Double M

One of my dearest friends frequently calls me Double M because of my initials.  It’s a great little phrase yet a quick Google search shows that I am not the only Double M around.  Double M Pizza, Double M Gaited Horses, Double M Auto Sales. Food, animals, cars . . so why not have  a Double M day?

Edgar Thomson WorksMy Double M day?  Mills and Maple!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 On Sunday, I drove down to pick up my parents for a day out and about.  I left early to get some treats for them at the newish Five Points Artisan Bakery in Squirrel Hill. Five Points Artisan Everything is so good, but get there early as they frequently sell out early.  Taking the long route to the my folks’ house through Braddock,  Munhall and towards McKeesport, I ended up driving past two of my favorite places.  The first is the Joe Magarac statue across from Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock.  This legend, to me, represents toils, troubles and strength of the Eastern European immigrant population that worked in the mills.  Joe is supposed to protect the mill workers.  Drive on down to Braddock Avenue across from the Edgar Thomson Works to see Joe in person. It is a terrific place to ponder things.  There really is no parking right in front of him, but you can park and sit across the road in the small parking area near the entrance to ET.  According to legend,  Joe  “ate that hot steel like soup and cold steel ingots like meat.”

Joe Magarac

After that, my road trip took me past the Clairton Mill, a steel mill and coke production facility which is one of the world’s largest in the world. It is still working, belching out much cleaner smoke that the 1960s when our sky and water were both yellow from pollution from the mill..  I know it’s odd, but I find comfort in the sulfur smell near the old coke plants.  Smells like home.

Next, I picked the folks up and we ventured to my second M of the day .   … maple. It was open house weekend for a whole pile of sugar camps in Somerset County.  I went to the event last year and it was so great that I had to do it again..  Once you see the effort that goes into producing maple sugar and syrup, there is a real appreciation and value to the cost of true maple products.  We made maple sugar and spotza and sampled maple popcorn, maple cookies, maple syrup topped sundaes and more. Maple Sap Evaporator At the camp, we watched the big, fancy evaporator do its job to morph maple sap into syrup.  The trees can only be tapped until early April, so if you have the chance, go check it out in the next few weeks. If you’ve never been to a real hidden treasure, the Somerset Historical Center, do pay them a visit. It is a wonderful place to learn all of the agricultural history of Somerset County and surrounding areas.

So, the Double M day of mills and maple ended as it began, with a drive down the lonely roads past old mills, with my windows rolled down for a sniff of my childhood.

 


The Fork and The Road returns!

After a few months of rest and rejuvenation . . . and lots of exploring new culinary treats, I am back to the website and blog. The past months have taken me to a food meeting in NYC which was beyond fabulous and an extended stay in south Jersey that totally cleared my mind and my constantly inflamed W PA sinuses. (Nothing like a beach breeze to cure all ills.) I’ve trekked to central PA for luscious produce and homemade ice cream, explored the history down to Pittsburgh’s south in Washington, PA and visited a brewery, a grain mill and a dairy up north of Butler.  But now it’s time to share my finds.

Blazing hot pizza oven at Keste in the West Village.

The culinary tours are still on the menu, but my focus is now mainly on charter tours. Here’s how it works. A business  purchases all 18 or 20 seats, and fills the seats with employees or customers as an incentive or “thank you” for work well done, great service or for stellar business patronage.The tours are also popular with book groups, garden clubs and “newcomer” clubs.  They’re a  great team building experience and a way to learn  about the many culinary treasures in our area without being worried about getting lost on the backroads.

The Fork and The Road is also currently doing  presentations on W PA culinary history to groups who are limited in time for a driving tour or who don’t care for riding on a bus . .albeit a luxury bus. These talks are lively, fun and involve tasting some local treats.

Milking time at Otterbein Acres farm near Carlisle. The cheese is available here in Pittsburgh in at least two markets.

If you’re looking for something new and different for your group, give me a call. I can build a unique tour specific to your group’s interests.


Spring 2012 Tours

The Fork and The Road does not like winter. Not at all. So, now that the holidays are over . . . hope yours were fantastic . . .The Fork is getting snuggled up under blankets and working on the Spring tours.  I am working with Karen Novak at McGinnis Sisters to plan some amazing wine and cheese tours, driving around finding new hidden stops for a Steel Mill themed culinary tour and thinking hard about a chocolate tour.

 So stay tuned for more info in the next few weeks. If you have specific questions, feel free to give me a call at 412.576.1755.

Happy 2012 to everyone and I hope it is filled with good health, happiness and kindness in your world.  xo


So many great places, so little time.

Sorry for the long gap since the last post.  A few new fall tours and some charter tours were underway and things got crazy.

Let me tell you about some of the many wonderful people and stops from recent trips.

First of all,  my tours are pretty informal, so by the end of the day, my guests feel like old friends to me.  This really is one of the best parts of the tours.  The people are just the best.  Just had to say this.

Jim Koontz, innkeeper at The Compass Inn Museum, with a few fabulous tour guests.

Second, the stops are great ( or I wouldn’t have selected them in the first place ) but the owners of the businesses or the docents at the museums or the managers at the stores . . or whoever welcomes us . . .really do make each tour special.  These are hard working folks who have a real passion for what they do.  And they want to share their enthusiasm.  I am truly honored that they are wiling to share their time and expertise with my tours.

Okay, so if you missed the tours this fall, I’ll give you a few places to visit on your own. The Compass Inn Museum in Laughlintown is just a treasure.  If you go, which you should, please ask for Jim Koontz (see his photo above.)  Jim is the innkeeper there, and he continually delights my groups with his knowledge  of the inn and of much, much more. During the holidays, The Compass Inn does candlelight tours. The small gift shop is a real gem, too.  Check out the MANdles (man candles) and the books of word trivia.  THE BEST.

Sharon Detar, owner of Connections Cafe and Tea Room, taught us how to make grilled pizza.

While you are in the Ligonier area, stop at Connections Cafe for lunch.  Sharon Detar, the owner, once worked for a vegetarian restaurant and her attention to healthy and fresh really shows.  Try her curried chicken salad and the white chocolate raspberry tart.

If you’re  out in the Mon Valley, take a drive through Belle Vernon to visit Melanie Patterson at the Good Ol’ Days House. You can usually find Melanie in her store across the street, and if you’re lucky, she’ll give you a quick tour of the bed and breakfast across the street.  Melanie carries lots of old time candy and also sells some delicious Gene and Boots ice cream.

Front of The Tin Front Cafe in Homestead

For some delicious food that is close to the Burgh, drive on over to the Tin Front Cafe in Homestead.  The lovingly prepared vegetarian food is a treat.  Ask for Ellie, Daniel or David to fill you in on the history of the building. And then mozy over to Judy’s cookware store next door.

The next sunny autumn day, take a few hours and visit some of these real gems right in our backyard!

 


Soup, strudel and cookies in West Homestead

In the name of research for my upcoming Tastings classes at the Pittsburgh Public Market, I have been investigating all of the  amazing ethnic food in Pittsburgh’s little boroughs and suburbs.  Great for my taste buds and bad for the zippers and buttons on my clothing.  Yikes. This has to stop!  Today’s adventure took me to the Bulgarian-Macedonian Center in the old steel mill town of West Homestead.

Already a fan of their homemade soup sales, called Soup Sega ( Sega means now in Bulgarian,) today I branched out into the Center’s Gyuvech (beef stew)  and their Banitza ( little cheese filled strudels) and I also went home with a jar of Lutenica, a creamy roasted pepper spread.  The Saturday soup sales are so popular, that now the soups are sold  on Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10AM until 1PM, too.  I had the privilege of meeting with board president Pat Penka French, who told me that this group is the oldest Bulgarian organization in the United States.  They’re celebrating their 80th anniversary this year. We’re lucky to have people like Pat who work tirelessly, as volunteers, to continue these ethnic traditions for future generations. The Center is filled with memorabilia, musical instruments, costumes and other Bulgarian items, so while you are waiting for you soup ( it’s take-out), you can admire the items in the beautiful display cases. Customers can purchase Bulgarian pottery (I bought a mug, ) books and other gifts, too.

My beautiful new mug!

Upcoming events at the center include Password Love, an exhibition of paintings by Bulgarian artist, Georgi Petrov on November 11 and their annual fall concert at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead on November 20.  For more info or to RSVP, call 412.461.6188 or visit their website. I love this place!  Please visit. You will be hooked, too.

On my way back toward the Homestead Grays bridge, I made a quick turn into Nancy B’s Bakery to pick up a few of the city’s best chocolate chip cookies (according to Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2010 poll) for the drive home, hoping that another ten minutes on the exercise bike will help to burn off just a few of those calories. ( I think even two hours on that bike wouldn’t burn off the calories from those giant, soft cookies.)

If you are visiting the  Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area museum (which is very cool, by the way) in the historic Bost Building , a stop at these two foodie down the road is a must.