This is how it happens: You show up at a holiday open house or potluck or company party and some well-meaning person hands you a gift. A neighbor or co-worker or distant cousin — someone you totally like, yet never thought to shop for. What to do? Xpress has your back. Here's a list of unique, local gifts that say "I got this just for you!" (Even though you didn't.) Stock up; it's a long holiday season.
1. Goat's milk fudge from Heather Lane Farm. This smooth, sweet treat is creamier than its cow's milk counterpart (though currently the fudge is made with cow's milk butter; FYI to those with an allergy to bovine products). Flavors include chocolate, peanut butter, coconut and the holiday-only butterscotch and gumdrop. In a very unofficial test, Xpress tasters favored chocolate but only in a slight margin over coconut. heatherlanefarm.com
2. Fox Hill Mead. The Marshall-based meadery turns out that lush medieval-inspired honey wine in flavors like ginger-apricot, blackberry and traditional. This year, Fox Hill's spiced and reserve meads won a silver and a bronze medal at the Mazer Cup. Available at local retailers; for a full list, check foxhillmead.com.
3. Good for a last minute gift, a quick correspondence and you get good karma points in the deal: The Asheville Humane Society is selling holiday card sets designed by local artist Angela Alexander. Order standard-size ($20) or smaller boutique-size cards ($15) in sets of a dozen (four designs); all proceeds support the homeless animals of Buncombe County. ashevillehumane.org.
4. For the person who has everything: A WNC Nature Center gift. A family membership ($55) admits six to the Asheville facility as well as to more than 200 zoos, aquariums and science centers nationwide. Adopt an animal ($25-$100) online at wildwnc.org/friends/adopt. Honor a loved one by buying a brick ($100-$150) at wildwnc.org/friends/buy-a-brick or joining the "food chain" with a donation in any amount at wildwnc.org/friends/donations. More info: 298-5600 ext. 308.
5. For kids: Though functional organics company Maggie's is based in Michigan, the super-cute Menagerie Animals — handcrafted from scrap materials from the company's clothing and sock production — are fabricated in the Morganton, N.C. worker-owned co-op Opportunity Threads. The November/December issue of Organic Processing Magazine named the toys a best new organic product of 2009. Order tie-dyed chickens and solid-color cows, pigs and sheep at $15 each. maggiesorganics.com.
6. An assortment of handmade chocolate truffles is always welcome, and Asheville's two chocolatiers both offer gift boxes. Buy five-, 15-, and 20-piece collections ($10-$34) in store or online from French Broad Chocolates; Chocolate Fetish serves up DIY gift boxes and ready-made packages in store or purchase samplers — try the four boxes of four truffles each deal ($32.95) — online. frenchbroadchocolates.com and chocolatefetish.com.
7. Mountain Lights (30 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville, 253-0080), known for its selection of handcrafted candles, also offers unusual gifts like Russian nesting dolls. Dating from the 1890s, the toy includes of a series of dolls brightly painted to look like Russian peasant man or women. The largest doll opens to reveal a smaller doll inside which, in turn, opens to reveal a smaller doll and so on. A set of five is $12.95.
8. While gift cards have been criticized as impersonal, but what about a set of Fine Arts Theatre gift passes? Everyone loves a good movie, and the arthouse/independent-films cinema provides an impressive and rotating selection. Plus, the black-and-silver passes fit neatly into a (very personal) card. Worth noting: Tickets are available at the theater 30 minutes before screenings, $8 each, cash only. fineartstheatre.com.
9. Here's a gift that's cute and handy, and one-size-fits-all: Ingenious pocket cuff bracelets by local designer Alanna Hubbard of Poutfits. The stretchy jersey wristbands come in bright (and sparkly!) colors and can be worn like a bracelet, and (surprise!) these accessories also contain a secret pocket just the right size for cash, credit cards or a cell phone. $12 each. Buy an assortment at Honeypot (86 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville, 225-0304). poutfits.com.
10. Give a green gift that keeps on giving: The To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set means never having to use a plastic fast-food spoon again. Flatware and chopsticks come in their own pretty black, red or brown fabric holder (made by a women's cooperative on the Thailand-Burma border) and can be easily stowed in a purse or desk. $22 at Nest Organics. www.nestorganics.com.