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[whitespace] Tree Cook's Eden: Chefworks has loads of luscious gifts for the gastronome on your Christmas list.

Photograph by Ute Bonn

Holiday Prowl

Christmas shopping strategies that maximize the good, the tasty and the local

By Christina Waters

THE THREE CONCEPTS we're following closely this holiday season involve the good, the tasty and the local. Hoping to keep all our boats afloat until the spring economic thaw,* we're scouting around the neighborhoods for delicious holiday gifts.

On our annual holiday prowl, we like what we see at Chefworks (1527 Pacific Ave.), where artisanal stamped pottery bowls and tureens made in Poland would look great under my Xmas tree, thank you. For stocking stuffers consider a jar of fig and ginger jam, lemon pear marinade or wasabi lime mustard--just part of the mouth-watering array at Chefworks. Actually, this smartly run store could easily provide one-stop shopping (but so could Gravago Gallery at 111 Cooper St.).

Old-fashioned gift baskets could be stocked from the shelves of Zoccoli's (1534 Pacific Ave.), where a wedge of Brie, a bottle of River Run Zinfandel, a few Lindor truffles and maybe a box of Walker shortbread would be just the thing. Consider creating the ultimate cookie gift pack from The Buttery (702 Soquel Ave.). Gingerbread people, stars, candy canes and world-class macaroons--not to mention the world's finest cookie, the pecan sandie topped with a swirl of sinfully rich chocolate--make easy, welcome gifts.

Especially appealing are the beautifully packaged Stollen breads from Gayle's Bakery (504 Bay Ave., Capitola), rich with raisins, almonds and candied citrus. Only Mullah Omar would turn down a pound of Gayle's almond-intensive biscotti.

Ferrari Florists (1408 41st Ave.)--now there's an old name in local retail--has packaged creative baskets of goodies, some filled with campfire delicacies, others with gourmet assortments of nuts, crackers, dried fruits, dips, sauces, chocolates, biscotti. These are no-brainers, wrapped, bowed and ready to go.

In Aptos, a busy little shopping center offers tons of Santa incentive. Stopping by Outside-In Kitchen Store (7568 Soquel Dr.) is like walking into a Paris boutique. Intimate and crowded with gorgeous items, it offers holiday tea towels, olive oils, teapots, jams, copper pots and salsas, plus cookbooks and an array of lovely wine goblets in the back. Amid the designer array, we spotted the best sea salt, Fleur de Sel from the Camargue ($9.95), in a pretty tin. This is the hot gift for your culinary friends. We refuse to eat dinner at home without this mineral-rich salt from the lagoons of the Mediterranean.

A few final thoughts: Jazzercise classes (800.348.4748), to which I am hopelessly addicted, are the most fun way to keep your body feeling fabulous. Give yourself and your best friend the gift of fitness--$33 a month for unlimited classes and that's a deal!

Smart Santas give gift certificates for dinner at favorite restaurants: Avanti, Southern Exposure, Theo's, Shadowbrook, Pearl Alley, Tony & Alba's, Bella Napoli, Black's Beach, Paradise Sushi and so many others. Call your favorite restaurant now and order a dinner-for-two certificate to make someone very, very happy.

Main Street USA

Welcome to Michael's on Main (2591 Main St., Soquel; 831.479.9777). the county's newest American dining room, run by the considerable expertise of catering ace Michael Clark. Lodged in the cozy space on Main that has been The Courtyard and Aragona's, the new restaurant has already gotten raves from some foodie friends. I spotted a few entrees that definitely got my attention. Are you ready for a hearty lunch of Corralitos sausage on a bed of greens with mashed potatoes? Serious comfort. Also artichoke-crusted salmon with mint vinaigrette, veggies and mashed potatoes. Michael's on Main has my number. Check it out when you're weary of playing Santa. It's open for Sunday brunch, lunch Mon-Fri and dinner nightly from 5:30pm. Yes, the bar is open too.

Chowder Alert: Once the holiday hoopla is over and we're all sick of winter, the 20th annual Clam Chowder Cook-Off will roll around on Feb. 23, 2002, to brighten our spirits. It's not too early to start thinking about your own recipe. For online entry forms see www.santacruzparksandrec.com. Or call 831.420.5273.

*Alas, we've just lost another one--Pontiac Grill, where burgers, BLTs, banana shakes and '50s attitude gave us all a run for our money. Hopefully this enlightened diner won't have died in vain, only to be replaced by a generic fast food joint. Sic transit gloria mundi. Look it up.

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From the December 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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