holiday giving
Dining Reviews

A Foodie Guide to Holiday Giving

From unconventional local benefits to must-have gifts

Friend in Cheeses jams will be part of the celebration at the Homeless Garden Project Holiday Store’s First Friday celebration this week.

A couple of great ideas here for fans of organic success stories and handcrafted culinary gifts.

First, there’s a screening of a beautiful documentary about a couple who traded city life for an empty 200 acres just ripe for farming. The Biggest Little Farm records the odyssey toward a stunning organic farm and a biodiverse design for living.

The screening is part of an evening of bold ideas and holiday schmoozing at DNA’s Comedy Lab on Dec. 5, which will begin with drinks and small bites. The screening starts after remarks from Mayor Martine Watkins and words from a Homeless Garden Project trainee. Terrific cinematography and a wake-up call to heed nature’s warnings. Sponsored by Patagonia

6pm on Thursday, Dec. 5, at DNA’s Comedy Lab, 155 S River St., Santa Cruz. homelessgardenproject.org. $20. 

Holiday Open House

While you’re in the groove, stop by the Homeless Garden Project’s Holiday Store Open House and First Friday Celebration.

Enjoy small bites, festive beverages and products made in HGP programs: from farm to workshop to you, the inquiring consumer. That includes lots of special-made products made by Friends in Cheeses—luscious condiments like culinary vinegars and ginger citrus pumpkin jelly. Also, those little jars of tart and spicy heirloom tomato jelly that we’ve come to love plopped down on top of a cracker frosted with brie. Makes a pretty and tasty addition to any holiday cheese plate.

You’ll also find organic baking mixes, natural bath and body products, hand-crafted jewelry—check out the earrings!—and hand-dipped beeswax candles. Tons of lovely items perfect for stocking stuffers while supporting a feel-good local culinary staple.

5:30-8pm on Friday, Dec. 6, at the Homeless Garden Project store, 1338 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.

Product of the Week

Winner of the top prize at the World Cheese Awards, Rogue River Organic Blue is seasonal and aged for 9-11 months. This fragrant masterpiece is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves and soaked in pear liqueur before coming to your house for $37/lb. (I paid $11 for a sizeable chunk that has lasted four meals.) Oregon’s Rogue Creamery has won lots of awards, but this is the first time an American cheese has taken the top honors in the competition’s 32 years.

One complex cheese, the blue is a major oral experience, if you know what I mean. Terrific with a shot of Jameson’s. Smooth yet angular, this beauty starts out densely loaded with Earthy notes and then opens into a sweet, very complex, buttery suite of flavors. Less is more. Pace yourself. Available at New Leaf Market. 

Wine of the Week 

Windy Oaks’ 2016 Sparkling Albariño is perfect for your holiday table. And yes, sparkling wine does go with everything. Toasty and complex, this sparkler is dry and fresh with a crisp finish. Grapes are harvested from the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County. Order yours by calling Windy Oaks at 724.9562, or stop by the handsome Corralitos tasting room at 550 Hazel Dell Rd. windyoaksestate.com. $49/$39 for wine club members.

New Tradition

Consider ordering your next holiday meal from New Leaf Community Market. They offer everything from non-GMO, antibiotic-free Diestel turkeys to house-made dishes like buttermilk mashed potatoes, local desserts from Beckmann’s Bakery, and plant-based and gluten-free entrées and sides. Convenient one-stop pick up. Check online for New Leaf’s holiday menu and reserve your meal up to Dec. 23 at newleaf.com/reserve.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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