Sonoma County Gifts

Made in Sonoma

Michael Amsler

Mining local treasures: Quicksilver Mine Co. owner Khysie Horn and store manager Ron Higgins showcase works by Sonoma County artists.

Our annual guide to great gifts made close to home

HANDS ON. Handcrafted. Homegrown. There’s something special about great gift items made right here in the heart of wine country. Bumper sticker sentimentality aside, there are a lot of good reasons to think globally and shop locally. From the simple elegance of locally made Pomo baskets sold at Tribal Beginnings to the colorful photography of Robert Janover’s Sonoma County showcase calendars (marketed by True Images; $10.99), here are a few ideas to start you on your way.

Polish That Bod

IN HER SODDEN five-year pursuit to find the ultimate body treatment, Sebastopol entrepreneur Karen Ciesar, 32, literally took hundreds of baths laced with all manner of experimental additives that may have been natural but weren’t always aesthetic.

“Some were great, and some were gross,” she recalls with a laugh. “Grit, grunge, weird floating matter that felt like soup–I’ve soaked in it all.”

One day, after becoming sufficiently prunelike, Ciesar finally hit on an age-old combination that could be adapted for modern use in the tub or shower. She rapidly toweled off and began to blend aromatic concoctions of essential oils, organic oils infused with herbs, and sea salt–all in one jar to be scooped out by the handful, blended in the palm and slathered onto moist skin.

“Before soap, people used sand to exfoliate and clean their skin, and then they anointed themselves with oil,” explains Ciesar. “Now, add our modern showers, and we can do it all-in-one with this mixture.”

Voilà! Ciesar’s Trillium Herbal Co. was born and her cornerstone Body Polish was launched about a year ago. According to Ciesar, the Body Polish benefits go beyond cleansing and moisturizing. “When you polish the body, you come out of the shower and feel completely different–clean and renewed from stress and intensity,” she says. “We live in a toxic world; the sea salt pulls chemical toxins from the body. Furthermore, we live in an electromagnetically polluted environment [from computers, cars, even wiring in the house]; the sea salt and organic oils together cleanse and balance the body.

“It’s a healing product.”

The sensual goop, which also boasts intoxicating ingredients, such as eucalyptus, rose geranium, ginger, lavender, and tangerine (depending on the blend), is getting some major strokes. “People recognize that this product is something different and not of the normal, everyday world,” says Ciesar. “When people use soap they don’t apply it with a healing touch. With Body Polish, you work it in and it feels satisfying to scrub with.”

According to its inventor, Body Polish has inspired some sublime gatherings where partygoers roll up their jeans, slide their legs into a baby pool, sip cocktails, and polish each others’ feet. And, at certain baby showers, Body Polish fans perform a special ritual in which they anoint and smooth mama-to-be’s tootsies with the fragrant preparation.

“People love it,” enthuses Ciesar, a former Wisconsin attorney who recently moved to Sonoma County to work more closely with local herb growers and oil producers. “I’ve been buying herbs from Sonoma County growers for year, and I came here to connect with the herbal community. I found organic ingredients here that have transformed the product.”

Body Polish is blended and packaged at Trillium Herbal Co. in Sebastopol. “Glass jars are filled with herbs and oils and left to bake in the sun for 45 days [to process the ingredients],” says Ciesar. “It’s the old way.”

Body Polish is available in three ayurvedic blends: Zephyr Wind for calming; Virgin Forest for cooling; and Aphrodite’s Allure for enhancing circulation. Individual 8-oz. jars cost $16, or $45 for a three-pack, including one of each blend.
–Paula Harris

Body Polish is available at Milk and Honey in Sebastopol, Food for Thought in Petaluma and Sebastopol, Community Market in Santa Rosa, Oliver’s Market in Cotati, Petaluma Natural Foods, and Petaluma Market. 829-9402.

Quicksilver Mine Co. would be the anchor in our Made-in-Sonoma Hall of Fame.

Say Cheese

WHY DID YOU DO IT? Alien implant, split-second epileptic episode, a dragging magnetism to be everybody’s yes-person? What made you say that you’d host the family holiday dinner this year? Too late now: The damage is done and the invitations sent. But after you scrape the rust from the roasting pan and count the napkins (lip-chafing linen being one of the signs of a truly quality spread), give yourself a gift of love: Call J.M. Rosen’s in Petaluma and put your name on the list for a box or two of their famous cheesecake.

Jan and Michele Rosen’s work has a big following locally, but they’re even more famous down in Southern California, where the sisters’ handiwork has pride of place on dessert menus at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and other feeding grounds of the rich and famous. The cheesecakes come in regular, several varieties of chocolate, and, for the holidays, pumpkin, but none of the options are ordinary. The cake embodies the ineffable cheesecake paradox–creamy, yet firm–while the crust avoids the whole crumbly graham-cracker issue entirely and moves into a zone of caramely, flaky grace.

A medium cake serves eight for a mere $23, while a larger cake serves 12 to 16 for $35. If one thing can make up for soggy stuffing, a rapidly draining liquor cabinet, and the kids’ table holding the gathering hostage for a simple pan of Spaghetti-Os, this is it.
–Marina Wolf

J.M. Rosen’s is located in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center, 54 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 773-3200.

A-mazing Puzzles

IT WOULD BE MORE than accurate to call Larry Evans and Nancie Swanberg “multitalented” or “multidimensional,” since these long-associated Petaluma artists have their fingers in multiple metaphorical paint pots–and in multiple dimensions as well. Swanberg–an accomplished painter and portrait artist, mastering the use of oil paints in her much sought-after creations–has worked variably as a picture book illustrator, a designer of dolls, and a magazine developer; that last job, as designer of the pilot issue of the renowned kiddie lit mag Cricket, was the beginning of a long association with that publication.

“Illustrating was fun,” she admits, “But my real love is oils. I like a big canvas. I like creating something more, uh, difficult. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to do a little of everything.”

As for Evans, the award-winning architectural artist is also something of a legend as a creator of mazes. He’s crafted more than three dozen books over the last 20 years, fashioning eye-boggling mazes that are far beyond the usual two-dimensional boundaries of most similar books. His work is often compared to that of the optically eccentric M. C. Escher, though Evans began drawing his labyrinthine visions long before the Escher craze hit America. His newest is appropriately named The Super-Sneaky, Double-Crossing, Up, Down, Round & Round Maze Book (Klutz, $12.95). It’s a great gift idea (for people of any age, truly, though the announced target age for the book is 9-12) that will appeal to anyone that enjoys having his or her mind bent around backwards and twisted like a balloon animal.

“They start out in my brain,” says Evans of his enigmatic architectural tangles. “I see them forming.” With a chuckle, he adds, “I have to put them on paper just to get them out of my head.”

His maze-making career began while on vacation in Hawaii. His children, less than stimulated by the tropical surroundings, required a little extra diversion. So Evans sketched out a maze on a paper bath mat from the hotel room. The kids liked it, so he found more bath mats and drew more mazes. By the time he returned home, Evans knew he had a book in the works.

The publishing world agreed; his puzzle books are hits around the world.

Taking this brain-teaser thing to an even higher level, both Evans and Swanberg have published jigsaw puzzles–dozens of them–featuring their own painted designs. It’s hard enough to find your way out of one of Evans’ mazes, or to locate all the hidden mermaids or unicorns in one of Swanberg’s fantastical landscapes, but just try to do it when the puzzle is in 1,000 pieces. Once assembled, the result is pretty darn stunning: Evans’ moody watercolors have a way of drawing you deep inside them, and Swanberg’s complicated, evocative netherworlds are hard to look away from, once you’ve been hooked in.

Available at many major retail stores, the puzzles–along with framed paintings by both artists–are easily obtained at the oh-so-eclectic art shop Gallery One, 209 Western Ave., Petaluma. 778-8277.
–David Templeton.

Michael Amsler

Crane Ceramics

ETHEREAL FLOWERPOTS, oddly flattened-out, and two-dimensional. Curvaceous vases mysteriously painted in dreamlike pastel colors. Short, stout teapots seemingly floating in midair, bumping disarmingly against the wall. Petaluma ceramicist Diana Crane has made a name for herself with these striking creations that seem to have been imported from some whimsical netherworld where flowerpots and kettles–but not the real, dried flowers that push up and out, three-dimensionally from within–all have been squeezed as flat as pancakes.

The pieces work as actual vases–each carries a small open-ended compartment in which a sheaf of dried wheat or flowers can be placed, adding to the otherworldly look: a kicky blending of different dimensions.

Crane’s work ranges in price from the low $20 range–simple terra-cotta flower pots–on up to several hundred dollars for larger pieces, such as an enormous bell-jar vase, elaborately decorated with swirls and studded with pointed little doodads, hovering inches above a two-legged table improbably standing by itself.

The work of Diana Crane is available in fine art stores around the country; locally, try Gallery One, 209 Western Ave., Petaluma. 778-8277.

Over the Rainbow

THERE ARE SO MANY creative cooks in our county, releasing cases of swoony toast toppings, that it’s hard to call out just one for your holiday attention. But the little jars with handwritten labels that Nan Solomon of Rainbow’s End Farm stacked out at the Santa Rosa Thursday Night Market were just too cute to ignore. The variety list is irresistible, too, containing such gems as strawberry rhubarb, raspberry peach, and blackberry flavored with rose geranium. The standard single-fruit offerings are myriad, and there are even some sugar-free jams to be had.

Solomon has been cooking up sticky serendipity on the edge of Sebastopol for 10 years now. Many ingredients are foraged from the 46 non-cultivated acres of old Italian farmland, and all are organic to boot. You can’t find this stuff next to the peanut butter at Safeway, which is just as well: a bit of searching adds to the value. Half pints of Rainbow’s End jams and jellies cost about $4.50, and worth every last cent.

Solomon sells at the Quicksilver Mine Co., 154 N. Main St., Sebastopol, and will be putting her entire inventory out at the Occidental Crafts Fair on Dec. 13-14. 874-2315.

Set in Stone

JIM AND VIVIAN Strand practice the enviable art of carving stone, accomplishing in minutes what takes a stream of water centuries to accomplish. But water was never so accurate: The Strands’ carvings, made from sandblasting through stencils, are as sharp and clear as a line drawing.

Jim Strand learned the techniques of sandblasting at an East Bay shipyard. By narrowing the blaster’s focus and pitting it against the surprisingly non-resistant surface of salvaged scraps of granite, marble, and slate–says Vivian, “We’re into basic recycling here”–Jim has achieved a delicate precision that is eminently suitable for meditative objects or decorations. The Strands have created a few of their own designs, but most of the carvings are based on Celtic knot art, Oriental calligraphy, and Native American art.

“We prefer to work with sacred symbols or what we feel is heartful artwork from different cultures,” says Vivian. A small portion of their stock can be seen at Options, 126 Matheson St., in Healdsburg and at Stepping Stones Bookstore at Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Road, in Santa Rosa. But the Strands also will work with any designs brought to them.

Make an appointment now and avoid the Christmas custom-order rush by calling the Strands at their Kenwood studio. 833-6674.

Michael Amsler

Living out Loud

THE WINTER HOLIDAYS bring certain essential sounds: piping carols, sing-song prayers, oral traditions that get handed down from generation to generation. If you’re too shy to do your own storytelling, you can at least make a nod to the tradition with a gift from the Pacific Storytellers collection of tapes, videocassettes, and storytelling materials for young and old alike.

Sandra MacLees, a storyteller out of Healdsburg, has been coordinating the clearinghouse since 1990, back when it was just 12 professional storytellers from California looking for an outlet for their merchandise. The organization has expanded to include works from 25 storytellers from the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii as well, but Sonoma County still has a solid representation. Among the local participants in the venture are Kendall Haven, with cartoony tales and happily moral endings for very young children (a $12.95 book and cassette, Killer Brussels Sprouts, is his bestseller), and Celtic storyteller and musician Patrick Ball, who produces primarily traditional brass-string Celtic harp music and also offers The Storyteller, a tape of Irish stories and music, for $9.95. MacLees is offering her own recordings, too: Sweet and Bittersweet, a multicultural folktale collection about all the wonderful and crazy things that love makes us do, and the autobiographical Pieces of My Life. Both are available for $9.95.

For more information about these and other good storytelling gifts, see the Pacific Storytellers’ website or call 433-8728.

Word Up

WRITING IS LIKE getting rich: Most of us want to do it, but the trick is getting started. (Not that the printed word will leave you rolling in the dough, but writing has other rewards.) So how the heck do you get the ballpoint rolling? One place to start is with two books from Tannery Creek Press that invite you to scribble in their pages. Writing Your Life Story Has Never Been Easier is filled more than 250 prompts, 12 subject categories, and quotes from the likes of Maya Angelou to get the ink flowing. For the aspiring travel writer, there is From Here and There & Back Again, a sturdy tome packed with travel quotes, prompting sentences, and handy storage pockets.
–Patrick Sullivan

Both books are printed on recycled paper and are available at the Quicksilver Mine Co., 154 N. Main St., Sebastopol, or directly from Tannery Creek, P.O. Box 221, Graton, CA 95444-0221. 829-1966.

Angelo’s World

THE COUNTRYSIDE surrounding Angelo’s Meat Market in Petaluma takes on a certain pungency as you approach the ramshackle outbuilding on rural Adobe Road. The air is heavy with spices, brine, smoke, and grease–all the smells of a busy smokehouse, where Angelo Ibleto and his family have been making jerky, sausages, and deli items to go with them, for over 30 years.

Angelo’s–famous for his famous salsas as well–also has a deli in downtown Sonoma, but the big word for the holidays is shipability, with orders easily taken over the phone or by fax, e-mail, or the Web. One of the simplest things to ship is a bag of zesty jerky, which Angelo’s sells in eight varieties–including teriyaki, plain, Cajun, hot peppered, and garlic–for $24 per pound, and will ship anywhere for just $3.75 per pound. Angela Dellinger, Angelo’s daughter, also can custom-pack a gift box with your choice of mustards, sauces, olives, and sausages.

Hey, nothing says love and holiday cheer like a garlicky box of Italian delicatezze.

Angelo’s Meats is located at 2700 Adobe Road, Petaluma. For info, call 763-9586 or 800/631-4796. Send e-mail to [email protected], or check out the website.

On the Rack

EVERY YEAR we joyfully give gallons and gallons of good Sonoma County wine, never thinking about how the people on the other end are going to store the stuff. So the bottles inevitably wind up standing on end in a cupboard next to the tequila, with the corks drying out and the labels peeling from the stovetop heat.

Stop the insanity! Go to the Wine Rack Shop in Sonoma, where all kinds of wine-storage systems can be had, ranging from low-budget modular to high-end cellar installations, as well as vats and vats of wine paraphernalia. Many of the items in the shop are made locally, such as a line of finished pine racks of varying sizes made in Petaluma (beginning at $24) and a glass-topped wine-rack table made of elegant whorls of steel ($595). The Wine Rack Shop also features a beautiful line of wrought-iron wine stands by Roger Collins of Collins Welding. The trailing vines cradle bottles and glasses in gravity-defying positions, and the varying hues of metal make shimmering vitisculpture that would grace any wine-lover’s abode, at prices from $125 to $395 and up.

The Wine Rack Shop is located at 536 Broadway, Sonoma, and can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 888/526-RACK.

Making It Big

KATE MOSS and Callista Flockheart notwithstanding, around 50 percent of American women are size 14 or over. As a present to yourself or the larger woman on your shopping list, why not treat that statistic not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry for more and better clothing, made to fit and feel comfortable and look fabulous on all sizes of big?

Making It Big has been doing exactly that for 15 years now, first out of a Main Street showroom in Penngrove, now in a larger store space in Rohnert Park, where the racks and racks of seasonally colored clothing have enough room to show off their full lines. MIB’s elegant designs in natural fibers, ranging from sweeping rayon dresses for evening to playful, sturdy cotton activewear and clean-cut office linens, draw shoppers from all over the Bay Area to the store, and also have an extremely loyal mail-order following. Gift certificates are available if you’re just not sure. Not only are the price and product right–shirts from $35, dresses from $55, all extremely well made–but the manufacturing is refreshingly ethical in this age of Third World sweatshops: MIB produces nearly all of its own label in the county, at a fair wage to the workers.

Drop by the store at 135 Southwest Blvd., Rohnert Park. The catalog, which uses real-sized women for models, can be ordered by calling 795-1995, or viewed in its entirety on the Web.

From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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