If beads were edible, we suspect we would be considered morbidly obese at this point. Our insatiable appetite for the latest in jewelry-making components has even driven us to brave the wilds of the world-renowned Tucson Gem and Mineral Show every February for days on end. When the show is over, we pine for the high quality and good deals we've gotten there. To sustain us until next February, we hit AZ Gems in Tempe, a relative newcomer to the bead-store scene in the Valley.

This place is actually a wholesale importing business that's open to the public, and the prices reflect the wholesale aspect. We found beautiful turquoise, coral, rainbow fluorite, labradorite, amethyst, tourmaline, serpentine, jasper, amber, aquamarine and other semi-precious gemstone beads there in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes, and at prices that come close to the ones we get at the big gem shows. But be sure to follow proper "bead etiquette" when at AZ Gems, or Cye, the mountain man/prospector from Oregon who's the manager, will not be happy with the resulting mayhem you create. Cye will walk you through exactly what you should and should not do to organize your purchases, e.g., it's an absolute no-no to pull a strand of beads from a group of them without first holding on to the top of the hank (that's bead talk) and gently pulling your chosen strand away from the bunch. Hey, we know, but it's a small price to pay for the quality and prices you get at this place.

Scrapbooks Etc.
Locally owned Scrapbooks Etc. provides a haven for both serious and novice scrappers, all of whom walk around in a joyful haze amid the store's extensive -- and we do mean extensive -- selection of scrapbook- and album-making supplies. You'll find printed and solid-color papers of every conceivable hue and weight (including vellum and heavy cardstock), as well as punches, scissors, glue sticks, idea books, organizers, die cuts, stickers, and embellishments galore. Another plus is the store's scrapping classes. If there's not one in session when you stop by, you can visit the workshop at the back of the store and use the on-site tools to assemble individual pages or an entire album. We recommend calling ahead to make sure that the "open lab" is not full.
The Paper Studio
Phoenix still doesn't have a chapter of the Church of Craft -- the campy club that's popped up in other cities, devoted to, you guessed it, the art of craft. (Check it out at www.churchofcraft.org -- start a chapter here and we promise you a Best of Phoenix next year!)

But we've got better -- we've got Cindy and Gary Iverson, and the Paper Studio. This wonderful gallery/shop/school opened quietly this year, and we couldn't believe it when we popped in on a hot Saturday afternoon. The beautiful space, just across the street from the Tempe Library, is friendly to paper artists from scrapbookers to bookmakers -- a wide range. Cindy, who has an MFA in book arts, teaches a range of classes, from paper pouring (you literally mix and pour the pulp that will become handmade paper) to scrapbook-making. Gary teaches a variety of binding courses, and other local artists round out the schedule with classes like Polaroid transfers.

One of the nicest things about the Paper Studio is that it doesn't look down on scrapbookers but also doesn't stock a bunch of cheesy stickers. If you don't want to get too involved, you can buy beautiful stationery for a few bucks. Or you can have invitations printed for you.

The Iversons will even host a private party for you, with your choice of guests, teacher and class. Phoenix may not have the Church of Craft, but paper people still have a lot to be grateful for!

ABC Cake Decorating Supplies
We're not so good at decorating cakes, but we do love the boxes they come in. Not sure why, maybe it's a throwback to too many trips to Karsh's Bakery with Mom, back in the day. In any case, we go crazy for pink bakery boxes, and we've found the place to buy them: ABC. From cupcake-tiny to extra large sheet cake, you can fill your wishes, then go home and fill your boxes. We use ours to wrap gifts, but if you do want to bake a cake to put in yours, the kind folks at ABC can help you out there, too.
Misplaced your crème brûlée torch, or desperately seeking a salt pig? Kitchen Classics is the place for you. This store (you can also order online) is well known around town as the place to go for hard-to-find kitchen supplies. From high-end specialties to everyday spatulas, you can find it here, or, if you can't find it, the staff will help you. Kitchen Classics also has a great reputation for its cooking classes, which run from chips and dips to sweet and savory cheesecakes. Novices are welcome: Try Japanese Made Easy or Cake 101. Bon appétit!
La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
Anyone who laments Phoenix as a minefield of strip malls needs to head straight to the southwest corner of 40th Street and Campbell Avenue, to see what Kris and Craig DeMarco have done. Sure, they had a big shell of a former post office, which is now the wine bar Postino, but they also spearheaded the groovy makeover of the strip mall that fronts Postino with the corner market La Grande Orange. There's no hint of the grungy convenience store that stood in that spot for years; now you can get everything from fresh flowers to freshly baked English muffins at the Big O, as the locals call it. Next door, LGO serves its signature pizza, and a few feet down, Tammie Coe bakes her beautiful cakes and Paper Joy cranks out wonderful invites.

This corner is testament to what a few creative minds -- and more than a few well-placed dollars -- can do.

Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
If some wine lists are like poems or short stories, then Kazimierz World Wine Bar's list is like reading a Russian novelist of old -- like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. You're not going to finish it in one sitting. As Yoda might say, overwhelmed you will be. After all, the list is made up of 2,600 wines from 40 countries, with 225 varietals represented. Prices range from less than $10 for a glass to upward of $4,400 per bottle, and there are plenty of lovely noshes to partake of while you imbibe. Nuts and cheese, if you wish only a nibble. Or Egyptian flatbread pizzas if you need something more substantial. Kazimierz shares its wine cellar with Cowboy Ciao and Sea Saw, and with this sort of largess, why shouldn't it? The whole thing is set up like some medieval speakeasy, with faux rock walls, a wooden roof, and a "secret" entrance in the back. Deep couches and dim lighting make for romantic interludes with that special cork dork in your life. And even if you don't know your Beaujolais from your Ripple, Kazimierz is still a sweet place to kick it.
Whole Foods Market
Be it from cow, goat, sheep, yak, llama or any other milkable mammal, we crave cheese in all its fat-laden, smelly grandeur. From mild-mannered Monterey Jack, Gruyère, Gouda and Havarti to rock-on Roquefort, Castello, Brie and Manchego, we can't get enough of the stuff, so it's a good thing we're near a Whole Foods Market, where the selection is nothing less than a veritable United Nations of Cheeses.

And since Whole Foods is admittedly dedicated to high-quality, mostly organic comestibles, both its imported and domestic cheeses contain no artificial flavors or colors or synthetic preservatives, be they from the wilds of Wisconsin, the plains of Spain or the frigid fjords of Scandinavia. We've found it hard to choose from all the artisanal cheeses this place offers -- those specialty cheeses of limited production that may include flavorings such as herbs, spices, fruits and nuts, like cabra al vino, which literally translated means Drunken Goat. It's a hard-to-find Spanish goat cheese from the province of Murcia dunked in red wine and aged to tangy perfection, almost always available here.

Best of all, Whole Foods likes cheese shopping for its customers to be risk-free, so you can ask for a little nibble of that triple-crème Camembert or the $16-a-pound Basque country Idiazabal before you commit yourself to spending beaucoup bucks for a pound of it.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A STILL ALMOST WRITHING WILD ALASKAN SALMON

Alaska Family Salmon

Once you've tasted real wild salmon, you can't ever go back to those sea spuds of the deep -- you know, the tasteless, fatty, red-food-coloring-added, farm-raised variety that swim lazily around in their pens doing the backstroke and munching on prefab fish-food pellets. And we've found just the place where you can get the wild stuff all year long: Alaska Family Salmon.

A fourth-generation, family-owned and -operated fishing business based in Alaska, this store's wiggly offerings are pulled in, fussin' and fightin', from Cook Inlet, where it meets the Kenai River, and flown to Phoenix either fresh or flash frozen within eight hours, depending on the season. It's firm, real, salmon-colored, delectable fish flesh, from pristine, virtually contaminant-free cold waters. No antibiotics. No pens. Just good-tastin' fish for grilling, poaching or sushi making.

Besides fresh, fresh-frozen and smoked king and sockeye salmon fillets and whole fish, Alaska Family Salmon also carries fresh halibut, wild Alaska king crab, scallops and razor clams. And you can't beat the prices here with a stick or a fishing pole.

BEST PLACE TO BUY BREAD FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T EAT IT

Gluten Free for You

Gluten Free for You
For the one in every 133 people who suffers from genetic autoimmune gluten intolerance in one form or another, jokes about the Texas Two-Step and Montezuma's Revenge are not particularly funny. Nor is the fact that these people can't ingest any grain product containing gluten (including wheat, rye and barley) without suffering even more severe consequences, like intestinal damage, joint pain, unwelcome weight loss and malnutrition.

Relief for the gluten-intolerant has come to town. Gluten Free for You, co-owned by Kris Anderson and Tom Rich (who himself is gluten-intolerant), specializes in bread, pasta and cracker products that are guaranteed gluten-free. Not only does it carry ready-made foods made from rice, potato, soy, tapioca and bean flour, but it also stocks mixes for making bakery items, including wheat- and gluten-free cakes and muffins. Gluten Free for You also maintains a convenient Web site, from which you can buy its products by mail order.

We can't imagine a world without pizza, bagels, ice cream cones or cookies; now celiac sufferers in Phoenix don't need to live in one.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of