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.


Where is the time going?

Weeks are flying by and I can’t get caught up. Yikes.  Sorry for the delay with the winner of the contest.

The winner of the beautiful cutting board was Christine. Lucky girl.   Congratulations and thank you to Ralph Teets at Cutting Board Art for his generous donation.  His boards are lovely and make fantastic gifts, either by themselves or as part of a gift of wine, crackers, dried fruit and cheese.  Artisan made gifts are so much more valuable than factory made. Thanks, Cutting Board Art!!

Another fabulous holiday gift is the sampler from The Berry Patch.  You get to pick three different flavors of jams or jellies  in 4 oz jars.  Not only are they so tasty, but they have a multitude of uses from marinades to salad dressings and  come already packaged in a beautiful box ( notice the box in the above photo.)  Stop down to the Pittsburgh Public Market to select your flavors  today.  You can sample them before you purchase, too. Don’t forget to say hello to Scottie and Brenda, the owners of The Berry Patch.  The Berry Patch folks can be reached at 724-238-4714 or at  the.berrypatch@hotmail.com if you want to pre-order your gifts.  Things can get crazy on weekends and sometimes they do sell out.

Still looking for something to do on Thanksgiving?   The nice folks at the stunning TreeTops at Polymath Park  near Donegal would love to have you join them for Thanksgiving dinner. The menu includes roasted butternut squash soup, in house smoked salmon and many traditional goodies such as roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Oh, and pumpkin pie brulee.  Call them today!!!


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!

 


“Fall” into fun Pittsburgh food events.

Sorry about that title, but I just couldn’t resist. It’s been a long and rainy holiday weekend and I’m getting a bit loopy.

But next weekend is going to be a good one for Pittsburgh food and beer lovers, rain or shine.

Cheers!

The Steel City Big Pour, to benefit Construction Junction, is sold out for next Saturday, but there still lots of things to do during Big Pour Week, which starts on Tuesday the 6th. There are really unique tastings, tours and dinners almost every night.  I’ve been on a beer kick ever since tasting some cask beer at the Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown last spring and then touring Anheuser Busch in St Louis this summer.  Now, instead of ordering a glass of wine with dinner,  beer is often my beverage of choice. I’ve been trying to branch out past Corona with a lime, so this past Friday I had a bottle  Guatamalan Mariachi at Alma (great meal, by the way) and I really enjoyed its easy drinkability on a super hot day. (Many beer critics label Mariachi as skunky, but I didn’t notice that. Not even sure if I would know skunky if I tasted it. Ha ha)

September 9 through 11 is the Fair in the Park at Mellon Park on the edge of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.  Always good for getting  a headstart on  high quality handmade holiday gifts and for eating some “fair” foods like fried veggies and lemonade.   Also the 9th through the 11th is the Pittsburgh Irish Festival.   Dancing, Gaelic sports, an Irish marketplace and food like bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew are just part of what you’ll find at the Riverplex complex at Sandcastle.  Then we have Mountain Craft Days in Somerset with crafters, open hearth cooking demonstrations and more   and then the Highland Games in Ligonier, with Highland dancers and Scottish food (haggis, anyone?).

Mark Ware holds a molded house made of maple sugar at the Somerset Historical Society.

Also next Sunday, the Italian Festival at Rizzo’s Malabar Inn in Crabtree will  showcase music, cooking demonstrations, great food, Italian wines . . . some of Rizzi’s fabulous homemade gelato and things like facepainting for the kids.  The event runs from 11 to 7. It’s a short drive from Pittsburgh and the generous and kind DeFabo family  always delivers  when it comes to fun festivities and great food

The DeFabo men

Last, but not least,  is the Sunday Community Heritage Market at the Pump House in Munhall.  Ethnic crafts, food and other fun and educational activities for all of the family to enjoy are all in this historic site of the 1892 Homestead Lockout.  It only runs through the end of September, so get there now.  The  market is open from 11 until 3.

 

 


How can it be August already??

You just might get to try this cheesecake on the October 4 tour.

Hooray!  Hooray! Two tours are scheduled for fall of 2011. I’ve been away in St Louis (great time . . .and the topic of the next blog) so I’m sorry for the delay with this info.  The first fall tour is on Thursday, September 29, when we’ll doing a Laurel Highlands II tour.  The Laurel Highlands trip was so successful last year (the LH actually include quite a bit of W Pa, but our LH tour focuses on Ligonier and surrounding towns) that we changed the stops a bit and added a new tour in the same area.  Want to learn about grilled pizza (oh, yes), herbs and other hidden foodie finds just an hour from Pittsburgh?  This is the thing for you.

Beautiful fruit on the National Road.

Then, on Tuesday, October 4, it’s a new route for The Fork and The Road.  We’ll be going south of Pittsburgh toward the historic National Road.  The pieces are coming together, but believe me, this is going to be a fun food and beverage filled tour, with lots of history  thrown in.  It’s such a beautiful area and in October the leaves will be stunning.  On this adventure, we will be leaving from the South Hills instead of Monroeville.  Good news for all of you who have had to drive through the nasty M’ville traffic to get to us last year.  We do love McGinnis Sisters, however, and they will still be with us in spirit ( and we’ll be munching on some of their goodies) on this tour.

One thing I am very proud about on our fall tours is that the people who run the businesses where we stop are just the kindest, most hard working folks around. They are truly wonderful and I am thrilled to bring my groups to them.

We’re quite busy with charter tours this fall, but wanted to make sure we included a couple of trips for the general public. Keep checking back, because we are also adding  half day tours this fall.  They will also be posted soon.   Email or call for more details . . .seating is limited.  mary@theforkandtheroad.com  or 412.963.8565


I love the Laurel Highlands, Part 2.

Last Friday, I had the honor of being chaffeured around Fayette County by Donna Holdorf, the executive director of the National Road Heritage Corridor, headquartered in Uniontown.  The National Road runs for ninety miles in Southwestern PA and it is lined with treasures – museums, restaurants, markets, wineries, outdoor adventures – and everything in-between.

Look at this view!

We started by taking in the truly breathtaking  view at The Summit Inn.  I’ve driven past this resort for something like 50 years ( obviously someone else was doing the driving way back then) but never stopped to check it out.  I was speechless.  Hard to believe, I know.

Grapevines at Christian Klay Winery

Next stop?  Christian Klay Winery in Farmington right there on the National Road.   After a tour of the property with owner Sharon Klay, we sipped and chatted about her wine, and being no grape expert, I learned a lot.  Sharon is a talented artist and her creativity is evident in her wines and in the ambiance at her vineyard.  Running late, we skipped Washington Tavern at Fort Necessity (but you can bet your booties I’m going back) and made our way to Caleigh’s, a restaurant   off the main street in Uniontown. Donna and I shared a fantastic pork belly appetizer, a cup of crab and corn bisque (made with the first of the local corn) and some sort of amazing cheesecake for dessert, possibly cappucino flavored (?). I was so delirious from all the yummy food, that I can’t remember the flavor. I had their Novara Insalata in between the pork belly and the dessert, just to toss in some veggies.   I would definitely make the trip from Pittsburgh for a meal at Caleigh’s.  Chef Joe Carei’s talented and care is evident.

Whatever the flavor, it was superb.

The trip continued with a few stops in Uniontown, Brownsville and then on to Scenery Hill, where we met Alisa Fava-Fasnacht at Bank 40 Mercantile. Alisa and her husband own Emerald Valley Artisans and they recently opened an old bank (very cool inside)  to sell their cheese and other local products.  A short tour of historic The Century Inn and other cute shops on the main drag and it was getting late and time to get back to home base in Uniontown.  I’m planning a tour or two this fall to the regions around the National Road.  Keep an eye on the Tours link for more details.  They’re going to be great.


Oh, I love the Laurel Highlands!

I took a short drive out towards Donegal this afternoon to visit with Judy Trabbold, the owner of the Historic Log Cabin  Inn.  Judy has vast knowledge about herbs and edible flowers, and she is a delight.   The Inn is a very old real log cabin, which Judy has painstakingly restored.     This blacksmith’s house is one of the oldest homes in Somerset County –   from the 1700s – and it is super charming inside.  Lucky guests can stay here and walk around the path outside, where you can sit and enjoy the great outdoors.  It would be a treat to stay here in any season.  I wanted to crawl in one of the beds and take a nap.

The dessert table at Connections in Ligonier

After the  Inn and Judy’s jasmine green tea, I took the always glorious drive on Route 711 on to Ligonier.  I wanted to stp at Connections on 109 South Market Street for some lunch.  The last time I was there was talented pastry wizard Sharon Detar’s grand opening a few months ago and things were crazy.  This time, without the big opening day crowd (and my own tour group) I had more time to enjoy myself in the shop.  I was so impressed with the calm colors and stylish table decor along with a great selection of free trade gifts.  But, oh, the food!  I ordered ( sorry to admit that I ate all of this, but I did) curried chicken salad, a mixed veggie salad with tomatoes, beans, onions and asparagus, and a slice of an ethereal white chocolate raspberry tart .  All washed down with freshly brewed raspberry hibiscus tea. Connections also carries Old Linn Run Coffee, one of my favorites. I can’t wait to go back to both of these places. They are really special.

Hard to resist the pepperoni bread at DeLallo's

On the way home, on the lovely (not), traffic light strewn Route 30, I made my requisite stop at  DeLallo’s, where I picked up some piquillo peppers, fresh mozzarella, fresh spinach, stuffed mushrooms and watermelon. Perfect for a lovely summer dinner.

Such a short drive from Pittsburgh and such wonderful local treasures.   We are so fortunate.


Eat, Bike & Be Merry

 

 

My friend, Sara Petyk, runs a cool company called Your Active City that does walking and biking tours in the Pittsburgh area..  This fall, right in time for the brilliant gold, red and orange leaves, she’s conducting a fabulous bike tour of the Great Allegheny Passage, in Southwest PA.  From Octber 4 through 7, the small group of cyclists (you don’t have to be an athlete to do this trip) will pedal the easy bike path, make stops for treats such as wine tastings and gourmet picnics, and then spend three restful nights at the best B&Bs along the way.  I’ve been working with Sara on the food part of this tour, and let me tell you, it is going to be great.  The trip lasts 3 1/2 days, allows for the hard core bikers to be a bit more adventurous and there is van “support” for those who might need a break from biking.  If you do all of the biking, each day involves 20 to 30 miles, which should be about two to three hours per day.  The culinary part of the trip will introduce guests to local specialties, some of the area’s top wineries and some stunning dining settings.

 

 

 

 

It’s a perfect fall getaway. Just the right amount of exercise, a breath of clean mountain air, and wonderful food and wine.  I think it’s a great gift for an anniversary or birthday, too.

For more info, contact Sara at 412.303.0566 or at info@youractivcity.com or www.bike-the-gap.com or www.youractivecity.com.

 

 


Easter In The Burgh

Lots of eggs for dying at DeLallo's in Jeanette

Today, as I left a local store with bags of plastic eggs, Easter grass, goofy baskets with bunnies and chicks on them and two different types of dye for eggs, one would think I have small children at home. Nope. At 23 and practically 21, my girls are long past hunting for eggs. But each and every year, I continue to design Easter baskets, filling them with chocolates and all sorts of other little items I come across in my travels.  My girls will probably moan and groan when they see the baskets on Sunday morning, but I think they would be sad if mom didn’t produce these silly gifts from the Easter bunny.  Lucky for me, Easter food doesn’t have an age limit, so I always try to track down my favorites for this time of year. Here are my choices.

For ham and smoked sausage:

Lambert’s Market in McKeesport, 1902 Grandview Ave 15132, (412) 664-7371

Bardine’s Country Smokehouse in Crabtree,  224 Bardine Rd, (724) 837-7089

McGinnis Sisters’ Special Food Stores

Paska Bread:

Minerva Bakery in McKeesport:, 927 5th Avenue
McKeesport, PA 15132-2412
(412) 673-2863

Chocolates:

Edward Marc in  Trafford, , 509 Cavitt Avenue, 877-488-1808  or 412-380-0888

Mon Aimee Chocolat in the Strip District, corner of Penn Avenue and 21st Street, 412-395-0222

The Chocolate Shoppe in Greensburg,  118 North Pennsylvania Avenue, (724) 216-5847

Pierogies:

St Mary’s Ukranian Orthodox Church, I have a soft spot for St Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks, but lots of places make wonderful pierogies.  116 Ella Street, (412) 331-9288

Fish for Good Friday:

Fish fries are everywhere, but why not make your own fish fry?  My choice is either Foley Fish from McGinnis Sisters or anything from Penn Avenue Fish Company in the Strip District.

Have a favorite place for your Easter food?  Let me know!