Last-minute gift guide: local specialties and queer creations

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023
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Tablehopper's gift basket
Tablehopper's gift basket

It's not too late to go to a local small business or jump online and order presents that will arrive in time for Christmas. Here's a selection of unique gifts that will provide memorable experiences at the table, on the town and even on your television.

Pennyroyal Farm wine  

Gustatory giftables
Sarah Bennett and Erika McKenzie-Chapter make quite a pair, and quite a pairing. For a wine and cheese gift with authentic California queer bonafides, it's hard to beat a package from Pennyroyal Farm, their estate creamery/winery in the Anderson Valley town of Boonville.

The married queer couple met in graduate school at U.C. Davis, where Bennett was studying viticulture, and McKenzie-Chapter was getting her masters in Animal Biology. Pennyroyal is their eco-friendly dream project: a sustainability-focused system in which the vines are fertilized by a resident herd of goats and sheep that graze on the same land. The result is an award-winning selection of deliciously well-matched wines and cheeses that draw on identical terroir.

For a holiday season treat, pair their award-winning Rosé of Pinot Noir, refreshing and full-bodied, with their spreadable goat Laychee with fennel pollen and pink peppercorns. A surprisingly wide range of wines and cheese are available for shipping, as are gift cards. You can also gift a future visit to Pennyroyal for an in-person lunch and farm tour.

Jack and Remi ice cream (photo: Carly Hackbarth)  

Michelin-starred pastry chef Serena Chow who has plied her craft at 11 Madison Park in Manhattan and now runs fine-dining restaurant 7 Adams with her chef husband, David Fisher, in the Fillmore, had a deliciously productive pandemic. It was during lockdown that Chow locked her own laser focus on ice cream, developing the recipes that have now been unleashed in limited batches under the Jack and Remi brand (Named for the couple's pooches).

Available since just last month for delivery and order-ahead pick-up at several city locations, you'll impress gourmet gift recipients with a brand they've probably never heard of, and will likely never stop talking about.

Mouth-boggling flavors that land on the tongue like melting velvet include two seasonal specials: PBRJ: pistachio butter ice cream swirled with homemade rhubarb jam and crunchy crushed pistachios (It's a Christmassy red and green, too!); and Gingerbread Spice 'N Everything Nice, a five-spiced custard with cranberry compote and gingerbread cookie crunch.

Esteemed Bay Area food and restaurant writer Marcia Gagliardi, aka the Tablehopper, has curated a Taste of San Francisco gift box that can be delivered throughout much of the western United States. Pro Tip: Packed with 12 items from San Francisco restaurants and makers, the box can easily be subdivided for first-rate stocking stuffing or regifting.

Each box of booty will include: Chocolates from Kokak and Petite LaFleur; granola from B. Patisserie; hot mustard from Sam Wo; super-fusion Calabrian XO Sauce from Pasta Supply Co.; Nigerian Din Din Sauce by Eko Kitchen; Furikake Chex Mix from Sunday Bakeshop; Amaretti cookies from Emporio Rulli; ground Neapolitan espresso beans from Mr. Espresso; award-winning local Scarlet Fire Hot Sauce; and spicy Thai cilantro sauce from Kitiya.

Order your gift box and subscribe to the always drool-inducing Tablehopper newsletter at

Cocktails and food at Merkado  

Boozy schooling
Queer-owned South of Market restaurant Merkado is a culinary and community hot spot. Among its many clever events last year was the reproductive rights fundraiser, "My Taco, My Choice," featuring local woman chefs. So consider making Merkado your choice for an experiential group gift to share with friends or family members.

The restaurant's margarita classes include a hands-on, drink-what-you-mix seminar and the option of a take-home kit with a squeezer, a shaker and a bottle of agave nectar. Tequila tastings feature an expert staff mixologist offering an overview of the spirit's production and a flight of three distinctive tequilas, including a premium option for advanced tipplers who are already knowledgeable and looking to expand their palates.

Alcademics' 'The Ice Book'  

Camper English, a queer and ever-querying polymath, runs Alcademics, the internet's leading timesuck for brainiac boozehounds. His quirky blend of scientific inquiry and cocktail connoisseurship draws an audience that includes home mixologists, liquor industry professionals and what English refers to as "an army of ice nerds."

Heralded in The New York Times as one of the forces behind the current explosion of interest in specialty ice, English shares his expertise in "The Ice Book: Cool Cubes, Clear Spheres and Other Chill Cocktail Crafts." He explains how careful observation and relentless tinkering led to his fairly foolproof, home-kitchen method of making pristine transparent ice, then moves on to lessons in making clear ice shot glasses, punch bowls, spheres and sticks.

How about black ice? Or cubes that change colors? Or ice with fruit and flowers floating inside? There's a lot to drink in here. Alternatively, English regularly offers crafty ice classes at venues around town if you're looking to share a teachable moment.

Sausalito Liquor Company spirits  

Extra Credit: Add a lesson in local geography to your sipping syllabus with the trio of tipples now being crafted at the new Sausalito Liquor Company. For their Unsinkable Bourbon, Tennessee-distilled hooch takes a road trip west, where it's finished in California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Similarly, Kentucky spirits flow into California port barrels where they pick up sweet, mellow notes on their way to becoming Unsinkable Rye. And their Marin Coastal Gin adds locally foraged seaweed to the more expected juniper and botanical blend.

'No Skips: The Game That Gets Everyone Talking'  

Game on
Akash Tharani, a queer Brooklyn-based former school teacher now working as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant, has long been a fan of conversation-promptiing adult card games like Table Topics and Mind to Mind. But over years of playing, Tharani became sensitized to the fact that some of the questions and wording made assumptions about players' sexual orientation, leading some cards to be skipped every time they came to the top of the deck.

His solution is No Skips: The Game That Gets Everyone Talking, which is just as fun (and sometimes just as silly) as similar games, but has been carefully vetted so that every question is inclusive. The high-quality laminated cards are also divvied into three decks of 50 questions geared to different levels of intimacy: Keep It Light ("What is a food most people love, but you think is gross?), Go Deeper (If you could commit any crime and get away with it, what would it be?) and Inner Circle (When was the last time you sent a nude?).

'Gays on Broadway'  

Shelvable showbiz
Ethan Mordden, author of the incomparable, underappreciated series of linked stories about gay life in Manhattan collectively known as the "Buddies" chronicles, is undoubtedly better known for his dozens of non-fiction works about Hollywood, opera and theater. The latest, "Gays on Broadway," incorporates the sort of dishy quips and acid-etched characterizations that help make his fiction such a pleasure.

Easily readable from front-to-back but also well-suited to dipping in and out of, the book finds Mordden moving chronologically from the early 20th Century to the early 21st, spotlighting queer creators, performers and sensibilities on the stage from decade-to-decade.

And oh, the treasures he finds! Who knew that Mae West's famous "Come up and see me some time" was a lift from openly gay drag performer Bert Savoy, who peppered his Broadway revues in the 1910s with his signature "You must come over!"? Or that the first gay love song on Broadway was "Why Can't the World Go and Leave Us Alone" sung by two male ice skaters in Charles Strouse and Alan J. Lerner's flop "Dance a Little Closer," which premiered just months before "La Cage Aux Folles." Mordden's encyclopedic knowledge and razor-sharp critical skills dazzle on page after page.

'The Queer Film Guide'  

If you're a fan of the cinema as well as the stage, dig into the first book by the linguistically playful and intellectually rigorous young critic Kyle Turner, "The Queer Film Guide: 100 Movies That Tell Great LGBTQIA+ Stories." Turner has crafted provocative mini-essays about each of his picks which go far beyond the post-Stonewall Hollywood fare that many readers will already be familiar with ("Cruising," "Carol," "Brokeback Mountain").

Beginning with a selection of silent films including "Michael," director Carl Dreyer's 1924 portrait of an artist and his male muse, and ending with last year's "Fire Island," Turner casts his net far and wide. There are non-English language gems (French coming-of-age romance "Wild Reeds"; Fassbinder's German classic "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant"); documentaries ("Paris is Burning," "Southern Comfort"); and brilliant indie fiction features ("Parting Glances," "Watermelon Woman," "Mysterious Skin").

In his pithy text, Turner provides new lenses through which to view old favorites and hard-to-resist invitations to check out unfamiliar work. Each film is featured on a vibrant two-page spread, accompanied by an iconic, color-saturated illustration by Andy Warren. This is a reference book you'll be happy to keep on the coffee table.

Find both titles at local independent bookstores including Fabulosa Books on Castro Street.

Irene Tu's comedy album  

Yuletide yuks
One of the country's most prolific comedy recording labels Blonde Medicine, is secreted away in Petaluma. Founded in 2018, they now have a catalog of well over 100 releases, including sets by Bay Area comics as well as albums recorded live at local clubs. Among the gems (all of which can be found on major streaming services) are queer Bay Area favorite Irene Tu's "We're Done Now" and trans comic Annick Adelle's "Between Two Worlds," which includes riffs on not only the gender binary, but the corporate/arts binary and other dichotomies, turning soul-splitting dilemmas into side-splitting humor.

'Making the Yuletide Gay: A Very Special Paul Lynde Christmas'  

If your funny bone is still tumescent after seeing "The Golden Girls Live!", there's more retro-camp television fun for gays of a certain age in "Making the Yuletide Gay: A Very Special Paul Lynde Christmas."

A keen facsimile of 1970s seasonal specials, complete with vintage commercials ("Fly me!"; Tickle Deodorant) the 50-minute on-demand video stars Michael Airington doing a snarky Lynde. SF fave Spencer Day plays Tab Hunter, Jackie Beat is Bea Arthur, and Liberace and Sal Mineo dopplegangers also make merry. With a script by Bruce Vilanch, ivory tickling by Seth Rudetsky, lots of parody Christmas songs, and a period-perfect gleaming white set, this could become a queer holiday classic. Available for purchase or download.

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