ASSEMBLING A GIFT basket is easier than you might think. Think up a theme that suits your recipient and browse the gourmet, gift and grocery stores for items that are both tasty and decorative.
* If you cook and enjoy making food gifts, by all means incorporate them into the basket. Bake up your tastiest cookies or candies, package them in a shallow can and cover with clear plastic wrap. Include decorative napkins and sampler sizes of gourmet coffees and teas.
* For those adventurous types on your list, try an ethnic food basket. The theme could be anything from Cajun to Moroccan to Japanese. The Japanese basket might include chopsticks, packaged seaweed, sake, dried mushrooms, spices and rice all packaged up in a red lacquer basket.
* For the romantics on your list try a basket of wine, brie, crackers, chocolate, more chocolate and candles. Include matches to light the candles. Try to think of everything that will complete the experience of using and enjoying the basket.
* Your health-conscious friends will love receiving a basket of oatmeal, natural fruit juices, sulphur-free dried apricots, low-salt soups, whole-grain pancake mixes and fruit-juice sweetened cookies. Honest, they'll love it, and they'll be touched that you care.
* Know some homebodies? Select an interesting cookbook and include a set of measuring spoons and the ingredients for one or two recipes in the book.
* Everybody knows at least a herd and a half of party animals. Create an instant party with nuts, popcorn, chips, salsa, beer, mineral water (for the designated driver -- remember, you're thinking of everything), dime-store games, party hats and balloons.