The First Annual This Needs Hot Sauce Gift Guide
Thoughtful gifts for your nearest and dearest
Welcome to the first ever This Needs Hot Sauce Gift Guide. I used to swear I would never do one of these, but I changed my mind for several reasons. First, people buy gifts and I’d rather have you (mostly) buy them from small business. Second, I’ve spent a lot of time and money this year trying new products and I wanted to share my favorites. Third, you asked for it! In an Instagram poll, 99% of you wanted a gift guide. And fourth, I thought it would be a great way to collaborate with some people with excellent taste (scroll to the end for their recs, which are so good).
How this works: Affiliate links are marked with an *. Affiliate links means I earn a small commission if you click through and buy. Prices are accurate at the time of publication. I know this isn’t the case for most gift guides, but I really own or intend to gift this stuff. This is longer than a typical newsletter so your email app may cut it off. Make sure to click “View Entire Message” in the lifestyle section to see the whole thing or open in your browser.
Why is it time to shop? It’s going to take longer this year. With so many people shopping entirely online this year, shipping is going to be a challenge. Expect things to sell out and be delayed. Be patient with small retailers—things won’t arrive overnight and you’ll likely have to pay for shipping (I try to shop with friends or get a few gifts from one place to hit minimums). If you’re not ready for holiday shopping, star this in your inbox or bookmark the webpage for later. And if you see something you want, forward it to a friend or relative with a little hint.
About shopping: I’m conscious that many people are struggling financially and will not be shopping for the holidays in the same way. Please don’t go into debt to buy presents. Setting a budget for your holiday shopping (and sticking to it) is really helpful. And there’s always a place for homemade gifts, handwritten notes and catch up phone calls. I just unlocked this post from last year with more on homemade gifts.
Now, let’s dive in.
When giving ingredients, I like to share my favorite ways to use them in the card or gift note. For example, add extra cinnamon to your favorite banana bread, sprinkle it on the squash you’re roasting or spice up your morning coffee.
Burlap and Barrel Spices ($47.99 for the Fundamentals Set): I bought this six spice set when I moved at the end of May and I absolutely love it. My most used spices are cinnamon, chili flakes (the set includes two kinds), paprika, and garlic powder. These spices come in cute glass jars and they are so aromatic, responsibly sourced, and fun to use. Also check out the Floyd Cardoz collection of Indian spice blends.
Chili Crisp ($15 from Fly By Jing): This is a good gift for your friend who loves tingly heat and makes rice at least once a week. I put chili crisp on fried rice, eggs, pasta, and any slightly bland leftovers. It’s delicious and adds a great texture in addition to heat. Lao Gan Ma is the original brand and available at many supermarkets if you need a last minute gift. I have a jar of this one from Su in my fridge now and it’s also really good.
Shaquanda Hot Sauces ($10 from Shaquanda will feed you): These sauces make such fun gifts thanks to their playful packaging and they’re not too spicy. You also support a queer owned business. André Springer created Shaquanda sauces out of their drag performances as Shaquanda and flavors from Barbados. I love the green one and the original is great as well.
Tahini (+ chocolate tahini) ($26 for a pantry sampler set): Tahini is one of my superstar ingredients—it adds so much to sweet or savory dishes. Soom is my favorite brand, owned by sisters in Philadelphia. In addition to the classic tahini, they make a chocolate version that’s basically adult nutella. Include recipes for hummus and tahini blondies with your gift. Their silan, a date syrup, is so good in salad dressings, on oatmeal or yogurt, or anywhere you’d use honey or maple syrup.
Flakey Salt ($10.95 for a box that lasts forever): I am not over sprinkling flakey salt on just about anything for an instant upgrade. Maldon Salt is harvested in England and so delicious. It’s sold at many grocery stores if you need a last minute gift. It adds crunch in addition to salinity and a box lasts for a long time. Put it on chocolate chip cookies, put it on eggs, put it on sliced avocado. If you want to get fancy, you can include a salt keeper to perk up someone’s countertop. And if you want an American alternative, Jacobsen Salt in Portland has a similar texture and travel size tins.
Sazón ($8 from Addo in Seattle): I bought this sazón after the Goya boycott and it’s so good on everything, from eggs to to beans to popcorn to roasted vegetables (it contains salt so adjust accordingly). Eric Rivera’s Addo has a great and creative online store and he’s really pivoted his businesses to keep his employees safe and paid during Covid (if you’re based in Seattle, they offer cooking classes where you pick up the components at the restaurant). Loisa is another brand that Lissette and Dani have recommended.
If you’re a little tired of your at home coffee/wine routine, you’re not alone. A fresh bag of beans or new bottle of wine can make the days so much more exciting! If you can, find out if your recipient owns a coffee grinder so you get the right beans.
Red Bay Coffee ($19 for a bag of Brazilian Cake Lady beans): The beans from this Oakland based Black owned brand are so so good. Currently, they only have whole bean coffee. Their Motherland Holiday set is a great gift and I can almost guarantee you’ll reorder this (there’s a subscription often that you might want for yourself).
Black Coffee Fort Worth ($15 for a bag of ground Eastsider Blend beans): I’ve been drinking this coffee for the past few months and it’s so good, hot or iced. It’s from a Black owned shop in Fort Worth, Texas and they also sell cute mugs to round out your gift.
Wine (shipping varies state by state): Wine is kind of an obvious gift but it’s always appreciated! If you’re sending wine to someone far away, make a plan to watch a movie together or FaceTime while you each drink wine. You can also gift someone a membership to a wine club like Martha Stoumen’s, or Helen’s Wine Club (starts at $55). Check the delivery schedules as some clubs don’t ship in the winter.
Some of my favorite places to order from are Bibber and Bell, which specializes in natural wine and ships nationwide (they have great mixed cases and half cases), McBride Sisters (their story, of two sisters raised across the globe who found each other after decades, is incredible, and their wines are also available in many supermarkets), Maison Noir and Vyneyard Wines (André Mack’s wine brand and Brooklyn wine shop, respectively). If you want to gift Champagne, fatcork (I used to freelance for them) has excellent and well priced grower Champagne and fun gift sets that include tasting cards.
I don’t even want to think about how many hours I’ve spent at home this year. Instead, think about brightening someone’s space with these cheerful additions.
An Epicurean cutting board ($22.99 for a 11.5 by 9 board): I bought mine years ago at Chelsea Market and remain shocked by how useful it is (mine is a little smaller than the one linked and appears to be no longer available). It’s the perfect size for chopping a piece of fruit, an avocado, or a few cloves of garlic and it doubles as a cheese plate. Get this for someone with a favorite cheese (support your local cheese shops and check out Your Cheese Friend for more recs) and they’ll be quite happy.
Falcon Enamel Tray ($37 for a serving tray): I love blue and white enamel trays and they happen to be quite useful. They’re oven safe, extremely durable, and so damn cute. I use mine for serving salads and as a mini sheet pan for toasting nuts and baking (it can withstand temperatures over 500 degrees). Also from Falcon, these $10 tumblers come in so many colors and would be a great gift for a family or anyone who loves picnics.
Ikea Trays (browse the options starting at $2.99): I wrote a whole article about this but I feel very strongly about having a house stocked with trays. They make eating on the couch less messy (I am the messy one in our household) and are just fun to have around for organizing and displaying things. I think kids would love these as a way to arrange their favorite treasures (I was always collecting random items as a kid). The selection changes all the time and they’re so cheap. Check out this squash one, this dark floral print, or a graphic white option.
A Mini Whisk (or, that thing you really should own by now, $8.99 from Oxo): I bake fairly often and never owned a whisk until this summer. I got a mini one as a birthday gift and use it all the time. You can send it with some nice chocolate (try Dandelion, Sol Cacao, or Fine and Raw) and your favorite dessert recipe.
Stasher Bags ($52.99 for a 5 piece bundle): Ziplock bags are a hard habit to break and these have been a game changer. Leah got me a set for my birthday and I use them everyday. They’re perfect for half an avocado, a wedge of parm, and leftovers (they’re microwave and freezer safe). The sets come in so many colors (the exact one I have is no longer available) so you can pick one to match your recipient’s kitchen.
Remember to support your local bookstores. These are all linked on Bookshop, which supports independent booksellers. Some of my favorites include Cafe con Libros in Brooklyn and the Lit Bar in the Bronx.
Small Victories* or Now & Again*: Julia Turshen’s cookbooks are modern classics. Every recipe includes variations and nothing is too fussy. If you have kids or cook with kids, try these. In Small Victories, there are different versions of each recipe so you can adjust it your taste. Now & Again focuses on reworking leftovers and I love the applesauce and greek yogurt cakes in there.
Smitten Kitchen Every Day*: Deb Perelman recipes work and her cookbook is an excellent complement to her blog (she’s working on a third). The desserts are fantastic (the rosemary shortbread is vegan and so good) and there’s a large section of vegetarian main courses.
In Bibi’s Kitchen*: Hawa Hassan’s first cookbook, written with Julia Turshen, shares recipes and stories from grandmothers from the eight African countries that touch the Indian Ocean, including Hassan’s native Somalia. Hassan is also the founder of Basbaas Sauces, which are delicious, and she has done a few Bon Appetit videos, for which she was paid only $400! I’m happy to see her book come out (it’s on my list) and I can’t wait to learn more about this cuisine. Lots of the recipes are vegetarian or vegan.
Start Simple*: Lukas Volger’s vegetarian cookbook is so well suited for these times. It focuses on 11 everyday ingredients like broccoli, canned chickpeas, tofu, and squash. His recipes are creative, family friendly, and perfect for when you’re tired of your usual preparations. I wrote about this book when it came out and got a free copy.
Now some alternatives to Claire Saffitz’s book, which I discussed here, if you’re interested in baking.
Black Girl Baking*: Jerrelle Guy is the best. I wrote about her back in 2018 when the book came out and bought it this year. Unlike many baking books, there are lots of vegan and gluten free options and she is a beautiful writer and photographer. (She did the photography for Jubilee, Toni Tipton Martin’s incredible book).
Ovenly Cookbook*: I worked at Ovenly for a few months in 2016 and have followed the company ever since. I love their values of hiring refugees and formerly incarcerated people and they work to eliminate food waste throughout their business. Their cookbook is being reissued with new recipes and you can preorder it now (it will ship January 5th but it is worth the wait). Try their peanut butter cookies to tide you over in the meantime.
Notes from a Young Black Chef*: Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir is fantastic, tracing his life from the Bronx to Nigeria to fine dining kitchens. He’s honest about racist chefs (and names names) and the challenges of opening a restaurant. I met him once at an event and he was so kind.
The Art of Showing Up*: I link to Rachel Miller’s work quite often (her blog is great). She’s a millennial writer with an elevated, compassionate, and practical approach to life. If you need to have hard conversations or take better care of yourself, she’s got advice. This book is ideal for the friend who’s had a rough year (so anyone) and it’s all about showing up for yourself and others. It’s not a woo woo self help book but it invites you to spend some time thinking about what you’d like your life to look like. What a gift.
With the Fire on High*: This is a YA novel that adults will enjoy as well. Elisabeth Acevedo’s poetic novel follows a teen mom in Philadelphia with a passion for cooking. It’s beautifully written and the food descriptions are so evocative. Her recent book, Clap When You Land, is not food related but I still loved it.
Subscription to Whetstone Magazine ($90): Whetstone Magazine is an independent food publication with an international, intersectional, and intergenerational approach. A subscription gets you four print issues, which are shipped quarterly. I got my dad a subscription for Father’s Day and I love borrowing his copies after he’s done.
These items will make your day a little brighter
Gift cards to local restaurants: Gift cards are still a great way to support your favorite restaurants and you can spend as much as you want. Giftcards work for delivery, takeout or outdoor dining so people can use at their comfort level. This is super thoughtful for friends in different cities (find their favorite restaurant or a spot in their neighborhood you think they’d love).
A Hydroflask water bottle ($32.95 for a big one): I love my hydroflask (I got it an event but would pay for one) and I’m not even Gen Z. It keeps water really cold and there are so many colors. I used to love Swell bottles but find the hydroflask easier to clean due to the lid design. I keep it in my tote whenever I leave the house because it is hard to get water when you can’t go inside anywhere. Throw in some stickers for decorating it.
Ring Light: ($12 from Elf): This light is perfect for your friend who’s always on Zoom (or Instagram). It clips to a phone or laptop and has three different settings. Dale uses it all the time and so do I. Elf has fun makeup so you could throw in a mascara or lipstick when gifting this.
Machete earrings (pairs start at $25): Machete is a small women owned business based in Atlanta and they make my favorite hoop earrings (I have 5 pairs and especially love them for Zooms). They’re reasonably priced, durable, and so much fun. If you get on their mailing list, they have frequent sample sales with options below $20. Even the larger earrings are really lightweight and they have both neutral and colorful options. The Kate hoops are a perfect size and the mini hoops are a little more subtle.
Cork Yoga Blocks ($20 for one, you should get two): I don’t know when I’ll next attend an in-person yoga class (I really miss Sky Ting and Swan’s Nest, which have both closed their Brooklyn locations). While Peloton yoga videos are filling the void, my at home experience got infinitely better when I got these cork yoga blocks for my birthday. They make poses so much more accessible and are great for restorative practices too. Even on days when I don’t do yoga, I’ll lay down with a block under my shoulder blades for a good stretch.
Luv Scrub ($18 in Naked Sunset): This was a Grace Atwood find and it’s basically a fancy exfoliating louffah/washcloth from a Black owned business, inspired the scrubs used in West Africa. I got one for my birthday and it’s made my showers more pleasant, especially as it’s gotten colder.
Bombas socks ($15 for ankle socks): Socks get a bad rap as a boring gift, but these are socks that will get you excited about socks. My mom first found this brand and gifted them as Afikomen gifts for Passover. She gave all of us younger guests a pair and they became everyone’s favorite. They have a 1 for 1 model and donate a pair of socks for every pair sold. The real selling point is the comfort: no matter what kind you get (no show, sport socks, thick socks, compression socks, kids), you won’t want to take them off.
Passport Seven Candles ($34 for large candles): Kelsey (see more recs from her below) recommended this Black owned candle brand and I am obsessed. I prefer the large size and love the travel inspired scents. Pick one from a place your friend loves or would love to visit. I bought the Brooklyn Brownstone and Seven Mile Jamaica scents (Dale is from Jamaica and hopefully we can visit post pandemic) and have been rotating them. Shipping takes a while so order these now.
Pandemic pants ($29.99) and masks ($12.50): I know Old Navy is a huge company, but these pandemic pants, as Becca Freeman calls them, are so incredibly soft. Everyone needs some cozy pants. Old Navy goes on sale all the time, so never pay full price. The masks are great too—a 5 pack is just $12.50 and they’re adjustable, with fun colors and prints (a household could split them up). They even have kids masks in a few shapes.
Kitchen Rodeo Classes (donations start at $20): Kitchen Rodeo classes are taught by great chefs and support important causes. The ticket is a donation and you get the shopping list in advance. Get a ticket for a friend who loves to cook and send them a gift card to cover groceries (or set up a grocery delivery). Or take the class together! The December classes aren’t up yet, but based on upcoming offerings (Kia Damón, Hawa Hassan, and Fany Gerson), they’ll be great and an easy last minute option.
A donation in someone’s name is always appreciated! Some smaller orgs don’t have ways to formally dedicate a gift, but you can always write a note explaining your gift. I like to give to local organizations (or local to your recipient).
The Okra Project: This organization addresses the global food crisis faced by Black Trans people by providing meals and resources.
G.L.I.T.S.: G.L.I.T.S recently fundraised to provide permanent housing for Trans people in New York and they also do asylum work and job placement. Founder and Director Ceyenne Doroshow also has great taste in food.
Immigrant Families Together: Immigrant families together works to reunite and support families separated at the border by paying bonds, offering legal support, and helping families settle into their new homes. My family and I have worked with them firsthand and I couldn’t recommend them more highly.
Mutual Aid Groups (search city + mutual aid to find the right one): Mutual aid is the future and your money will go far. Some of them accept donations on Venmo and others have more formal processes. Locally, I support Bed Stuy Strong, North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, and Bushwick Ayuda Mutua.
I asked some special guests with incredible taste to share their favorite gifts and they didn’t disappoint!
Madison, founder, Your Weekly W(h)ine-- a weekly newsletter with the wine + dogs you need to get you through the week, and now offering virtual classes:
For my friends with dogs-- any of the bandanas from Dingus Designs Co! It is a woman-owned small biz and Iris (the owner) does a lot of social justice advocacy work through her business social media platform and her bandana designs, and she also donates a portion of proceeds each month to a different charity. She is amazingly talented, super creative, a lovely human being, and I just can't get enough of her bandanas. My own pup will be sporting one for her annual holiday photo!
Hitha Palepu, Creator, #5SmartReads. Follow her on Instagram:
We are unabashed geeks - the shows and movies we watch, the books we read, and even in our home decor. Like everyone else, I fell completely in love with 'The Child' (aka Baby Yoda) from The Mandalorian last year and was disappointed that no merch was available that year. This year, though, I'm getting this toy* (one for me, one for my older son Rho). It's the gift that keeps on giving - especially between seasons of The Mandalorian.
Rachael Krishna, Journalist/Writer/Alive? Check out her newsletter here:
As this is a list for Americans, it's very difficult not to put a kettle on here (ed note: Rachael lives in London and she is right about kettles). I haven't, but you should all buy stovetop kettles. I've chosen a Portuguese tableware manufacturer called Faplana - they make very well priced but super cute and well-designed plates, bowls, butter dishes etc. out of melamine. I like a multi-use item - I am a long term devotee of Falcon products as you can chuck them anywhere with heat and they won't die. Faplana items work great for casual picnics, but also look fancy enough to sit among your more robust tableware. I bought some of their blue bowls last year, and I've used their bowls pretty much every mealtime, and my boyfriend is emotionally tied to our yellow butter dish. Their products aren't super pricey and can either tie in with your "aesthetic" or add a pop of colour. (ed note: Food52 has some good melamine options too)
Fine and Raw's Hazelnut Chocolate Spread is a delicious, vegan, locally made product and a natural option for Nutella lovers that is bursting with flavor with only 5 simple ingredients, just like the cacao gods intended. It's not too sweet, you can taste the warm and nutty flavor of hazelnut in every bite. It's amazing on toast, fresh fruit, or straight out of the jar.
Maya Meredith, Home cooking/baking tutorials on Instagram. Follow her @yunggarlic:
For those getting tired of home cooking and dreading the winter blues, An Everlasting Meal will be soul-nourishing. This is a very special kind of cookbook, aimed at teaching you how to make simple and inexpensive meals from basic ingredients, but with an evocative and philosophical way of depicting life in the kitchen. When I used to work as a restaurant publicist and got exhausted by reading about food all day, this book helped me reconnect with why I love cooking.
Kelsey Mulvey, Freelance Journalist and founder of "Office Hours with Kelsey Mulvey" newsletter. Subscribe here:
Not only is my tea from the Qi an integral part of my work from home routine (I literally drink it every day), but it also makes for an excellent gift. Instead of using a bunch of crushed-up, loose leaves, the Qi makes its teas out of dried healing flowers that become fluffy and gorgeous when exposed to water. Plus, each flower varietal tastes amazing and is packed with nutritional benefits. While buying a package of the Qi tea is a great stocking stuffer, you can show your special someone some extra love with its Daily Ritual set.
I love this waterproof shower speaker that I have had for 4 years! Stick it to your shower wall or take it to the pool/beach for easy access to your favorite tunes. I love how cheap it was, how many options you have for colors and how it has lasted me this long. Always a hit with anyone - the perfect gift!
A hot sauce set from Pisqueya that uses Dominican inspired flavors is definitely going to be a hit with spice lovers. I really like the idea of a spice inspired by flavors from that country. My parents were born and raised in the Caribbean, my dad in Puerto Rico and my mom in the Dominican Republic. They didn't grow up eating anything spicy and neither did I. It's not a part of the flavor profile or the culinary identity of either culture. Spice is seen as a condiment that people only sometimes put on their food and a lot of the hot sauce I've had in either place has been kind of watered down. I grew to like some spicy food as an adult but my parents (and a lot of my family) still avoid most spicy food. So it was really cool to see a Dominican inspired hot sauce set, especially once that uses passion fruit as the sauce base. I also love the name of the sauce set. Pisqueya- pi comes from the word pique or spicy, and the rest is from Quisqueya, which is the original/indigenous Taíno name for the Dominican Republic. Seeing the name was enough to get my mom to try the hot sauce. She still thought it was too spicy, but she did like the flavor.
I love gifting books, and this one I feel is a great one not just for creatives or entrepreneurs, but people could use a reminder to live a more curious life and not let fears hold you back. This year has been one of deep reflection and uncertainty, and a book has served as both a source of inspiration and grounding. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs a boost.
Happy Shopping! I hope this was helpful and would love to hear what you wind up gifting! And a special thank you to my paid subscribers who make it possible for me to take on bigger projects like this.