micro greens from a local guy who grows for restaurants but sells his leftovers to the general public. A basket of fresh from the hen eggs, unwashed because they keep longer that way. A nice jar of local honey from a small, local business.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:07 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

Can you get farmers market gift certificates in the off season? Educational crunchy museum or kids museum or other activity gift certificate (I have a raptor rehab/wild life & environmental education center kinda near me that would be cool, for example)?

Cool heirloom vegetable seeds like amazing tomatos or beans?
posted by Grandysaur at 7:09 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]

Oops, Stacy beat me to it.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:11 PM on February 3

A Fedco Seeds gift certificate could be nice - it's an organic seed cooporative that does flowers, veg, trees (including fruit trees) and gardening supplies.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:11 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]

A reusable metal bookmark. Frequently available at museum giftshops.
posted by brainwane at 7:11 PM on February 3

A really pretty bouquet of flowers (whole foods or other similar places will have 'sustainable' ones). Easy to get, a lovely luxury that people often feel they 'shouldnt' get for themselves. They bring joy for a week, then you compost them.
posted by Ausamor at 7:16 PM on February 3 [11 favorites]

Reusable beeswax wraps that replace plastic wrap for food storage. I can't tell you where to find them in person but I know the people I've given them to have been delighted.

I get that on its own, it may not be a full present but a good addition into something bigger.
posted by edencosmic at 7:32 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

Echoing some others. I've given seeds for certain varieties of vegetables I personally enjoy and they've been well received. Jimmy Nardello and habanada peppers, some heirloom tomatoes, etc.
posted by mikesch at 7:33 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I think if you were thanked warmly for sweets in the past, that might still be ok even if you didn’t see them get eaten. Otherwise, instead of worrying about pleasing the person too specifically, think of who in your community you want to support. Go get an interesting food stuff - a good quality olive oil or allpurpose seasoned salt or local honey or jam or something?
posted by vunder at 7:38 PM on February 3 [5 favorites]

More expensive than average nuts, like macadamia.
posted by metasarah at 7:39 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

Cute tea towels thrifts from a resale shop of some kind
posted by raccoon409 at 7:43 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

Beeswax candles, ideally bought locally. Tomorrow is Saturday and perhaps you have a farmers market in the morning?
posted by raccoon409 at 7:44 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]

I clicked in with the intent to answer a mushroom growing kit; someone beat me to it, so I'll just add, we gifted some from that same company this year and they were a hit!

They're not just grow-once, either. They can be flipped and done at least twice, or broken apart and done more times.
posted by stormyteal at 7:45 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]

This person sounds similar to me. I don't think most hippie/crunchy/grow-your-own food people would love an electric blanket as a gift. Something garden-related seems like a great idea. I'd go for either a very good quality version of a tool everyone needs (like pruning shears or a trowel) or something a little unusual that they may not already have but might be interested in trying out. I just did some quick googling for ideas and found a few things I'd be happy to get as gifts:

This "smart shovel" with a grate for getting usable soil off clumps of sod or weeds. I have no idea if this would work better than just banging the clumps against the shovel the way I do now, but I'd be interested to try it out.

A hori hori garden knife, CobraHead weeder, or stirrup hoe. I don't have any of these things and I'm not sure if I would end up finding them helpful, but I would happily try any of them out if they were given to me.

A black light flashlight for finding tomato hornworms. I just now read about this idea for the first time and I want to try it out. Those things are so darn hard to spot!

Tubtrugs or similar containers. Things like this are really handy for collecting weeds and taking them to the compost bin, carrying harvested potatoes, etc.

I'd be interested in a mushroom growing kit, too.
posted by Redstart at 7:48 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]

- Something that represents _you_, rather than an attempt to match them. Music that you love, that's niche; a book that means something to you, maybe a classic or a children's book, or a book of beautiful art that's not too edgy (black and white nature photography, or colorful macro photography) -- but don't spend too much money on it, and tell them explicitly that they are invited to donate it when they are done with it, or keep it if they wish.

- If they have houseplants, then perhaps an electronic moisture meter.

- If they have pets, this is my go-to: something fun for their pet, like a food puzzle. They will enjoy giving it to the pet, and it's not designed to last.

- If they grow flowers, ever, then perhaps a minimalist item from a thrift store, flea market, or local artisan that will hold _small_ bouquets. I've had a lot of success with antique cream pitchers and tiny teapots. Get some non-traditional cut flowers (or just small ones) from a local farmers' market and make a homey little bouquet, and bring that in the container.

- Speaking of the farmers' market: Some awesome bread or gorgeous local produce. If you are somewhere very cold, then maybe go to the coolest bakery you can find, the day of the party, and get something baked fresh that day, and make sure you get it wrapped well so it will still be good the next day.
posted by amtho at 7:54 PM on February 3 [4 favorites]

A gift certificate for seeds would also be nice. I'd give one from Seed Savers Exchange.
posted by Redstart at 7:54 PM on February 3

For some reason I keep coming back to “flavored salt gift set.”
posted by staggernation at 7:56 PM on February 3 [3 favorites]

Your friend might really like The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray. Order it directly from her and have it sent to your friend, autographed!
posted by mareli at 8:01 PM on February 3

Best answer: If you have a food co-op near you, you could go there and ask an employee for help. They likely have a section of general merchandise items that would make nice gifts.

Fun socks with crunchy cred: Conscious Step, Darn Tough.

Swedish dishcloths are compostable and come in fun patterns.

An art print might be nice. Maybe they don't have decor because they just don't put effort into that sort of thing. Etsy has some options for purchasing digital files for printing yourself. Every thrift store has picture frames. Or leave unframed if that suits their style more.
posted by Hex Wrench at 8:04 PM on February 3

My favorite newly discovered tool is a Japanese-style sickle, even if they have one it's nice to have a second so one can be kept sharp & the other used for cutting roots. Add a nice handled file to keep it sharp.
posted by mr vino at 8:12 PM on February 3

Best answer: Seconding the sock idea above, especially if you live in a place where it gets cold in the winter and/or your friend does a lot of hiking. Quality socks like Darn Tough are so useful and also so expensive! Another pair or two is always welcome.
posted by Redstart at 8:16 PM on February 3

Trinket dishes made by a local artisan or someone from a community you or they want to support. These can be made of so many different materials - ceramic, papier-mâché, leather, felt, wood, acrylic, sundry upcycled things… Everybody can usually use a little bowl or dish to put stuff in, either in a bathroom or by the door or on the coffee table, but they are small enough that if they don’t want to display it they can be stashed away in many spots. For all of the hard to gift people in my life I focus on handcrafted things and it seems to be a very successful strategy.

If that’s a no-go, my friend who is closest to yours in description was once given a selection of Bee’s Wrap in cute patterns as a birthday gift and she gushed about it for multiple weeks afterward.
posted by Mizu at 8:43 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

Seconding Japanese gardening tools or a hori-hori knife. Like you would get at an indie plant nursery, not the hardware store. And I agree you can’t go wrong with Tubtrugs.
posted by matildaben at 9:18 PM on February 3

A high quality straw broom with a wooden handle and a metal dustpan with a tall handle. I'm a crunchy hippie and that was one of my favorite presents ever and I use then every day.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:06 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

This is why I make marmalade. With a customized label to add the right amount of love, irony and {bitter|sweet}ness.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:27 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

Nthing the mushroom growing kit. That could have real interest for people like this, and it isn’t overly precious (considering you’re not sure whether a proper gift is even warranted in that context). If there’s a local Mycological Society near you, you could provide info on it, along with your gift.
posted by asimplemouse at 4:03 AM on February 4

I love giving the perfect gift but something I have realized over time is that sometimes I can give someone a gift they love and sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, it isn’t going to hit the mark. At that point, it’s out of my hands. If you give something that can be re-gifted, you may be saving them an errand.

That said, I like to bring any of the following:
-Nice dried fruit
-Unscented candles
-Small vases
-Dish towels
-Flower seeds, if they’re into gardening

(But really, if people are going to sniff at a present because it’s too frivolous or something, they need to grow up. They can donate it to orphans, if the presence of chocolate is too oppressive.)
posted by corey flood at 7:40 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

Donating to a charity on their behalf, printing it out, and putting it in an envelope.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:05 AM on February 4

A Yeti thermos is one of those things you won't buy for yourself because it's expensive, but you'd use the heck out of it if you had one.
posted by greatalleycat at 11:27 AM on February 4

Yeah, I live in a weird little hippie college town, and most people prefer to garden here as a hobby, not too used to people who like luxury consumables. The best thing to give them is a gift card for their gardening supplies, or purchasing some premium heirloom seeds along with some really top tier equipment that they can use repeatedly. You can also ask them what kind of canning jars they use -- canning jars are so expensive and at such a premium especially after the pandemic, so anything related to food organization or food storage is really great. A small portable labelmaker is also nice.
posted by yueliang at 2:56 PM on February 4

If someone grows their own food, do you know if they also cook their own food? Get them some of the common kitchen things that wear out or get misplaced over time, nice wooden spatulas, kitchen towels, a set of measuring cups, etc.
posted by yohko at 6:30 PM on February 4

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