At my house, we celebrate Janumas. There is no specific day for Janumas. It has to be declared and agreed upon in November, and it can occasionally turn into Februmas. While many of you are celebrating the most wonderful time of the year, Katy and I have been in the business of making that most wonderful time happen.
Early in our relationship, I said that words that may have sealed the deal, “Can we agree to do Christmas in January?”. While I have some pretty worthy qualities, my flexibility on celebrating Christmas might be number one.
We don’t always celebrate Janumas. Back in the catering days, we were sometimes done by December 19th. Plenty of time to make the season bright, but many years were right up to end of the month…hence, Janumas!
(Photo of Katy with her Janumas gifts a few years ago)
What is the traditional meal of Janumas, you ask? Reubens. Delicious, overstuffed Reubens. What is the wrapping paper? It is frequently pink and red and covered with Valentine’s hearts. There is also a secondary tradition we call “dramatic unveiling”. Skip the wrapping paper, give a little speech about why you selected the present you are holding behind your back, and sing a little song…Dramatic unveiling, dramatic unveiling, dramactic, dramatic, DRAMATIC UNVEILING!”. Hey, I didn’t say it was a good song, but it does save time and paper.
If you are still feeling the holiday love in January, we got you. Just let us know it is for Janumas, and we will get that right out.
I own Bite Society with Katy – also a gay homosexual, and Shana our straight ally. Shana is the person we ask things like:
Why do straight people always have a fire in the fire place?
Jessica, our social media/email everything person, has asked me approximately 1,462 times to write a Pride blog. I have mulled it over wondering what Pride means to me. I have been gay bashed in my beloved liberal Seattle, WA, and I have seen a rainbow flag flown over the Space Needle. And what do either have to do with Pride?
I will give you a little bit of the fun and a little bit of the important (at Bite Society, we are fun and important).
In June 1995, I was a shiny new lesbian at the Seattle Pride Parade. Every parade kicks off with the roaring engines of Dykes on Bikes. Who are these riders? Well, in 1995, they were almost every player on the softball team I had just joined. For the first time in my life, I felt like a cool kid. I didn’t have a bike, but I got waves, high fives, and I belonged. That is a big part of the Pride story. Belonging, being seen, and celebrating.
I didn’t come out until I was 30. There was almost an intervention by my friends. My coming out to them went something like this:
Me: “I’m gay.”
Them: “Thank God. We didn’t know how to tell you.”
I am lucky that way. My friends have always been accepting, supportive, funny, and generally awesome. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, and that is why Pride month, Pride parades, Pride flags, Pride rubber ducks, and Pride Tins with Bite Society Cookies are all so important.
People need to be seen and accepted for who they are. If it seems over the top, it is because the price of not being seen is high.
In September of 1995, the Mariners were in the playoffs. I was lucky to have tickets. The people sitting behind me were well into some beers and flasks when they noticed that four lesbians were sitting in front of them. They started calling us names under their breath. The first beer spilled on my friends might have been accidental, but then it escalated into beer being dumped on us, and my partner getting punched in the face.
When I recounted my experience at work, my colleague asked if we had been kissing. I thought, “Golly, this seems like a great time to start my own business.”
Like many LGBTQ+ business owners, I found a haven by making my own job. It has given me the freedom to be myself and do things like produce a Gay Pride Cookie tin that supports other small LGBTQ+ businesses, is crazy adorable, and makes a fantastic Pride Month gift.
Sending a Pride gift is a nice way to say, “Hey, I see you.” It is also a nice way to support this small queer business and many others.
Welcome back to the best edible, potable guide to gift-giving the Internet has to offer. Like last year, we’ve assembled a lengthy list of food and beverage gifts from around the web. And, like last year, we have absolutely no ulterior motive. None of these links have affiliate codes, there’s no kickbacks, we’re just sharing products we (and people and our networks) have loved so you can spread consumable joy whenever gifts are called for.
Two things that have changed for 2021’s guide:
My SparkToro colleague, Amanda Natividad, a fellow gourmet, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, and woman of exceptional taste helped put together the list (sadly, poor Andrew Bohrer had a painful injury precluding him from spending long hours at a keyboard; get well soon, buddy!).
This year’s guide has all new recommendations. That’s not because we no longer recommend the 37 shops & products from 2020 (we definitely do!), but we’ve decided each year’s guide should be entirely unique so as to give y’all as many options as possible.
Our criteria for this year’s 34 merchant/gift selections were:
A distribution of gift options between $25-$300, with very little at the top end of that range, and plenty of affordable selections
A diverse range of products that can accommodate every palate and dietary restriction
No mass market stuff (maybe one or two, highly justifiable exceptions)
A focus on small businesses and diverse ownership (companies founded by women, PoC, and other under-represented groups all made our list)
US & Canada focused, with every option shipping to the continental US
We (Amanda and Rand) did our best to choose stores and products we (or people we know and trust) have personally tasted, loved, and would recommend to friends. That’s what makes this list so special; you can have confidence it’s been vetted by picky foodies 😊
While on a recent trip to Italy, Geraldine and I got to visit olive groves and sample fresh, first-press, single-grove oil. It is NOTHING like what’s available in American grocery stores.
Of course, there’s all sorts of explanations, myths, and rumors about why that might be: nefarious cartels, organized crime, logistics issues, lack of proper labeling requirements by American food import authorities, etc. But whatever the reason, the solution is simple: buy from small producers in Italy.
EXAU is an outstanding choice for dozens of reasons, but the big three are: 1) the founders are awesome, and their story is inspiring 2) the olive oil quality and flavor are second to none 3) you can buy directly from the producer, with reliable shipping to the US.
Gift baskets suck. Food-centric gift boxes doubly so. You open them up with excitement, but inevitably end up storing three quarters of the weird, dry crackers and cast-off pantry goods until they expire and you can finally feel less guilty about throwing them out.
Not Bite Society.
An ex-colleague sent us a Bite Society box this summer, and we finished every last item. The curators of these gift baskets truly care about what they’re sending. The products aren’t cheap leftovers that TJ Maxx couldn’t get rid off even at 90% off, they’re hand-picked, delicious, usable foods you’ll want to consume.
Even better, the packaging is utterly delightful, sparking joy for whomever opens it up. We’ve sent almost half a dozen of these to friends and family, and received rave reviews every time.
Prices range from $89-$350, and shipping times are surprisingly fast (2-day shipping across the US).
Turns out, the word “bougie” isn’t just a shortened form of the French “bourgeoisie.” There’s a far more problematic history here in the US, where the term was used in reference to Black Americans “who act as if they are better than others around them.” So, it’s pretty great to learn that Jam & Bougie is a reclamation of that terminology, founded and owned by Jacinda Ferguson.
Of course, it’s the rave reviews the jam receives that have placed it on our list. Delicious, homemade, booze-infused jams with flavors like Mimosa (mandarin orange), Savannah (peaches, honey, & tea), and Pina Asada (roasted pineapples and pineapple bourbon), all with stellar endorsements.
Mocktails take the form of a probiotic soda in this low-sugar drink. Culture Pop soda combines familiar flavors (grapefruit, watermelon, berries, and more) with a gourmet twist (basil, turmeric, juniper, and more). Instead of using refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, Culture Pop gets its sweetness from organic fruit juice.
This is a solid choice for health-conscious loved ones who still want a sweet and refreshing treat, and it’s inclusive of all ages — something the whole family can enjoy.
My favorite flavors are the juicy watermelon soda (with lime and rosemary), and bold orange mango (with a kick from chili and lime).
I’ve given these as gifts twice, and bought them for our kitchen twice as well. Burlap & Barrel does great sourcing, great packaging, and does it at reasonable prices.
Personal favorites are the Cloud Forest Cardamom, the Silk Chili (Aleppo Pepper), the Wild Mountain Cumin, the Wild Icelandic Kelp, and the Herati Saffron.
But, honestly, pick whatever your recipient will use – because spices don’t have the shelf-life you think they do. You want to use these within 18 months, preferably 12. They’re amazing, but they’re organic, not plastic. Treat ’em right.
Amanda again! Here’s a special treat for adventurous home cooks who are also passionate about helping the environment. Force of Nature’s mission is regenerative agriculture, a means of producing food that may have lower—or even net positive—environmental and/or social impacts. It’s a step beyond grass-fed meat that enables animals to graze, which stimulates grasses, propagates seeds, and can improve soil health. And because Force of Nature sells meats like venison, bison, elk and wild boar, they help promote biodiversity.
Top tips: go for the grinds (because ground meat is ubiquitous in recipes, yet grocery store quality is so poor), give venison as a gift to an adventurous foodie (maybe check with their S.O. or a close friend if you’re not sure, as venison can put some folks off), or stick to a classic ribeye (for those with slightly less adventurous palettes). Bison is a little leaner than beef, but significantly more flavorful. If you’ve been wanting to try searing a steak in butter, it’s a marvelous choice.
You cannot make the best Spaghetti alle Vongole or Carbonara without this long, thick spaghettoni. You can get 85% of the way there, but even with perfect technique and flawless ingredients, it just won’t taste as good without Benedetto Cavalieri.
Be warned, the cook time is longer than you’re used to: 17, even 18 minutes to get al dente. But when the author of Mastering Pasta says this is his absolute favorite dried pasta brand on the planet, listen up.
Rand’s given this as a gift nearly a dozen times in the last 3 years, and always received rave reviews. Might as well grab some for yourself while you’re buying it for others.
This is one Italian (and French) tradition that should absolutely hop the Atlantic. Having a mild mocktail or cocktail before dinner is the height of savoir faire. It’s also correlated with longer lifespans and less heart disease (though, obviously, drinking to excess has the opposite correlation, so please drink responsibly).
Tragically, your potably maladroit friends aren’t going to magically start mixing low alcohol beverages before meals by themselves. They need your help, preferably in the form of something beautiful, delectable, and classy AF. Drink Haus hits that mark, and a sampler kit is just $50.
Happy news: I just spent a few magical days with Lindsay Wassell in Italy, entirely by happy accident (she was supposed to stay with a friend in the UK, but said friend sadly came down with Covid — don’t worry, she’s fine now). During those stolen days, I discovered that Lindsay isn’t just one of the planet’s most talented marketing consultants, she’s also a human being with superb taste.
This is her favorite tea:
So, yeah, if you know a tea lover who’s willing to waver a little off the traditional black and green path, send ’em a box.
Why should you splurge on gifting such a fancy, beautiful box of meat? There’s no way I can explain better than Flannery’s own copywriters:
“For all other intents and purposes, this is a Bone-in Ribsteak, with a few specific details that elevate it from ‘awesome’ to ‘my life will never be the same’. Cut only from the chuck end of the Prime Rib, the Jorge steak has a large amount of the Ribeye “Cap”, or Spinalis Dorsi muscle. This also means that it has a large amount of internal fat (in addition to marbling). These two features combine to deliver a depth and intensity of flavor that is not for the faint of heart. Lastly, rather than being cut based on thickness or weight, the Jorge Ribsteak comprises of an entire beef rib – which explains the varying weight.”
Your mouth is watering right now, isn’t it? Go send some fancy, Jorge ribsteak love to a loved one for $92.
Amanda here with chili crisp! You may have seen this concoction of crispy chili peppers and oil on the table at your favorite dim sum restaurant. It’s also great on soups, on avocado toast, and even eggs. There are several small businesses that sell this online and this is one of the best.
“This artisanal sauce made in Taiwan is super exclusive, so much so that only 50 batches are produced per week using an old-school method that champions freshness. It’s a Sichuan-style mala sauce, a seasoning made from chile peppers and Sichuan peppercorn that’s famous for its citrusy notes and the numbing sensation it causes on the tongue. The peppers’ freshness and the addition of star anise make the sauce’s flavor extra bright and tingly.“
We had a rule for no-mass-market products, but it’s precisely the fact that Pressed makes cold-pressed juice easily accessible that makes it a great gift pick. A bundle of fresh juice makes for a nice care package for any loved one in recovery. A pack of citrus juices will help a foodie friend host step up their holiday brunch mimosas. This also makes for a nice post-holiday surprise gift for friends celebrating “Sober January.”
There are over 100 physical Pressed stores all over the US, and they deliver within one hour — which makes it a perfect last-minute gift. But if you don’t live in an area that has a store, you can order for 2-Day Express delivery and Pressed will ship your juice with ice packs.
Here’s what Nicole Rufus of Kitchn had to say about Fly by Jing’s Hot Pot Base:
The hot pot base exceeded all of my expectations. Sometimes store-bought broth bases can suffer from an extreme excess of salt, but the Fire Hot Pot Base is perfectly seasoned and packed with so much rich flavor. As someone who prefers spicier foods, I was very happy with the spice level in the broth. It’s not mild but it’s also not overpowering.
And the Hot Post Base isn’t alone in earning rave reviews. DailyBeast thinks their dumplings are to die for.
Clearly, there’s something special going on at Fly by Jing. Go ahead and surprise your recipient with a smattering of their selections while they’re still somewhat undiscovered, small-batch, and incredible quality.
Just how fancy are Amedei’s chocolate bars? SO FANCY that the Tuscan company has a rigorous vetting process for any store that wants to carry their products. A boutique-owning friend-of-a-friend was turned down three times before Amedei’s inspectors said “OK, your store is now beautiful enough to sell our chocolate.”
Now, I’m no fan of pretention, but exclusivity and Italian fancy-pants are kinda my jam. Amedei are, as the kids say, extra in all the right ways. Gift to someone who loves elegant gifts with great stories.
Do you love bees? Of course you do. This planet would die without bees.
Likewise, your pollinator-obsessed, giftless friends might die a little if you don’t pick them up some tiny, adorable honey bears.
The Bee Folks also offer a few non-food items including a selection of gift boxes. Bee good to your friends. You win more gift exchanges with honey than vinegar (well, actually, some drinking vinegar might make a nice gift, too).
I used to have a couple other places I recommended for American-produced, Italian-style salumi. Sadly, they’ve both gone downhill. I’ve heard amazing things about Il Porcellino, and while I haven’t yet tried them, they’re on my list and have been suggested by several picky friends.
Gift boxes abound on their website, or you could buy a stocking stuffer (is the Jewish equivalent a menorah masher?) of ‘Nduja salami…. Mmmm… <drooling face Homer gif/>… ‘Nduja.
These packets of sauce and spices are, essentially, recipe starters. They come with instructions, a list of ingredients, and then elevate your cooking while cutting out the more tedious, challenging, and frankly unrealistic steps (let’s be real, you were never going to home-ferment spices to get the perfect sweet, spicy, umami combination needed for great bulgogi).
The recipes still require core ingredients like vegetables, mushrooms, noodles, and protein, so these aren’t all-in-one kits. But for an aspiring chef (or one with a discerning palette yet little time), it’s a superb gift.
If you’ve bought those little nub pine nuts at the grocery store and tried to make pesto or toasted them to top pasta, salads, risotto, hummus, etc. you’ve been getting fleeced. The shorter pine nuts have a different flavor, texture, and (at least in Rand’s opinion) aren’t nearly as good.
Italian pine nuts are a luxury item. They’re expensive. And wonderfully flexible. That’s what makes them such a great gift. Three options for you: #1 – the 100g package above from Market Hall Foods is $35; #2 – Cerez Pazari sells Turkish pine nuts (which are very similar to the Italian ones, and not at all like the Russian and Chinese varieties you’ll find at most stores) in a 110g bag for $19; or #3 – The Curated Pantry (which is also on our gift list) offers a 70g bag from Pariani for $20 (perfect if you want to combine it with other items from their store in a gift package).
One time, Andrew Bohrer came over to our house and asked if we’d ever had Pisco Punch.
“NOT Pisco Sours, not a Pisco Mash, *Pisco Punch*?”
“I don’t think so,” I replied, “what is it?”
Andrew smirked, “Only the tastiest cocktail ever in the history of time.”
Son of a gun, he was right. Pisco Punch is incredible. It’s not unlike other pisco drinks, but it is superior. The recipe is simple as heck: here’s SeriousEats’ version, but Pineapple Gum Syrup is crucial. I personally loved this bit:
Pisco Punch had a dramatic reputation: in 1889, Rudyard Kipling wrote that it was “compounded of the shavings of cherub’s wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters,” while others wrote that “it tastes like lemonade but comes back with the kick of a roped steer,” and that “it makes a gnat fight an elephant.”
Hello, this is Geraldine. Rand asked me to take over this post briefly. MWAH HA HA HA HA HA. Unfortunately I have been asked to not to abuse this privilege, so instead I will just tell you about Seletti, the Milanese design house that makes extremely cool housewares and homegoods. Are you tired of dishes that just hold food? Do you want also want them to express a not-so-subtle commentary on colonization and its eternal legacy? If so, this is your brand. Seletti mixes politics, history, and art with a bit of whimsy, and produces some of the most amazing casalinghi (the Italian word for housewares) you can find. Buy a piece for the design afficionado or the artist in your life.
Many years ago, I was invited to conferences in Europe and would have to transit back through Charles De Gaulle airport outside Paris. Every time, I’d stop by the Ladurée shop and bring home fresh macarons for Geraldine. They’re stunningly gorgeous, and flawless in the way that only French luxury goods can be.
I’ll let Geraldine tell you more.
Oh, hey, Geraldine here again. Here is the truth about most macarons: like Billy Zane playing a good guy who will soon reveal himself to be a villain, they look prettier than they are. There’s one exception of course: Ladurée macarons. The Parisian label makes a confection that actually lives up to the hype – and to the pretty packaging. Inside the signature pistachio green box, you’ll find crisp-shelled macarons with creamy fillings, and their nationwide delivery means they’ll get to the lucky recipient while still fresh. And while most macarons have a one-note sugary flavor, Ladurée actually taste like what they claim to be – everything from rose to pistachio to citron (my favorite). Whether your friends are fancy-pants or just hate wearing pants (oh, heyyyy), they’ll love these.
Note: these contain almonds. Don’t give them to your friends with nut allergies or they’ll die.
Yo. It’s Geraldine again, your third favorite guest-food-guide-writing person. Last year, for Rand’s birthday, I got on a waiting list for a new kind of pasta developed by one of the guys at Sporkful. Because, I mean – it was a whole new kind of pasta! You don’t just let that sort of career opportunity pass, people. (What is my career? Pasta eating. PAY ATTENTION.) FOUR MONTHS LATER, Sfoglini’s Cascatelli (aka waterfall, $49 for the gift set) pasta arrived at our door. And you’d think that four months would be way too long to wait for pasta, and okay, it kind of sort of was, but it was still VERY GOOD PASTA.
Anyway, here’s the good news: All of Sfloglini’s varieties are excellent, and you don’t have to wait months for them. Order some for the home chef in your life, and then immediately invite yourself over to dinner, because you’re charming as hell.
I’ve loved Campari for a decade. It’s sublime with soda, necessary in a Negroni, and the backbone of the Boulevardier. It’s critical for a hundred other cocktails. But, friends, it’s a little one-note. Honestly, until I tried other “red” aperitivi in this style, I didn’t realize this flaw, but now it’s hard to un-taste.
Be warned: if you buy Leopold Bros’ Aperitivo for a friend, they’ll never be able to go back. The layers, nuance, refinement, and bitterness are simply out of this world. It’s like trying Campari for the first time again.
Pro Tip: If you have a bottle of Campari, bring some over to the friend you’re gifting this to, so you can both taste the difference. It’s a fascinating experience, and you’ll immediately see why I rave about this product to everyone.
Almost no one is as picky about food and beverage gifts as we are, but Food 52’s editorial selection team comes close. Many of the items I’ve tried, loved, and recommended (on this list and on last year’s) are available in their pantry or gifts section. And, there’s plenty of items that could reasonably make this list if we were going for quantity.
Happy Hanukkah friends! If your list includes Red Sea Pedestrians like me (Rand), but y’know, more religiously observant, Broadway Basketeers might be just the trick to get your Semitic friends kvelling.
I cannot vouch 100% for all of their products personally, but as far as kosher gifts go, Broadway Baskets has the rare distinction of 4.5 stars on Amazon, off more than 1K+ reviews (if you browse their kosher food gift competitors, you’ll see just how unusual this is).
These aren’t the only technically kosher items on our list, but best I can tell, they’re the only certified kosher (i.e. overseen by a Rabbi) ones. L’Chaim!
Most black pepper is terrible. It’s dried out. Flavorless. One note.
But, if you can get something like MANNKITCHEN’s Kampot Pepper (organic, hand-harvested in Cambodia, and vaccuum-sealed), you’re in for a whole new experience.
If you’ve got a friend who’s dying to try REAL Cacio e Pepe, send ’em a pack ($13). If that friend also needs an amazing pepper grinder, the canon is impossible to beat. Yes, it’s $199. No, you can’t get something better for less. As the manufacturer notes, it’s “made the right way, not the cheap way.”
Too many of the premium, single-origin, artisanal coffee brands online (and there are thousands) that we researched didn’t quite stack up. But, Dope has a story worth telling, and products their customers rave about, at prices that don’t break the bank.
Hello. It’s Geraldine. Okay, at this point I’ve just taken over Rand’s computer. I’m also answering his email later! Expect lawsuits to follow! Wheeeeeee. Okay. Let’s talk about vanilla. Because here’s the thing: it gets a very, very bad rap. And the truth is, really good vanilla? It’s the cat’s pajamas. It’s the bee’s knees. It’s the armadillo’s accountant.
I’ve made desserts (and trust me – I know desserts) and people are like, “OH MY GOD, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THiS CAKE” and I tell them, nothing, it’s literally just GOOD VANILLA. Because those weird, creepy-looking bean pods are magic. They are transformative. They make desserts and drinks and sometimes even savory food transcendent. And your dorky cooking friends know this. Pair the vanilla with some fancy icing sugar or some cute cookie-cutters and you will have WON the holidays, my friend.
Thanks for joining us on this culinary, bestowal-based journey. The SparkToro blog will now return to our usual programming, and in the meantime, a very Happy Hanukah, a belated Happy Thanksgiving, and a Merry upcoming Christmas to all who celebrate.
Cookies and wine? Generally not a great idea. But Seattle-based Bite Society's savory cookies are just what they say - savory rather than sweet (or at least not crazy sweet), and they go weirdly well with a glass of good wine. Try the Orange Fennel with a white Burgundy or California Chardonnay or the Chocolate Chipotle with a robust red (our fave). And order them in the double-size decorative tin tube. A super present for anyone.
Nanci is my mom. I am fairly certain there was some sort of Little House on the Prairie connection somewhere that made my sister and I start calling her Ma so many years ago (my brother didn’t really have a say in the matter).