If the phrase “giving is its own reward” is accurate, then this gift guide is the most rewarding one we’ve published (yes, including the list of stuff we want to receive). Each one of these locally-focused food and drink gifts not only benefit restaurants, chefs, and makers — but the money you spend goes to a panoply of organizations that now, more than ever, need our support.
You’ll find delicious gifts at a variety of price points on this guide with delights like cheese, chocolate, wine, and coffee. And for the folks on your gift list who say “honestly, I don’t need anything,” why not consider a donation in their name from our guide to how to help? Gifts like that won’t take up any space in anyone’s pantry, are fine for all those with dietary restrictions, and don’t even need to be shipped.
This automated matcha machine was always a foregone invention in the land where technology and wellness attempt to happily co-exist. At the touch of a button, Cuzen’s ceramic mill grinds dried, shade-grown matcha leaves from Kagoshima, then dispenses the powder into a cup of water whirling via magnetic whisk. The matcha lover in your life can also build the drink’s trademark froth the old fashioned way — using a little wrist grease and a bamboo whip — with the machine’s “grind-only” feature. “Fresh-ground matcha is very authentic to traditional tea ceremony,” says founder Eijiro Tsukada of the way pre-19th-century tea masters crafted matcha that was good to the last drop. Such an elegant bridging of past and present has not only earned Cuzen a place on Time’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020, but also as the house matcha at three-Michelin-starred Single Thread. To underscore the Healdsburg restaurant’s longstanding philanthropic efforts, Cuzen Matcha is donating 10 percent of proceeds from its starter kit ($369) to Sonoma Family Meal, which fights food insecurity in the county with free meals for those in need.
Buy: Cuzen Matcha ($369)
Dandelion Chocolate’s Gateau Basque
Basque-style pastries are having a moment. But Lisa Vega, executive pastry chef at Dandelion Chocolate, has cast her single-origin cacao spell not on the famous burnt cheesecake, but rather upon another beloved regional confection — the Gateau Basque. Her chocoholic’s version trades the traditional almond cream center for a puddingy pastry cream made from Dandelion’s 70% Camino Verde bittersweet chocolate, while a brownie-like wraparound crust takes the place of the sandy, golden original. The trappings may be modern, but Vega assures she hasn’t strayed too far from the cake’s humble 18th-century origins in the Bayonne markets of the French Basque country. “It’s still meant to be enjoyed with a quiet cup of coffee in the afternoon,” she says. Until December 18, five dollars from each sale of Dandelion’s Gateau Basque ($50) will go to No Kid Hungry, which works to end child hunger in America.
Instant Coffee from Ritual Coffee Roasters
While Ritual’s new instant coffee sachets ($19.95 for a 5-pack) ensure a quick cuppa perfectly timed to an impatient first forkful of cake for us mere mortals, the third-wave roastery is also supplying these easy stocking stuffers to California healthcare heroes working the frontlines of COVID-19 through its Ritual for Relief donation program. Collaborating with Swift Cup to create an instant brew with artisan complexity, Ritual’s first offering is made from single-origin heirloom beans from the Hama Cooperative in Ethiopia using an advanced process that melds art and science. That means a rich cup — brimming with all of the ripe peach and raspberry jam notes typical of coffees from this region — can be yours, pronto. It’s craft caffeine that’s convenient and caring. “Ultimately, coffee is our love language,” says Ritual founder Eileen Rinaldi.
816 BBQ Sauce
Kansas City native Darryl Bell, the chef de cuisine at Press Restaurant in St. Helena, has been perfecting his homemade barbecue sauce for seven years. Like a true formulator, he’s keeping his herbs and spices classified for this KC-style tomato-and-vinegar-based sauce. Whether you’re mopping baby-back ribs, basting a swordfish steak (Bell’s favorite preparation) or smearing it on a cold-cut sandwich (his second-favorite preparation), the sauce’s flavor sorcery starts with a slow, simmering heat that softly tapers to sweetness. “From there, the spices are revealed and linger on your tongue like a good glass of wine,” says the chef, who labeled the craft condiment with the Kansas City area code. For year-round good cheer, 10 percent of proceeds from the 816 BBQ Gift Pack ($35) always goes to No Kid Hungry, but this holiday season, a bonus 10 percent will help Feed Our Families, which provides meals to needy households throughout the Upper Napa Valley.
Buy: 816 BBQ ($35)
Lord Stanley Wine Club Membership
Louisa Smith, sommelier at this Michelin-starred European bistro in Russian Hill, turns the concept of a traditional wine club on its cork by filling a cute logo tote with six bottles of small-production, biodynamic wines, Lord Stanley’s famous sourdough loaf and other snacks like house-spiced olives and nuts. Smith also guides tastings via video, helping members recognize the finer points of the wine selections: Why a Rene Mosse sparkling rosé “feels like the holidays in a bottle,” while spergola-grape bubbly from Italy’s Il Farneto is “all citrus and pears” in the glass. Connecting to its mission to support small growers, Lord Stanley is donating a portion of proceeds from wine club memberships ($275/mo.) to Black Earth Farms, a local collective of farmers, activists and artists rebuilding the Black community’s connection to the land and agriculture.
Wagyu boxes from A-Five Meats
The fresh cuts of Wagyu beef from A-Five Meats, the boutique butchery arm of Gozu restaurant, may be too rich — in more ways than one — for an ordinary Tuesday night, but for celebratory occasions like New Year’s Eve, there’s no protein more posh. After all, Wagyu’s qualifications — from the breed of cow (Tajima) to the meat’s high price point ($20/ounce to start) — is as intricate as its telltale marbling. And yet, showcasing Wagyu’s signature succulence and buttery texture couldn’t be simpler. “Many cuts require only salt, pepper and heat,” says chef and cofounder Marc Zimmerman. Also important: Don’t overdo the seasoning (“A lot has already gone into making the beef delicious,” says the chef), and rest the meat after cooking for maximum juiciness. This holiday season, 10 percent of proceeds from A-Five variety packs will benefit Culinary Love, which promotes wellness in the hospitality industry.
Passmore Ranch’s Tasting of Caviar and Smoked Sturgeon
For those unfamiliar with Sacramento-area fish farmer Michael Passmore’s landlocked feat of premium caviar, showcased on regional menus from the French Laundry to Wayfare Tavern, his preferred method of consumption is cheeky: The native Texan loves to dole out bites of caviar at food festivals, and potato chips are his always his go-to scoop. “I look at Pringles as an efficient vehicle to transport caviar into my mouth,” he says. Don’t be fooled—Passmore’s finely tuned artisan palate and expertise will guide the Ranch’s holiday event, a virtual Tasting of Caviar and Smoked Sturgeon ($275) benefitting the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which is helping rebuild the battered hospitality industry. While an ounce each of Passmore Ranch caviar and truffle roe plus a smoked sturgeon filet will arrive at the door of a bon vivant you’re fond before one of the upcoming Zoom workshops, they’ll need to supply their own chips and beer.
Buy: Passmore ($275)
Holiday dips and spices from Shuk Shuka
The small-batch, handmade dips and spices from this local Middle Eastern pop-up-turned-online marketplace may stratospherically elevate the humble pita, but cofounder Inon Tzadok, a Jerusalem native, likes to take a quintessential Californian approach with them. For example, the Greenest Tahini — flavored with a verdant bunch of spinach, parsley, basil and scallions — could be used as a Mediterranean spin on green goddess salad dressing, whereas a dry rub of Sunflower Za’atar and Cured Sumac on the holiday turkey keeps the bird’s trademark blandness at bay. A spoonful of zhug, the Middle Eastern equivalent of South American chimichurri, provides a fresh, herbaceous zhuzh to a heavy yuletide feast. In the spirit of nourishment this holiday season, Shuk Shuka is donating 10 percent of proceeds from the Holiday Dips and Spices Package ($45) to the American Red Cross, helping those affected by the California wildfires.
Buy: Shuk Shuka ($45)
Spices from Spice Tribe
Chef Trent Blodgett’s online spice pantry is actually a travelogue of his global adventures in food. While single-origin bottles of Padang Cassia cinnamon from Western Sumatra or wild black cumin seeds from Afghanistan’s northeast provinces come with tales of their geographic pedigree, the culinary blends come with memories. The Marrakesh Sitar — a heady mix of ginger, cinnamon and rose that does wonders for brown butter yams — reminds Blodgett of a sitar player he shared a meal with on the streets of Marrakesh. And the Long-Tail Sunset, a spice cocktail of Thai chile, tamarind, coconut — a natural boon for fish curry — was inspired by his fishermen friends in Southern Thailand who ride their long-tail boats into the sunset to make the nightly catch. Each month, Blodgett and his culinary partners cook more than 600 meals for those adversely affected by the pandemic through the company’s Tribe for Change program, which is supported by donations and partial proceeds from any Spice Tribe purchases, whether one bottle or nine, as in the new Big Blend Box ($72).
Cheeseboard in a Box from Daily Driver
This self-contained holiday feeding frenzy — packed with Daily Driver wood-fired bagels and Tomales Farmstead Creamery cheese and hand-paddled butter, made with Jersey milk from nearby Silva Family Dairy — may only benefit your quarantine pod this holiday season, putting a new spin on its hyperlocal appeal. But such devotion to the community goes farther than shelter-in-place mandates and beyond West Marin’s lush farm lands. A percentage of proceeds from Daily Driver Cheeseboard in a Box ($47.50) — or any other gift set on the holiday shop — benefits Project Wreckless in Bayview Hunters Point, which teaches at-risk youth the art of car restoration. “Humans are hardwired to use their hands to create, whether it’s artisan cheese or rebuilding a 1965 Ford Mustang,” says Tamara Hicks, a psychologist and co-owner of Daily Driver and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. “We believe in the power of making something.”
Food People (Are the Best People) by Kristen Loken
This new book from Acorn Press ($35) was a meta experience for Oakland photographer Kristen Loken, whose documentary of pandemic-era pivots in the local restaurant industry turned out to be an about-face of her own. The project mushroomed quickly — in just seven weeks, Loken took more than 14,000 portraits and interviewed 129 industry pros, including 11 members of the LBGQT community, 34 BIPOC, and 70 women. Matt Horn was photographed with his young daughter, who prefers his waffles over his barbecue. Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Kitchen, who wore a special necklace for her shoot, quipped, “If you cook enough chicken, someone eventually gives you a diamond wishbone pendant!” Alice Waters also arrived on set appropriately accessorized. “I had spoken to her previously over the phone and was so inspired by her optimism, even as the fires raged and COVID continued,” says Loken, who is donating 15 percent of profits from book sales to No Kid Hungry. “So when she turned up in rose-colored glasses, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate.”
Buy: Acorn Press ($35)
The Third Place
In the unlikely event that you’re still stumped for a gift for the gastronome in your group, consider the options on the new San Francisco-based culinary subscription app, The Third Place, providing regularly occurring meals and experiences that keep businesses afloat and people merrily eating and drinking. Currently, the app offers a holiday marketplace for unique one-time gift options from local culinary standouts, including a Japanese breakfast for two from Cassava ($35) and a three-course Vietnamese dinner ($35 per person) from La Cocina alum Hang Truong, also known as Noodle Girl. Since feeding people like clockwork is fundamental to The Third Place, founders Vivien Sin and Glen Wang are donating 5 percent of proceeds from gifts purchased through Dec. 31 — perhaps a Zero Zero pizza party ($18/person) for your quarantine crew (or someone else’s) is the low-key New Year’s Eve you’ve been craving? — to Meals on Wheels.