Holiday Gift Guide : Part One | Fashion, Food and Fun

‘Tis the season to eat, drink, shop and make merry. What better way to do that than with some of my favorite items of 2014. From wearable wine-related fashion statements and accessories to bites to savor, these selections make ideal gifts (treat yourself to one or two, as well).

Happy Holidays!



Wine Wardrobe: Create your own style with these beautiful wine-themed wearable art items


Olive and Poppy – Cheers to the Sweet Life Necklace $74


I’m a jewelry lover and when I first saw these beautiful pieces with a northern California wine country feel, I was impressed. The quality is top notch and the designs unique. The company was founded by Napa Valley residents, Anne Siegel and Nicole Hughes, and as they tell it “The name Olive and Poppy is inspired by the vibrant, visual representations of the two parts of nature that are synonymous with wine countries throughout the world. Come spring, there are always thousands of colorful poppies growing right alongside the groves of olive trees that line winery driveways.” Cheers.


Crawford Denim for Robert Mondavi Private Selection – Vintners Shirt  $135


Everyone needs a high-quality denim piece in his or her wardrobe and this shirt fits the bill. Created by artisan producer, Crawford Denim, the richly-textured shirt can be worn belted over leggings or open in a coat style. The collar and accompanying bandana gains its deep purple hue from using Robert Mondavi Private Selection’s blend, Heritage Red, as a dye. Go ahead and splurge…you deserve it.


The Grateful Girls – Jerry Garcia-inspired Silk Scarf — $25

jerry garcia scarfWhether you know the classic band, The Grateful Dead, I bet you’ve heard of the band’s icon, Jerry Garcia. He was a musician, wine lover, and artist who made his home in northern California’s wine country (and at one point even had his own wine label). Now, two inventive ladies named, The Grateful Girls, have taken Garcia’s art to a line of scarves. They’re festive and affordable making an ideal gift for friends and family.


Delicious Bites from Sweet to Spicy: These mouthwatering treats will impress for less


Chateau Bakery – Clair de Lune Cookies

Large container $28 or 4 Small Containers for $16



I’m not a big chocolate or dessert eater, but you put some butter cookies in front of me and I melt. These are the best I’ve ever tasted. Chateau Bakery makes the Clair de Lune cookies with an original family recipe dating to their European family bakery started in 1989. Today, owner and baker Esther Buss, continues the tradition with these melt-in-your mouth bites. Only five ingredients are used to make the cookies: cane sugar, flour, butter, sea salt and vanilla. Purity pays off and you will fall in love. (You can kiss me later!)



Maille Old Style Mustard – $5.00

Dijon mustard is my go-to condiment. I put it on everything from cheese to chicken as it’s so food-friendly, adding a dash of acidity to dishes making most pair much better with wine. Maille (pronounced My) mustard is a French classic started in 1747 by Antoine Maille. He went on to supply the European Royal courts with mustard and vinegar. Though I consider the “Old Style” whole grain Dijon a staple, the company has not been stuck in the past, launching delicious new styles like the Honey Dijon and Honey Dijon with Modena Balsamic. Amazing.

Paulie’s Pickling – Spicy Green Beans $8.00

I discovered this small San Francisco spot when shooting my show, Check Please! Owners Liz and Paul Ashby are East Coast transplants that have created a pickling business and sandwich shop that will have you making pilgrimages to the city to find their fare. The spicy green beans are just that – packing a serious pickle punch. Try them in Bloody Mary’s with a dash of their homemade horseradish.

Piment d’Ville – 1.2 oz tin $15.00

Next to my stove I have four items: olive oil, sea salt, cracked pepper, and Piment d’Ville. I discovered the spicy treat while dining in Boonville, California at the Boonville Hotel’s Table 128 restaurant. Locally grown from seed and hand harvested in Boonville, it’s from a pepper known as piment d’espelette from the Basque region of southern France. It’s fiery yet sweet and oh so delicious.

Wine Whimsy: the affordable accessories add flair to any gift bag


Holiday Gift Guide (5 of 8) 

Capa Bubbles – $15.95

Capabunga is a product I use daily. What is it? As winemaker owners and inventors Máire Murphy and Walt Averill describe it, “Capabunga is a reusable silicone cap that reseals a bottle of wine after you remove the cork. Once you remove the cork and re-seal the bottle, it is liquid tight and the bottle can rest on its side or even upside down without leaking.” They have recently added a CapaBubbles topper and fun glass tags called GlassWhere by CapaBunga ($11.95) to their lineup. Stock up on all their useful items for yourself, too.

Ring for a Drink BellPier 1 Imports or Cost Plus World Market $6.00

I buy a stash of these whimsical bells with the saying “Ring for a Drink”. Given with a bottle of wine, it makes a clever and inexpensive gift.

Wine Writers

Wine Glass Writers –$9.95

The proliferation of wine charms – rings that look like jewelry and that hook on wine glass stems — has always confused me. Many of them are pretty, but as soon as you have a few glasses you tend to forget if your glass was the one with the cork charm or the cheese slice charm. Have no fear, use these pens to write your names on the glass then simply wash off with a sponge.



Love these ideas? Then stay tuned for the rest of the week as I look at my favorite wines, spirits, splurges and saves.

Happy holidays! 

Women who dish …and the drinks that pair

In any other region, the classic James Brown song “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” could describe restaurant culture. Not here, though. From Menlo Park to Sonoma, San Francisco to Oakland, female chefs and restaurateurs rank among the top culinary pioneers and are among the most successful in the business.

These women cook. And not only that, many of them know what pairs best with their menus, making them formidable all-around talents. I asked four of my favorite femmes of food and drink to talk about this, and let us in on their favorite sips for spring.

Joanne Weir

Joanne Weir. Photo by Erin Kunkel.

Photo by Erin Kunkel

Many know Joanne Weir for her cooking shows, which air on PBS. With an engaging, easy-going style, “Weir Cooking in the City” and “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence,” along with more than a dozen cookbooks, confirm her as a culinary trailblazer.

Weir’s latest venture is the restaurant Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito. Showcasing her passion for Mexico, Copita’s concept is inspired by her cookbook, “Tequila: A Guide to Types, Flights, Cocktails, and Bites” (Ten Speed Press, 2009). Focused on seasonal Mexican dishes (many inspired by the eatery’s own garden) and an amazing list of 80 premium tequilas and tequila cocktails, Copita is a shrine to south-of-the-border delicacies.

How did tequila become one of your passions?
Many years ago, I rented a house on the beach in a little fishing village in the Yucatan called Puerto Morelos. One beautiful warm night, a friend and I bought a bottle of Corralejo Reposado and sat on the beach with our feet in the sand, glass in hand, and sipped tequila. That night, I fell in love with tequila. Years later back in San Francisco, I went to the launch of a new tequila brand in a sexy square bottle called Corzo. My love for tequila was confirmed. I was surprised to see that there were mostly men at the launch and just a few women. I canvassed the women in the crowd, learning that women love tequila just as much as men. Immediately, I formed a group called Agave Girls, for women who appreciate tequila. [The group meets for tastings, social events, etc.]

Fresh Cherry Margarita
(served at Copita)

12 fresh cherries, pitted
1 ounce blanco 100 percent agave tequila
1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce agave nectar
3/4 ounce water
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Fresh cherry with stem as a garnish

Put cherries in a shaker and mash them until pulverized, about one minute. Add other ingredients, then fill the shaker with ice. Cover and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with the cherry.

The Best Weather. Photo by Phil Surkis.

The Best Weather. Photo by Phil Surkis.


Tanya Holland

Tanya Holland. Courtesy Tanya Holland.

Courtesy Tanya Holland

When I first met author, television personality and French-trained chef Tanya Holland, it was while eating crisp-yet-moist buttermilk fried chicken partnered with light-as-air cornmeal waffles. We were at her Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland, an award-winning modern soul food restaurant that has been going strong for five years. Holland has been honored with her own “day” by the city of Oakland, recognizing her role in developing the area as a culinary mecca. She and partner Phil Surkis have just opened a new eatery, B-Side BBQ, a mile away from Brown Sugar. The menu includes pulled pork, spicy ribs, savory sides and signature cocktails made with the chef’s own fresh syrups. B-Side is the flipside to Holland’s restaurant record.

What inspired the cuisine at your restaurants?
It’s my heritage and the heritage of many residents in Oakland. There’s a history here that I found wasn’t being honored. We got it started, and then several operators followed with similar concepts. African-Americans came here to work the railroads, and West Oakland was where they lived. And then San Pablo later became a barbecue belt, but soon the family businesses closed, so we’re just taking over where history left off.

The Best Weather
(served at B-Side BBQ)

2 ounces Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
1/2 ounce Solerno Blood Orange liqueur
1/2 ounce Ginger Syrup
1/2 lime, juiced
4 to 5 torn, fresh basil leaves

Combine all ingredients and shake. Serve up in a coupe-style glass.

Hibiscus Mojito. Photo by Michael Biesemeyer.

Hibiscus Mojito. Photo by Michael Biesemeyer.


Jesse Cool

Photo by Dan Honda

Photo by Dan Honda

When I arrived in San Francisco after college, I remember a pivotal culinary experience at Jesse Cool’s Flea St. Café in Menlo Park. The food at this Peninsula landmark was simple yet amazingly complex with fresh-from-the-garden flavors. Little did I know at the time that Cool was, and is, an icon in the organic/sustainable food movement. She and contemporary Alice Waters pioneered the practice of using local ingredients and creating dishes from what you could grow and buy from artisan farmers.

A self-proclaimed hippie, Cool grew up in the Midwest with a family that owned a grocery store and raised its own vegetables. When she opened Flea Street in 1982, she wanted to share her passion by showcasing local, organically grown food and wine, something that was years ahead of its time. Cool also runs Cooleatz Catering and two Cool Cafés on the Peninsula, and has written several cookbooks, including “Simply Organic.”

How have you seen the food scene change in the past decade?
The most exciting development is that young diners are pushing the envelope. They want to know where their food comes from, who is growing and producing it, and how food affects their well-being as well as the local and global community. They don’t want to support food that’s grown and then destroys the environment. The “big, cheap” model of the past few decades doesn’t work. There is a wonderful return to the old ways: cooking for others, growing gardens, shopping at farmers markets, canning, pickling and curing foods like our grandmothers. There’s a sense now that this must be available to all and not just the privileged.

Favorite spring wine: Frog’s Leap Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley — a classic California producer who has always focused on growing grapes organically and making character-driven wine such as this crisp sauvignon blanc.

Hibiscus Mojito
(served at Flea Street Cafe)

2 ounces hibiscus-infused simple syrup
2 ounces white or silver rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
About 6 mint leaves
1/2 lime, cut
Splash soda

Put the syrup, rum, lime juice, lemon juice, a few leaves of mint and the half-cut lime into a glass; stir or swirl to release the flavors. Then shake in a shaker, repour into the glass, top with a splash of soda and garnish with extra mint leaves.