We spend all year writing about talented Texans, from artisans and designers to entrepreneurs of businesses both large and small. The annual gift guide is a natural extension of that coverage. You might see a few familiar names here (Willie who?), but hopefully you’ll make a few new discoveries, such as the Amarillo ceramicists who came up with an ingenious way to cook bacon or the Austin audio company that some techies predict will vastly improve how we listen to music. The only hard part on our end? Whittling this list down to just 25, which we’ve done here, in order of price. Giddyup and start shopping!
Nopal Onesie, Christin Apodaca, $20
While in El Paso recently, I was captivated by all the colorful and impactful murals around the border city. One of the main artists behind them, Christin Apodaca, recently unveiled a new mural at a local YWCA, Metamorphosis/Metamorfosis, which depicts a young woman admiring flora and fauna native to the Chihuahuan Desert—a common theme in her work. Apodaca sells tees and other items with some of that imagery, including a cool cotton onesie with an embroidered nopal that’s available in sizes 3 to 24 months. (If you’re in the El Paso area, be sure to check out her exhibit, running through December 15, at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.)
Salsa Macha With Pumpkin Seeds, El Naranjo, $20
I dream of taking a Mexican culinary tour offered by chef Iliana de la Vega, who won the 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Texas for her work at Austin’s Oaxacan-inspired El Naranjo. She’s known for her moles and salsas, especially her salsa macha, which she added to the menu a decade ago, way before the current craze, and then started selling in jars. Our fearless taco editor, José R. Ralat, describes it as “a nutty and fruity seven-chile blend that ends with a joyful, addictive wallop of spice.” Until I can make it to Mexico, I’m tiding myself over with jars of this deliciousness—the version with pumpkin seeds makes for a fun seasonal touch—as well as frequent visits to El Naranjo, where de la Vega’s daughter Ana Torrealba recently became chef de cuisine.
Lowball Glass, Bad Burro Works, starting at $28
Have you ever reached for your favorite glass of Texas whiskey only to have it slip through your hands? No? Is that just me? Either way, a lowball wrapped in leather is kind of genius, and it’s one of the many goods handmade by two Aggie sophomores, Andrew Fisher and King Kleberg. The San Antonio natives draw on the South Texas tradition of fine leather in their downtown Bryan shop, which offers leather AirPods Pro cases, Yeti wraps, flasks, and more, all of which can be monogrammed. The lowballs can be ordered individually or in sets, and you can choose between black and cream stitching (ideal for that firm grip!).
Hand-Forged State Quarter Ring, IGWT Creations, $30
I’m really good at making money disappear, but Charley and Janice Stark, who live in Teague, an hour east of Waco, can take almost any coin and turn into an accessory. Their line of bespoke jewelry, IGWT Creations, is even named after the motto “In God We Trust.” To order one of their state quarter rings, simply choose your state—we recommend Texas—and the ring size. The pieces are made using quarter coins commemorating the date when the state was added to the union—1845 for the win!
Sea Turtle Adoptions, Sea Turtle Inc., $30–$180
Last year, my colleague Lea Konczal wrote a touching story about Ila Loetscher, a.k.a. the Turtle Lady, who, in 1977, founded South Padre Island’s Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit that would go on to rescue, rehab, and release thousands of turtles. Loetscher, who died at age 95 in 2000, is also credited with helping to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction. Sea Turtle Inc. continues her legacy and manages Kemp’s ridley nest conservation for U.S. Fish & Wildlife. You can help its important work through an adoption program that offers everything from hatchlings to an entire nest. For $45, for example, you can adopt a patient, helping to pay for everything from X-rays to food for a rehab turtle (current patients include sweet creatures named French Fry, Asteroid, and Opal). The packet includes an official adoption certificate and other items including a magnet and a drawstring backpack.
Rainbow Connection on Vinyl, Willie Nelson, $33
Is there a more beautiful cover than Willie’s rendition of Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection”? Of course there isn’t. The song appears on Willie’s 2001 children’s album of the same name, which came in at an impressive 17 on our ranking of all 151 albums by the Red Headed Stranger. And this month, he’s releasing it on vinyl for the first time. It’s classic Willie—even though it’s a kids’ record, there’s a song about an LSD trip and another about drinking and gambling. (Don’t miss the charming backstory of how Willie came to record the Muppets song, as told by his daughter Amy Nelson to the sometimes charming John Spong on our One by Willie podcast.) The album is a great way to cap off the Year of Willie: he turned ninety, was celebrated over two days at an all-star concert in Hollywood, released three new albums, wrote a book, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What did you do this year?
Jam Session Puzzle, Puzzles of Color, $34
Ericka Chambers and William Jones have loved putting puzzles together since they were kids, but the siblings, who are Black, rarely found images that represented themselves. To take care of that missing piece, their Richardson-based company, Puzzles of Color, teamed up with diverse artists from around the country on puzzles that reflect their heritage. One of the newest offerings is the musically inspired Jam Session, by Yadi Liu, a Chinese-born artist now based in New York. Puzzles of Color collaborates with the artists to create Spotify playlists, so put Liu’s puzzle together while listening to a Spotify soundtrack of Leon Bridges, Khalid, Taylor Swift, and more.
Olive Oil Gift Set, Texas Olive Ranch, $35
Not to be a Sad Santa, but global olive oil prices are soaring because of a devastating drought in Spain and other extreme weather events. So consider the cold-pressed olive oil from Texas Olive Ranch to be liquid gold. Jim Henry first planted Arbequina trees twenty years ago in Carrizo Springs, in South Texas near the border, where the rocky, dry terrain is similar to that of southern Spain. With the help of Henry’s sons, Josh and Matt, the farm produces small-batch oil from olives pressed almost as soon as they’re picked, and it engages in regenerative practices. The olive oil is so good that L.A.-based Sweetgreen recently announced it was introducing it at its seventeen Texas locations. Opt for the pick-your-own gift set of three 100-milliliter bottles, and select at least one of the infused olive oils using Texas ingredients such as Hill Country herbs.
Cinnamon Delight Candle, Living Good Candle Co., $36
Houston chemical engineer Tram Nguyen founded Living Good Candle Co. in 2022 because she wanted a clean, nontoxic scent that wouldn’t trigger her allergies. Her hand-poured candles use high-quality beeswax and essential oils and come in two simple but classic varieties: with three wicks in a glass jar or with a wooden wick in a metal tin. The earthy three-wick Cinnamon Delight is a great choice for the holidays. Its spicy notes of cloves and cumin are the olfactory version of a mug of hot mulled wine.
Lone Stars Rising, Harper Wave, $37
When I turned fifty, my friends and I celebrated with a caftan dance party, complete with dirty martinis and a hot tub, at a house in the Hill Country. To mark its own half-century mark, this magazine took a more dignified approach, publishing a book of essays about Texans who have helped shape the state since 1973, from Barbara Jordan and Willie Nelson to Robert Rodriguez and Brené Brown. Lone Stars Rising: The Fifty People Who Turned Texas Into the Fastest-Growing, Most Exciting, and, Sometimes, Most Exasperating State in the Country (note that I said “dignified,” not “succinct”) includes portraits from longtime Texas Monthly writers and select contributors such as Julián Castro and Brianna Holt.
Blanco Tequila, Aguasol, $40
This year, for the first time, the ACL Music Festival added cocktails and mocktails to the menus at its general admission bars. I tried one as soon as I walked through the gates. I was just happy to order a margarita to go with my Alanis Morissette, so I was pleasantly surprised when the drink, made with Aguasol Blanco tequila, agave, and lime, was actually clean, refreshing, and really, really good. (I might have ordered another soon afterward.) Aguasol was actually born at ACL—backstage, that is—in 2017, when one of the festival’s founders, Charles Attal, began brainstorming with Eduardo Margain, the cofounder of the Austin FC soccer team and a native of Mexico; both were craving a light margarita and decided to try to create their own. They eventually teamed up with a fourth-generation tequila producer in Jalisco to create additive-free blanco and reposado tequilas. The bottles hit shelves across the state this spring, with some proceeds going to a Jalisco-based charity serving rural communities.
Mexican Cheese Board, Sew Bonita, $50
Elena Flores has created something special in Sew Bonita, in Corpus Christi. The Eagle Pass native has filled her store with her textile creations as well as decor, T-shirts, cards, and other items from Latino makers. “We’re creating culture and community,” Flores told José Ralat earlier this year. Among her current stock are these cheese boards, featuring colorful, patterned handles, that are hand carved and hand-painted in Oaxaca, Mexico, by Colores de Copal.
Hunter Red Wine, William Chris, $56
For two years in a row now, William Chris Vineyards, based in the Hill Country town of Hye, has been named one of the hundred best vineyards in the world—sixtieth best this year, to be precise. It’s the only Texas winery to make the list, voted on by nearly five hundred sommeliers and other wine experts. But we don’t need a list to tell us how good it is—William Chris’s wine club, the Hye Society (mad respect for this name), has proven so popular that it has been closed to new members for more than a year. Founded in 2008 by Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon, William Chris has consistently produced high-quality bottles that showcase Texas terroir. One of the company’s flagship wines for more than a decade, Hunter is a blend of mostly Bordeaux varieties that changes each year, but you can expect big notes of black cherry and plum, underscored by a smoky mocha flavor. The wine goes well with mild-flavored game and salty snacks, making it ideal for holiday parties and dinners.
Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie, Goode Co., $60
If you can enjoy a slice of pecan pie without doing your best When Harry Met Sally impression, you, my friend, are a better person than I. But you’ll quiet down after just one bite of the Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie from Houston chef Levi Goode, owner of his family’s Goode Co. dining empire, which has been serving this dessert—from Goode’s grandmother’s recipe—since it opened its first restaurant, in 1977. The pecans, large and glistening, come from the banks of the Brazos River. The pie is available for shipping nationwide and can be stored on the counter for three weeks, but I can’t imagine this has ever been necessary. Silver lining when the pie is gone: it comes in a beautiful “Made in Texas” wooden box, ideal for storage or even, gasp, regifting.
Howdy Boots Acrylic Tray, Briscoe Western Art Museum, $60
Museum stores are some of my favorite places to shop for gifts, so I was taken with the selection at the Hendler Family Museum Store, inside San Antonio’s Briscoe Western Art Museum. You’ll find holiday decor, Western art (of course), and whimsical items, such as this fun and colorful tray. Trays are ideal for organizing counter clutter, but you don’t want to cover up the bottom of this one. Because it has handles—and its message is so hospitable!—it is ideal for serving up margaritas, ranch water, or sweet tea. And if you happen to be buying it in person, you still have time to catch “Anouk Masson Krantz: ‘American Cowboys,’ ” an exhibit of one hundred images by the esteemed photographer; it closes January 22, 2024.
Bacon Cooker, Blue Sage Pottery, $75
For meat eaters, a full holiday breakfast isn’t complete without crisp bacon, but it can be a messy proposition. Amarillo artists Kent and Megan Harris, owners of Blue Sage Pottery, have a solution: the ceramic bacon cooker! Just place your bacon strips across the cylinder and stick in the microwave for four to five minutes. The attached bowl will collect the fat drippings while the bacon is cooking. Then simply use a pot holder to grab the handle. The bowl’s spout makes pouring the fat into a jar easy and clean business. Available in many colors, it looks like a coffee mug attached to a saucer, but it will literally save your bacon.
2024 Desktop Art Calendar, Taylor Paladino, $79
Dallas watercolor artist Ben Paladino’s stationery and home decor products are so lovely that it’s no wonder the Container Store began carrying a line of his work in 2021—a year before he graduated from Stanford. Called Taylor Paladino, after his middle name, the collection contains many tempting gift items, but I was drawn to this Texas desk calendar, thoughtfully packaged in a teal box. Inside are an acrylic–and–gold foil easel and twelve placards featuring state-inspired watercolors, from yellow roses to Longhorns at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Each card comes in its own envelope, labeled with the month, which also contains a seasonal recipe or other unexpected treat. I love surprises within surprises.
Blue Bell Ice Cream Charm, James Avery Artisan Jewelry, $88
Next year will mark the seventieth anniversary of the jewelry empire founded by James Avery in a Kerrville garage. His charms, necklaces, and rings became a staple in jewelry boxes across the South. Although he died in 2018, at the age of 96, his company continues to design new pieces in the Hill Country. This October, it teamed up with another iconic Texas brand, Brenham-based Blue Bell Creameries, to launch a sterling silver charm depicting a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, down to the girl-and-cow logo. My favorite touch: the bronze border representing the lid’s classic gold-hued rim.
Karina Stud Earrings, Cenizo West, $119
For the Yellowstone fan in your life, consider a piece from Sabinal’s Cassandra Coronado Everett, who has designed custom hats and jewelry for the show as well as for country stars, including Faith Hill. The San Antonio native, who was raised in Corpus Christi, has two accessory lines: Cenizo Hatworks, for her custom lids, and Cenizo West, a jewelry collection rooted in her Spanish heritage. The Karina Stud Earrings are subtle but strong; Beth Dutton would approve.
Duck Canvas Weekday Western Shirt, Richter Goods, $164
The red pearl snaps give just a hint of the holidays to this smart navy-blue shirt, made of durable duck canvas and featuring two vintage-inspired pockets. It’s just the kind of stylish shirt envisioned by Mario Guajardo when he moved to San Antonio from Mexico City to create a Western-style clothing line. All of his creations are cut and sewn by a small team of master seamstresses.
No. 10 Cast-iron Skillet, Fredericksburg Cast Iron Co., $165
When I graduated from college, all I really owned besides my clothes were a full set of American Tourister luggage (thanks, Mom and Dad) and an heirloom cast-iron pan. What else did I need, really? I love giving cast-iron pans as wedding and graduation presents, so I was really intrigued when we profiled Jay and Heather Mallinckrodt, of Fredericksburg Cast Iron, earlier this year. Their skillets are made in their Hill Country machine shop using a ten-step process and are hand seasoned for that heirloom feel.
Carafe, Keith Kreeger, $250
For a big chunk of his three-decade career, porcelain wares designer Keith Kreeger has been known for making distinct, eye-catching dinnerware, both for the home as well as for restaurants across the country, including Texas favorites Cured, in San Antonio; March, in Houston; and Olamaie, in Austin, where he has his studio and newly renovated showroom. He recently announced that he’s putting his dinnerware on pause and is instead focusing on his small-batch porcelain releases. His holiday collection, which officially drops on December 6, will include gift-friendly cups, mugs, serving bowls, vases, and more. He’s especially excited to bring back the carafe, which he hasn’t made for several seasons. It can serve as a unique vase or as just the right thoughtful touch on a bedside table in the guest room.
The Sadie by Kristopher Brock, Tecovas, $395
This fall, Austin-based Western apparel company Tecovas launched its latest partnership, this time with luxury fashion designer Kristopher Brock, who grew up in Corpus Christi. Cofounder of the womens wear label Brock Collection, Brock won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2016 and is a two-time nominee for a CFDA award for emerging talent (the Council of Fashion Designers of America awards are essentially the Oscars of the fashion industry). The collaboration resulted in a limited collection of dresses, boots, and a few other pieces that offer modern takes on Western classics. Brock’s version of the brand’s Sadie boot comes in clay-colored soft nubuck and features a stunning inlaid floral motif on both the front and back of the shaft. These boots were made for rockin’.
Libby Top, Hunter Bell, $450
Designer Hunter Bell’s dresses, tops, and other pieces combine Southern playfulness with a touch of global sophistication. Perhaps that’s because she launched her line in New York before wisely moving her operations to Houston, where she’s now close to her beloved Round Top—her husband’s great-grandmother was Hazel Ledbetter, who encouraged Emma Lee Turney to start what’s now one of the country’s largest antiques fairs. Bell’s “bohemian in the big city” vibe has attracted celebrities such as Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Kelly Ripa, and Emma Roberts. Her new holiday collection is full of dreamy goodies, including the silver-sequined Libby Top, whose cropped fit and padded shoulders give it a structured ease.
Brane X Portable Smart Speaker, Brane Audio, $599
An Austin company is behind one of the buzziest products to debut this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Brane Audio’s new 7.7-pound portable speaker, the Brane X, is the first of its size to feature an eight-inch internal subwoofer, giving it a much deeper bass sound. Reviewers were floored by the tech, which I’m not going to try to break down for you here. What I can tell you is that the Brane X is waterproof; can run on battery power for as long as twelve hours; has Wi-Fi, Alexa, and Bluetooth; and can stream Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, and other services. Orders made now should ship in January, which means the speaker will be a little late for the holidays, but the audiophile in your life probably won’t mind the wait.
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