IF YOU are daunted by the prospect of Christmas shopping, I have an infallible piece of advice: give the gift of food or drink.
Ties, jumpers and socks may well hit the mark, but they can just as easily prove expensive mistakes. Something foodie on the other hand is much more likely to be received with gratitude and delight by anyone.
Cookbooks are a great place to start, and there is no shortage of new titles to choose from at Christmas. Fighting for space on the bestseller charts this year are Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi, Mary Berry and the Hairy Bikers.
However, the last thing you want to give is a gift that will sit on the shelf, as unloved and unthumbed as that copy of Professor Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.
On that basis, let me recommend Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes as the sort of cookbook you will turn to again and again.
Vouchers for a cookery school are in a similar spirit, but they need to be given with care. For the sort of person who actually wants to improve their culinary skills, the right course can be a fabulous treat. For someone who just cannot cook, it smacks of “please try harder” and so could go down like indigestion. Do your research properly on this one.
I really don’t believe anyone has ever unwrapped a bread or yoghurt maker on Christmas morning and felt anything other than disappointment.
Gadgets can be a minefield but, chosen carefully, they can be very well received – and, depending who you give them to, offer the added benefit of being available for your own use.
Proper coffee machines fall into that category, but I suspect the big gadget hit this year might be the Nutribullet, which blends just about everything down into healthy smoothies.
Once again, when it comes to your overweight aunts and uncles, you should buy with care lest the gesture comes off like an instruction, but for anyone into health and fitness, it will be a great gift.
And don’t forget good-quality kitchen basics. Anyone who loves to cook is going to appreciate a great set of sharp knives, especially when a monster turkey is lurking in the oven all ready to defy the blunt electric carver.
If in doubt about any of this, go with luxury foodstuffs: nice bottles of wine, handmade chocolates, a side of smoked salmon or a lovely ham will never, ever fail to please. The key is for it to be something that’s a bit of a treat, that they wouldn’t buy for themselves.
However there is one golden rule when it comes to food gifts.
Never listen to anyone who tells you that something homemade and stuffed into a badly washed beetroot jar will be appreciated that little bit more. Champagne truffles from the shop will always beat rum truffles made by your cousin with the flaking nail varnish.