One would never think the best gifts for giving gustatory, olfactory and optical satisfaction—respectively, taste, smell and sight—would come from a factory, a nonprofit community kitchen seeking to boost the food security of people in need, a daughter honoring her mother, fermented flowers, bamboo leaves and other improbable sources. But that’s exactly what happens at these East Bay entities whose products purchased and given as gifts are sure to delight a loved one’s mouth, nose, eyes, ears, and may we please add tummy and appetite for sharing:
Satisfy the Mouth and Nose
Community Kitchens, ckoakland.org
Founded in 2020 by Richard Mitchell and Maria Alderete of Luka’s Taproom, Community Kitchens finds all manner of ways to feed people who struggle to feed themselves. Through partnerships that prioritize BIPOC-owned businesses and restaurants in underserved neighborhoods, they serve the community with 35 Dining for Justice restaurants, 50 restaurant meal partners, 10 community organizations and 100 volunteer home chefs.
Bringing food to where people live and work has involved the kitchen’s CK Mobile Oasis bus; self-serve, free food in stocked town fridges; and joining food distributions to provide bagged lunches, snack packs and more. Special dinners in cooperation with East Bay restaurants are a highlight and a great gift for foodies with a heart to feed not only themselves but others.
Proceeds from a three-night series of dinners Dec. 1-3 with reggae and cassoulet featuring French master chef David Campigotto will fund Community Kitchens’ hunger and homelessness street meal program for 2024. The menu showcases cassoulet, the iconic Southern France dish of pork, duck and beans.
Campigotto will be assisted by East Bay chefs Chris Pastena of Calavera and Chop Bar, Nigel Jones of Kingston 11 and Calabash and Kendall Jones of Luka’s Taproom, among others. The dinners will be held at the former space of Kingston 11 (now closed), 2270 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, with happy hour starting at 5:30pm, followed by dinner at 7pm. Tickets cost $250 and include all food, beverages, tax and tip.
Out of the company’s state-of-the-art factory in Berkeley, TCHO has launched a galaxy of “fair and square” sweet chocolate treats. Founded by NASA techie Timothy Childs with chocolatier Karl Bittong, and operated until 2014 by Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, the founders of Wired magazine, the company sources its cacao beans in cooperation with farmer partners in five main origin countries.
Using only non-GMO, fair trade certified,100% plant-based ingredients without milk or dairy of any kind, TCHO offers factory tours in addition to tasty, densely flavorful chocolate bars and baking supplies. Besides tried-and-true standbys—Toffee Time, Choco Latte, Aww Nuts!—three flavors released for the winter season include Dirty Chai (oat milk chai chocolate infused with a shot of Equator Coffees’ Jaguar espresso), Karl the Nog (eggnog oat milk white chocolate infused with nutmeg and rum flavor) and the Snow Problema gift box (six-bar assortment of dark and oat chocolates).
The Caffè by Mr. Espresso, mrespresso.com
Brothers John and Luigi Di Ruocco boosted the East Bay’s caffeine intake by 1000%, after opening the 40-year-old company’s first café in downtown Oakland. Mr. Espresso has been operated by the Di Ruocco family since 1978; using oak wood to roast its coffee beans and thereby producing a signature taste and reputation for aromatic, bold, complex, elegant, well-balanced and satisfying flavors, and also disrupting espresso convention with small-batch blends introducing surprising, layered, contemporary cupping notes.
Free Range Flower Winery, freerangeflowerwinery.com
Founder Aaliyah Nitoto’s lavender wine in 2021 earned Cosmopolitan magazine’s Best Sustainable White Wine. Along with Black winemakers who are members of the Association of African American Vintners, her company’s lineup of plant-based, non-grape, vegan wines represents a long-awaited, ground-breaking revolution.
Not only has she joined people of color and women to move into vanguard positions by establishing her own company, Free Range wines offer exciting flavors made with fermented flowers and techniques rising from century-old practices and cultures. Sniffing and sipping Nitoto’s garden-in-a-glass will have one’s nose and mouth singing “Joy to the world, joy to you and me.”
Youngwon Lee’s Asian-inspired craft beer company established its taproom and brewery at the former Federation site near Jack London Square in March 2023, taking over Federation beer operations and beers made by Hella Coastal, Oakland’s only Black-owned brewery. Drinking a beer under the Dokkaebier label transports an imbiber to new far-away lands where the air is scented with galangal (a root closely related to ginger and turmeric), corn, lime, honey, Asian fruits, wheat, bamboo and more. Consider oneself a traditionalist? Pick up Federation’s tried-and-true In The Weeds West Coast IPA or Oakland Gold Golden Ale.
Please the Eyes and Ears
Go retro with a wall calendar. It’s both practical and becomes legacy art when created by Aarin Burch, owner of West Berkeley’s Laurel Burch Studios. The younger Burch is the daughter of the late Laurel Burch, and the calendar, the first in 10 years, pays tribute to the artist’s 50 years of creating unique and beautiful art and design. It’s a stunner, with personal stories and quotes from Laurel Burch.
Other fine choices for calendars come from Bay Area-based Chronicle Books: a LEGO calendar with impressive photographs of LEGO “minitoys” placed in fantastic, imaginary settings, or a second calendar featuring Anne Taintor’s vintage ladies in frocks and bikinis exhibiting biting humor in pastiched feminist quips, such as an aproned housewife checking the roast who says, “Why, I’d be delighted to put my needs last again.”
After one has picked up a pair of Laurel Burch’s iconic earrings and marked their birthday on calendars intended for friends so they think of the gifter and reciprocate, they may hop over to Oakland and visit Philippa Roberts. In addition to jewelry, there are gifts for all ages, from baby clothing and toys to books, games, cards, journals, reading glasses, bags, wallets, textiles, kitchen and tabletop items, candles, frames, art, socks, slippers and more. A special Oakland section is worthwhile, and all of the many offerings are meticulously curated.
Treat the Odds and Ends
Of course, a body is more than a mouth, nose, eyes and ears. There are hands, feet, skin, muscles, and the mind, soul and spirit to gift. Here are some send-off suggestions, with a promise to feature specific local businesses in future editions of the magazine.
- Hands: Any tech gadget, mobile device or new app will set thumbs happy-tapping.
- Feet: Boots. (Remember the rain last winter?)
- Skin: Provide soothing protection with balms, lotions, soaps, sun hats and high-tech UV protective clothing.
- Muscles: Give in to the latest trends and invest in pickleball gear or an e-bike.
- Mind and Soul: Select books by Bay Area authors—there are dozens of great choices—from a favorite independent bookstore, search out best buddy gifts for owners of felines and canines or for one’s own cat or dog.
- Spirit: For “experiencer” friends, choose adventure gifts, such as scuba, surfing or sailing sessions, ukulele jams, theme park passes, salsa or ballroom dance classes, horseback riding, hang-gliding, and satisfy the nature lover with regional/state park passes for hiking and camping trips.