Gift Guide

Try the Chicken: Quicksilver Mine Co. is a sure thing for art-minded gifters. Shown: ‘Free Range Chicken with Leaf Blower’ by Robin Eschner.

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Gifts that are made in the North Bay are the best gifts

Picks by Davina Baum (DB), Sara Bir (SB), Greg Cahill (GC), Gretchen Giles (GG), and M. V. Wood (MW).

Great Aunt Millicent and little nephew Brice both have very different needs. But who says you have to leave the North Bay to satiate them? Words like wealth, bounty, and cornucopia don’t even begin to describe what lies just outside your door: try it and see.


That George Foreman grill is so last year. This year, you want to give something fantastic and rare–the kind of object that bespeaks not only your gift recipient’s high importance in your life but also whispers of your own heady good taste. In short, you want art, and, fortunately, the North Bay is lousy with handcrafted items.

You may foolishly have suffered guilt pangs from that unrecycled ARTrails guide that’s still lying around. Now pat yourself on the back for having cannily saved it, as this roster of mediums and phone numbers is one of your heady-good-taste lifesavers. The artists featured therein are pleased to receive off-Trails phone calls hunting

Between the Lines

The flap copy of Sonoma County author Sandro Meallet‘s novel Edgewater Angels reads, “With original rifflike prose, Meallet gives us a unique story that is serious yet playful, daring in aim, and absolutely captivating.” His narrative is studded with self-made compound words like freedomfeel and frustratedangry, and is used to weave together snapshots of street-smart kids’ life in the projects of San Pedro. It’s out now in paperback from Vintage Books ($13), and that original, rifflike prose reads with the rhythmic gait of a homeboy beatnik.

If you can’t afford an $80 plate or tile from muralist Carlo Marchiori‘s gallery Ca’Toga, you can always buy his estate. Marchiori leads tours of his elaborately decorated Calistoga villa from May to October, and in Festa Veneziana a Ca’Toga (Ten Speed Press; $35), a book of the lavish coffee-table variety, the tour’s even more intimate, with lovely photos of Venetian expat Marchiori’s strikingly whimsical artwork.

The warm reaction to Pascale Le Draoulec‘s cross-country, piecentric road trip odyssey American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Back Roads (HarperCollins; $23.95) only serves to indicate how many people in the world are obsessed with the lore of good American pie. Four years ago, Le Draoulec was the food writer at the Marin Independent Journal. When she accepted a job as restaurant critic for the New York Daily News, she crisscrossed back roads and took the blue-highway route to her new home, making serious pit stops for pie all the way. This is a vital volume for the pie lover in your life.

Thumbing through Outdoor Sculpture in San Francisco: A Heritage of Public Art (Helsham Press; $28.95) is like taking a walking tour of discovery, only much easier on the feet. More than 100 pieces of sculpture beautify the landscape within the city limits alone–and many of the best ones are the lesser-known. Sea Ranch couple Warren and Georgia Radford‘s well-researched and thoroughly illustrated overview presents the city’s sculpture from past to present, with works by Marisol, Henry Moore, Jim Dine, and many overlooked or forgotten sculptors. (SB)

Joy to the Ears

Typically, it’s not the people living in a popular tourist destination who buy travel guides, but a good guide can provide a ton of intriguing background detailing places you see and hear about all of the time but forget to investigate. TravelBrains Napa Valley Expedition Guide ($24.95)–a guidebook, CD-ROM, and flexible, self-guided audio tour–fills in all of the intriguing nooks and crannies of Napa Valley culture and history that we regular residents tend to overlook. Written and narrated by St. Helena author Antonia Allegra (founding editor of Appellation magazine and author of Napa Valley: The Ultimate Winery Guide), the audio tour makes for entertaining and educational listening, even if you’re doing regular driving and not following one of the four tours outlined. The set is available through and at many local bookstores.

The Velvet Teen have come a long way, baby, and they’ve done it with amazing speed and alacrity. The band’s songwriting prowess shines even in its early material, as the recently reissued Plus, Minus, Equals (Slowdance; $8) proves. A packaging of their Comasynthesis and The Great Beast February EPs, Plus, Minus, Equals inspired online indie rag Pitchfork to say, “The vast, aimless compositions and iron-fisted emotional pomp that hamstrung their debut are in their embryonic stages here but haven’t yet become the crushing dead weight they later would.” Geez, they’re just a band that plays gorgeous pop songs! The ones on Plus, Minus, Equals are amazingly good, and range from the hook-heavy gem “Naked Girl” to the electronic balladry of “Your Cell.” Check, or the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa and Backdoor Disc and Tape in Cotati.

For studying, house cleaning, mail checking, or alternate video-game soundtrack music, you can’t beat the self-titled Little Cat (Pandacide Records; $10). The Nintendo-rific electronic project of Petaluman Devon Rumrill, the album was recorded on a VCR in Rumrill’s own little home and will please techno-geeks and technophobes alike with its Atari-retro charm. Available through, or at Red Devil Records in Petaluma, Harmonics and the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, and Backdoor Disc and Tape in Cotati.

Bring the pop-punk home with Ukiah-based Loose Change, who chewed through three drummers just to put out their EP God Save the Scene ($7) on Sonoma’s very own teeny-weeny label Out of Step records. And while you’re at it, get Out of Step‘s ultrabargain, punk-packed, $3 Bottled Violence compilation of 30 songs (just 10 cents a song!) from the likes of Tsunami Bomb and a whole bunch of other bands, local and not, that have probably broken up since the comp came out in early 2001. It’s a fun CD nonetheless. Visit

Get an eclectic grab bag of indie music from all over the Golden State with 2, a dirt-cheap CD ($6) that plays with the lavished-over track selection of a personalized mix tape rather than the random hodgepodge of a compilation. Here you can discover little-known treats from locals Namesake, an amazing collaboration between the Velvet Teen’s Judah Nagler and Life in Braille’s Daniel Walker, and the Rum Diary, plus an excellent track from once-locals Desert City Soundtrack. Look for it at the Last Record Store and Backdoor Disc and Tape.

The title of Sonoma County poet Jennie Orvino’s Make Love, Not War CD ($20) may sound like a bunch of hippie hoo-haw, but it’s actually a very well put together spoken word-musical collaboration. Orvino’s readings are warm and rife with sensual energy (“Reaching for you is like / reaching to pick a ripe mission fig / and finding gluttonous bees already there / eating out caves in your sweetness”) that’s explicit but never cheesy or dirty. This CD is perfect for the Sensuality Shoppe crowd. You can read poems, hear tracks, and order the CD from Orvino’s site, (SB)

Johnny Otis is a national treasure. A legendary vibraphonist, bandleader, record producer, and talent scout, this longtime Sebastopol resident rose in the 1940s out of Los Angeles’ famed Central Avenue jazz and R&B scene with the hit single “Harlem Nocturne.” He discovered such luminous singers as Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Little Esther Phillips, and the woefully underrated Marie Adams. He produced some of the biggest early R&B and rock hits. He wrote and recorded “Willie and the Hand Jive” (later covered by Eric Clapton and a hundred others). He earned a place in both the Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame, and garnered a 1994 Grammy nomination for his album Spirit of the Black Territory Bands (Arhoolie). And he’s a helluva good cook. In fact (sorry about this), he really cooks on Food for Life (JT), his newly released album. This scintillating set of swing standards and originals hits all the right notes, with Otis providing the vibes (both musical and spiritual) while leading a tight-knit band that includes a talented horn section and a rhythm section comprised of younger generation Otises Nicky (drums) and Lucky (bass). Jump, jive, and wail this holiday season. (GC)

Holiday Stress Reliever: A gift certificate to Osmosis Baths means that you love someone a lot.

Certificates of Excellence

As the happy, harried daze of the winter holiday season bears down with its Santa-adorned death grip, many of us rush in ecstatic relief to the universal solution of the gift certificate. Any of us who have ever given or received a gift certificate are well aware of the usual round of book and music opportunities, the big department store cards, and even those certs to a favored toy store.

But you dream large, and you’re looking for something a bit beyond the fringe. Come with us, kind stranger, as we explore gift certificate ideas slightly off the beaten . . . you know.

The mundane little surprises of ordinary life just keep coming, some of them every 3,000 miles, others each April 15th. Give an oil change gift certificate to your love-bunny or a tax preparation session to your closest citizen. Your favorite felon might enjoy a certificate to a one-hour attorney consultation; no need to say why you chose it. House cleaners, rat catchers, plumbers, clutter specialists, and even Sufi monks can be prepaid to one day clean, catch, rout, clear, or bless your recipient’s residence.

Most of us tend to eat. Grocery stores–particularly high-end ones like Fiesta Market, the Oakville Grocery, Oliver’s Market, Sonoma Market, and Petaluma Market–are delighted to draw up food certificates. Similarly, restaurants will honor gift certs for fancy meals, provided that the tip comes as cash. Specialty butchers might agree to keep a prepurchased side of beef on hand for your best beloved.

The body, being a temple, loves having pure cash lavishly burned for it. Those of us with active keratin levels might enjoy initiation in the “mani/pedi” girl code. Others might need a massage or appreciate having their eyelashes dyed. Offer a Brazilian bikini wax to a special someone, if only to find out later how much it hurt.

If that Lotto win you’ve been counting on has finally come in, gift a night’s stay at a swank hostelry like the Hotel Healdsburg or a flying lesson in Sonoma or a full day spa treatment at the Osmosis Enzyme Baths in Freestone. Private cooking instruction or an 11-day French painting retreat with artist Carole Watanabe is bound to earn emotion-drenched thank-you notes.

None of this is as simple as swanning into a book store and laying down $20, but there’s a pretty irresistible collaborative magic in providing someone an experience he or she must then choose how to use. And it’s so easy to wrap. (GG)

Give the gift of time . . . at a pottery studio. The cool thing about gift certificates ($20 and up) for decorate-it-yourself ceramics is that the difference between “tacky” and “artistic” is totally up to the whimsy of the recipient, for it’s they who make the choice between a simple and elegant platter or a set of pig-in-overalls salt and pepper shakers. Pottery Studio, 632 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.576.7102 or

It’s discouraging enough to shell out $9 to see a new release, but it’s especially infuriating to think that money is going to some big movie theater conglomerate, the same chains that show NASCAR-hosted Coca-Cola ads during previews. So take a stand and support independent theaters. Santa Rosa’s Rialto Cinemas Lakeside has brewer’s yeast as a popcorn topping, and no megaplex offers that. Stuff the stocking of your resident cinephiles with passes to their favorite theater. The Rialto offers gift certificates, or get a passport card for admission to five movies for just $30. Rialto Cinemas Lakeside, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.525.4840. Or give gift certificates to the Rafael Film Center, who offer many special programs with appearances by filmmakers. 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.1222. (SB)

Oh, Right–the Kids

Petaluma sculptor David Furger has created a fanciful world filled with ceramic critters that act as tiny ocarinas. Brightly glazed and wonderfully whimsical, these affordable (mostly $20)–and interactive–sculptures are a real hit with kids. Splayed out on the table at Art in the Park at Petaluma’s Walnut Park, Furger’s musical menagerie looks like the casting call at the taping of Yellow Submarine. These imaginative one-of-a-kind knickknacks are a great way to fuel your kids’ imaginations while teaching them that fine art can be fun. For adults, Furger also offers a variety of sculptures–including clay, metals, wood, and stone–and custom pieces. 707.762.8916. (GC)

The British Toy and Hobby Association rank Superplexus as one of the top 10 hot family games for holiday gift giving, right up there with classics like Monopoly, Jenga, and Twister. Games magazine ranks it as one of the top 100 toys for 2003. But Superplexus creator Mike McGinnis of Santa Rosa still thinks of it as a high school art project gone mad. Superplexus ($21.99) is a three-dimensional maze within a clear, plastic sphere. The player twists and turns the sphere to move a small ball through about 100 different troughs, ramps, and pivoting pieces. McGinnis, an art instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, got the idea for the game when he was a student in Ed Hairston’s art class in Casa Grande High School in Petaluma. He tried to sell his invention for 23 years. “That was a roller coaster ride,” he says. Hasbro finally picked it up and now Superplexus can be found at Target, Toys “R” Us, and other toy stores. (MW)

Holiday Face-Stuffing

Nothing says “I love you” more than a box of artisan cheeses. That port-wine cheese spread rolled in pecans is tasty and all, but it’s peanuts when stacked up against Cowgirl Creamery‘s divine, cultured creations. From their home at the Tomales Bay Foods Market in Point Reyes, the staff of Cowgirl Creamery turn out fresh batches of handmade, organic cheeses every day. Try the brielike Mt. Tam or the creamy and complex Pierce Point. The Cowgirl Creamery Collection ($75) has both, plus the earthy and robust Red Hawk and a redwood cheese board. You can also find Cowgirl cheeses at Whole Foods, Dean and Deluca, Oakville Grocery, and at

Support happy Sonoma County goats with cheeses from Sebastopol’s Redwood Hill Farm. They offer a variety of lovely soft and hard cheeses, but the sharp goat milk cheddar cheese is worth a gaggle of Velveeta loaves. A sample pack contains a cheese bonanza with feta, aged and smoked cheddars, crottin, and three types of cherve for $28. Visit

Vella Cheese Company has a small retail store off Sonoma’s square (315 Second St.), where in addition to the dry Jack they’re famous for, you can load up on fresh butter–all the better to bake those giftable pies. And Bellwether Farms in Valley Ford has convenient web ordering at (SB)

Doobie Brothers fans take note: BR Cohn Winery just put out a new wine called Doobie Red ($32 bottle), and the band played at the Glen Ellen winery a couple of months ago at the unveiling of their namesake. (Bruce Cohn, owner of the winery, was the band’s longtime manager.) All proceeds go to charity.

For those on your gift-giving list whose tastes run more toward the classical, try the classic Picholine olive oil, also by BR Cohn. This small, French variety of olive is grown on only 2 percent of California’s groves. It’s labor-intensive and costly to make, but according to some top food critics, the trouble is worth it–and, they say, so is the $60 a bottle price. “When people ask my husband why it costs $60 to buy it, he tells them it’s because it costs $70 to make it,” says Sharon Cohn. The wine and olive oil are available at the winery, the website, and over the phone. 15000 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. 707.938.4064 or

If it looks like champagne and it tastes like champagne and it’s made like champagne, well, it’s probably champagne. But of course we can’t call it champagne, because the French get a bit snippy about that. Whatever you call it, it always makes the perfect gift, especially around New Year’s. Gloria Ferrer Champagne Cellars in Sonoma offers a lovely gift pack, which contains a bottle of their 1992 Royal Cuvee (Wine Spectator magazine gave it 93 out of 100 points), plus two hand-blown tulip flutes ($49.95).

Is there anything more decadent than chocolate? Well, yes. Chocolates filled with Gloria Ferrer champagne ($5.95 for a box of six; $11.95 for 10). More decadent than that? How about an entire bottle of champagne dipped in chocolate ($35). You can pour the bubbly and peel off the sweet stuff, all from the same bottle. “It’s not too messy,” says Skip Smith of the winery. “Anyway, it’s a good kind of messy.” All items are available at the winery, the website, and by phone. 23555 Carneros Hwy. 707.933.1917 or

Gourmet Mushrooms grows mushrooms for some of the world’s best restaurants, including local favorites the French Laundry, Aqua, and Postrio. But the Sebastopol-based enterprise can also send these exotic mushrooms to your family and friends. They offer an elegant gift basket filled with about two pounds of mushrooms such as shiitake, chanterelle, nameko, and others ($58).

Kids will get a kick out of Gourmet Mushrooms’ educational mushroom kits. Each kit comes with a log ready to burst out with mushrooms, and includes plenty of reading materials and even lesson plans for teachers or enthusiastic parents. All you need is water and about six inches by six inches of indoor space. A counter top or coffee table is fine. At the end, there are enough gourmet mushrooms for a special family treat. Kits range from $14.95 to $17.95. Call or order online, 800.789.9121 or (MW)

Pretty Pictures and Nice Smells

Lavender is my favorite standby gift. I never make out a shopping list and actually write “lavender” next to anyone’s name, yet somehow everyone ends up getting some. Sonoma Lavender has a great selection of products, which can be found in gift shops throughout the North Bay. There’s a cute, little teddy bear stuffed with lavender, body lotions, and bath salts, and you can’t go wrong with such great-smelling soaps and candles. I tuck in little sachets of the stuff with gifts of clothing and stuffed animals. Prices vary depending on outlet. Call 707.523.4411 for the nearest retail locations, or shop online at and then link to “Uniquely California” or “Bathe.” (MW)

Though calendars may be one of the least exciting gifts, there’s no doubt that they are appreciated. After all, everyone needs a calendar (but you don’t need 10, and that’s so often the problem–calendaric overgifting). Robert Janover has a great one to offer, it’s full of images of Sonoma County just the way you like to remember it: stunning sunsets, swirling fog, and rushing waters. A number of local events are marked each month, things like the Celtic Festival and the Russian River Jazz Festival, saving you the trouble of writing them down yourself. It’s a colorful reminder of the wealth, bounty, and cornucopia right at your doorstep. Available at Copperfields Books and Sawyer’s News. (DB)

From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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