Favorite Local Holiday Gifts – Day #1

Beautiful Winter Outdoor Decor on the porch at Tait Farms

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I think we only have one more night of using up turkey day remains. Thank goodness for that! I need to move on to getting ready for Christmas and I am ready to pack up the  pumpkins, Indian corn and the flashing turkey in my kitchen window  (one with twinkly lights, not a creepy  “flasher” turkey.)

In case anyone is low on ideas this year, I’m going to give a  list of my ten favorite products for gift giving or for keeping for yourself. All of my suggestions have something to do with a food or the kitchen or cooking although they are not all edible and they are in no particular order.  And I just might list even more than ten.  So many good things in Pennsylvania this year.   Today,  my pick is something – really anything –  from Tait Farms, up in Centre Hall near Penn State.   This little garden store also has the most delicious food products. Their apricot butter is great on toast, bagles or muffins, but it is equally satisfying eating right out of the jar.  Their Lemon Vinaigrette is my husband’s favorite salad dressing. Even their scone mixes and rice blends are delicious.  And the packaging is pretty. A  big plus when it comes to gifting.

When I stopped by a few weeks ago, they were setting out some adorable angels, snowmen and other wintery figures that were covered with birdseed for your backyard friends this holiday season.  These would be a perfect gift for anyone who likes to sit inside with a cup of tea and watch the birds go to town on some treats. If you’re in the State College area, drive a few miles out of town for a visit to Tait Farm.  And if you have time to spare and can use some local wine for your holiday table, the Mt Nittany Winery is just a few miles away.

If you can’t get to Tait Farms, their products are also available at Whole Foods, the Fair Food stand at Reading Terminal Market and  DiBruno Bros. in Philly, the Pounds Turkey Farm in Leechburg and a bunch of other places.  Retail locations are listed on the website.

Tait Farm

179 Tait Road
Centre Hall, PA 16828
800-787-2716 | 814-466-2386

Cape May’s Hawk Haven Wine

In July and August, the drive to Cape May from the Atlantic City Expressway can take hours of sitting in stop and go traffic. But before the crowds pour in, the drive is a breeze. A few days ago, I took advantage of a traffic free day to cruise down to the southern tip of New Jersey.

I did want to spend some time in the quaint, yet hip Victoriana that is Cape May, but really I went  to visit the Hawk Haven Vineyard and Winery,  located a few miles out  in the town of Rio Grande. I sampled  Hawk Haven wine a few months ago at a dinner in Cape May and  finally had time to visit the vineyard.  Owners Kenna and Todd Wuerker  were both there when I arrived and they chatted with me during my tasting session. I’m always intrigued by people who probably  ignored their parents suggested careers of . . .  maybe lawyer, doctor, or accountant. .  . and took a leap to pursue their actual dream job. People who have a real passion for something a little off from center. Yay for them.  So, anyway, Hawk Haven’s tasting room is woodsy and cool and the surrounding vineyard was super serene.  You can bring a picnic basket, buy a bottle of wine and sit out on the picnic table or in the vineyard to enjoy your lunch.

Since I was my own designated driver and I’m a lightweight ( in terms of alcohol tolerance only), small tastes were best for me.  Only in business selling wine for a few years, these folks seem to know exactly how to craft fine wine and how to be good businessfolks.   The young owners are eager to share their knowledge and they also have lots of fun events to bring people out to the winery. Things like special wine dinners with local chefs  or Sangria Sundays and weekly Friday Wine Bar Happy Hours. All sound like a good time.   I left with a case of a few different varieties   – American Kestrel  White,  Red Table Wine and Chardonnay. They were sold out of the Merlot, but I’ll return for some of that once it’s available. I’m no wine expert, but I really enjoyed the wine here.   I will surely be back, next time with someone else in charge of the car keys.

La Casa Narcisi

I’ve been driving past La Casa Narcisi Winery on Route 910 in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania for  literally 15 years,  sometimes twice a day back when my girls needed a  ride to their gymnastics practices. Back and forth. Back and forth. I’d glance out the car window and say to myself  “Hey, look at that” every time the winery added something new to their complex. A pavilion. A fountain. A concert area.  But I never stopped.  Yesterday, many moons after the mom-shuttle to gymnastics ended, I finally took time to check it out.  Along with the winery, there’s now a  restaurant that serves both lunch and dinner. And guess what? This place is good! Besides a large outdoor eating and entertainment area, the indoor tasting room leads upstairs to a cozy restaurant.

The copper-topped tasting area.

The menu had lots of enticing choices – pizza, flatbreads, pasta, sandwiches. But  I order grilled salmon salads everywhere I go,  and I wasn’t let down by my choice.  Besides a generous piece of salmon,  some thin spears of grilled asparagus, cubes of feta and tiny tomatoes were included, all served  with a thick tomato balsamic vinaigrette. Yum. On to dessert.  So many restaurants use  pre-made or frozen cakes and pastries because it saves time and money. Personally, they’re just not worth the calorie splurge.  But the Narcisi folks make their desserts in house.  My tiramisu was creamy and coffee-scented, just the way I like it.

Since the whole shebang started with a winery, I thought I should have a glass.   I’m as far from a  wine conneissuer as one can get, but for me,  their Deer Creek red was the perfect  easy drinking mid-day vino. And, even better, it’s the only Casa Narcisi wine that’s made totally from grapes grown on site.  Can’t get more local than that! (Over thirty different varieties of wine are bottled right next door.)

Outdoor patio at La Casa Narcisi

Next time, I’m dragging the better half here with me on a weekend when they have outdoor entertainment. We can sit outside, eating, drinking and reminiscing about all the driving back and forth we did when our kids were little.  What a great way to spend a summer night!

Philly Food – A Mouthful of Gelato and A Bit of Fermentation

The City of Brotherly Love.  Usually I only see the skyline from my car window while stuck in the eternal congestion on the Schuylkill  Expressway (aka Surekill Distressway –   sorry, just had to type that.) It’s the route I take on my way from visiting my oldest daughter on the Main Line to my fave beach town on the Jersey shore.  This week it was time to get off the highway and explore. After dropping off my bags at the pleasantly quirky  Hotel Palomar,

Copper Wall Sculpture at Hotel Palomar

I went in search of Capogiro Gelato. I read about this small batch gelato maker in Saveur magazine and in The New York Times so I had to check it out.

Capogiro Gelato Cafe at Sansom and 20th

Lucky for me, indecision always reigns, because the gelati and sorbetti  can be sampled  before your final selections.  I tried. . . Grapefruit/Campari, Burnt Sugar, Thai Coconut Milk, Sal (yes, sal means salt and it was fabulous .. so there, sodium police), Bacio (chocolate and hazelnut with bits of caramelized hazelnuts), Tangerine and Bananas Foster.  Smooth and creamy, with pure fresh flavors, this gelato was the best I’ve ever tasted.


Due to gelato overload, dinner was a few small plates and a glass of wine at a casual cafe called Tria  on the corner of Sansom and 18th near Rittenhouse Square.

Tria Cafe at 18th and Sansom Street

Tria focuses on fermentation (think cheese, wine and beer) –  one of my favorite chemical processes besides getting blond highlights and using Nair hair remover.  Their wine list is playful, with labels such as  Zippy, Smooth, Sociable, and Funky to describe categories of wine.. I chose Bold – a 2002  Mas Igneus Priorat  that tasted like  dark red cherries. Mmmmm.  I ordered Tuna and Chickpea stuffed Piquillo Peppers withParsley Garlic Oil and Warm Poached Black Mission Figs with Gorgonzola and Prosciutto. Both were delicious, but the plump, oozy figs were sweet and salty perfection.  Dessert was a small sliver of  completely unctuous Creme ux De Bourgogne, a cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy, served with a spoonful of sweet dried cherries soaked in Allegash White, a  wheat beer from Portland, Maine.  A  walk around tree lined Rittenhouse Square was necessary after dinner and before returning to The Palomar.  More in the next post about my fun foodie walking tour of Ben Franklin’s hometown.