Although many of us would like to hide under a rock this time of year, the holidays are unavoidable. So make the best of them, shopping and all.
We understand a lot of you find gift-shopping to be an annoyance. Retail hatred is understandable when you don't have a clue about where to go and what to buy. But don't worry: We took it upon ourselves to yet again hit the streets and scavenge for cool stuff for you to give to friends and relatives this holiday season.
If you're sick of the malls, take a different route this year: This town has an abundance of locally owned businesses selling interesting items (many of them made right here in Southern Arizona) for every person on your list.
We hope this guide cuts down on the time you spend shopping—while also helping out small businesses in our community.
Gourmet Olive Oils and Balsamics
Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oils and Balsamics
4320 N. Campbell Ave., No. 40
This store is an up-and-coming local gem. It's been open just a year, but it has already built an amazing reputation with its infused olive oils and balsamics. The store's locale makes for a pleasant shopping experience. Oh, and you can try everything before you buy it: There are small plates with bite-sized pieces of bread for sampling the oils and balsamics.
There are about 40 different infused olive oils and extra-virgin olive oils, as well as balsamic vinegars. The store imports the oils from various countries in the Southern Hemisphere, and the balsamics come from Modena, Italy. There truly is a choice for every palate. Some of the flavors available are blood-orange EVOO, wild-mushroom-and-sage-infused olive oil, cilantro-and-roasted-onion olive oil, cinnamon-pear-aged balsamic, and dark-espresso-aged balsamic vinegar.
The store has custom-made glass containers for the products you pick, in three sizes. The staff will help you pair an oil with a balsamic. There are also sample packs available.
Skin Care Gift Set From Outback Arizona Emu Oil Co.
Available Saturdays at the Oro Valley farmers' market and Sundays at St. Philip's farmers' market
The emu is a bird—the second-largest bird in the world.
About 15 years ago, Lance and Jackie Talley bought a pair of emus, which eventually evolved into a ranch packed with them. And it didn't take long for them to take advantage of the various care products made with the bird's fat.
Emu oil comes from the fat on the bird's back. It's used to make lip conditioners, soaps and shampoos, among other things. Products with emu oil have better moisturizing properties than lotions you'd find at larger stores like Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works. Plus, your mom, grandma or wife probably has enough stuff from those stores secluded in the closet.
The Talleys have created moisturizing recipes for a variety of fragranced soaps and lotions (rosemary, oatmeal/honey, grapefruit, patchouli, lavender, spearmint) using emu oil, and sometimes adding jojoba oil, cocoa butter and other ingredients that take care of your skin. They also have a line of moisturizing face creams, cuticle removers and lip conditioners.
Think of all the people on your list who have never heard of emu oil. You can be the first in your crowd to expose loved ones to emu-oil goodness.
Vinyl Records and Other Musical Gifts
Toxic Ranch Records
424 E. Sixth St.
It has been amazing to see Toxic Ranch Records survive the MP3 era. Through the years, it has attracted a loyal crowd of all ages, from varied musical backgrounds, allowing the store to maintain its popularity. It's perhaps the only local record store that has stayed true to its punk influences and humble beginnings.
TRR has an epic collection of music, ranging from local artists to classic groups like the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. The staffers know a lot about music, and they are always happy to share their recommendations. TRR also carries DVDs, T-shirts (one with Ronald Reagan about to eat a fetus, with the word "abortion" underneath, definitely stood out), posters and comic books.
Instead of buying the same-old gift card from iTunes or a censored CD at Walmart, support this local record store. Get your music-junkie friends vinyl or a CD from one of their favorite bands, or from a local band they haven't listened to before. Music is a valuable gift that never goes out of style.
513 N. Fourth Ave.
Fathead is a sanctuary for funky, glass-blowing artists. A gift from here will support Tucson's art scene—and provide a friend or loved one with an interesting-looking pipe.
There is a large variety of psychedelic designs, all of which have emerged from the minds of the local talents who work there. While you make up your mind on what to buy, you can watch them transform inspirations into trippy smoking apparatus.
Even if the gift recipient doesn't smoke, one of these elaborate, colorful pipes would look great on a coffee table or a nightstand. They play the part of edgy art quite well. If you plan ahead, you can bounce ideas back and forth with the artists and create a one-of-a-kind gift. But if you run out of time, there are glass pipes ready to be purchased and wrapped. Smoke up, Johnny!
Goat Milk Soap From Ironwood Ranch
Available Saturdays at Maynards farmers' market, 400 N. Toole Ave.
Most everyone is a fan of great-smelling, moisturizing soap—and if it's made from locally bred Nigerian dwarf goats, even better!
Ironwood Ranch is near Saguaro National Park and is run by the Carpenter family. This is a true family-owned business, where parents, brothers, sisters and cousins work side by side handcrafting these soaps. They have a lot of love for their goats and a great passion for their craft. In a world where almost everything is made in a factory, it's refreshing to hear of a business that makes its products outdoors, without a pinch of artificiality.
For the past five years, Ironwood Ranch has made some of the best soaps in town. The Carpenters use the creamy milk produced by their own goats, as well as all-natural ingredients such as almond oil, olive oil and coconut oil. Goat-milk soaps are very gentle, and don't come with all that chemical baggage that ends up doing your skin more harm than good.
The soaps are scented with essential oils, and there are more than 20 fragrances from which to choose, including vanilla bean, rosemary, mint, almond, eucalyptus, peppermint and clove bud.
We use soap every day of our lives, so you know this will be a gift that won't get shoved in a drawer and forgotten.
Gourmet Mini Cupcakes
4695 N. Oracle Road
If you're heading for a holiday party, let them know you're bringing dessert—and not just any ordinary, stale cake from a box, but gourmet mini cupcakes freshly baked right here in Tucson.
Jaynie Rossi, owner of Mini's Cupcakes, has been baking for more than 40 years, with the last five in the Old Pueblo. And Mini's Cupcakes has evolved into one of the most innovative cupcakeries in town. Rossi complements her delicious flavors with fun decorations, making these miniature treats amazing on the outside as well as on the inside.
The types of mini cupcakes rotate, but there is always a selection of classic flavors such as vanilla, red velvet and chocolate, as well as out-of-the-ordinary flavors such as coconut rum, pistachio raspberry and pineapple upside down.
Ideally, you should order the cupcakes in advance. But if you were invited to a last-minute office holiday party and ran out of time to shop, don't worry: Rossi bakes minis every day, so be assured that whenever you stop by, you'll have a variety from which to choose. Be a dessert hero, and bring these to your next gathering instead of the typical holiday fruitcakes and sugar cookies.
Growler(s) of Tasty Beer
Dragoon Brewing Co.
1859 W. Grant Road, No. 111
Bring a jug or growler into your favorite local brewery; fill it up with an Arizona-brewed craft beer; and give it as a gift (or take it home and drink it yourself).
Arizona law allows breweries as well as bars and liquor stores to sell and refill growlers (up to a gallon) with beer from taps. The new law has been revolutionary for local breweries such as Dragoon Brewing Co., because people can now take home their favorite brews, many of which are definitely not available in cans at grocery stores.
Buy a growler; have fun decorating it; and head out to DBC. Beers include Dragoon IPA, Stronghold Session Ale, Monsooner and B.A.D Amber Ale. Indulge your beer-loving friends and family members with locally brewed suds. 'Tis the season to drink up!
Mole From Mano y Metate
Available at various markets
This gift is perfect for the cooking-challenged person on your list. Mano y Metate mole blends are sold across Arizona and in select places in New Mexico and Montana, but they are prepared in a Tucson kitchen. Amy Valdés Schwemm, the brains and hands behind Mano y Metate, grinds and blends fresh spices, nuts and different types of chiles (many of which are grown in Arizona) into easy-to-prepare mole sauces. And when she says "easy," she means it: All you need to do is add two tablespoons of oil (you choose the type); mix; let the blend simmer; and pour it on chicken, enchiladas or even veggies. Be sure to check out the special recipes Schwemm has posted on the website: She has paired specific foods with each of her mole blends.
There are four types, all influenced by her grandmother's cooking. We suggest you buy all four of them and make a gift set. After the holidays, when the leftover ham and turkey are gone, your gift will keep on giving.
A Modern Take on the Family Tree
Steam and Leaf Paper Goods
Available online at stemandleaf.etsy.com
We hope this groovy take on the family tree by local graphic-designer Wendy Larson will get your gift-seeking attention.
Larson, 21, started the business about a year ago, and her designs have already gained popularity locally and around the world. The only way to get your hands on one of these trees is by going online—and a lot of you are probably happy to hear that you can buy this gift while lounging in bed or sitting in your living room. But you wonder, "What the hell is so special about these family trees?"
What's interesting about them is that Larson takes the names of family members, along with their birthdates, and organizes them to create the shape of a tree, with branches of different sizes. From a distance, it looks like a tree. But when you step closer, you realize that what is creating the shape of the tree are the names and dates. There are different colors from which to choose, and you have to have at least seven names—but no more than 45. Also, you can have Larson print it for you and mail it, or have her send you a PDF file for you to print in different sizes.
One of Larson's family trees would be a great gift for any of your family members. None of them will have seen this gift coming.