A Lesson in Coffee

Yesterday, we bypassed the Steeler frenzy on Penn Avenue in the Strip District and snuck into La Prima Espresso on Smallman Street for a coffee  tour.  Held on the first Saturday of every month at 10 AM, the behind the scenes roasting tour was a nice break from the craziness outside  for the six who  signed up. There are usually a lot more people, but hey, it was the day before the Super Bowl and most folks were thinking black and gold, not Arabica and Robusta.

In my house, the better half is the coffee connoisseur. I’m not sure if I can tell the difference between a gas station grind and a fresh roasted, high quality blend.  Since  the hubby has (in my opinion) some odd coffee buying habits, and my coffee palate could sure use some refining, I thought the class would be good for both of us.

Burlap Bags of Unroasted Beans

David and Johnny were our teachers for the morning, and they shared great information about coffee prices, organic and fair trade growers, and types of coffee beans.   We sampled two different blends and ate a few biscotti while we listened and learned.  Then we watched Johnny roast a 25 pound batch of beans.  Who knew that there were just a few seconds between the perfect roast and burnt?  Not me.  The whole coffee blending and roasting process involves lots of skill and experience.  I was impressed.

The Final Step of the Roasting Process

This was a great way to spend a few hours.  I always make a stop at La Prima on 21st Street, sometimes for a coffee, but more often for their Bitter Combo, the Miller females’ favorite citrus-y pick-me-up. Now that I know what goes on just to get their terrific coffee into my hubby’s cup, I might now opt for a cuppa Joe.

Perfect for a Valentine's Day treat!

To sign up for La Prima’s  next tour on March 5, call   412.565.7070 or register online at  http://www.laprima.com/roaster-tour.html.

Edible Gift Idea #6

Memories of Summer and the Heirloom Tomato Festival

Last summer, I drove out to the Heirloom Tomato Festival at  West Overton Village in Scottdale.  It was there that I first came upon Old Linn Run Coffee Roasters.   Kandi and Dave Newell roast beans in small batches (actually, the beans aren’t roasted until  they get your order)  and the resulting brew reflects the care in their roasting process.   Kandi and Dave are beginning to branch out from their home base in Rector, out in the beautiful Laurel Highlands.  Their beans can now be purchased at McGinnis Sisters in Monroeville and at Currant Thymes (136 East Main Street, Ligonier)  – two of my favorite foodie haunts.  Of course, you can give them a call to place your order, too. (724.238.9102)

Something new at Old Linn Run just in time for the holiday season is a nifty travel mug with a built-in French press and a compartment to hold grounds for a second cup of coffee. I love this!  One cup is just not enough on these cold, winter days and French press coffee is the way to really rev up your morning.

My super-dee-duper gift idea?  A bag of Old Linn Run Coffee and one of their new travel mugs.  If you want to kick it up a notch or two, G Squared Gallery in Ligonier carries a beautiful hand-crafted coffee scoop that would be the perfect addition to this gift.

I'm a big copper fan, so I love, love this coffee scoop.

( Shhh, my husband is getting one of these scoops from Santa. I’m tired of seeing a big ol’ tablespoon, along with a pile of coffee grounds, on my kitchen counter-top every morning.  If I have to clean something up, it might as well be something pretty.)

Yes, I am blogging about the Laurel Highlands . . . again.

But I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine another place with so many good foodie finds in such a small area. And so many nice people.  Today I’m thinking of Heather and Bob Kuban, who own Currant Thymes in Ligonier (136 E. Main Street, 724.238.2930) and Kandi Newell and her husband Dave,  who run Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery,  in Rector, Pennsylvania.  Not only did these folks generously give samples out to the ladies on my culinary tour, but they sell some of my favorite treats to purchase for myself and for gifts.

Good eatin' at Currant Thymes

One of my rules of stops on the tours is that the owners have to be kind and the products/services have to be the best.  Heather sells some of the finest maple syrup on the planet, tapped in Rockwood on the Paul Bunyan Maple Syrup Camp.   Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet, heaven on a spoon, or on pancakes, waffles or toast, too.  Heather also carries a line of towels from a company called Mu Kitchen.(The Mu is missing an umlaut – two dots – over the u, but I couldn’t find it on the WordPress symbol tab.) They’re colorful and stylish, and I especially love the ones with the built in scrubbers. Heather samples a  warm spicy chocolate dessert soup, a broccoli cheese soup and a rich puff pastry hors’ deuvre filled with brie and Meyer lemon preservs. Oh my! And then there was Kandi.  Working hard to promote her small batch coffee roasting business, she cheerfully  explained all about their beans and the roasting process. And the subsequent brewed coffee was (is) the best. Full flavored with some zip, the Bobolink Farms Brazilian is my favorite.

My tour was called Hidden Culinary Treasures in the Laurel Highlands, but I would love it if everyone knew about these folks.  They wouldn’t be so hidden, but they’ll always be treasures to me.

Heather from Currant Thymes

Kandi from Old Linn Run Coffee Roastery

Summer Food Fun in Pittsburgh

So many things to do. So little time. That’s how I feel about all of the foodie places in Pittsburgh. All those small cafes, food stores and farm markets that I love to visit. Saturdays are a fun time to explore because the markets and stores are bustling and it just adds to the excitement. So this would be my idea of a perfect Saturday morning. 1. Stop at the Farmer’s Co-op in East Liberty for some fresh squeezed juice from the Kew Coffee Stand. Taste some olive oil and cheese even thought it isn’t quite 8AM. 2. Drive to the Farmers@Firehouse market, 2126 Penn Avenue, for some free range eggs, local maple syrup, super delish pork pate and Sara Pozonsky’s salmon. I’m always looking for beet greens, and the local produce selection here is my best chance for finding them.

Yes, I like donuts, but greens, especially beet greens are tops in my book!

3. Stop to get a Bitter Combo at La Prima Espresso. Nothing like the sweet and bitter taste all in one sip. And hanging out in there make you feel like you are in Italy. 4.  Then, in a perfect world, I would get a mini donut or two at Peace, Love and Little Donuts. The coconut one and the donut with chocolate with the little cherry on top. 5. Since now I need something to rinse down the donies, I would stop at Espresso A Mano, found at 3623 Butler Street in Lawrenceville. The coffee artisans here make little swirly designs on top of your cappucino. Great coffee, too. 6. Next stop –  La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop. This new place in Lawrenceville (4605 Butler Street) is run by the real deal. An actual French pastry chef. Last week I drove past, noticed the sign, and the looped around the block until I could find a parking space. Their croissants were flaky and buttery and the mini pear tart was a slice of sweet heaven. I can never say anything bad about the other top notch croissant maker in town, but it’s always nice to have another option on the other side of the river.   Filled with caffeine, sugar and fat, it would now be time to go home and take a nap, dreaming of my next food adventure.  Something for lunch, maybe?

The East Liberty Farmer’s Market

When I see these at the farm market, it is going to be a good day!

When I see these at the farm market, it is going to be a very good day!

Pittsburgh’s farm markets are open and I couldn’t be happier.  But sometimes our city’s weather doesn’t cooperate with strolling the outdoor farm stands.

Don’t get me going on ‘Burgh weather. Oops.  Too late.  I’m already annoyed from the  rainy May, so allow me to tell a quick weather story before I get back to the topic of farm markets.

What is this? A typical Pittsburgh sky. Notice the lack of sun.

Many years ago, while in sunny Maui on vacation, we stopped at a sunglass store where they altered the UV  value of the glasses based on where the customer lived.  When we told the folks behind the counter that we lived in Pittsburgh, they laughed. And laughed. A lot.   Our fair city was second only to Seattle on their list of  cloudiest cities.  Ha ha – it was sooooooo funny. Not.

Back to farm markets. So it seems to rain a lot here on weekends, especially in June once the Three Rivers Arts Festival begins.  But there is one ray of sunshine each and every Saturday. The East Liberty Farmer’s Cooperative, located at 344 N. Sheridan Street near Home Depot, is an indoor farm market open on Saturdays year round.

The East Liberty Farmers Cooperative

Established in 1941, it’s  the oldest farm market in Western Pennsylvania.   So early on Saturday mornings  (the market is open from 5 until 10 AM,) I visit this small-ish indoor market to buy eggs, chicken or Indian food and grab a glass of fresh squeezed fruit juice.  Even mid-winter when local  produce is sparse, this little market gives me enough “farm” to get me through the winter.   Recent personal highlights at the market included delish whole wheat gnocchi from Vandergrift  based Fontana pasta, Jamaican coffee from the Kew Park Coffee Stand, Riverview Dairy goat cheese and my  favorite horseradish hummus from The Greek Stop. Oh, and the Kew Park folks are now bringing in fresh pressed olive oils from California. Can’t wait to give them a try this Saturday. Rain or shine.