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Famished: The Best Things I've Eaten This Week

Pastry chef Nicole Plue's sweet new venture, Little Vine gifts, the perfect weekend cocktail and more.

Nicole Plue's saltine toffee actually is made on top of a saltine cracker for a salty-sweet perfection.

Being a magazine editor means that you’re have to think months ahead. While my physical self is wrapping up the December issue, mentally, I’m already in January. As far as I’m concerned, it’s raining, I’m drinking hot toddies, and as for my family’s Christmas gifts? I’ve been there, thought about buying that.

Which is to say that I've got a few things bookmarked as gifts for the foodcentric. Number one is a box of addictive saltine toffee (that’s right—saltine) made by Nicole Plue, the excellent pastry chef who I was first introduced to when she was at Hawthorne Lane back in the day. Currently she’s cooking up in Healdsburg at Cyrus (until it closes its doors at the end of this month), but after that she’ll be devoting herself solely to her new product line called Sideshow which specializes in awesome dessert toppings. For part of the line called Cereal Thrillers, she uses puffed cocoa (i.e. Cocoa Puffs) and feuilletine to make four different flavors of cerealy-crunchy chocolatey goodness meant to sprinkle over everything from ice cream to cupcakes. You'll have to show some restraint however. Her line launches on November 8 at which point it will be available only online. Your booty of Halloween candy will have to satiate until then.

Another place that I’ll be headed for gifts is Little Vine in North Beach. It’s one of those stores that I’ve been meaning to visit and finally did. Located on burgeoning Grant Street, the tiny, extremely tasteful wine-and-cheese deli has a treasure trove of goodies made by local artisans. For instance, they sell the hard-to-find Heslet Honey, North Beach honey harvested only a few blocks from Little Vine (and available seasonally from March until just about now); chocolates made by SF-based Cocoa; and snickerdoodles by Crumb, which is run by baker Ann Marie Milo who coincidentally happened to cook beneath Nicole Plue.

Not all the things that Little Vine carries are sweet. Co-owner Melissa Gugni also recommends a vermouth that they just started carrying from the Calistoga-based boutique and culty winery called Massican. Il Vermouth de Friulano is spicy, light and fruity. “We’ve been using it in a Delmonico, a classic cocktail with gin, orange bitters and a lemon twist and it’s incredible,” says Gugni, who has owned a cocktail catering company with her husband Jay for the past eight years. I wouldn’t mind one right now. It would be the perfect way to enter the weekend.