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Holiday Gift Guide 

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Exchange Stuff

You don't need cash to get into the holiday spirit at Buffalo Exchange! Instead, trade in those duds you haven't worn for months and emerge with brandnew gifts! And Buffalo Exchange gift certificates are always the right size. The cornucopia of brand-new Buffalo Exchange merch just waiting for you includes:

Decadent candles poured in Asian-inspired glass votives and scented with the likes of warm sake, umoboshi plum, and wasabi pear (under $20)
Pop-culture-inspired car air fresheners from Loop (under $5)
Painted bead curtains ($15-$60) and Asian-motif tapestries and curtains (under $25)
Lapel pins from Portland artist Rachel Starkweather made of vintage schoolbooks and cutesy characters (under $2)

For the aspiring bartender on your list: cocktail and party books ($10-20), retro glassware (sets under $20, singles under $5), swizzle sticks (sets $10 & under), and metallic martini shakers (about $5)
Shower mats shaped like steaks (under $15)
Plush tissue box covers ($10-$20), including a skunk with tissues coming from his ... um ... rear. - JLM
For local store locations, phone numbers, and hours, visit buffaloexchange.com. Please call stores to confirm pricing and availability.

Half-Priced Gifts

Some of the best bargains in town can be found at One Half, a treasure trove of a gift shop in Polk Gulch. As its name indicates, everything on the premises has been reduced in price to one-half its retail value, but the merchandise isn't decrepit or irregular or even second-rate. Luxury bath items, coffee table books, up-to-date Zagats, elegant barware, CDs, greeting cards, and classy little stocking stuffers are among the widely eclectic offerings, and the turnover is continual, so you never know what you might find. Browse the packed-yet-neatly-organized shelves and tables and you're bound to come across something for just about everyone on your list. - MS
1837 Polk (at Jackson), 775-1416

Home Bakery

Winter is that genetically encoded time of year when we lumber into the cave, rub two sticks together, and nest -- even here in San Francisco, where snow is a distant rumor and the wind chill factor is pretty much identical to the Fourth of July's. During these bone-chilling 57-degree mornings, it's nice to awaken to the warm 'n' cozy aroma of baking bread. Williams-Sonoma's premium breadmaker is simplicity itself: you throw in the ingredients, set the timer for the wakeup call of your choice, and the next morning you'll think the Pillsbury Doughboy has dropped in for a visit. The included recipe booklet offers a variety of spicy and savory bread-baking options - the ideal gift for the leisure-living gourmand. - MS
$150; 340 Post (at Stockton), 362-9450, www.williams-sonoma.com.

Panettone of Perfection

One of the banes of the holiday season is fruitcake, that dense, heavy, sickly sweet excuse for a hostess gift that's only barely redeemed by its alcoholic content. Revolutionize your Christmas by bestowing in its place an exquisite panettone, a contrastingly light and lovely example of the bread baker's art. A bare minimum of candied fruit is sprinkled into a rich, yeasty dough that rises and billows out of its traditional paper girdle as it bakes. Sliced, toasted, and spread with butter, with a wedge of sharp cheese on the side, it's an absolutely ambrosial breakfast-time treat. - MS
For local store locations, phone numbers, $6; Boudin Bakery, 156 Jefferson (at Taylor), 928-1849, www.boudinbakery.com.

Personal Barista

The beans have been ground, the water heated, the coffee brewed, and the results are in. Coffee lovers all over are dishing the tea on what could be the greatest home-brewed coffee gift ever. Starbucks definitely strikes gold with their latest Barista Digital Italia espresso machine, and macchiato-drinking fans adore them for it. As any true coffee connoisseur would know, if you build a better brewer, the world will beat a caffeinated path to your door. - AG
$900, available at Starbucks, www.starbucks.com.

Stuff for Stockings

The stocking stuffer is a conundrum unto itself: while it has to fit into your basic scarlet size-14 double-wide, in content it must surprise and delight beyond its minimalist proportions. Solution: those whimsical yet utilitarian 4" x 3" x 1" do-it-yourself box kits that contain everything you need to do just about anything. Our favorites include the Hula Dancing box (lei, finger cymbals, instructional booklet, and a flower for tucking behind your ear); the Tea for Two box (two miniature tea balls, saucer, honey dripper, and recipe book); the Black Velvet box (paints, three tiny black velvet canvases, and a step-by-step guide to drawing a bullfighter); and the Office Voodoo box (doll, pins, and booklet of workplace-appropriate curses). - SC
$6 each; available at Russian Hill Bookstore, 2234 Polk (at Green), 929-0997.


"Must Give" Gifts

Holiday Candle Set

From the Italian city that introduced to the world to Verdi, Correggio, and kick-ass pork product prosciutto, comes another gem, the Holiday Candle Set -- four long-burning scented candles bearing Acqua di Parma's highly recognizable classic fragrance. With a century of experience in the fragrance business and meticulous attention to detail, Acqua di Parma is timeless, stylish and sophisticated. Its complex scent of Sicilian citrus fruits and essences of lavender, rosemary, verbena, and Bulgarian roses has been noted by discriminating sniffers everywhere from L.A.'s swank Chateau Marmont Hotel to the Polo Lounge. This elegant, upscale gift set is the perfect gift for the pickiest people on your list. - CP
$85 at Neiman Marcus, 150 Stockton St., 362-3900, www.neimanmarcus.com.

Homey Pillows

Sometimes, it's the little things that can really turn a ho-hum space into a home. For example, some good, comfy pillows. Heeding the call for good living, Bay Area native Jennifer Jones launched Nichë early this year. Since then, her handcrafted decorative pillows have been flying off the shelves of S.F.'s trendiest boutiques and into the homes of decorating divas. Her fall collection is marked by retro color and fabric combinations including an earthy leaf design crafted from cotton twill, felt appliqué, and embroidery; and a shabby chic grosgrain, satin, bric-a-brac, and sequin design. Look for Nichë at the next Appel and Frank shopping event December 8 at the Regency Center (www.appelandfrank.com). - CP
$30-$55 at Lounge, 2162 Polk St. (563-2220); Picnic, 1808 Polk St. (346-6556); Ruby, 3602 20th St. (550-8052); or Sugar, 912 Sutter St. (409-6262); www.nichesf.com.

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