Ring in the holidays with artisanal foods and beverages from local retailers.
Local Tastes for the Holidays
’Tis the season to be jolly! Holiday parties, work events, functions at school with the kids – it’s enough to make you say, “’Tis the season to be hectic.” With everything happening during the holidays, we all need some elves to help with the season’s hustle and bustle.
Off the beaten path, tucked away in small shops, you can find McHenry County’s “elves” baking from scratch, with care, love and pride. They are stocking their stores with artisanal cheeses and wines from exceptional and hard-to-find farmers and vintners.
These merchants and bakers will help you ring in the holidays and entertain with style, going the extra mile to help you put the jolly back into the season.
From Poland with Sweetness
Anna Majewski, co-owner of Sugar Hills Bakery in Algonquin, began baking when she was a little girl growing up near Krakow, Poland. She says the time she spent baking professionally in Europe still influences her today.
For the holidays, Majewski says her trays of assorted pastries are the most universally appreciated because they include something for everyone. Available in three different sizes with 24, 36 or 48 pieces per tray, they include fruit tarts, éclairs, cream puffs, miniature cheesecakes and more.
“Many of the pastries are made daily,” Majewski said.” I try to sell as fresh as possible.”
Majewski says the trays need to be special ordered and asks for three days’ notice. She also offers a delivery service to make things even easier.
Put your orders in early because she has fans ordering goods from across the United States, even U.S. service people in Iraq are ordering her goods.
“My customers trust me to do things right and come up with something special,” she said.
Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
Kim Loewe, co-owner of Kiera Confections, combines two big passions at her McHenry shop – baking and art – to create special and memorable baked goods and chocolates.
Loewe says the go-to choices for this holiday season are her chocolate mint cupcakes and the gingerbread spice cupcakes. She finds during the winter weather her customers like the spice of the gingerbread and she says the mint is refreshing.
While cupcakes are a food phenomenon, made popular by cooking shows, Loewe says they are very practical for holiday entertaining because “you don’t have to cut and serve them. You can mix and match the flavors and you don’t have leftovers. The host is not tied down to serving, she can be out with her guests.”
Everything is baked fresh daily so orders require advance notice. Loewe says a few days ahead of time is best, but she can accommodate some last-minute requests.
A Basket of Holiday Treats
Jenny Serritella, manager of Seasons by Peg on the Woodstock Square, says she believes her job is to make your holidays easier – and tastier.
She likes to think of herself as a gift guide who can customize a present based on a person’s specific needs.
“Everyone right now is looking for a gift that will make a statement and not hurt the pocket book,” Serritella said.
Gourmet food and gift baskets make the perfect gift. “It’s always easy to bring a [food] basket because you know what people like to eat,” she said.
At this time of the year, she says soups are very popular because they are very to make and her baskets have everything the gift recipient needs. Serritella said Seasons by Peg offers 20 different kinds of soups with red pepper and tortilla being among the favorites
“At this point in the game, we are too busy to make baskets on the spot,” she said, and asks for a day’s notice to create a basket.
Serritella says shoppers can buy online and she will ship it or baskets can be bought online and picked up in the store.
A Bottle of Holiday Joy
Buying a bottle of wine can be difficult, even under the best circumstances. When it comes to buying wine as a gift or serving it during holiday parties, it can be positively nerve wracking. That’s when you need a wine detective to dig out clues that will help you choose and serve the best.
Bob De Palma, wine manager for Exclusively Napa in Crystal Lake, has been in the business for 26 years and his big tip is to buy a wine by the occasion and a person’s story – how they live their lives. De Palma’s goal is to ask all the right questions, then suggest wines that will make you feel comfortable and confident in your choice.
One wine De Palma recommends that can cover many holiday parties is Charles Smith Wines’ Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon; he says it’s one of the best he’s ever tasted.
For something special, De Palma suggests a dessert wine from Ferrari-Carano. He says Eldorado Noir has a big and rich taste and is “like biting into a Twizzler.”
He also recommends combining it with something untraditional like Hooligan cheese. “It’s a huge, aggressive stinky cheese that pairs well with the ‘big, rich’ flavor of the dessert wine,” De Palma says.
“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods,” famous chef and food writer James Beard once said.
Walk through the doors of Le Petit Marche in Crystal Lake and it is like stepping into a small European market and its owner, Dawn Gerth, wouldn’t have it any other way.
She has had a passion for baking her entire life and got her start baking items she sold at local farmer’s markets.
She says Le Petit Marche offers wines and cheeses that are hard to find elsewhere. “I buy my cheeses directly from the cheese maker,” she said.
For the holidays, she thinks a hit will be aged rosemary manchego cheese placed on a French baguette and paired with a Crianza Rioja wine.
“Baguettes sell out quickly,” Gerth said. “My breads come out of the oven by 9 a.m. and last as long as they last.”
She says another holiday classic is serving triple cream brie cheese on a fresh baguette along with a sparkling wine. “It’s rich, you can’t eat it all the time, says Gerth, which makes it special for the holidays. She adds that “it’s easy to serve on Christmas Eve.”
For your holiday food and spirits needs …
- Sugar Hills Bakery, 644 South Main St., Algonquin, 847-658-8765, www.sugarhillsbakery.com.
- Kiera Confections, 2620 Schaid Court, McHenry, 815-385-4372, www.kieraconfections.com.
- Exclusively Napa, 35 North Williams St., Crystal Lake, 815-479-0770, www.exclusivelynapawine.com.
- Seasons by Peg, 111 E. Van Buren S., Woodstock, 815-206-3666, www.seasonsbypeg.com.
- Le Petit Marche, 19 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, 815-477-3296, www.petitmarche.biz.