Socks, smelly candles and Starbucks gift cards: If a future anthropologist dug up our current holiday "one-gift-fits-all" standbys, they'd assume we were a nation of fragrant, icy-toed corporate whores. Hmmm. Instead, Bite Club suggests stocking stuffers from local merchants who buck tradition by spicing up old seasonal soldiers like chocolate, coffee and cookies with their own up-to-date philosophies.
To: Sour-stomached muffin lovers.
From: Amanda Felt, owner/baker of Black Sheep Bakery.
Bite Club reserves the highest of compliments for Amanda Felt's vegan baked goods: They don't taste vegan. Four years ago, the local baker started mixing up batches of wheat- and dairy-free double-chocolate brownies to--get this--impress a girl. Although the love affair cooled, Felt's Black Sheep Bakery has stayed super-hot by creating treats for people with dietary restrictions and anybody else on your holiday list who craves traditional "Grandma-style" baking sans conventional ingredients.
Many of Felt's moist, flavorful eats, from seasonal pumpkin pie to pear-gingerbread coffeecake, are sold at Peet's Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods. The baker has also created a line of holiday gift boxes packed with foolproof dry mixes to let home chefs get in on the oven action. Bite Club's favorite cadeau is "The Sceptic" ($18.95 on sale), a treasure trove of addictive goodies that includes Felt's creamy peanut-butter chocolate-chip brownies. "It's for people who think vegan stuff is gonna taste like crap," laughs Felt. Cynics: Prepare to see the wheat-free light.
To nab your own Black Sheep Gift Box or make a special order, call 235-1419. Drool over Felt's creations at www.blacksheepbakery.com.
To: Conscientious caffeine junkies.
From: Duane Sorenson, coffee buyer for Stumptown Coffee.
If coffee is the thinking person's crack cocaine, then Stumptown Coffee's Duane Sorenson is Portland's sustainable drug czar. As the local roaster's buyer, Sorenson spends 10 months each year jetting off to Africa, Latin America and Indonesia to scout out unique beans for his environmentally minded company. This year, Stumptown paid the highest-ever price per pound to a farm by a coffee roaster in two Latin American countries: 10 times the set Fair Trade coffee price (or $12 per pound) for beans from Nicaragua's Los Delirios farm. They anted up 20 times the standard price in Panama ($21 per pound) for a single-origin coffee called Esmerelda Especiale, a cup Sorensen says has "notes of blueberries, bergamot and crème brûlée."
This holiday season, Stumptown is selling the Esmerelda and Los Delirios beans at their cafes and online (retail price: $21 per pound). "Stumptown is investing into the future of these farmers," Sorensen says. "By paying them a fair price, we're essentially guaranteeing that they'll be able to farm next year."
Stumptown Coffee, 128 SW 3rd Ave., 295-6144, and other Stumptown cafes. Order online at www.stumptowncoffee.com.
To: Activist chocolate addicts.
From: David and Jessica Beer, owners of Wingnut Confections.
When former pastry chef and computer programmer David Beer set his sights on making a soy Silk Nog truffle last Christmas, he was just trying to make chocolates his lactose-intolerant friends could eat without getting sick. A year (and a job layoff) later, Beer and his wife, Jessica, have launched Wingnut Confections, a whimsical, jaw-droppingly delish line of dairy-free "candy with a conscience."
All winter long, you can find the charming pair freezing their candied-spiced-organic hazelnuts off at the People's Co-Op outdoor farmers market, tempting vegan and non-vegan shoppers with David's hand-dipped truffles, zesty citrus haystacks and Belgian-chocolate-smothered cherry-cashew clusters ($2-$4). This stuff not only tastes good, but it strikes the Bite Club as a bit naughty. Biting into creamy, bitter-dark truffles laced with flavors like Hazelnut Frangelico, Earl Gray tea and Thai chili (enriched with palm oil or that soy milk eggnog instead of butter), it feels as if we're cheating fate by having our truffle--and eating vegan, too.
Meet the Beers at the People's Co-Op Farmers Market, 3029 SE 21st Ave., 2-7 pm every Wednesday, or call (971) 409-0237 to place special orders. Visit www.wingnutconfections.com for more info.