Food & Drink

Twilight Dinners have become a Centre County tradition. What’s on this year’s menus?

For decades, community members have opened up their homes or hosted dinners at well-known dining spots in support of a local nonprofit.

Twilight Dinners return starting next month, with 13 planned dinner to satisfy foodies who are also looking to support Centre Safe, formerly the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. The dinners have become the nonprofit’s primary fundraiser for the year, but in the 1980s, it was still just an idea.

Heather Ricker-Gilbert was on the panel that coordinated the first Twilight Dinner. She was part of a group that formed a fundraising committee, chaired by Louise Sandmeyer, to raise funds for the downtown center.

“The idea was certainly different from other fundraisers in town, in that people opened their homes to individuals they may or may not know in our community,” Ricker-Gilbert said. “People liked the idea and participated. ... The Twilight Dinners have flourished and evolved over the years.”

The dinners are now offered on multiple weekends in the spring rather than on just one evening, and there are many more participants and dinner themes, Ricker-Gilbert said.

With such a wide variety of dining experiences and cuisines, guests are sure to find at least one of the 13 dinners to their liking. Even though Twilight Dinner committee member Jo Nutter says 10 of this year’s hosts are repeat hosts from previous years, there are a bounty of new dining experiences to choose from. Nutter points to several new offerings she’s excited about: a DIY dinner at Tastebuds Kitchen over Mother’s Day weekend, family-friendly summer affair and farm-to-table dinner at a locally-lauded eatery.

The new “School’s Out for Summer” Twilight Dinner is hosted by Meghan and Greg Hayes and Amy and Tom Gravine. While the dinners typically cater to an adult crowd, this event is family-centric, held earlier in the day on June 8, with buffet-style food and games and activities for children and parents. Additionally, the new RE Farm Cafe at Windswept Farm hosts a dinner June 10, with tours of the farm kicking off the evening.

As for Ricker-Gilbert’s Twilight Dinner, guests can expect an enjoyable night of exotic flavors, with a Big Apple chef at the helm.

“Our daughter, Rebecca Elman, who recently moved to town from New York City, is a personal chef and caterer. Rebecca will prepare a Moroccan-inspired feast for our Twilight Dinner,” she said. The menu includes “fresh, local and seasonal produce ... spiced lamb meatballs in an herb sauce, chickpea tagine with harissa and a special dessert, along with fresh mint tea.”

Since the Twilight Dinners are so popular with guests who’ve come to expect attendance year after year, Nutter says the committee requests guests, when RSVP-ing, indicate a second and third dinner of choice, just in case their first choice is full.

One dinner she expects to sell out quickly is the only April dinner, hosted by Grace and Guy Pilato and Jim and David Frego-Bliek. The April 5 event in Boalsburg is “a celebration of European cuisine” and the menu includes such delights as crostini topped with pears, walnuts and cheese and drizzled with saffron honey; tortellini stuffed with spinach, butternut squash and cheese in a sauce of sweet peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots and cream; and baklava and Italian torte for dessert.

And it’s important to remember the cause behind the dinners. Attending a dinner will make a significant impact in the lives of women, men and children who have been victims of violence, Nutter said.

“Your gift will help pay for nights of shelter for women and their children fleeing domestic violence,” she said. “It will provide for the immediate response of an advocate to a victim of sexual assault at Mount Nittany Medical Center. It will provide legal advocacy and representation to a victim of domestic violence fighting to maintain custody of her children. And it will allow us to respond to the increased requests for the sexual, dating and domestic violence prevention programs we provide in schools and in the community.”

For more information on the Twilight Dinners, including how to attend, visit

Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at