side by side photos of wooden spoons and a bonsai plant
All Photos: Joel Benjamin
Business & Entrepreneurship

The Scoop!
The best holiday gifts & year-end giving ideas from Brown alums

By Kerry Lachmann, Pippa Jack, and Louise Sloan ’88 / November–December 2022
October 25th, 2022

These hand-carved maple and cherry wooden spoons (above, left) were headed, in the form of split logs, to the Vermont wood stove of John Robohm ’64 when their interesting grain or texture caught his eye. “Rather than burn them, I take them to my woodshop to see what I can make from them,” he says. Every year, Robohm says, they burn four cords of wood gathered from their 100-acre property. That’s a lot of potential spoons (he makes wooden hooks as well), and as the spoons’ popularity took off the whole family pitched in to scale up operations. Their son handles web design while daughter Susan Robohm ’93 does photos and John’s wife handles shipping and customer service.

$20-$50 for handcrafted spoons or paddles; 10% off with code

Matthew Puntigam ’04 grew up surrounded by a white pine forest, and trees have been part
of his life’s “defining moments,” he says. As a student in the city, Puntigam started growing bonsai (above, right) on his fire escape and once they’d formed a bit of a forest, he started sharing them with friends. “At one point I had over 100 bonsai on my bedroom floor,” he remembers. The art major sees gardening as a canvas, and caring for bonsai as a ritual that is “itself the beauty and art.” It’s also a vehicle for learning and maintaining mental health, he says, explaining: “results take time (patience), things change (surrender), they die (acceptance), and curiosity and care result in beautiful forms

$55+ potted bonsai; 10% off with code BonsaiBears15

photo of Ghia bottle and cocktail

Melanie Masarin ’12 knows all too well how society makes abstinence a herculean task. Not only are alcoholic beverages central to so much of adult socialization, but their mocktail alternatives are often cloying and childish. That’s why, in 2020, she started Ghia, which is redefining sophisticated drinking with its flagship non-alcoholic apéritif. The flavor profile, inspired by Masarin’s half-French, half-Italian background, is bitter and herbal but also fruity and floral, incorporating gentian root, yuzu, elderflower, and more. Similar drinks like Amaro and Campari use alcohol to extract botanical aromas, but Ghia spent a year and a half of development to ensure everyone, including expecting mothers and those in recovery, can enjoy. The apéritif also takes advantage of nervines, herbs like lemon balm that have a calming effect on the nervous system. Informed by her work as creative director at Adam Eskin ’03’s Dig Inn restaurants, Masarin also designed Ghia with quality sourcing and sustainability in mind. The company ships nationwide and a carbon-neutral option should be available by the end of the year.

Masarin’s favorite way to drink the apéritif is simple: add some sparkling or tonic water, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprig of something green. For sweeter palates, the “one part Ghia, two part bubbles” formula works with kombucha, ginger beer, and a variety of fruit juices; cocktail recipes are available on the Ghia website.

The startup also recently launched a line of spritzes for an even easier drinking experience. Each can highlights the signature Ghia taste in one of three flavors: plain soda, ginger, and lime and salt. Meant as a ready-to-drink version of the apéritif, the spritzes are like a mixed cocktail, not a seltzer, so be prepared for it to pack a flavor punch. If you’re interested in tasting (or gifting) both the bottled apéritif and the spritzes, they’re available together in the first sip kit, which even includes the brand’s own “really fancy pour spout.”

From her days as general manager of Brown’s dining services, Masarin has understood the importance of intentional dietary choices. In terms of the sober lifestyle, she says, “It’s important to try what works for you without feeling like you have to label it.” She hopes Ghia supports consumers in however they choose to drink. As they say in the streets of Lyon, santé!—Ethan Pan ’22

$38-$75 plus $7 for “really pretty edible flowers”

Photos of four gift guide items

Clockwise from top left:

This handmade stool funds woodworking training, paid employment, and more for people in L.A. experiencing extreme poverty. Would Works codirector Lee Buchanan ’00 made the first stool in 2018 for board chair Daniela Gerson ’00 and her twins. Solid pickled ash, 8”H, 16'W, 9”D. Light assembly required. (See Would Works in our 2019 Gift Guide)


When he’s not making spoons (see top) or repairing electric fence chargers, John Robohm ’64 makes these hardwood hooks from the forks of upper tree branches. They are air-dried in a barn for two years, then carved.

$25-$40; 10% off with code BAM10%

“Cross a richly illuminated medieval manuscript with an insider’s map of Manhattan, and you get the ‘Iconic New York Illuminated’ poster” says Gregory Gross, ’89 AM, ’94 PhD. Gross dedicates this poster to his mentor in medieval literature, Professor Emerita Elizabeth Kirk.

$175/$200 signed by the artist; 20% off with code BRUNO20 through 1/15/23

These puffs are part of a line of organic, allergen-free baby food, made with “superfood veggies” and designed by nutritionists and James Beard–winning chefs. Angela Sutherland ’05 jumped from investment banking to launch this success.

$3-$4.45/meal; 50% off first week of subscription with code BROWN50. 

Photos of four gift guide items

Clockwise from top left:

The doctor is IN, with this bright miniature doctor’s bag in hand-cut leather. “I take flower power seriously” says maker Clare Frost ’06, who lived in Istanbul full-time for nine years. Her bags are handmade by master artisans in Istanbul, Turkey.

$165; 15% off with code EVERTRUE15

A copper and sterling cylinder with resin-sealed lichen and chaga mushrooms hangs from an oxidized 18” sterling chain. Lucy Niebruegge Golden ’83 started making jewelry in a secret-panel room in the Carberry Coop. The semiotics concentrator is now in N.H. helping others connect to nature through her art.

$64; 15% off with code

Rodeo Jax caramel popcorn substitutes hand-smoked black-pig bacon for peanuts, but didn’t forget the prize (in our bag, a temporary tattoo). Duskie Estes ’90 of Zazu Kitchen fame and husband John Stewart cooked up Black Pig Meat Co., producing fine bacon (see below) and this “crack of snacks.”

$28.50/three 5-oz bags 

Give Ritual Coffee Roasters’ “Three’s a Charm” gift pack and hope that a sip will transport your recipient the way a shot of espresso once did with Eileen Hassi Rinaldi ’99. She found her calling with that drink and her entrepreneurial gumption in Engin 9/90, launching Ritual in 2005.

$59.95/three 12 oz. bags; 15% off with code josiah_carberry

Photo of bacon on a tray

When Guy Fieri endorses your bacon as the best he’s ever had, it may be time to rest on your laurels. But that’s just not in the mise for Duskie Estes ’90, a former vegetarian whose Insta handle now includes the title Queen of Pork. Like Suzanne Goin ’88, Estes honed her skills at Al Forno during her Brown years, then hopped around, including stints as a chef on a Nantucket yacht and as caterer for a Grateful Dead tour. Since 2001, she and husband John Stewart have had two children and opened and closed two acclaimed restaurants; they now run the Black Piglet food truck, while Estes went two seasons on Iron Chef and is now executive director of anti-hunger nonprofit Farm to Pantry. But it’s their Black Pig Meat Co. that brings their Slow Food In Sonoma County approved products to non–Golden Staters, from Lip Lardo Lip Balm to Bacon Toffee Lollipops to the delectable rashers above. Check out BAM’s 2009 story “Roadhouse Warrior” for Estes’s Asparagus Carbonara with Black Pig Bacon recipe and take a trip to lardon nirvana.

$53.50/3 12 oz. packs bacon

Photo of block-printed napkins

Sunday Monday is a phrase used in India to indicate the duality of textiles, since the country’s textiles are often reversible, with a different pattern or color on each side. It’s also the name of a textile business started in 2017 by Nisha Mirani ’10, the daughter of Gujarati immigrants, and Brendan Kramer ’10 (the pair have been together since bonding over a shared love of art at Brown). “Our designs are informed by our respective Indian and Japanese heritages,” they report, “and we love to explore the many overlaps in textile creation, such as shibori and indigo.” Prepandemic, annual trips to India to visit family helped them cement relationships with fifth-generation block printers (WhatsApp sufficed in COVID times); the artisans use hand-carved wood blocks, natural fibers, and traditional nontoxic dyes and set their own wages and working hours. Simple yet elegant napkins, table runners, and bandanas are dried in the fierce Rajasthani sun—production halts during the monsoon—and the runoff irrigates a family farm. It’s all “a nod to the culture of resourcefulness we inherited and aim to uphold.”

$30-$80; 15% off with code Brown15

Photos of four gift guide items

Clockwise from top left:

Pride and Prejudice was the catalyst. Barbara Heller ’84 wanted so powerfully to read the 19 letters mentioned in the text that she decided to create them. Historically accurate, interactive yet refreshingly low-tech editions of Little Women and Persuasion followed; look for Anne of Green Gables next. A bookworm’s dream gift.


Seeking a tangible way to capture the most inspiring conversations from her podcast Speaking Broadly, former Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin ’82 found herself turning to the medium she thought she’d left behind: paper. The resulting beautifully printed zine is a fun, expertly curated, compellingly thoughtful mix of essays, inspo, travel, games, and recipes.


Let’s be real, buying diamonds is complicated. Not so those grown in a lab, which inspired Responsible Jewellery Council Vice Chair Chikashi Miyamoto ’90 to design a line of jewelry that includes these slinky little serpent rings. Each sports a full quarter carat on bands of stainless steel or rose gold.

$640-$860; 20% off with code BAM2220

A semester in Spain made Becca Millstein ’16 appreciate the delish convenience of traditional conservas, or tinned seafood. Come May 2020, she found herself missing those easy, healthy meals, so she created a U.S. equivalent. Seasonal treats include sardines, smoked tuna, and smoked trout.

$33/3 cans; 10% off with code FISHWIFEBRUNO15

Photos of four gift guide items

Clockwise from top left:

When her dog Fatty got sick but the vet had no answers, Amy Huynh ’08 put him on an elimination diet and realized that the overprocessed food and treats she’d been buying were the problem. The one-time Brown Bear Cubby got to work, and now your pet can try real-food treats, too.

$15-22/bag; buy 2, get 1 at 35% off with code BROWN2008

This shorter take on a traditional Indian paneled skirt, or chaniya, boasts hand-woven tussar silk with a block printed flower design by Clare Frost ’06. “I love chaniya because the body itself gives the shape,” she says. “So much clothing gives shape that the body then has to fit into. I like this way better!”

$320; 15% off with code EVERTRUE15

Diana Perkins ’20, Chloe Rosenberg ’20, and Hannah Mintz ’10, ’20 MAT designed this collapsible lap bag with and for public health Professor Sarah Skeels for a capstone project. But the design made testers’ lives so much easier that “we couldn’t stop because the semester was over; the LapSnap needed to exist.”

$150; $10 off with code BROWN10

Gamer Elizabeth Hargrave ’94 wondered: Why aren’t there games about things I find interesting? Years of playtesting later, her scientifically accurate Wingspan, featuring 170 cards with hand-painted birds and engine-building gameplay, is a bestseller.

$65.00; 10% off with code BROWNALUM ending the day before Thanksgiving

Photo of pickled items

When Dan Rosenberg ’98 launched Real Pickles in 2001, fermented foods were not a trend. But now that we know more about our gut microbiomes, the former geology/biology concentrator looks clairvoyant. His dill pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi “are produced using a traditional fermentation process that had been largely replaced with the advent of the industrial food system by methods involving vinegar and pasteurization,” he says. “I was interested in helping to bring these healthy foods back into the American diet, and in promoting regional food systems and organic agriculture.” Real Pickles are now in more than 600 stores, but Rosenberg has stuck to his vision of sourcing and selling regionally; all veggies are grown organically on Northeast family farms and are sold from Maine to Pennsylvania. After seeing peer natural food companies sell out to corporations—social missions toppling along the wayside—he and wife Addie Rose Holland converted their business into a worker cooperative in 2013.

$60/any 4 jars, $135/any 12; 10% off with code BROWN22

icon illos for non profit listing
Illustration: Raymond Biesinger
Nonprofit Giving Options

So many Brown alums (and students) start nonprofits that it’s hard to keep up with the opportunities for giving. We’re highlighting a sampling here and keeping a longer list online here.

One of the founders of National Voter Registration Day, Andy Bernstein ’94 cofounded HeadCount, which since 2004 has registered over 1,000,000 voters. “Participation Row,” an activism village where concert attendees have taken over 100,000 socially-conscious actions, has raised nearly $1.5 million for various music-industry charities.

As a peer educator at Brown, Francesca Raoelison ’22 learned that verbal abuse is real abuse—and often increases to physical violence. Back in her native Madagascar, she founded  an anti-abuse nonprofit that trains adults and teaches schoolchildren (age 6-12) about emotional awareness and healthy relationships in hopes of preventing and reducing abuse and domestic violence.

It’s one of the country’s most important civil rights landmarks, but Selma is also one of Alabama’s poorest cities, with 41% of residents living in poverty. Foot Soldiers Park and Education Center—Becca Schulman Havemeyer ’99 is board chair; JoAnne Bland, who survived Bloody Sunday as a young girl, is founder—seeks to preserve the city’s civil rights history while sparking economic revitalization and preparing the next generation of activists. Nikole Hannah-Jones, Tarana Burke, and LaTosha Brown are some of the luminaries involved.

“Have you ever felt uncomfortable coming away from a horse expo?” asks Best Horse Practices Summit. “We have, too. So we created a conference of substance.” Maddy Butcher ’88 directs this nonprofit, which has held conferences in Colorado, Maine, and Kentucky that bring equine researchers into horsemanship circles to highlight practical and academic strategies for improving horses’ lives.

Global Citizens Circle believes that if we could just talk—really talk—the world would be a better place. President and ED Theo Spanos Dunfey ’83 says that since 1974, “the Circle has encouraged highly participatory, spirited conversations on race relations in the U.S., Northern Ireland’s troubles, South Africa’s struggles, children, families and community, homelessness, nuclear proliferation, the AIDS pandemic, China’s labor camps, Haiti and Cuba, and women’s rights.”

Connor Fox ’21 lost his father Sean to liposarcoma in 2021. He and friends Ben Baranker ’21 and Tommy Hale ’21 had already cofounded the Hope Street Foundation—named for their digs in Providence—and, through their Lacrosse for Life head shaving challenge in April, raised more than $1 million for sarcoma research. Previously they raised $2 million for  Boston Children’s Hospital.

Transcend is a K-12 educational nonprofit that aims not to start charter schools but to work with existing schools to create community-driven change in school design—and believes that this moment of building back after the pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity for innovation. Jeffrey Wetzler ’96 cofounded; Transcend has now brought its extensive toolkit and iterative partnership model to more than 300 schools in 30 states.

“We cannot have true peace without right relations with the land and the water,” believed Suzanne Golas, one of the Congregation of Sisters of St Joseph of Peace (CSJP). She founded Waterspirit, a CSJP ministry, to create spiritually inclusive ecological programming, from webinars to online book clubs and support groups, that “encourage personal transformations that lead to long-term, regenerative environmental activism.” Blair Nelsen ’06 became ED of the New Jersey-based nonprofit in 2019.

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Related Issue
November–December 2022