Without quality face time with the most important people in our lives, gift giving is one of the love languages still available during the pandemic. No hugs, but you can send your loved ones a rich and nutty local whiskey, or perhaps a cooking class with a favorite local chef.
Shop locally and give gifts a Bay Area touch. The creativity of the region’s businesses means there are plenty of compelling options. Restaurants have meal kits and cooking classes, while bookstores and sake makers are offering subscriptions. Treat a friend to a gift of jam and granola from their favorite brunch spot; a collection of rare beans and an heirloom recipe; or coffee from a local roaster. Or keep it simple and give a gift card from their favorite restaurant or make a donation in their name to an employee relief fund (you’ll find some here). Here are 19 ideas to inspire.
Berkeley bubbly from Blue Ox winery (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Blue Ox sparkling rosé
Sparkling wine is a mandatory accessory to the end-of-year holidays, and in recent years there has been a groundswell of exciting new California bubblies. One of the Bay Area’s newest sparkling wine specialists is Blue Ox Wine Co., located in a small warehouse in west Berkeley. Partners Josh Hammerling and Noah Kenoyer have put out lots of experimental styles, fashioning fizzy wines from nontraditional grapes like Valdiguie. Among their most festive is a sparkling rosé called Ask the Dust (named for the John Fante novel), a rendition of old-vine Zinfandel from the historic Enz Vineyard in Hollister (San Benito County) that has the exuberant fruitiness of a watermelon slushy.
Pop-Up Magazine’s ‘Issue in a Box’
Popular live storytelling event Pop-Up Magazine has been on a hiatus since the beginning of the pandemic, and in lieu of a stage, the company is translating its tour into a food-focused “Issue in a Box” ($70). Author and chef Samin Nosrat has a story in it, as does Cal Peternell, the Chez Panisse chef turned cookbook author. On brand for Pop-Up, plenty of other big names are involved, too, like novelist Karen Russell and Song Exploder’s Hrishikesh Hirway. Expect recipe cards, a graphic novel, taste tests and other interactive inclusions. But the box is about food and it includes, of course, elements that can be eaten.
Capay Valley olive oil and honey from Seka Hills (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Seka Hills Olio Nuovo
The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation owns the Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County. The tribe also produces wine, honey and olive oil under the Seka Hills label. Of the more than 22,000 acres sustainably managed in the Capay Valley, about 500 are planted to arbequina, frantoio, piqual and taggiasca olives for premium oils pressed at its state-of-the-art mill (check out its tasting rooms) in the Yolo County town of Brooks. Each year, Seka Hills also produces a coveted olio nuovo from its estate orchard. The arbequina olives are harvested in October and milled and bottled right away. The 2020 is a bright, delicately peppery finishing oil that elevates everything from Italian bread soup to vanilla ice cream. A perfect gift for about $18 for a 250ml bottle.
Available at the Pasta Shop in Oakland, specialty food retailers and the Seka Hills Olive Mill, 19326 County Road 78, Brooks. 530-796-2810 or www.sekahills.com
The Cook In with Last Supper Society
Virtual cooking classes are the new pandemic hotness, and Sacramento culinary experience company the Last Supper Society has perfected the formula with its well-produced and downright fun series, “The Cook In.” Past classes have focused on Viet-Cajun gumbo; chicken wing confit; and South African-inspired steak house staples from chef Geoff Davis, whose restaurant True Laurel is one of critic Soleil Ho’s Top Restaurants. Each class is hosted live on YouTube by charismatic founders Ryan Royster and chef Byron Hughes, along with a different guest each time. Participants get meal kits of local produce and cocktails so they can cook (and drink) along with them. In addition, a portion of the proceeds for each class goes to a charitable organization. Gift certificates are available for purchase on their website. Each class hovers at $60 and feeds two.
The Last Supper Society. Meal kits available for pickup in Oakland and Sacramento. www.lastsuppersociety.com
Tortilla press, molcajete and basket, masa harina from Preserved (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Preserved, a tiny shop in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, is filled with traditional kitchenware and quarantine-friendly gifts for the home cook. Done with sourdough? Learn to ferment vegetables, make tofu, brew beer or kombucha. Owner Elizabeth Vecchiarelli, expert in all things preserved, is on hand most days to dispense advice or troubleshoot an ailing SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). For the cook who isn’t ready to tumble down the rabbit hole of fermentation, there are plenty of gateway projects such as making hand-pressed tortillas with masa harina from Alma Semillera, an East Bay company specializing in Mesoamerican foods sourced from small farmers using organic practices. Tortilla press ($45); masa harina ($7).
Preserved. 5032 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 510-922-8434 or www.preservedgoods.com
Omnivore Books Cookbook Club
On a quarterly basis, San Francisco’s premier culinary bookshop will send cookbook club members a cookbook signed by its author. And not just any old “150 Microwave Recipes”; past books have included tomes by Samin Nosrat, Madhur Jaffrey and Harold McGee. The cookbook selection is also customizable to some extent: Email the shop to let them know the recipient might have a preference for vegetarian cookbooks or more history-oriented works. A yearlong membership, which includes four books, is $160.
Omnivore Books. 3885 Cesar Chavez, San Francisco. 415-282-4712 or https://omnivorebooks.myshopify.com/
Rancho Gordo beans (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Rancho Gordo Bean Club
During the pandemic, a spot in Rancho Gordo’s Bean Club has been one of the most sought-after tickets in the food world. Club members receive quarterly shipments of the Napa company’s heirloom beans, grown locally or sourced directly from small-scale farmers in Mexico. In addition, members get a very handy recipe newsletter — helpful in case they don’t know what to do with mayocoba beans. A membership is $39.95 per quarter. But if memberships are still sold out when you look, you can order one of the company’s many gift boxes, like founder Steve Sando’s $29.95 Desert Island Sampler, which includes five bags of his must-have varieties.
Rancho Gordo. 1924 Yajome St., Napa. 707-259-1935, Ext. 103 or www.ranchogordo.com
The popular Japanese kitchen, barware and bottle shop is a favorite for sake and Japanese whiskey geeks, so it’s a natural choice for gift-buying if you’ve got either in your life. Check out its sake-of-the-month clubs, which have both an introductory level ($40 per month) and a level that features rare, premium bottles ($90 per month). Members receive two handpicked bottles of sake a month as well as other fringe benefits. The shop’s online store also has a handy gift section with both edible and nonedible items, like sake cups inlaid with 24-karat gold, soap made from sake lees and sachets of Japanese cypress wood shavings meant for elevating the hot bath experience.
Umami Mart. 4027 Broadway, Oakland. 510-250-9559 or https://umamimart.com
Napkins from Loyale Linens (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
For a lot of people, kitchen linens are the epitome of something you wouldn’t splurge on for yourself. Which is why a few pieces from Loyale are a great gift for the person who has it all. Based in San Francisco’s Sunset District, Loyale Linens produces gorgeous linens made locally at a fair wage from Japanese milled cotton. The soft and durable linens are $24 each and ideal to use as napkins or hand towels. If you want to go full fancy, Loyale offers a gift-wrapping option that comes with attractive cards printed with signature food-theme designs.
Loyale. Available online and via CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Pop-Up on Dec. 12. www.loyalestudio.com
Haus aperitif subscription
Haus is making vermouth cool again. Since launching last year, the Healdsburg aperitif company has won fans for its sleek bottle design, its transparency around ingredient sourcing and its of-the-moment flavor combinations like Ginger Yuzu, Spiced Cherry and Rose Rosé. Though these aperitifs are wine-based, they have largely appealed to a cocktail crowd since they taste like complete mixed drinks (but with a much lower alcohol content). Haus has a membership program, similar to a wine club model, that ships bottles every month ($63 for the two-bottle option). Or try the sampler, a set of four 200ml bottles ($40).
XO sauce from Harborview restaurant (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Harborview XO sauce
A number of the Bay Area’s best Chinese restaurants started bottling their most in-demand sauces during the pandemic — think trendy chile crisp and fiery chile oils to put on everything from frozen dim sum to ice cream. But the sauce that most screams luxury and giftability is XO sauce, the umami-packed Hong Kong specialty made with pricey ingredients like dried scallops and dried shrimp. It’s known for turning plain noodles, stir-fried vegetables or simple fried rice dishes into something amazing. Harborview Restaurant & Bar, a high-end dim sum restaurant on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, bottles two versions: a traditional XO made with Virginia ham and a pescatarian-friendly rendition made with salmon. The set of two — one 8-ounce jar of each — costs $40; free shipping with the purchase of two sets or more.
Available at harborviewsf.com
Diaspora masala dabba
Made in collaboration with London design studio Tiipoi, this $200 brass masala dabba is a beautiful, and functional, objet d’art. The traditional Indian spice container neatly lays out all the things you need to make flavorful and well-seasoned Indian dishes; the Diaspora Co. in the East Bay will set you up with fair trade turmeric, cardamom, black mustard and more. Whole spices, sizzled in a hot pan a la minute, are key to infusing your dishes with maximum flavor. Each of the dabbas is spun with care by a craftsman in Tiipoi’s workshop in Bangalore, India, and stamped with Diaspora Co.’s logo.
Diaspora Co. Takes 2-3 weeks to ship. www.diasporaco.com/products/masala-dabba
Preserves from Sister restaurant (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Sister’s granola and jam
Even before the region’s pandemic-induced bread craze, which saw just about everyone trying their hand at baking sourdough at home, Oakland’s buzzy Cal-Italian restaurant, Sister, was known for its wood-fired pizza crusts and loaves of levain and oat porridge bread. The restaurant, which is on critic Soleil Ho’s Top Italian list, has always had a grocery and retail component, but now the offerings have become solid choices for holiday gifts, and many are bread-related. Among the most popular items is the restaurant’s jam, which comes in 9-ounce containers ($10) with flavor options like strawberry and lime; pluot and balsamic; and peach. And if bread isn’t your thing, Sister has 10-ounce containers of granola made with rolled oats, seeds, coconut flakes, almonds and honey ($8).
Sister. 3308 Grand Ave., Oakland. 510-763-2668 or www.sisteroakland.com
Beef jerky and tallow soap from Local Butcher (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Grass-fed beef jerky
When it comes to simple, flavorful holiday gifts or small, snack-size treats for Bay Area meat lovers, few local butcher businesses can compare to the Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley. The shop is leaning into the holiday gift market by selling its popular grass-fed beef jerky in 2-ounce packages ($5), ideal for stocking stuffers, in late-December. The jerky remains available by-the-pound for those interested ($44 per pound). Beyond just meat-as-a-gift options, the Local Butcher Shop is also selling its well-known tallow soap, made from rendered animal fat. There’s only one option — orange and rosemary — which over the year has become the shop’s signature scent ($7).
The Local Butcher Shop. 1600 Shattuck Ave., Ste. 120., Berkeley. 510-845-6328 or https://thelocalbutchershop.com
Tumami Spices chef package
Oakland chef Tu David Phu of “Top Chef” fame launched a specialty foods business this year. Called Tumami Spices, it focuses on ethically sourced and fair trade Southeast Asian ingredients such as Kampot pepper from Cambodia, artisanal fish sauce from Vietnam and tamarind concentrate made by a Cambodian company in the Bay Area. The chef package ($57) — effectively a sampler of the shop’s hits — is a great place to start. In addition to that fish sauce, there is lemongrass paste, Vietnamese chile sauce and Phu’s own spice blends, such as a mix of 10 ingredients like star anise and dried shiitakes designed for pho.
Available at tumamispices.com
Mosswood Spirits Day Rum (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Mosswood Distillers rum
Therese Agnew & Jake Chevedden, the partners behind Berkeley’s Mosswood Distillers, make two styles of rum — one light (Day Rum), one dark (Night Rum). To create the Day Rum, Mosswood purchased rums from Puerto Rico and Florida, then blended them together, aging the molasses-derived spirits in red wine and bourbon barrels. The resulting liquid is the color of chamomile tea and tastes almost like a piña colada all on its own: Sweet pineapple comes through on the nose, and the texture has the creamy viscosity of a fresh coconut. It’s tasty when sipped neat, but even better when shaken with lime juice and simple syrup to make a simple daiquiri.
Red Bay Coffee (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Red Bay Coffee
This Black-owned company has worked to change the conversation around coffee and to remind its community in Oakland about its African roots, which often can get lost in its modern coffee shops. Founded in 2011 by Keba Konte, the company also does partnerships with growers like one with Sweet Unity Farms in Tanzania. The latter shows up in a blend called East Fourteenth, named in honor of Oakland’s heritage. Other excellent blends include Brazilian Cake Lady, which has citrus flavors and mild acidity. Both are $19 for 12 ounces, less with a subscription.
3098 East 10th St., Oakland. 510-399-2441 or https://www.redbaycoffee.com. Two additional locations in Oakland.
St. George single malt whiskey
Lance Winters, master distiller at St. George Spirits in Alameda, says he got interested in distilling for a single reason: to make single-malt whiskey. Since 2000, he’s released a new rendition annually, and in theory they should get better each year, since Winters can draw on older, more complex blending components each time. This year’s release, Lot 20, incorporates whiskeys from 4½ to 21 years old, aged in barrels that had previously held Kentucky bourbon, Port, French apple brandy, California Sauternes-style wine and more. At $100 per bottle, Lot 20 is a splurge, but for an American whiskey fanatic it won’t disappoint: It’s nutty, fruity and rich, marked by flavors of mocha, citrus and warming spices. Drink it neat or with a little bit of ice.
St. George Lot 20 single malt whiskey ($100/750ml). Available in limited quantities at various Bay Area stores including BevMo and Epicurean Trader.
Oaktown Spice kits (Kelsey McClellan / Special To The Chronicle | San Francisco Chronicle)
Oaktown Spice collections
Since opening in 2011, Oaktown Spice has become one of the Bay Area’s top spice retailers for its wide collection, inventive blends and freshly ground products. Its gift boxes range in complexity depending on the skill level and interest of the intended recipient, from a spicy hot cocoa set ($25.50) that includes ceylon cinnamon and guajillo chile powder to a tonic water kit ($21.50), complete with Cinchona officinalis (used to make quinine) and citric acid. Rubs like Carlito’s Rojito Yucatan ($8), with annatto, cumin, lemon and other spices, uplift almost any food.
546 Grand Ave., Oakland. 510-201-5400 or https://oaktownspiceshop.com. Additional store locations in Albany and Castro Valley.
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