Looking for holiday gift inspiration? These 11 gift ideas — all Bay Area made or inspired — offer all sorts of ways to help your favorite foodie, spirits lover or outdoor enthusiast eat, sip and play. You’ll find chocolate subscriptions, Moscow Mule kits, java inspiration and even board games for hikers and s’mores lovers alike.
(Just remember, shipping delays are the new normal. Get those gifts in the mail quickly!)
EAT: Chocolate deliveries
Treat your chocolate fiend to a world of small-batch producers making dreamy, ethically-sourced dark chocolate. San Francisco-based Cococlectic, which is run by women and minority-diverse owners, is the only bean-to-bar subscription box that features all American chocolate makers, including ChocolateSpiel in Seattle, Black Sheep Chocolate of Bend, Oregon, and Mutari Chocolate in Santa Cruz.
The full-sized bars are vegan, non-GMO and fair trade and made using less than five ingredients, so your giftee can savor every rich bite while feeling good about the world. Did we mention the virtual chocolate tastings?
Details: Subscriptions start at $43 per month. Choose from monthly, quarterly or semi-annual options, as well as one-time gift boxes; https://cococlectic.com.
SIP: A DIY cocktail kit
Hanson of Sonoma, the family-owned distiller of premium organic vodkas, has cornered the local market on cocktail kits. Seriously.
The DIY Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit is one of several offered by Hanson of Sonoma. (Courtesy Hanson of Sonoma)
They currently offer 10 mouth-watering options, from a DIY Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit featuring Bitter Girl Bitters to an Inked Vodka Tonic Cocktail Kit (the “ink” is trendy dried butterfly pea flower, which will infuse your bottle of Hanson Cucumber Vodka with a hypnotic violet hue).
Wanna go bigger for your cocktail lover? Try a gift set, like the Martini & Caviar ($200), which includes 30 grams of Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova Caviar, or a tasting kit, like Chocolate, Mules & Vodka ($125). It comes with three Hanson vodkas plus six truffles from award-winning Yountville chocolatier Kollar Chocolates. Plus, all the lime, ginger beer and agave needed to make tasty mules. Did we mention the Boozy Popsicles Cocktail Kit?
Details: Cocktail kits start at $50 and can be shipped anywhere in California. Each kit comes with ingredients, recipe card and the option to add engraved glassware. https://hansonofsonoma.com
PLAY: Campfire story prompts
Mountaineers Books’ “Campfire Stories Deck: Prompts for Igniting Stories by the Fire” is the perfect gift to bust out on winter outdoor getaways. (Max Grudzinski)
Your first trip to a National Park. The strangest thing you’ve seen on the trail. A time you were in danger — but didn’t know it.
“Campfire Stories Deck: Prompts for Igniting Stories by the Fire” (Mountaineers Books, $35) is a collection of 50 cards that will inspire meaningful conversations in the outdoors, whether you’re hiking with friends, camping with family or hanging in the backyard with your boo. Many of the deck’s prompts use nature to instigate conversation — that first encounter with a wild animal, for instance — or simply ask the reader to draw from coveted memories — your favorite beach experience — to foster connection.
All you need to complete the experience is a cup of something warm to sip, a s’more or two and access to the stars.
Details: The deck retails for $35 and is available via Mountaineers Books as well as Parks Project, which benefits the National Parks; www.mountaineers.org; www.parksproject.us
EAT: Alice Waters-approved jams and jellies
Baking mixes, jellies and jams, including this Strawberry Jam, are made with ingredients grown organically by the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz. (Courtesy Homeless Garden Project)
How’s this for a feel-good/give-back gift? The Homeless Garden Project, a Santa Cruz urban farm and nonprofit that provides transitional employment to the homeless, is selling a selection of its food products, including artisanal jams and jellies, all made using ingredients grown organically.
There are currently three to choose from: Classic Strawberry Jam, Smoky Pumpkin Jelly and Tomato Chipotle Jelly. And if you want to stuff an extra treat in your foodie’s stocking, try the Cheezy Kale Seasoning — organic nutritional yeast, kale powder, sea salt and organic krusted kale from the farm — to elevate salads, pizzas and popcorn. They also make a variety of teas and baking mixes, including a Chocolate Rosemary Brownie we’ve got our eyes on.
Details: Products are $6 to $16 and can be purchased at the Homeless Garden Project store, 1338 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, or online at https://homelessgardenproject.myshopify.com
SIP: Mr. Espresso’s “La Vacanza”
Mr. Espresso’s “La Vacanza” gift box includes a box of Mr. Espresso’s Steeped coffee, 1 extra-large MiiR camp mug and Detours activity cards from Chronicle Books. (Courtesy Mr. Espresso)
Coffee bags? Yes. After trying another brand — and tossing out the insipid, tea-like liquid — we gave Oakland-based Mr. Espresso’s “Steeped” bags a dunk and were more than satisfied by the light smokiness and caramel finish of the medium dark roast. Dare we say it had a nice, silky body as well?
Any coffee lover will appreciate La Vacanza, a gift box that includes one box of Steeped coffee bags, an extra-large MiiR camp mug with the Mr. Espresso logo and inspirational “Detours” activity cards from Chronicle Books. Beautifully illustrated, each card offers a mind-frame challenge, like “Photograph the tiled floors you see while wandering” or “Try a mode of transportation you don’t ordinarily use.”
Details: $47 plus shipping; https://mrespresso.com/product/la-vacanza-gift-set-2021
PLAY: Trails, a hiking board game
In Trails, players hike across iconic trails and national parks, spotting birds, taking photos and earning badges along the way. (Jackie Burrell/Bay Area News Group)
This fun little game was designed by the same people who created the Parks board game. Both offer plenty of outdoor-inspired fun, but this pint-sized version is easier to learn, faster to play and petite enough to toss in your backpack. Players hike across iconic trails and national parks — the Pacific Crest Trail, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Joshua Tree National Park and more — gathering resources, spotting birds, taking photos and earning badges along the way.
The trails are represented by 6.5 by 4.5-inch cards illustrated with gorgeous art from the Fifty-Nine Parks project, and the playing pieces include little wooden hikers, resource cubes, badges and a bear.
Details: Trails ($20) is designed for two to four players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. A portion of sales benefit the National Park Service. https://keymastergames.com.
EAT: Red Boat Holiday Gift Box
This Red Boat Holiday Gift Box makes a perfect prezzie for fans of Vietnamese cuisine. (Red Boat)
A bottle of fish sauce might sound like an odd present, but not if you’re a fan of Vietnamese cuisine — and especially not when the sauce in question hails from Hayward’s Red Boat. The sauce is Vietnamese-American, just like its creator, former Apple engineer Cuong Pham, who set out to make his own nuoc mam nhi when he couldn’t find the vividly flavored, first-press fish sauce in the Bay Area. The anchovies are caught and fermented with salt in wooden barrels at his facility on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, then filtered and bottled at Red Boat headquarters in Hayward.
Pham’s fans include everyone from chef David Chang to food writers Ruth Reichl and Andrea Nguyen — and soon, the foodies on your gift list. This fun holiday box includes plenty of culinary inspiration, as well as the famous fish sauce
Details: Order the holiday gift box ($56), which includes fish sauce, nuoc cham dipping sauce, kho sauce, a Red Boat bowl, recipe booklet, notebook and tote, at https://redboatfishsauce.com. Want to add even more oomph? Tell your gift recipient you’ve pre-ordered Pham’s Red Boat cookbook, which comes out Dec. 28.
SIP: Blend your own wine
There are plenty of virtual wine tasting kits out there these days, but Paso Robles’ ONX Wines offers a different take: a blending kit that lets you blend your own signature wine at home. (ONX Wines)
We’ve all gotten used to virtual wine tastings, but Paso Robles’ ONX Wines has taken the concept one step further. Yes, they do virtual tastings, and they will ship wine gift kits ($30) with five Rhone blend samples to your door, so you can taste along during your Zoom session. Now, they have blending kits, too.
The ONX Blending Experience kit sends you four straight-from-the-barrel samples, two samples with finished wines and the equipment wine lovers need to blend their own — pipettes, a cylinder. And a 90-minute Zoom session with a pro walks neophyte winemakers through the how-tos.
Details: The $48 blending kits are a great idea at any time, but they’re especially popular for virtual holiday parties with friends, family or co-workers. Find the kits at www.onxwines.com.
READ: Culinary curiosities
“Gastro Obscura” hails from the same team that gave us the endlessly diverting Atlas Obscura website and best-selling book. This one’s a food adventurer’s guide to the planet, from the backstory of Pad Thai (invented by a dictator) to the role of iceberg lettuce in “Titanic” (sound effects, who knew?) The book’s 500 entries delve into the strange, the delicious and the distinctly odd corners of the food world, from Spam to Zombie cocktails, San Francisco’s “Brownie Mary” and Victorian mustache cups. (The latter were designed to prevent gentlemen’s whiskers from dipping into their tea, old chap.)
Ever wondered about ice cream beans? Chernobyl’s exclusion zone cafeteria? Beer made from Chilean fog? (You’re wondering now, aren’t you?) This hefty volume will delight foodies, travelers and curious readers alike.
Details: Dylan Thuras and Cecily Wong’s “Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer’s Guide” (Workman Publishing, 2021) is $42.50 at https://books.atlasobscura.com or from your favorite indie bookstore.
In his first book, Livermore winemaker Steven Kent Mirassou explores life, love and six generations in California Wine. (Val de Grace Books)
READ: Steven Mirassou memoir
Oenophiles love dirt. And not just the kind their beloved vines sprout from, but the heart-pounding drama that comes with making wine: rough growing seasons, business mistakes, the loss of cherished vineyards, the death of a partner. In his first book, sixth-generation California winemaker Steven Kent Mirassou spills it all with honest and deft prose.
You won’t find any boring technical wine notes in “Lineage: Life and Love and Six Generations in California Wine” (Val de Grace Books, $35).” Mirassou holds a masters degree in literature from NYU, and in addition to making the highest-rated wines ever to come out of the Livermore Valley — Mirassou’s cabernets and Lineage blends have fetched 100 points — this winemaker who started in sales uses his gift of storytelling to convey the literal blood, sweat and tears that connect him, and all of us, to something bigger.
Details: The hardcover is $35, and you can get a signed copy through Mirassou’s website, https://stevenkentmirassou.com. While there, pick up a special bottle of cabernet for your giftee, like the silky Mia Nipote 2019 Il Rinnovo ($50), a blend of cabernet sauvignon and petit sirah.
Oakland author Diana Helmuth’s new book is perfect for newbies or experienced backpackers alike. (Mountaineers Books)
PLAY: A funny intro to hiking
Know an outdoor hopeful or urban adventurer? They’ll find priceless tips and belly laughs in the pages of Diana Helmuth’s new book, “How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking” (Mountaineers Books, $19). Helmuth, an Oakland resident and expert backpacker, writes with honesty and humor about modern hiking culture while offering a guide to all the basics, from gear and food to hygiene and clothing.
The book, filled with checklists, resources and vivid illustrations by Latasha Dunston, is funny, relatable and great for any outdoors person on your list, from the casual walker to the experienced backpacker who can relate to both the struggles and magic of hitting a trail.
Details: The book retails for $19 and is available through Mountaineers Books as well as Amazon.