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It seems like the minute the last slice of pumpkin pie gets eaten, the holiday decorations go up and we begin the countdown to the end of the year. The leaves turn, the weather cools, and we’re even getting some rain. The winter holiday season is here.
In the spirit of buying locally, supporting small and/or family-owned businesses in the East Bay and factoring in the urge to indulge in a bit of feel-good shopping, here are a few items to consider for gift giving for others or (shhhh) yourself.
For chilly weather cocktail lovers
Wright & Brown Distilling Co.
2715 Magnolia St. (near 28th Street), Oakland
Local distillers and childhood friends Earl Brown and Dan Wright designed, built, and launched Wright & Brown Distilling Company in West Oakland in 2014.
It was the end of a long dry spell, since this distillery is believed to be the first one to legally distill spirits in Oakland since the onset of Prohibition.
Wright & Brown produce a small batch, barrel-aged artisanal rum made from 100% Grade-A black strap molasses. With hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and butterscotch (and even some chocolate), this rum will add special flavor notes to your Old Fashioned, hot buttered rum, or Coquito — or any other favorite wintry weather drink. Ms Barstool recommends adding this to your holiday Tom and Jerry for a satisfying, warm beverage.
The barrel-aged rum, and other Wright & Brown spirits (all made from scratch in-house), are available for curbside pick-up (1-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday). Meet the cat!
Best to call first and make sure they have it, but the rum may also be found at a number of bottle shops in the greater East Bay.
For folks who can’t get enough oil
Kathryn Tomajan, co-founder and majority owner of Oakland-based Fat Gold olive oils, started the brand in 2017, the culmination of an ongoing career as an olive oil maker, taster and educator.
Tomajan tells Nosh that her olive oils have “personality,” with flavors that are “fruity, spicey, and robust — more like European versions,” that capture the unique essence of the types of olives she uses, which include frantoio, maurino, picual, and arbequina.
Fat Gold also offers a gift subscription, which means that four times a year you (or some lucky friend or family member of yours) will receive a tin of unique oils, typically a single variety: something to look forward to in December, March, June, and September.
Tip: watch for limited batches of small production runs for the holidays.
Fat Gold olive oils $32-$179
For your favorite barbecue boss
Everett and Jones
126 Broadway (near 2nd Street), Oakland
4245 Macarthur Blvd. (near High Street), Oakland
1955 San Pablo Ave. (near University Avenue), Berkeley
Everett and Jones’s Super Q Barbeque Sauce comes with a lot of history. The story is right there on the label, beginning in1973 when Dorothy Everett realized if she wanted to get authentic barbeque sauce in the Bay Area, she would need to make it herself.
Along with her eight daughters and one son and one son-in-law, the first Everett and Jones opened in an old building in Oakland almost 50 years ago. By 1974, the family was able to open a second restaurant in Berkeley. The business now has six locations in the Bay Area.
This tomato-based sauce, which has been described as “a successful mixture of heady fruit-sweetness and peppery clout,” comes in three versions: mild, medium, and hot. You can find it in just about every store in the East Bay: Safeway, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Lucky, Farmer Joe’s Market and at the Everett and Jones restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland. You can order the sauce online and by the case.
A bonus tip from founder Dorothy Everett: cook the meat without sauce, and just baste it with its own juices. Her recommendation for “bringing out the best in both the meat and the sauce” is to heat the sauce and pour over the meat “just before serving.”
Sweet, smoky, fruity, and sublime, it’s an Oakland classic. Friends don’t let friends barbecue without some of this.
For a nut butter nut with a peanut predicament
As Julia Child famously said, “With enough butter, anything is good.” And it could be much better than good with handmade organic sunflower butters from Berkeley-based, family-run business Much Better Butter.
Launched in January of 2020, Much Better Butter began with founder Tina Wolfe’s desire to recreate a healthier version of Nutella, her favorite childhood treat, for her children to enjoy — and something that would provide a tasty spread option for kids with peanut allergies.
After years invested in research and development, Much Better Butter launched its gluten-free, dairy-free and peanut-free product line just in time for school lunches to become a temporary non-issue for many kids. They managed to hang in during the lockdown, in part because the butters are also sold in many local stores.
Current offerings include their take on Nutella, called Chocolate Treat, as well as a roasted with sea salt version and “honey kissed,” which is made with certified organic Hawaiian honey from the Big Island. Tina and husband David Dranitzke say their butters also appeal to folks who are eager for organic, non-GMO products they can use in lots of creative ways — think pancakes, waffles, fruits and vegetables, smoothies — and there loads of recipes available online, if you need ideas on how to best spread your butters around.
For a candy freak who appreciates handmade treats
“People are happy when they eat chocolate,” Oakland chocolatier Becky Shank said, explaining why she founded her Company Confections candy business in 2015. She sources her ingredients from international locations, including Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. Her chocolate dipped Oreos and peppermint bark, snug in cute little holiday-themed fabric bags, are guaranteed to make someone happy.
When asked about her inspiration for flavor choices, Shank says she mostly relies on her own creativity to make her chocolate collage bars. For example, she produced the delightful combination of churro and hot chocolate. They go together, so why not?
Her best seller is a classic: giant salted caramel pecan turtles. With the arrival of fall, and the holidays just around the corner, you might want to indulge in (or gift someone with) a box of sweets like her hazelnut coffee crisp “acorns.” All of these confections will keep through mid-January, so if you shop early you’ll be fine.
For the chef who wants to keep their options open
Oaktown Spice Shop
546 Grand Ave. (near Euclid Avenue), Oakland
1224 Solano Ave. (near Talbot Avenue), Albany
Oaktown Spice Shop has several gift boxes that will appeal to folks who may have grown weary of cooking the same things for the last…however long it’s been now. Gift box options include assortments for folks who want to spice up their veggies, who can’t stop with the popcorn, who want to jazz up their chicken and many more. There are salt assortments, boxes for bakers and tea-infusion picks, too.
Of course, you can also select items individually and put a custom gift box together on your own. (While you’re at it, pick up some mulling spices or pumpkin pie spice for yourself.) I have mailed numerous jars of the truffle honey, which is only sold in stores (not online) to my daughter who lives on the East Coast. She loves this stuff!
Oakland Spice Shop Gift Box $23-$74
For the person on your list who misses the East Bay
Local Food Adventures, the Oakland-based food tour company, has three boxes to bring a day dining in the East Bay to recipients around the country. Their in-person tours remain on pandemic break, so owner Lauren McCabe Herpich has gathered the best from their tours for these boxes, with some extra goodies in each one.
Their Oakland Food Tour Highlights gift box hits many of the spots from the Oakland tours, including Market Hall’s Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta and Tuscan Herb infused olive oil from Amphora Nueva.
There’s also an East Bay BBQ Lovers collection, with rubs and marinades; and a Mele Kalikimaka Holiday cocktail kit, which includes a bottle of French almond orgeat syrup from Berkeley’s Small Hand Foods, and festive decorations and accessories. Also included in that last one is the recipe for a classic Mai Tai, inspired by its legendary creator, “Trader Vic” Bergeron, whose career began in Oakland.
Local Food Adventures Gift Box $99-$119
For the little (or big) kid who can’t get enough of “Up”
Nothing tops ice cream better than thick and delicious chocolate and caramel sauces from Fentons Creamery, the 127 year old Piedmont Avenue ice cream shop immortalized in the 2009 Pixar movie, “Up.”
If you’ve been there, you know how good these sauces are. What a treat for yourself or others! You can order online, go by the restaurant or visit Myrtle’s Lodge (Fentons’ retail outpost) across the street. Pour it on and enjoy!