I'm writing this column a few days before Thanksgiving, and I can smell my neighbor's wood burning in her fireplace. It's cold and dark, but inside my home it's warm and cozy as the sound of our old baseboard heaters kicks in.
This is one of my favorite times of year: the anticipation of the holidays, which can sometimes be more fulfilling than the big days themselves. If you're like me and are a confirmed holiday junkie, I probably don't have to tell you that one of the best places to sit and absorb the spirit is Parker & Otis, 112 S. Duke St.
Owner Jennings Brody works hard to make sure the large, open space brims with holiday cheer. She shows some restraint and waits until after Thanksgiving to put out the Christmas goodies. But a few weeks before Thanksgiving things of a wintry, harvesty nature began filling the store, not to mention the pumpkin latte made available at the coffee bar.
After the turkey, there will always be Christmassy music playing, and a vanilla cinnamon latte will tempt coffee drinkers. Saturdays in December there will be food tastings throughout the day, with a special holiday wine tasting Dec. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. - think sparkling and pinot noir.
Since opening over three years ago, Parker & Otis has focused not only on confections, beer and wine, and fresh breakfast and luncheon items, but also on a myriad of non-perishable edibles like sauces, mixes, and toppings. Brody has always offered gift-basket services, where one can fill a basket (choosing from one of the woven baskets or colorful tins, many in holiday colors) and only pay for the items and the basket itself. There is no wrapping charge, and no minimums.
In recent months, Brody has introduced more "inedibles," most with a foodie or local theme. Think chic baby bibs, stationery with pigs on them, funky cookbooks and wine accessories.
For the holidays, Brody is stocking reindeer-themed appetizer plates, scented candles that literally smell like pine and Fraser firs, Christmas cards featuring red and green pigs smooching, and penguin-shaped maple syrup bottles complete with their own winter hats to go with the Stonewall Kitchen pumpkin pancake and waffle mix.
Other holiday treats include boxes of Moravian cookies in new flavors like chocolate-dipped and spicy ginger.
And there is a load of special winter beer, like Flying Dog's Seasonal K-9 Winter Ale, and Highlands's Cold Mountain Winter Ale. Pair those with some North Carolina peanuts and a black bear-shaped bottle opener, and you have a manly gift basket ready for the hard-to-shop-for males in your life.BEER TASTINGS:
Speaking of beer: If beer tastings are more your speed, then you might want to take up Charlie and Diana Deal on their two-night "beer-geek cage match."
The owners of Jujube in Chapel Hill, and Dos Perros in Durham, will be comparing seasonal beers from craft breweries, including Highland's Cold Mountain Winter Ale, made in Asheville, against the Asian and Mexican menus at both restaurants. The Jujube dinner will take place Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., and Dos Perros will be the following night, same time. Both dinners cost $42, plus tax and tip. Call 956-2750 to make your reservation.TEA WITH LEE:
If tea is more to your taste, then "Tea with Lee" is sure to sate your palette for tea, Tuscan cuisine and charity. The annual event, hosted by writer Lee Smith, benefits the Women's Center of Chapel Hill and takes place this year at the Foster's Market on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Thursday, Dec. 3. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at www.womenspace.org
of by phoning 968-4610.
Each year, Lee invites a North Carolina woman writer to do a reading of her work, and this year will feature Durham resident Frances Mayes, author of "Under the Tuscan Sun." Autographed books by Lee and Mayes will be for sale, and proceeds from book and ticket sales will go to the center. Sara Foster will cater the event, with an antipasto including prosciutto and salami, grilled peppers, cheese, olives, breadsticks and focaccia drizzled with olive oil Mayes and her husband produce in Tuscany.
"I for one am totally thrilled that Frances Mayes will bethe guestatourannualtea," said Lee. "This brilliant writer will offer us plenty of 'food for thought.'"WINTER MARKET:
The Durham Farmers Market, located in the pavilion in Durham Central Park, will return to its winter hours Saturday, Dec. 5 and will only be open from 10 a.m. to noon. Market Manager Erin Kauffman expects to see a good variety of produce through the winter as well as meats, eggs, cheeses, breads, pies, other baked good and preserves.