The best gifts for home cooks in Oakland and Berkeley
For thoughtfully designed gifts that blend both practicality and style, look no further than kitchen tools and accessories. These are the gifts that they’ll reach for again and again throughout the year, truly relying on essential cookbooks and sharp knives, and taking pleasure in speckled ceramics and soft linens.
Sure, it’s easy to stock up at Williams-Sonoma, a Bay Area tastemaker since 1956. But there are so many small and independent shops that are actually local to the East Bay, places where you can find gifts that go way beyond the same-day-shipped.
Here are the highlights this holiday season, whether you’re shopping for your best food friend, or craving something for your own wishlist.
For someone who eats everything in bowls
Listen, eating food in bowls is no longer a trend, it’s officially a lifestyle. And local ceramicist Sarah Kersten’s new basin bowl collection is breathtakingly pretty: wide and shallow bowls, speckled as naturally as quail eggs or Appaloosa ponies.
She handshapes them all in her studio in Oakland, and supplies many cool restaurants across the Bay, from Sister and Jo’s Modern Thai in Oakland to Octavia in SF and Valley Bar + Bottle in Sonoma. And they come in a range of colors and sizes, from the tidiest olive dish to the broadest pasta bowl.
Sarah Kersten, 2725 Magnolia St. (near 28th Street), Oakland. Check website for in-person shopping hours most Saturdays in December, or order online.
For someone who’s into sustainability with style
This local general store carries a wide range of clothing, homewares, and other gifts, and they love featuring sustainability this season. But it doesn’t feel like a lecture with these handsome napkins, mismatched in blues and grays, and sporting jaunty stripes and checks.
The fabric just happens to be made from 100 percent recycled materials (80 percent cotton from clothing and 20 percent poly yarn from plastic bottles, to be precise). Plus, it’s a festive time of year to set out cloth napkins, and inspiration to avoid tossing so many paper towels.
Palm + Perkins, 2950 College Ave. (near Ashby Avenue), Berkeley. Shop in person 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, or purchase online.
For the cocktail connoisseur living that highball life
The highball craze keeps high rolling across cocktail menus in the East Bay. And they do go down easy, don’t they? Thanks to good whisky, lots of ice and bubbly mix-ins, which help lower the ABV. Everyone’s favorite Japanese market has several cool sets of tall glasses, so you can keep chilling and sipping at home.
They’re made by Aderia, a collectible glass maker in Japan, whose whimsical and retro designs date back more than 200 years. Umami Mart carries several of their patterns, including this “slash” design, with cuts fanning around the base of the drink. Of course, Umami Mart also stocks excellent Japanese whiskies, if you want to pair with a bottle.
Umami Mart, 4027 Broadway (near 40th Street), Oakland. Open 12-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 12-7 p.m. Saturday, also available online.
For the gastro-traveler who won’t shut up about their trip to Portugal
May we present the real party animal of this holiday season: A little terracotta pig who serves as an assador — a mini tabletop grill for sausages. Set him out with drinks and snacks, pour alcohol into his belly and strike a match. Then throw chourico or linguica sausage onto his back, and let it roast in the flame.
Is he a one-trick pig? Maybe, but look, that’s never stopped anyone from gifting a Swiss fondue set. So for the friend who keeps going on about the anchovies they ate in Lisbon, this could be a fun party trick. Plus, how cute!
The Spanish Table, 1814 San Pablo Ave. (near Hearst Avenue), Berkeley. Open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11-5 Sunday, or order online.
For the dedicated diner who still misses Brown Sugar Kitchen
Chef Tanya Holland closed iconic soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen in January 2022, serving her last fried chicken and waffles. The Oakland chef remains front-and-center, however, with her latest cookbook, California Soul.
Holland’s book features Black farmers and foodmakers from across California, while serving fresh interpretations of Dungeness crab gumbo, collard green tabbouleh and lavender buttermilk pie, among 80 recipes. It’s available wherever good cookbooks are sold, but if you pick up a copy at local Marcus Books, you’ll be supporting another Black-owned business in the East Bay.
Marcus Books, 3900 Martin L King Jr Way (near 39th Street), Oakland, open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 12-4 Sunday, also available online.
For the serious cook who deserves a Japanese knife
Berkeley cooks get their knives sharpened at Hida Tool, a hardware store that sources the finest kitchen, woodworking, and gardening tools from Japan. For serious cooks, they carry an array of chef’s knives, from straight to western handles, and with different lengths and curves of blade.
The Hida Santoku is their own original creation, crafted in collaboration with knifemaker Sakai Kikumori. It features modern and durable stainless steel, but finely sharpened to a Japanese bevel, and fitted with a traditional octagonal handle made of lightweight magnolia. Your minced herbs may never be the same.
Hida Tool, 1333 San Pablo Ave. (near Gilman Avenue), Berkeley. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, or purchase online.
For the neat freak who lives for pantry organization
For anyone who thinks heaven must resemble the Container Store, here’s a sweet little slice of organization. At Sweet July, Ayesha Curry’s airy retail shop in Oakland, the television star and domestic polymath stocks a variety of different ceramics, linens and other home goods. Including this simply perfect spice rack, made of blonde acacia wood, petite enough to slide into most cabinets, and offering a triplet of tiered steps.
So you can easily spy what’s inside every bottle! No more rummaging around in the spice cabinet up to your armpit. Either place existing bottles on the rack, or invest in the matching glass set with acacia stoppers (sold separately). At only twenty-something bucks for the rack, you could even throw in a bottle of Jamaican curry or jerk seasoning from Oaktown.
Sweet July, 455 23rd St. (near Valley Street), Oakland. Open Monday, and Wednesday-Saturday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 11-6 (closed Tuesday), or order online.
For the farmer’s market rat who stalks seasonal produce
She’s an icon. She’s a legend. She is the iconic vegetable calendar from Oakland illustrator Maria Schoettler. If you’ve ever stood in a kitchen, scrutinizing the brushstrokes of a lovingly hand-painted red kabocha or leaf of dino kale, perhaps you already understand.
Schoettler has been making these kitchen calendars since 2008, and she paints them fresh every single year. “Fresh produce for a fresh year, baby,” as she writes on Instagram. They’re printed on thick and textured art stock and hang on a sturdy wire hook, so you can flip through the months and get excited for every microseason. There is no greater gift for hyperlocal produce obsessives in the East Bay.
Maria Schoettler, stocked at shops across the Bay Area (and beyond) or available online.
Featured image: the blueberry, cornmeal and candied lemon teacakes with olive oil from California Soul. Credit: Aubrie Pick