Some years ago, I spent a week at a loved one's house, pinch-hitting during a daycare crisis. You know how those things go: You think you've got everything organized and then suddenly your daycare worker is unavailable and the whole organizational thing tumbles like a row of dominoes. I was happy to help out. It gave me a chance for a nice long visit with the kids, and my absence helped restore a little Aunt B appreciation here at home.
Because I was taking care of the kids and preparing meals, I became unusually well acquainted with the kitchen I was visiting. It was a revelation to me: Few of us realize how reliant we are upon the things in our own kitchen until we roll up our sleeves and go to work in someone else's space. This was particularly true during my daycare visit because the person I was helping out didn't like to cook and, consequently, spent little time or money on equipping her kitchen. I, on the other hand, am to dishes and cookware what Imelda Marcos was to shoes. My cupboards are full, and my appliances as beautiful and useful as I can afford them to be.
The spartan conditions in that unfamiliar kitchen were a challenge to me. I was especially surprised to find no decent knives or dry measuring cups. Until I had worked in that kitchen, it had never occurred to me that even basic cooking could be conducted without the help of a chef's knife, a paring knife, or proper cups and spoons for measuring both wet and dry ingredients.
When I was a college student, my dad often gave me things like Tupperware and paring knives as birthday and Christmas gifts. At the time I was just learning to cook and, because of my limited budget, not enjoying it all that much so I looked askance at his choices. I found, though, that these basic tools were often in my hands and, because he had thought to provide them, I was truly grateful for my dad's thoughtfulness.
I took a lesson from Dad's example and noted what my loved one needed in the way of practical cooking tools. I gave those tools as Christmas and birthday gifts. The recipient of my gifts reacted in much the same way I had back in my student days, but they later came to appreciate how helpful those gifts were and thanked me for them. After all, even if you don't like cooking, the job is bound to be a little more tolerable when you're provided with at least the basic tools.
If you're considering giving a gift of kitchen tools and wondering what might come in handy, a good list is provided in "The Impoverished Students' Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery" by Jay F. Rosenberg (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971). I refer you to this book because it is an extremely bare-bones list of the things and skills a person starting out needs to survive. If the person you are buying for lacks anything that is on the "Things to Fill Up a Kitchen With" list, you can be assured that they really do need them. I would add to that list a good chef's knife, a paring knife, and any sort of measuring implement from spoons to cups.
Go forth and shop for these practical tools with a happy heart. The kitchen tools aisle is far less likely to be mobbed with Christmas shoppers than the electronics aisle. And take heart when your loved one looks at you oddly as they open that package of measuring spoons. Once they see how often they use them, they will decide that your thoughtful gift has, indeed, truly measured up.