2011 holiday gift guide // The gift of experience

Do you need some inspiration for your holiday shopping list? Tired of handing out holiday knick-knacks and silly sweaters? We have the answer for you. We’ve compiled a gift guide filled with fun experiences to savor in Minneapolis. We’ve got ideas for the foodies, health nuts, arts and music lovers and sports enthusiasts on your list. (Share your gift ideas by tweeting us at @swjournal or emailing [email protected])

Cooking classes

We all know the old adage: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

True enough. But what if you teach that man to whip up a nice lemon aioli? That lifetime’s worth of fish starts to sound a little more appealing, doesn’t it?

That’s just one of the skills you learn in Fish Fundamentals, one of scores of cooking classes on offer at Kitchen Window in Uptown. The course description reads like a menu for a Feast of the Seven Fishes: scallops with orange vinaigrette, shrimp with fresh tomato linguini, mussels in saffron butter and — the one recipe every Minnesotan should learn, if they haven’t already — fried walleye.

Kitchen Window hosts cooking classes nearly every day of the week — about 400 over the course of a year. They cover a wide array of global cuisines and cooking techniques, from curing meats to pairing wines, and are a popular holiday gift, said Kitchen Window General Manager Doug Huemoeller.

“You’re actually giving them a skill, versus something they may or may not use,” Huemoeller said.

The assortment of classes changes with the season. In November, Huemoeller was one of two instructors leading Grillmasters: Winter Grilling, a course that walked students through an entire menu, from oak-planked goat cheese- and pesto-stuffed ciabatta to herb-roasted chicken pot pie, with detours to cover side dishes and dessert, all prepared on the grill.

While many of the classes will appeal to the experienced home cook looking to expand his or her repertoire, Huemoeller said “a big percentage of the interest” was in the basics: courses that teach pasta-making, stocking a home pantry or knife skills, for example.

A course catalog is available at kitchenwindow.com, where online registration for classes offered in March and April opens in January. Courses cost about $30–$80 per session and can be purchased with a Kitchen Window gift card.


For your beer buddies

Homebrewing is the hobby du jour of guys with beards, but they’re not the only ones who enjoy the uniquely rewarding pastime. It’s more than just dudes fueling the explosion of interest in craft beer and world brewing traditions.

There may be no better way to grow your understanding of beer than to make some. St. Paul’s Northern Brewer is a major player in the local homebrew scene, and it’s expected to open a 6,000-square-foot flagship store offering both supplies and classes in the Windom neighborhood any day now.

Northern Brewer’s homebrew kits start at $79.99, and are available both in the store and at northernbrewer.com. Watch that website for updates on the Minneapolis location’s opening.


Beer, wine and cheese: what more do you need?

Maybe your loved one is less interested in the actual preparing of food than in the consuming of it — and really, who isn’t? In that case, try Surdyk’s.

The experts on staff at Northeast’s landmark liquor store regularly host classes on wine, beer, liquor and cheese in nearby Ginger Hop, the cozy, wood-paneled former Times Bar and Café. Ten classes are on offer in the next session, running Jan. 9–Feb. 7, including two cheese classes, several on wine and separate whiskey and Belgian beer tastings.

“All of our classes do sell out,” said Lindsey Coleman, a store manager. “This session particularly quickly, just because it’s a really good gift.”

Classes are on Monday and Tuesday nights, and run about two hours. (Full disclosure: This reporter’s sister occasionally teaches the cheese class.) The costs of each course ranges from $35 to $50, Coleman said.

For a listing of courses, check the Surdyk’s holiday sale catalog or the events section of surdyks.com. Gift cards, good for any course, are available for purchase online or in the store.


Savoring chocolate

Anna Bonavita has a passion for the finest chocolates in the world.

She launched a new business called Chocolate BonaVita with her husband Massimo Bonavita last year to spread her love for high quality chocolate. They are founders of the Italian Culture Center in the Hennepin Center for the Arts.

Bona Vita means the “good life” in Italian. As part of their new business venture, they have offered classes on high-end artisan chocolates made from rare cacao beans with intense flavor profiles.

Many of the people who attend the tastings, however, don’t know how to savor and fully appreciate the chocolate. They tend to eat too fast, so she got the idea to offer meditation, restorative yoga and Thai Chi classes before the tastings to help people slow down and relax.

Now Chocolate BonaVita has classes at the Hennepin Center for the Arts, 528 Hennepin Ave. S. noon and evenings on Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday mornings.

Bonavita said the chocolates have high levels of antioxidants, too, which should ease the guilt many associate with the special treat.

“[Chocolate] is one of the most beautiful gifts to humanity,” she said.

For more details on the classes and tastings, go to chocolatebonavita.com. Gift certificates for the holidays are also available.


Time to sweat

One of the best ways to survive the Minnesota winters is to take on a hot yoga practice.

There are many places to try a class and one of the newest hot yoga studios in the Twin Cities — Moksha Yoga — is getting rave reviews.

The new 6,000-square-foot studio in Calhoun Village is owned by Phil and Ryann Doucette, natives of Canada. It’s an environmentally friendly studio with furniture made from reclaimed wood, corkboard flooring and a radiant heating system in the yoga room. The radiant heating system is designed to be more energy efficient than forced-air heating.

Moksha Yoga was co-founded by Jess Robertson and Ted Grand of Canada. It involves doing 40 postures in a 105-degree room. Yogis who practice the style are encouraged to be environmentally conscious and involved in community cards.

Moksha offers gifts cards for classes. It’s $40 for an introductory month, $140 for a 10-class pass, $80 for a five-class pass and $17 for a drop-in session. For more information, go to Minneapolis.mokshayoga.ca.


A spa day

Got someone on your gift list that deserves some extra pampering?

The Ivy Spa & Fitness Club offers special holiday packages that will help melt away the stresses and pressures of the holidays.

The Tinsel & Twinkle Package ($149) includes an Ivy signature massage or facial, express manicure, shampoo and style, signature lotion and Ivy T-shirt. The Glitter & Gold Package ($249) features a massage, facial, shampoo and style, mini-makeup application, spa lunch, beverage, lotion and T-shirt.

If you spend $150 or more at the spa, you get a package of discounts and services valued at $250 and a complimentary 30-minute personal training session.

For more details on holiday packages, visit ivyspaclub.com.

Rock Camp For Dads

This holiday season, Rock Camp For Dads (RCFD) wants you to consider giving the gift of rockstardom.

The St. Louis Park-based company offers amateur adult musicians a chance to make good on the rockstar ambitions of yesteryear by getting bands together, giving them a rehearsal space to hone their rocking and coaching them with the help of working professional musicians.

After a month of once-a-week rehearsals, the experience culminates with the rockstar moment — a gig at well-known Twin Cities venues like Bunker’s, Famous Dave’s or O’Gara’s.

Co-owner Mitch McMillen, a former camper himself who picked up bass at 48, said RCFD’s core customers are “guys who have left their instruments behind while growing careers and families and are missing something in their lives.”

“We can fill that void,” he added.

Despite the name, RCFD isn’t just for dads. Anyone over 21, male or female, can participate.

Each month, the camp offerings have different themes. For instance, this January, the camp is offering a classic rock camp, Eric Clapton and Van Halen tribute camps and an alternative rock camp.

The one-month camps cost $299. Beginner camps and private lessons ($25 per half hour) area also available, as are cost-defraying scholarships for qualifying students.

For more information about the camp, check out rockcampfordads.com.


Get jazzed

There is no finer place to experience live jazz in the upper Midwest than the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Mall.

While St. Paul’s Artists’ Quarter predominately features local jazzers, the Dakota regularly books acts with national and international profiles.

Notable recent performances include John Scofield, Charlie Hunter, Joshua Redman, Sophia Shorai, Joey DeFrancesco and Foreplay. January’s calendar features Davina and the Vagabonds and Raul Midon.

Live music isn’t the only thing the Dakota offers. The club’s acclaimed restaurant offers full lunch and dinner menus featuring everything from Lake Superior Whitefish to Amish chicken breast entrées.

Local trumpeter Steve Kenny, who recently played a late-night set at the Dakota with his group the Illicit Sextet, described the club as a “Midwest oasis” for touring jazz artists.

“For Twin Citians, it stands alone as a venue where the atmosphere, award-winning food and great acoustics combine to make a whole-evening one-stop-shop out of the experience of going to hear live music,” Kenny added.

This holiday season, the Dakota is offering a $20 promo card with every purchase of $100 in gift cards, meaning you can give someone the gift of an unparalleled live music experience and perhaps persuade them to take you with too.

Check out dakotacooks.com for more information.


The gift of rock

If jazz and a classy dinner aren’t up the alley of the person you’re shopping for, perhaps some greasy-spoon food and a show at Minneapolis’ most legendary rock club will be more to their liking.

First Avenue & 7th St Entry sells gift certificates online and at the venue box office. In addition to being redeemable at any shows in the main room or at the Entry, the certificates can be used to buy food and drink at the adjacent Depot Tavern and merchandise.

Featuring an eclectic mix of genres and events, there’s sure to be something for everyone on First Avenue’s calendar. Mainroom shows in January and February are set to feature everything from the jam band sounds of Dark Star Orchestra to the metal of In Flames, with an assortment of dance nights sprinkled throughout.

Since the doors first opened in 1970, First Avenue has been the premier spot for live music in the Twin Cities. More intimate than arenas yet large enough to host wildly popular acts spanning the gamut from Prince to TV on the Radio, the venue offers the quintessential Twin Cities music experience.

For more information, check out first-avenue.com/merchandise/gift-card.

The Nutcracker at The Cowles Center

“The Nutcracker” is a holiday favorite, and this year you’ll actually have the chance to catch two very different versions of the beloved ballet at The Cowles Center for Dance & The Performing Arts. From Dec. 23-31 you can catch Loyce Houlton’s “Nutcracker Fantasy,” the longest-running arts event in Minnesota history. The Minnesota Dance Theater production has been a holiday favorite for 45 years and been enjoyed by more than 1.4 million audience members, so it is only fitting that the production closes out the first year at Minneapolis’ new home for dance.

On Dec. 17-18, you’ll also have a chance to check out a more experiment version of the ballet. Zenon’s “Nutcracker” mashes up Tchaikovsky’s classic with stories from Mother Goose, such as Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and other nursery rhyme characters. This combination of two family favorites should make it a perfect event for families. If your kids enjoy Zenon’s version, why not take them back to The Cowles for the classic interpretation later in the month?

And if you’re really nuts about “The Nutcracker,” you can also catch the Moscow Ballet’s version on Dec. 2-3 at the Orpheum Theater.

Tickets for “Nutcracker Fantasy” are $36. Tickets for Zenon’s “Nutcracker” are $15-20. Tickets for the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” are $33-92.


‘Graphic Design: Now in Production’

Let’s face it: unless you live in an extremely artsy household, there’s probably someone in your family who isn’t so hot on the idea of going to art museums. Fortunately, The Walker Art Center has an ongoing exhibit that should please those who are “dragged along” as much as those who take them. “Graphic Design: Now in Production” is a massive exhibition of graphic design work that ranges from the accessible to the esoteric.

The biggest graphic design show at The Walker since the 1989 show “Graphic Design in America: A Visual Language History,” the show spans two exhibit halls and totals over 10,000 square feet of gallery space. Items in the collection include a wall of posters by local design firm Aesthetic Apparatus, a room of infographics, collections of t-shirts, displays focusing on elements of digital design, and even many logos for death metal bands. There’s also a pop-up shop selling exclusive items from the show, so you’ll be able to take a little piece of the show home with you. With such a wide variety of things to see and experience, this may be the exhibit that converts the museum holdout in your family into a veritable patron of the arts.


Art classes

Experiencing art is great. Creating art is even better. There are a variety of art classes that are perfect experience gifts for the holiday. Adults and children can create art together at Simply Jane Studios, which offers classes in everything from painting and drawing to weaving and mosaic. Prices vary, so visit simplyjanestudio.com

For those who like to get their hands dirty, Fired Up Studios at 1701 E. Hennepin Ave. offers basic pottery classes in four, six or eight week sessions. Classes begin in January and range from $140 for four weeks to $220 for eight weeks.

Ski season

With winter just around the corner, Minnesotans are ready to get out and play in the snow. In order to help your loved one take advantage, now may be the time to buy a cross country ski pass for Minneapolis parks.

Minneapolis parks feature over 23 miles of trails, primarily in the Theodore Wirth Recreation Area, but also at Hiawatha and Columbia golf courses.

A $45 pass gets you a full winter of unlimited use on the trails, where users can circle one of several lakes or explore the forests of Wirth Park.

If your loved one is a beginner, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board offers 90-minute weekend classes for $20. Call 370-3926

If we get a timid Minnesota winter, fear not. Wirth Park now has snowmakers that keep 1.5 miles of trail open all winter.

Passes can be purchased online, at minneapolisparks.org or at the Theodore Wirth Chalet, the Theodore Wirth Par 3 clubhouse, or at Columbia Golf Course.

If cross-country skiing isn’t your thing, Wirth also has snowboarding, tubing and snowshoeing. Visit theodorewirth.org for more information.


Support the Golden Gophers

The NBA is locked out. The Vikings are out of playoff contention. The Wild play all the way across the river in St. Paul.

There’s never been a better time to head over to the University of Minnesota to catch a Gophers game.

The men’s hockey and basketball teams are offering 3-game packages for $99. Buyers can pick thee games from three different pools of games, with each pool having a different quality of opponent.

The hockey team was 9-1 in early November and held the No. 1 national ranking in the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll.

At the same time, the men’s basketball team was preparing for its fifth season under head coach Tubby Smith. The team features on of the best big man combinations in the nation, with Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.

Best of all, the Gophers play in Williams Arena, or better known as The Barn, one of the best and most historic venues in the country.

Don’t forget, tickets are also available for other winter Gophers sporting events, including women’s hockey, gymnastics, basketball as well as wrestling.

For tickets, go to mygophersports.com or call 612-624-8080.


Urban ice fishing

It’s not Mille Lacs, but Minneapolis lakes offer walleye, northern pike and crappie within a quick drive.

For only $17, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fishing license is the gift that keeps on giving.

Minneapolis lakes have a few more restrictions than most other Minnesota lakes. Icehouses cannot be left on the lake overnight, and vehicles, ATVs and snowmobiles aren’t allowed on the ice.

But, you can bring out a portable icehouse without buying a permit. You can also use tip-ups and brave the weather.

Not sure what you’re doing? The Minnesota DNR offers several clinics. On Feb. 4, the DNR plans to hold a clinic for parents and kids at Fort Snelling State Park. Call 612-725-2389 to register.  

The Park Board recommends boat launches as entry points for ice fishing this winter.

Visit dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/fishing for more information on buying a license.

For ice safety tips, visit dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice.