Back to Basics

There’s so much concern these days about finding local, organic, seasonal, sustainable, free-range, free-trade, sulfite-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, nonprocessed, whole-grain, grass-fed foods that obsessive “foodies” across the country are beginning to grow their own fruits and vegetables just to make sure they’re getting exactly what they want.  Led by the Michael Pollans and Alice Waters’ of the world, a food-crazed army is joining together to wage a culinary revolution.  Though I find this kind of vice-like control over your food to be both a little insane and very pretentious, I have somehow joined their ranks.

Like any other cult, they sucked me in not by appealing to my logic, but to my fear.  Overblown (though not irrational) terror about food security and instability has caused me to pick up my rake and enlist with the histrionic hordes.

It all started so innocently with just a small basil plant in the kitchen and a few patio tomatoes.  Now, around my apartment in various pots, I have parsley, rosemary, mint, basil, onions, and a pumpkin vine.  And I have recently joined in on the biggest trendy, hipster, “foodie” cliche of all…the community garden.  (By the way, I could probably write an entire cultural critique about how everything my grandmother does is now popular again: knitting, gardening, drinking straight gin…okay, that hasn’t really hit yet, but, trust me, it’s on the way).

Now, despite my hesitation about been grouped in with all the other food snobs, I am really excited about my garden!  It’s actually a great program through the AgriLife Extension, where you agree to attend four classes a year on gardening and donate half of what you grow to the North Texas Food Bank.   In exchange you get about 30 square feet of do with as you choose (as long as what you plant is edible…and legal).   This summer, I hope to grow radishes, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, and okra.

I’m one month in and I’ve already planted the cold-weather crops, the radishes, spinach, and broccoli.  The excitement over seeing seeds I have sown pop green little shoots out and morph into something I recognize is extraordinary.  When the spinach first came up, it just looked like a few blades of ordinary grass.  One week later, the leaves are beginning to take on a recognizable oval shape.  It’s not exactly baby spinach yet, but more like preemie spinach.

Day 1












Day 15

And hey, who knows, with predicted crop instability around the world leading to skyrocketing food prices in our supermarkets, maybe everyone will be growing their own soon…not just the crazies!

Published in: on March 11, 2011 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Broadening my Horizons

The thing about food is that, like most worthwhile pursuits, the more you know, the more you realize there is to learn.  But if you’re like me, that’s what intrigues you most…the seemingly endless opportunities for self-education.

I will certainly never learn how to cook everything I want to because every time I master one technique, it leads me to another and then another.  Learning about one food, one cuisine, or one style of cooking only generates more questions.  My obsession with Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking led me to spend weeks perfecting my homemade pasta and tomato sauce recipes (which in turn led my girlfriend to boycott pasta for a while).  But I still have so much I want to experiment with…every week I think up a new combination to stuff inside ravioli or a new herb I want to use as the base for fettuccine.  And that’s only a small subset of one regional cuisine!

Midway through a pasta-making binge

How could anyone get sick of pasta?

It doesn’t stop with cooking and eating either.  In writing for this blog and for other websites, I’ve had to learn about search engine optimization, I’ve been trying to improve my photography, and that doesn’t even begin to cover how I’ve expanded my writing style.  Just this week, I read all about common pests that may be causing the brown spots on my basil plant, I boned up on graphic design for the Dallas Farmers Market Friends newsletter, and I taught myself about video editing software for another project I hope to start soon.

The good news is that this obsessive-compulsive desire to always learn more seems to be quite common among the food crazed. On one episode of The Splendid Table with guest Emeril Legasse, host Lynne Rosetto Kasper tells the story of how, when she first met Emeril, he wanted to learn about hearts of palm and had actually brought a live palm tree into his restaurant to break it down and study it.  Emeril recounts that “every night, at the restaurant, and still today, twenty years later, we have pre-meal where we talk about food, we talk about wine and the customer.  And part of those days was a huge education process going on with the staff…and that particular week we were breaking down the entire palm tree to show the staff where the palm came from, then how to cure it, and then how to marinate it, using the different parts.  And then we featured it the upcoming weekend on the menu.”

If Emeril Legasse isn’t a credible enough witness on this unquenchable thirst for knowledge, none other than the Grand Dame of food, Julia Child, talks about it in her memoir, My Life in France.

“When I wasn’t at school, I was experimenting at home, and became a bit of a Mad Scientist.  I did hours of research on mayonnaise, for instance, and although no one else seemed to care about it, I thought it was utterly fascinating.  When the weather turned cold, the mayo suddenly became a terrible struggle, because the emulsion kept separating, and it wouldn’t behave when there was a change in the olive oil or the room temperature.  I finally got the upper hand by going back to the beginning of the process, studying each step scientifically, and writing it all down.  By the end of the research, I believe, I had written more on the subject of mayonnaise than anyone in history.  I made so much mayonnaise that Paul and I could hardly bear to eat it anymore, and I took to dumping my test batches down the toilet.  What a shame.  But in this way I had finally discovered a foolproof recipe, which was a glory.”

While I admit to having experimented with a few mayonnaise recipes in my time, at least I haven’t quite reached that level yet and my main obsession continues to be in the Italian vein which is infinitely more versatile than mayo (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

But what about you, dear reader, what are your past, present and perennial food obsessions?  What have you spent weeks or years trying to learn about?  And did you ever feel like you had really mastered your subject?

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Culinary Tour of Mexico Part Two: Made in Mexico

There are so many wonderful, delicious treats that we wouldn’t have today if we hadn’t imported them from Mexico (corn, squash, Salma Hayek) but in my humble opinion, the two best are chocolate and tequila.  While I was travelling through Mexico, I made sure to get up close and personal with both of these fine substances (though unfortunately, not with Salma).

At the Xocolatl Mexica chocolate company headquarters, you can watch as the workers grind the cacoa beans right in front of you, then purchase a box of the pressed pressed 100% cacoa powder in the store.  It’s fabulous for making hot chocolate though perhaps a little too hard and bitter for eating on its own.

Xocolatl Mexica Chocolate Company

As you enter the state of Jalisco, where the small town of Tequila is located, you will see seemingly endless rows of blue agave fields.  Tequila, like Champagne, is site specific meaning that in order for a liquor to be called “tequila” it must be produced in this one small corner of the world under specified conditions.

Blue Agave Fields

We took a tour of the Jose Cuervo factory.  Yes, before you even have time to think it, I know that Jose Cuervo is not the best tequila in Mexico or even the best tequila in a cheap college bar.  But, it was the only factory large enough to have a tour in English.  We got to see the entire process from harvesting the agave plants to the distillation, aging and bottling.

Agave Piñas Waiting to be Roasted

Best of all, we were given samples all along the way of the raw and the roasted agave meat, of the un-diluted alcohol, and of the final product.

Six Shots and Two Mixed Drinks Later...

It’s a wonderful experience, getting so see where some of your favorite food and flavors come from first hand.  Going through the whole process, from raw ingredients to delicious final product, gives you an entirely new appreciation for food.


Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Culinary Tour of Mexico Part One: A Bouquet of Flavors

I recently had the unbelievable good luck to be able to spend a few weeks in Mexico, touring the country and stuffing myself full of delicious morsels.  Now, when most people think of countries with a strong culinary culture they think of France or Italy; but no matter where you are in the world, you will find a rich and vibrant appreciation of food.  After all, the one thing that is truly universal is the biological need to nourish oneself (in both a literal and figurative sense).

Mexico is certainly no exception to that rule.  From the street-side carts and the gourmet restaurants, you will find both a personal connection to the ingredients and a proud concern for the final product.  It certainly defies the “bean and rice” type fare that you find in the so-called Mexican restaurants operating in the United States.

Rose Petal Soup

In San Miguel de Allende, we stopped by one of the restaurants across from the main cathedral to have an elegant and romantic meal in an open courtyard.  Before my main course, I ordered the rose petal cream soup.  I will say that the soup was not pure perfection, the petals themselves were still a little too bitter to really balance the flavors, but I appreciate the presentation certainly and the willingness to experiment with this combination.

Lunch at La Estacion

Another flower you’ll find more often in Mexican dishes than the rose is the squash flower.  With a milder flavor and softer texture, squash flower blossoms can be found inside tamales, quesadillas and pretty much anything else.  Here it’s merely the decoration for this lunch platter from La Estacion in Aguascalientes.

The use of flowers in their cooking is only one example of the distinctive and fascinating ingredients that you so rarely find in the U.S.  Also on the plate above is nopales, cooked cactus leaves.  You sometimes find nopales (or nopalitos) in Mexican groceries or the more authentic Mexican restaurants here but your mainstream “Tex-Mex” places have never even heard of them.  When cooked, they have a slimy consistency similar to okra but without the white pithy seeds.  When raw, you can blend nopales with pineapple juice to make a sweet, thin watery drink that is high in fiber and recommended for diabetics.

Dinner at Rincon Maya

At Rincon Maya, also in Aguascalientes, we got a taste of the cuisine more common in the south of Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula.  The tamal oaxaqueño, on the left, is unlike the tamales you will find in the US or even in most Central Mexican restaurants.  The tamale most of us are familiar with is wrapped in a corn tusk, served dry and has a coarse, grainy texture.  The tamal oaxaqueño, on the other hand, comes wrapped in banana leaf, is served with a tomato-based sauce and slides into your mouth like an oyster.

While this provides only the slightest glimpse of the plethora of flavors and ingredients that Mexico has to offer, it certainly proves that there is much to explore south of the border.  Stay tuned to the next few posts, for more expeditions into Central Mexican cuisine.

Published in: on February 5, 2011 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Table Top Book Review: My Life in France

I recently completed My Life in France by Julia Child, which chronicles her adventures in food and life from roughly the time she arrives in France in 1948 until she publishes the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Going into this, I was completely unprepared for just how inspired I would be by this woman’s story.  This, of course, is odd since Mrs. Child’s ability to inspire others is ostensibly the premise behind the blockbuster, Julie and Julia.

Reading the book has confirmed for the me two suspicions that I had while watching the film:  first, that Julia Child is an enchanting and fascinating person, second, that the movie would have been better if it was just Julia. The problem is that the other title character, Julie Powell, is completely unlikable and un-relatable as a directionless young woman in a dead-end job, encouraged by Julia Child to pursue her love of cooking and start a blog…even to this directionless young woman in a dead-end job, encouraged by Julia Child, who loves cooking and is currently writing this blog!  Because of this fatal flaw, what would otherwise be a completely compelling story turns into just a fun popcorn movie.

Despite this fact, I can’t help but tread  the well worn path (of Julie Powell and millions of other fans throughout the world) and gush about how much Julia Child has affected me.  Or rather, I should say, how much her approach to food and life in general has affected me.  So much that I could easily see describing this fairly straight-forward memoir as a self-help book for aimless foodies.

I don’t want to go into two much detail, but there are two things that really stood out to me.  First was the direction of her life.  Julia Child went into cooking not in pursuit of a career, but because she was fascinated by it.  And, in the end, her excitement about it turned out to be so completely contagious that she was able to create a successful cooking school, a best-selling cookbook and a nationally syndicated television show.  Granted, Mrs. Child lived in an age and situation where she didn’t have to work, she could depend on her husband to support her and had the leisure to pursue her interests without an end goal in mind.  But, it is still a great example that if you do what you love and make others love it too then you will always be successful.

The other thing that really fascinated me was the fastidiousness with which she approached food.  She would test and retest her recipes like any good cookbook writer.  But more than that, she would really break them down and figure out what made them work.  She would make the same recipe over and over again making only the slightest variations (such as the type of salt she used).  She was completely methodical, wanting to understand exactly how every ingredient interacted with the others.  She was like a scientist in her laboratory, running one experiment after the other.  This really speaks to the obsessive-compulsive inside of me who has been itching to have a lettuce tasting night where I sit down in front of a hand full of varieties (Boston, Bibb, iceberg, and romaine) and taste them in succession to really understand the differences.

But whether you are are looking for a role-model or can identify with her meticulousness, the book is still an excellent read simply because of the style and format of the writing.  Along with her co-author, Alex Prud’homme, Julia Child provides a series of concise and entertaining vignettes in a period that spans over forty years.  As always, Mrs. Child understands her audience so much she is able to give them not just what they want, but also what they need.

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  

The Dallas Farmers Market

One beautiful Saturday morning a few weekends ago, I decided to take a stroll around the Dallas Farmers Market.  I was lucky enough to receive an official tour of the market from one of the employees.  I will let you know when more on that is published on the Dallas Farmers Market Friends website (  In the meantime, I wanted to share some general thoughts about the DFM on here.

It’s hard to know where to begin, but I guess I’ll start out in Shed 2 where all the eateries and specialty foods are located.  I actually didn’t spend as much time in here as I would have liked to, but that’s probably a good thing for both my pocketbook and my waistline.  I picked up a butter cake with chocolate frosting at the Ain’t No Mo! Butter Cakes stand.  It may have been the fact that I was incredibly hungry by this time, but I cannot remember eating a better cake that this.  It was perfectly moist and rich with a velvety frosting just splashed across the top.  Hold on, I need to clean the drool off my keyboard.

Texoma Wine Booth

Also in Shed 2, I picked up some Indian spices at the Kurry King booth, a jar of strawberry rhubarb preserves from Lucido’s Fresh Herbs and Produce and some Lucido World Famous Pasta, which apparently was a temporary offering.

I didn’t have the time to do a wine tasting at the Texoma Winery  ( table.

Cooking Demonstration

But I did stop for a minute to take in the cooking demonstration being held in one of the open spaces. I even got a chance to try the finished product and I have to say that it’s well worth the price of admission….free.

Then I moved out to Shed 1 where all the local farmers come to sell their wares.  From this section, my favorite find was the peaches.  They were small and delicious with just the right combination of juicy and sweet while still being perfectly ripe.  I can’t remember which farmer was I bought them from, but it’s worth it even if you have to do some searching.  And I do recommend that you make the effort to find some yourself.

Honestly, I could go on all day about the finds at the Dallas Farmer’s Market, but I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.  Needless to say, I think it’s well worth a trip to check out the Dallas Farmers Market.  So, go ahead.  Go.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Summer Drinks: Part II

Still on my quest to find the most delicious drinks to have in the pool next to you, I tried out two more summer concoctions.   Neither are recipes that you can throw together at the last second, taking at least 3 to 8 hours to prepare.  But both had refreshing, fruity flavors to lighten an otherwise sweltering summer afternoon.    Just as importantly, both had enough alcohol to lighten the mood but not enough to impair your swimming.

As promised, I began with a watermelon-based drink:

Watermelon Granita

Watermelon Granita:

10 cups cubed seedless watermelon

2/3 cup vodka

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup lime juice

Blend together thoroughly.  Pour into shallow metal pan and place in freezer.  Stir ever hour for at least 2 ½ hours.  Let sit in glass for 10 minutes before serving.

The important thing here is to let it sit for the requisite 10 minutes.  I initially rushed serving it only to realize that the flavors and the texture are not ideal straight out of the freezer.  Let it get nice and slushy then serve with a spoon.

Next, I attempted another infused fruit mixture though most people would simply call it sangria since it is wine based.

White Peach Sangria

White Peach Sangria

2 bottles white wine

6 ounces brandy

4 ounces triple sec

2 cup orange juice

2 cup pineapple juice

4 ounces simple syrup

6 ounces white peach puree (peel peaches, remove pit and puree in a blender with a small amount of water)

Fresh peaches, oranges, and apples sliced

Stir together.  Let sit for at least 8 hours but no more than 48.

You may have to play around with the ratios a little bit.  Taste while initially mixing as well as before serving and adjust accordingly.

Though this was not the best white sangria I’ve ever tasted, it was the first one I have made myself and I must say it turned out quite well.  I brought this to a pool party where it followed frozen pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris.  The down side to that situation is that few people were able to appreciate all my hard work after drinking so much already.  The up side is that…well, isn’t it pretty much all upside after that much alcohol?

Both the granita and the sangria were thirst quenching, eye pleasing, fruity goodness but neither of them really stood out to me as the perfect summer drink.  Maybe I am asking for too much, but I’m looking for something refreshing and not too fruity that really catches my attention and won’t let go.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t found that.  But fortunately, the search continues.

Note:  The Watermelon Granita recipe is adapted from one found in the July 2010 edition of Woman’s Day and the White Peach Sangria recipe is adapted from one on the Food Network site, posted by Bobby Flay.  The original can be found at:

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 11:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Dallas Foodies Take Notice

There are two great food related events coming to Dallas this summer that you won’t want to miss.  If you’re in town or if you can make it into town, they’re both well worth the time and money.  Not to mention the fact that you will be eating for a good cause…other than just satiating your appetite.

The 24th Annual Taste of Dallas

From July 9-11, you’ll be able to sample menus from some of the best restaurants in town at Dallas’ Fair Park.  In addition to all the delicious morsels, there will be plenty to keep you and your family entertained for hours.  Cooking demonstrations, musicians, artists and sports entertainment all make this well worth the $5 admission.  But, best of all, the proceeds go to benefit the American Heart Association.

KRLD Restaurant Week

From August 16-22, you can enjoy a three course meal at dozens of participating area restaurants and have $7 of your meal go to the North Texas Food Bank (an organization that especially needs an extra hand during this economy).  And I just received a message on Facebook (yes, I follow the Restaurant Week on Facebook) that this year’s preview weekend will be on Friday, August 13th.

For more info on any of these events and organizations, see:!/pages/KRLD-Restaurant-Week/82373937038?v=wall

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Summer Drinks: Part I

Well, it’s here.  Summer is officially here.  Of course, it’s been well over 100° for the past month in Texas, but the end of June has finally heralded in the beginning of summer.  Of course, that also means the kick off of bbq season, pool parties and backyard burgers.

In celebration this past week, I decided to make homemade black bean burgers for the first time.  With surprisingly little effort, I was able to whip up some delicious, hearty black bean burgers that truly made me wonder why anyone ever buys the pre-made frozen hockey discs at all.  But, more importantly, I used the beginning of summer as an excuse to mix up some delicious fruity summer-time drinks.  After all, tis the season.

First, I made myself a strawberry cosmopolitan.

Strawberry Cosmo

Strawberry Cosmopolitan

Muddle 3 ½ fresh strawberries then mix with:

  • 1 ½ oz citrus vodka
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • a dash of cranberry juice, optional

The drink itself was very good though I had some trouble mixing it.  I was using a three-piece shaker with a built-in metal strainer (sometimes refered to as a Cobbler shaker or a European shaker).  Using this equipment, I ran into some problems with the strawberry bits clogging the strainer.  For a drink with muddled fruit, I would highly recommend a Boston shaker with a metal shaker, mixing glass and separate metal strainer.

After the strawberry cosmopolitan, I got much more ambitious.  I attempted a “black bird”, a drool-worthy concoction of fresh berries soaked overnight in brandy and sugar to pull out the juices and really marry the flavors.

Black Bird

Black Bird

Mix and leave overnight:

  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 oz. brandy
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 2 ½ cups superfine sugar

Top with the following shaken strongly:

  • 2 oz lemon vodka
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • ¾ oz Cointreau

The photo above shows the result before blending the berry mixture with the rest of the drink.  After mixing, it is a bright red, fruity coloration like an adult kool-aid and kinda taste like it too. I will confess that I made a major faux pas and substituted powdered sugar for superfine sugar which is what’s giving it that white milky look.  The cornstarch in the powdered sugar occasionally began to clump into unappetizing globs but as long as it was regularly stirred, it didn’t create too much of a problem.

I prepared an entire pitcher of this for a barbeque and warned all the guests that it was highly alcoholic.  Twenty minutes later, the pitcher was empty and the guests were happy.  I think the drink was a smash…or maybe it was the guests that were smashed.  Either way, I love any excuse to try out a new drink.

And on that note, stay tuned for Summer Drinks: Part II, where I will attempt a White Wine Peach Sangria and possibly something involving watermelon.  Also, please send me your favorite summertime drink recipes.

Note:  Both the Strawberry Cosmopolitan and the Black Bird above are adapted from recipes in The Art of the Cocktail by Ben Reed published by Ryland, Peters & Small, Inc.  All credit for the recipes goes to them.

Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Something Good on the Jersey Shore?

I recently took a trip up north and spent a week in New York and New Jersey.  There are thousands of uniquely tantalizing restaurants in New York City and I am certainly not the first person to have noticed.  So instead of becoming the latest in a long line of people waxing poetic about soup dumplings, I am going to focus on one of the surprising gems I found in New Jersey.

As much as reality television would have you believe that there is nothing of substance left on the Jersey shore, I did manage to find a charming pocket of shoreline where great food and wine still reign supreme.  Located on the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a tiny summer resort town where B&Bs are the main industry.

Cape May, New Jersey

Facing a rainy day in a town where the beach is the center of everything, we decided to kill time by visiting the local winery, appropriately named the Cape May Winery.

But before going on, I would like to add my obligatory rant about wine tours in general.  For the most part, I detest taking tours of small, unknown wineries.  My philosophy is that if they were any good, you would have heard of them before.  You never know going in if you’re going to wind up in some family owned, hand picked artisan vineyard or some bored stockbroker’s new hobby.  And once you’re inside and have paid for the damn tour, you have no choice but to try one bottle of watery vinegar after another.  I’m not a wine snob, but some of the stuff I’ve tried at small wineries isn’t wine.

With all of this in the back of my mind, I approached the Cape May Winery with some hesitation.  But, in the end, it was a choice between that or watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model back at the hotel so, to the winery we went.

Cape May Winery

Inside we were introduced to our tour guide, Barbara, and guided to the back porch where we could gaze out at the vineyard from under the protective cover of the overhang.  Barbara told us all about the background of the vineyard. I began to feel my trepidation creeping back up on me when I heard that the winery was owned by a local businessman who had purchased it as a retirement project.  But my fears were soon allayed when we were given our first sample.

From the Back Porch

We began with a glass of their Pinot Grigio, which was quite good.  But what really won me over was the next glass, their Chardonnay.   I was surprised to find myself liking it since I am not much of a white wine girl in general and especially dislike Chardonnay for it’s overly sweet and fruity syrup tendencies.  This was the complete opposite.  It was light and dry with very subtle hints of citrus.  After my second glass, I knew it was going to be a good tour…and it was.

Now, maybe all tours won’t be as enjoyable as the one we went on.  Maybe we received special treatment since the rain had cut off the half of the tour where they show you the vineyards and the bottling.  But, if that is the case, I highly recommend heading out there on the next cloudy day because what we did instead was a complete delight.  We were taken downstairs to the wine cellar where a plate of fruits and cheeses was laid out and we proceeded to try another nine bottles of wine.

Wine Cellar

I won’t lie and say that all of the wines were phenomenal; some were just average.  The port, for example, was just so so.  But, in my opinion, I did not try a single wine that was below average and I drank several that were far above.

The ones that won me over most of all were the varietals that I normally don’t care for, but were good enough in their own right to break through my skepticism.  Their Merlot went a long way to help me work past my Sideways-induced prejudices.  It was strong, full-bodied and better than most Merlots I have tried, at least in the same price range.

So what about my standard logic?  If this place is so good why haven’t we heard of it?  Well it has nothing to do with the quality of the wine and everything to do with the liquor laws in New Jersey.  They are not allowed to ship their wine out of state so they cannot arrange for any national or even regional distribution.  The majority of their business comes from patrons at the winery and local restaurants.  So, unfortunately, I can’t recommend that you go out to your local wine shop and pick up a bottle from the Cape May Winery.  But if you’re ever in south New Jersey, especially if it happens to be raining, give it a try.

Cape May Winery:

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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