Many years ago — OK, we're inching up into decades now, but who's counting — I had the opportunity to work in a Virginia gift-basket boutique. If you've been here for any amount of time, you've probably been the recipient of one, and the contents are variations on a theme: A can of Hubs peanuts, a couple of jars of Graves Mountain preserves, Blue Crab Bay seasoning, Shenandoah apple candy, a bottle of Williamsburg White and, if the giver is feeling particularly flush, an adorable little 3-pound Smithfield Ham in its own wee little brown cloth bag. Lovely stuff, I must admit. But I have to say I always felt a little, well, unrepresented as I was fluffing up the decorative straw and curling the ribbon for baskets full of local bounty — because the bounty was only so local. Seriously, where was Richmond?
With this in mind, I've assembled a gift basket of 100 percent Richmond-specific items. The perfect welcoming present or gift to say "I miss you" to someone who's managed to escape the mighty gravitational pull of the Lee Monument and move on, the Richmond basket has something for everyone and can be customized, upsized or downsized depending on just how much you care — or how much you want them to think that you care.
Basket insider tip: Pack the entire basket full of straw first, then arrange your items tilted face-up on top of the straw. You're not skipping through the woods to grandmother's house with this basket, so the object isn't to snugly pack in as much as you can. On the contrary, you want absolutely every item visible above the basket's rim. Presentation is everything, and besides, you'd be amazed at how quickly you can rack up a three-figure total in a medium sized basket.
1. Potables, potent or otherwise. If the recipient of your basket imbibes, include a couple of hefty bottles of beer from Legend Brewery. If not, a colorful selection of Fruit 66 all natural fruit soda will fan out beautifully across the back of your basket. Drink local!
2. Because Sally Bell's cupcakes might not travel well. A 10-ounce tin of cheese straws from Carriage House. Very Richmond and very delicious, they'd be just the thing to go along with your ale or your apple berry soda.
Basket insider tip: When given the choice, always choose items with hard containers. Tins, jars and cans instead of cellophane or bags. Yes, they travel better, but more importantly, they fill your basket up faster.
3. Thank you for smoking. A pack of Marlboros, that is. The healthy fruit soda will cancel out any negative effects from the cigarettes. No, seriously. We can't afford to lose another mega-employer in the Richmond area, so smoke ‘em if you've got ‘em — and if you don't got ‘em, we'll give ‘em to you. Until we've got you hooked, that is.
4. Don't blame me, I voted for Dirt Woman. A signed poster of Dirty as the Statue of Liberty (a memento of her short-lived run for mayor) is your ticket to freedom when anyone starts grousing about the way the city is being run. It's like being a third-party presidential voter, only 93 percent less pretentious!
5. Join the Clean City Commission. A bar of oatmeal cinnamon or lemongrass soap from Row House Soaps. Locally made, and look — Richmond is right there on the label!
Basket insider tip: Be wary of including sachets, candles or heavily perfumed soap in a gift basket that also contains food. Unless you like the idea of patchouli cookies and gardenia crisps, stick to unscented or food-scented products.
6. Music City. We're not exactly Nashville or Detroit, but Richmond has produced a respectable number of national acts. Depending on what floats your boat (or the boat of your recipient), throw in a CD by Aimee Mann, D'Angelo, Lamb of God, Pat Benatar, Elliott Yamin, Carbon Leaf, Avail or probably most famously, GWAR — though if you choose GWAR, I'd probably upgrade to a DVD because come on, GWAR without visuals? It's like Smithfield ham without salt.
7. A box of Velatis caramels. Now that Cole's has closed up shop, depriving Richmond of their beloved Madame Eva's, Velatis has become the place to get traditional caramels in Richmond. Not for the sugar-shy or anyone with extensive (or expensive) dental work, but so unbelievably good.
8. Joe to the world. What goes better with fancy caramels than a good strong cup of black coffee? Throw in a bag of Blanchard's Dark As Dark extra-dark-roast coffee and get your caffeine fix from locally roasted — and I do mean roasted — beans.
9. Just say Poe. Speaking of dark, nothing Richmond would be complete without a nod to the original emo kid, Edgar Allan Poe. Five bucks will get you a creepy little 3-inch Edgar in the Poe Museum gift shop; for $10 you can get a bigger one that comes with a raven. Cask of Amontillado sold separately.
Basket insider tip: Keep on good terms with your basket provider (read: tip heavily). Forgotten birthdays and anniversaries are easily remedied with an elaborate basket delivered a day late with an equally elaborate apology involving a misplaced order or delivery driver shortage. Throw in a few extra bucks for the "he was in the shop a week ago picking things out for an hour" or "she hit the ceiling when she found out it wasn't delivered yesterday," and all is forgiven.