Cool & Cheap Gift Ideas 

FOOD GIFTS $25 & UNDER
Let the fruitcakes, moldy marshmallow trees and Archway cookies line a landfill somewhere. Those in need of quick, affordable edible gifts have no shortage of choices this season beyond the habitually (and justly) mobbed See's Candies counter at Green Hills Mall. Expect to see lots of slab-sized candy bars, slender two-foot cookie boxes and imported dried-fruit assortments under the tree from the newly opened Trader Joe's in Green Hills (3909 Hillsboro Rd., 297-6560), many between $3.99 and $8.99.

Then again, other options exist for shoppers who don't want their holiday spirit killed by Hillsboro Village traffic. From its base in Spring Hill, Cuppycakes Bakery & Confections (474-8967; cuppycakesbakery.com) will actually deliver chocolatier Cathy Parsons' exquisite handmade candies, from peppermint bark (8 oz. for $10.95) to chocolate ganache, raspberry chambord or peppermint truffles (six pieces for $12.95).

For variety, wrap up a Mini Dark Exotic Candy Bar Library of trendy Vosges chocolate ($25), a little bookshelf of mini candy bars in flavors ranging from Ancho chilies to applewood-smoked bacon. Ask Jenn or Kelly to save you one at Green Pea Salon (2900 12th Ave. S., 297-6878; greenpeasalon.com). The glamorous little bars are also available at Sylvan Park's The Produce Place (4000 Murphy Rd., 383-2664; produceplace.com), now celebrating its 20th year.

If you prefer to assemble your own baskets of goodies, try assorted Italian cookies from Savarino's Cucina in Hillsboro Village (2121 Belcourt Ave., 460-9878), cheeses from Corrieri's Formaggeria in 12South (1110 Caruthers Ave., 385-9272), handmade pastas from Lazzaroli Pasta in Germantown (1314 5th Ave. N., 291-9922; lazzaroli.com), or build-your-own six-packs of exotic beers from World Market (3728 Charlotte Pike, 356-0160). Brews of many lands can be found too at Trader Joe's, which also carries the coveted Dutch lager Oranjeboom.

Want to avoid the malls altogether? Here's a homemade food gift that's foolproof not only to give but to make: vanilla sugar. Fill an airtight Mason jar with granulated white sugar, then slice a whole vanilla bean down the side, stick it in the sugar and seal the jar. Use one bean for every 2 cups of sugar. Within weeks it'll take on a pleasant vanilla aroma; the longer it sits, the better it gets. Use it in everything from coffee to cocoa to cookie recipes.

GIFTS $25 & UNDER FOR MEN
For guys who don't need remaking, a practical yet fulfillingly manly gift is a simple pocket knife. Simple, hell: If you're willing to spend the bucks, you can get fold-out knives that do everything but pour whiskey and unhook bras. At the he-man's wonderland that is Friedman's Army Navy Store (2101 21st Ave. S., 297-3343), $20.99 gets you a "Tinker" model Victorinox Swiss Army knife with bottle and can openers, Philips-head screwdriver, and oh yeah, a blade. Not into knives? The store also carries metal canteens ($8), authentic Army helmets ($19.99), super-size duffel bags ($24.99), and a Fury multi-tool with pliers, screwdriver and 11 different bits ($14.99).

Know a guy who needs help covering his bare walls with something more than St. Pauli's Girls? Bryce McCloud's very cool print shop Isle of Printing (520 Ash St., 244-6677; isleofprinting.com) has bold, rugged prints and posters available, a few as low as $25. Also check the back room at Local Honey (1207 Linden Ave., 297-6977; myspace.com/localhoneyvintage), where you can find some of Murfreesboro print house Grand Palace's distinctive concert posters for acts such as The Mattoid and Catfish Haven for under $20.

What to get for the music geek who has everything? Josh Walker, import buyer at Grimey's (1604 8th Ave. S., 254-4801; grimeys.com), suggests Eccentric Soul: Twinight's Lunar Rotation ($24.99), a sterling two-CD set devoted to rarities from the vaults of Chicago R&B label Twinight. Or just get the latest from Swedish psych-rockers Dungen, whose CD 4 ($11.99) is likely playing on the store's speakers as we speak.

GIFTS $25 & UNDER FOR WOMEN
It is possible to purchase stylish, endlessly adaptable accessories without raiding a pawnshop, emptying your savings or resorting to burglary. Julie Lutz, owner of Serendipity (2301 12th Ave. S., 279-5570) in 12South’s boutique district, models a slender bracelet of opalescent freshwater pearls ($10) that goes with most anything—maybe some blue lapis earrings ($16), square, glittering garnets ($15) or a mitten-shaped felt change purse made in the Himalayas ($15). You can almost smell the Yeti musk. Admittedly, you’re not going to find much under $25 at 12South’s hot Two Elle (2309 12th Ave. S., 269-9954; twoelle.com), but the stash up front of “Risky Business” shades ($18) in frames ranging from transparent to red as Julie London’s lips fits the bill. If you’d rather skip fashion altogether, Green Hills’ Ten Thousand Villages (3900 Hillsboro Pike, 385-5814; nashville.tenthousandvillages.com) offers fragrant but non-cloying vegetable soaps from India in clove, cinnamon and nutmeg ($10) among its bounty of international artisanal fair-trade goods. Every Sunday through November, they’ll donate 10 percent of sales to a local nonprofit agency. For an evening out, the Nashville Originals site (nashvilleoriginals.com) offers $25 gift cards redeemable at any of 35 locally owned and operated Nashville establishments, from The Acorn and Baja Burrito to The Turnip Truck and Zola. For an evening in, Grimey’s import buyer Josh Walker recommends the mellow, enveloping pop of Department of Eagles ($12.99) or the simmering African rhythms of the excellent Ethiopiques Vol. 4 compilation ($14.99), devoted to the hip-liberating beats of Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke.

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