So, say you’re someone who loves food and wants to share the spoils of the Triangle with your friends. Maybe you need to get a gift cross country to someone special. Or perhaps you just don’t know where to start. Well, I’m here to help! There are more than enough options in the area — we are spoiled, spoiled, spoiled for excellent local food in the Triangle (click on the three links for a little taste) — so I’m going to cut down the number of choices and give you a few good food-related options for taking action on that holiday gift list for friends both near and far.
Local cookbooks — The strong food scene has resulted in some great cookbooks, which are easy to ship and give. Some of the authors have multiple titles, but here are a few favorites:
- Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing – the executive chef of The Lantern (one of Gourmet’s Top 50 Restaurants in America), this book is a love affair to eating in season. The photos are worth the price of admission, alone!
- Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking, by Bill Neal – an older book with lots of classic recipes, by one of the founders of “Southern food temple” Crook’s Corner, and the man who put shrimp and grits on the nation’s culinary map
- Seasoned in the South, by Bill Smith – The other Bill behind Crook’s Corner, who took over as cook after Bill Neal. This cookbook is filled with simple, delicious, in season food. Have I mentioned that Crook’s Corner has been honored by the James Beard Foundation as one of America’s Classics?
- Mama Dip’s Kitchen, by Mildrid Council – Dip’s makes traditional country Southern soul food just off Chapel Hill’s main street, and this cookbook includes 250 of her simple dishes
- Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen, by Sara Foster – She’s the force behind Foster’s Market, which is a cafe/catering company that carries a nice selection of little foodstuffs from all over the US. This cookbook has lots of tips and recipes in the style of the new southern cooking movement
- Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, by Nancie McDermott – The one cookbook not affiliated with a restaurant (but written by a Chapel Hill native) I had to include this just because Southern desserts are so darn good. (One of my personal favorites: humming bird cake)
Stores with Restaurants (or vice versa) — This is the easiest shopping category, because you can treat yourself to lunch after crossing names off your list 😉 I’ve listed some of my personal favorites for shopping, and they make for an efficient gift-purchasing experience. Make a grab basket of local goodies to ship, get a few things around a theme, or pick up a few key foods to have on hand for hostess gifts.
- Southern Season — This Chapel Hill classic has cookware, specialty foods, a chocolate bar, prepared food, a nice restaurant, coffees galore (including many of the different roasts requested by local restaurants), specialty imports, wine, and more. The store is pretty large, so it can be a bit overwhelming and not good for a quick run-by if it’s your first time. Then again, you can get pretty much everything here (plus a few extras for yourself), it is tons of fun to browse around if you’ve got some time, and their pre-made gift baskets (they can handle the shipping) make things even simpler.
- Lin’s recommendations: head to the NC local section to make your own gift basket or buy gift certificates for one of their cooking classes, held in a professional teaching kitchen. Bundle a bag of signature blend coffee from a local restaurant (Weathervane, La Residence, Carolina Inn) with a gift certificate for that same restaurant for a fun “now and later” gift. The only things I’d note is that if you want full control over the food you send (e.g. no high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, etc.), make sure to read all the labels. Some of the old favorites are definitely not all natural.
- Parker and Otis — Whoever does the buying for P&O knows how to select gifts: the whole Durham store is filled with those splurgey luxuries that you’d never get for yourself but love to receive. A smaller selection than Southern Season, but well curated to meet a variety of giftees (e.g. the serious cook, the pet lover, the baby).
- Lin’s recommendations: Although it’s on the pricey side, check off most of the women (demographic: 30+ years old) on your list with a combination of their sweet and quirky gifts, then treat yourself with a grilled pimento cheese sandwich — my wonderful first introduction to this decadent Southern treat.
- Bull Street Gourmet & Market — Located between Chapel Hill and Durham, this store has a very tightly edited (e.g. small!) selection of food, but it is also very local, making it easy to grab-and-go. Honestly, sometimes it can be great to have fewer options to avoid choice paralysis! Location #3 of a Charleston-based chain, it’s a hybrid cafe and local goods shop, carrying wine, cheese, meat, and canned goods.
- Lin’s recommendations: Gift a bottle of Big Spoon Roasters nut butter with one of the local jams for a killer PB&J kit (bonus points if you drive the six minutes to Gugelhupf for a gorgeous loaf of bread). My last purchase was the Chapel Hill-made Blakemere Company cinnamon-spiked mixed citrus marmalade, which was eat-by-the-spoonful good. It’s located in the Hope Valley Square, which makes it even easier to run errands (plenty of parking, the post office is in the same location, and there are lots of banks and shopping close by).
- LoMo Market — Topping off our list of locations is this mobile market, “a bookmobile, but for food.” If they are at a location close to you, this could be the most convenient option of them all.
- Lin’s recommendations: Pick up some of their specialty goods for gifting, and some produce for your own kitchen. Follow them on Twitter and feel extra hip. Errands, done!
This and That Jam — You might want to gift some local flavors to friends but not want to bother with packing up and shipping delicate glass bottles. Enter This and That, a local jammery family transplanted from Brooklyn that offers a Jam of the Month club (6 or 12 months) for their small-batch, seasonal flavors. They are wonderfully kind people with great customer service and a strong social component to their mission. Tip: if your friend is local and OK with picking up their own jam, it’s much cheaper than paying for shipping.
I’ve gifted the 6 month subscription and have heard nothing but raves about the delicious, unique flavors and just how joyful it is to get a new jar every month. One friend was in New Orleans and the first shipment arrived just before Hurricane Isaac hit — two of them survived happily on nothing but jam and toast for days till the jar ran out — I think that’s a pretty strong recommendation!
Cackalacky Sauce — I’ve been meaning to do a post on this deliciousness for over a year. For my non-locals, Cackalacky is a nickname for North Carolina, and is the namesake for this Chapel Hill-made hot sauce with a base of North Carolinian sweet potatoes. It has heat, depth, and flavor, and oddly enough makes /everything/ taste better. This is my go-to gift when I visit friends out of town: the small bottle is ~$5 (great on the grad school budget), available at plenty of local places, has a goofy name, is nicely local, and easy enough to bring when traveling. So far on my watch, bottles of Cackalacky has made it to Connecticut, Iowa, California, Washington DC, Boston, and even Australia, among other places. One of my friends finished his 5 oz bottle in 1.5 days, so the next time I saw him I handed over a liter bottle of the good stuff.
Counter Culture Coffee — Order some bags of internationally acclaimed, single origin, sustainably produced coffee, roasted right here in Durham, NC. An easy upgrade is to gift their 3- to 6-month bean subscriptions. I’ve found Counter Culture beans brewed in coffeeshops across the US, and it always makes me smile to see a delicious bit of home while out and about. And hey, if you’re free on a Friday morning, take their free coffee cupping and learn more about the beans and what they do!
Personalized dishtowels — So, this one takes a little more legwork, so you’ll have to act fast, but the rewards are fantastic. Durham-based printer Spoonflower takes your own images and prints them on linen-cotton canvas. Blogger Emma from Hello Beautiful scanned in family recipes to make beautiful tea towels with personal history. Even if you can’t sew, it would be easy to send these off to a local seamstress for a few straight seams.
Do you have any favorite local gifts? Please share!