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.


“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.


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.



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 or or



A Royal Day in Bedford

On the day before the Royal Wedding, we ventured out to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where the British once ruled at Fort Bedford.  The weather report said wind and thunderstorms, but the sun peeped through the clouds and not one raindrop fell.  Here are a few highlights of the day.

The group started the morning with one of my new favorite treats thanks to Jan Dofner at the Levi Deal Mansion in Meyersdale  . . the burnt sugar gobs from Landis Bakery in Berlin, near Somerset.

We had a new lunch stop from our Bedford tour last fall.  Michael and Huston at The Bird’s Nest Farm and Cafe did a fantastic job.  They pay attention to details, and it shows.  Our dessert, Bird’s Nest cupcakes, was beautiful and perfect for the spring day.

During lunch, Lori Sollenberger of Hidden Hills Dairy paid us a visit to tell the group about her farm and her luscious cheese.  I really like her cheese and was so excited to meet her.

A visit to Briar Valley Winery ( both the wine making facility and the tasting room) also was on the itinerary.  Briar Valley is currently the “hot”  PA winery, and we’re so lucky to have them just a short drive from Pittsburgh.

Tod at Briar Valley Winery . . pouring some of their award winning wine

Another stop on the tour was at one of my fave shops for all things Italian, LIFeSTYLE.  Stephano and Sarah carry only the finest food, linens and pottery.  Oh, and they have a fantastic selection of cookbooks which I just can’t resist.  Yesterday’s purchase was My Tuscan Kitchen by Aurora Baccheschi Berti.  Tonight, as I watch the highlights of the wedding, I will also be flipping through the recipes in this lovely, authentic Italian cookbook.

The ladies watching Stephano's demo at LIFeSTYLE

Thanks to everyone who was a part of the tour.  It was a day fit for royalty.

The Laurel Highlands in April

Yes, it is April. But it’s April in southwestern Pennsylvania, so one can expect any type of weather. And yesterday, on the Laurel Highlands tour, we had about everything Mother Nature can dish out . . . snow, sleet, rain and sun. . . and we still had a great time.

Okay, so it didn't look like this outside yesterday. But it was snowing when we got on our way.

Deb and I carefully select our stops because we love what each location is doing with regards to food.  These are all hardworking food artisans or business owners who have a true passion for what they do.  We are always excited to have our groups get to know these wonderful folks out in the backroads of Western PA.  We try to mix it up . . some shopping, a little history, maybe a cooking demo, a tour of a kitchen. . so that there is something for everyone.

Our buddy, Jim Koontz, at The Compass Inn Museum

Chef Mark Henry from Treetops restaurant.

We also hand select the samples we give out, whether on the bus or in the goody bags.  We never pass out anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We also always like and respect the artisans who have crafted the foods that we sample. It’s a very important part of my company’s mission.   Companies such as Wild Purveyors, Millers Mustard, LaDorita Dulce de Leche and One Tuff Cookie and others provide our region with top notch foods. They are wonderful additions to the tours.

We can't forget Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Aunt Anna's Biscotti (photo courtesy of Aunt Anna's Biscotti)

The stops on our tours are amazing, but the guests on the tours are just as fantastic.  It is truly our pleasure to spend a day with them.  The tour is more like a day out with friends rather than a “canned”  guided tour. It’s relaxed and informal.  And we want everyone to have a good time.

Mouth-watering Desserts at Treetops in Acme

The current set of tours begin and end at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville.  Karen Novak does a spectucular job of getting us some caffeine and a few treats in our bellies before we get on our way for a day of nibbling and dining. The day after each tour, I am always grateful for the wonderful people at our stops and our on tour bus.  Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun for us!!

Maple Mania

I’m addicted to maple syrup.  It all began in January when I tasted maple cotton candy at the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg, continued through February when I visited Jan Dofner at the Levi Deal Mansion in Meyersdale ( home of the PA Maple Festival), and now the obsession rages on as I experiment daily with new recipes using maple sugar and maple syrup.   In addition to eating maple syrup flavored yogurt, maple granola, maple rolls and maple candy while in Meyersdale, I visited a few maple sugar camps and became intrigued with the whole process.  Making maple syrup and maple sugar, even with today’s methods, is still a labor intense process. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup!!  And once you’ve tasted the real thing, you’ll never ever go back to maple flavored corn syrups.

The Pennsylvania Maple Festival is March 26, 27, 29 and 30 and April 1-3 in Meyersdale, in southern Somerset County.

If you want to learn more about maple syrup, Dreadnought Wines in the Strip District is offering a class taught by Molly Enos of the Paul Bunyan Maple Sugar Camp in Rockwood. I’ll be there to put my two cents in, too.

Spring Culinary Tours from the Pittsburgh Area

A quick word about the spring 2011 tours.  After many requests for a Saturday tour, we’re venturing out to the Laurel Highlands  on Saturday, April 2.  If you went on this fun tour last fall, our newest version is similar, with a few little tweaks from last time. A new shop or two and a mini-factory tour.  But just like last October, we  meet some fantastic food purveyors and chefs and eat a lot of wonderful local foods. A delicious specially prepared lunch and award winning dessert are included, too.   And a local wine sampling!!

The Bedford tour on April 28 also has a few twists from the route we took last fall.  I know you’ll love the changes.  We sure do.  If you’ve been meaning to drive out to Bedford but never get there, let us do the driving for our culinary tour to historic Bedford.  Breathe in the fresh mountain air while we eat and drink our way through the town.  Good stuff.

Our new tour, the one with an Italian focus, is turning out  to be magnifico.  It covers many traditional Italian food specialties such as pasta, biscotti and cannoli along with some contemporary Italian cuisine. We’ll be meeting many personalities in the Italian world of Greensburg and surrounding areas, too. This tour is running twice. Once on Thursday, April 14 and then again on Thursday, May 12.

A few spots remain on most tours, and people come and go off the list  due to other commitments that arise, so if you are interested, please contact me at or 412.576.1755.

All tours leave from McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store in Monroeville around 9 AM and return at about 5 PM.  The cost is $125, which includes transportation, all samples, meals, wine tastings and admission fees ( when applicable.)


Maple Syrup Time!

This past weekend, I drove deep into Somerset County on a quest for maple syrup.Well, really, I was just bored and wanted to get away for a few days and maple syrup was a good excuse.  My first stop was at the Somerset Historical Center, just a short skip off the good ol’ PA Turnpike.  Since the outdoor areas are closed until spring, I walked through the indoor exhibits of  PA history, old farm equipment and maple sugaring accessories. I really liked this place.  Of course, shopping is always in order, so the gift shop beckoned.  I fell in love with an adorable house shaped maple sugar mold, and was excited when Mark Ware   showed me a sample of how the maple sugar house looked when unmolded.  I wish they sold those at the gift shop!

A picture filled tretise on maple sugaring and a little package of goose beans ( the beans are a story in themselves, for another time) in hand and I was on my way. Next stop? Meyersdale, home of the upcoming PA Maple Festival. The Levi Deal Mansion was my headquarters. . .. beautiful B&B, lovelier than lovely hosts, and perfect food.

"Somerset" style chicken soup - yummmmm

With suggestions from Jan and Michael at Levi Deal, I visited the Milroy Farms  Sugar Camp for syrup and sugar, the Springs Store for donuts, Landis Bakery for gobs and more.  Yes, it was a festival of carbs.

Milroy Sugar Camp in Salisbury, PA

In my conversations with locals, I learned a lot about sugaring and maple syrup, and about living in southern Somerset County.  Even without autumn leaves or budding trees, this area still charms.  It’s only about 1 1/2 hours from Pittsburgh, so it works for a day trip, but it’s so peaceful there, with so many culinary treasures, staying overnight is a must.