More wonderful holiday food gifts.

Nothing’s more exciting than coming home to find a package on your doorstep.  That’s why I love food of the  month clubs.  Every month a surprise awaits!   Go local by getting the hard to buy for person on your list a Biscotti of the Month membership. My friend, Anna Jo Noviello, owner of Sunset Cafe and Aunt Anna’s Biscotti in Greensburg, makes the best biscotti around. I never really liked the dry, almond scented biscotti from my childhood, but Anna Jo’s are  different. They’re  a little softer and  come in more contemporary flavors, although they sell the traditional almond ones, too.

Aunt Anna's Biscotti on the cooling rack at the bakery in Greensburg

Anna Jo has lots of varieties, but myfavorites are Red Velvet and Coconut Lemon Macadamia. The Biscotti of the Month Club is a gift that everyone would enjoy.

Another terrific idea for a local gift is a spirit filled growler from Arsenal Cider House. After months of trying to get there, I finally stopped on Saturday morning and I just loved it!  Located in a house across from the Allegheny County Health Dept. in Lawrenceville,  these folks make hard ciders from different local fruit and they also make  mead.  I can’t really describe this place, but I loved it and I loved their products, too.  You  must stop by to have a sample.  I bought the Pear, apple and Cinnamon apple.  I was told that concord grape would be next.  Their bottles are super attractive, the vintages have fun names and the contents are excellent. I can’t think of a better hostess gift for this season. ( If you can keep from drinking it yourself.)

Any other last minute food gifts ideas?  Let me know.  So many great products right here in Western PA.  We are so fortunate.


More great holiday foodish gifts.

It’s no secret that I love the Farmer’s Market Cooperative of East Liberty.  It runs every Saturday from 5 am (yes, that is very early) until noon.  The vendors are so nice and they sell local goods all throughout the year, unlike many markets that close for the winter.  During each visit, I stop and say hello to David Lagnese, who sells great coffee, fresh squeezed juice, some of the best olive oil in the city and terrific local cheese. ( His stand is on the left towards the back of the market.)

Turns out David’s father has penned a lovely book about Italian cooking and Italian families called Cookin’, Recollections and Recipes of Joe Lagnese.  It’s written a  bit like a novel and the recipes read a bit like stories, but it’s obvious that this guy knows his food.  Every recipe I’ve tried has been a hit.  The best part of giving this book as a gift is that profits benefit the Muriel’s Breath of Life organization, which provides assistance to patients with Cystic Fibrosis.  The elder Lagnese’s daughter in law passed away from adult Cystic Fibrosis a few years ago and the family began this foundation to honor her life.  Stop in at the market on Saturday’s or  go to  to purchase the book.  Pair it with some of his son David’s olive oil and a piece of wonderful PA cheese and you have a gift anyone would love.

Another favorite locally made gift would be anything from the line of USA Pans bakeware made in Crescent, PA.  I purchased the mini muffin pan, the mini brownie pan and the Pullman loaf pan from CRATE on Greentree Road.  Sturdy, easy to clean and just all around terrific, these pans are professional grade bakeware that make great gifts for the family baker or for someone who wants to be a baker.  Pair your pan with some local flour ( St Vincent Gristmill), a bottle of homemade vanilla  . .  who wouldn’t love this?!

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving.  My girls were both home for the holiday and it reminded me of how much I continue to miss them even though we’ve been empty nesters for a while now.  Boo hoo.    I need to keep busy to get over my empty house sadness.   Always looking for something new and fun, so if you know of anything, please pass the info along.  Oh . . .and don’t forget the holiday glass sale and the I Made It!  Market this coming weekend . . .and the annual Cookie Tour in Lawrenceville.  Lots to look forward to this week.

Beet Greens, Bees, Bardine’s and Babies – A Beautiful Day!

Yesterday was  my idea of a perfect day. It kinda started the night before at a wine tasting at Palate Partners/ Dreadnought Wines, where Eric Miller from Chaddsford Winery was signing his new book, and Debbie at Dreadnought was sampling six different wines.  Too fun.  Too much fun, maybe?  Look at the photo below.

My best photo from the wine tasting. Hmm. A little too much wine, maybe?

The joy spilled over into Saturday, when I met so many great people, got to wander around, tasted some new foods and saw an amazing pre-Mother’s Day event.  Saturday started with a visit to the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty for some PA cheese and a few baked goods. A quick drive to the Strip for the season opening on Farmers@Firehouse was next, where I bought some asparagus, tender beet greens and chard, and got to meet Lucinda from Paradise Gardens and Farm. I’ve enjoyed her super fresh goat’s milk products for a while now and love putting a face to the name behind the goodies.

Finally, I meet Lucinda!

Then on to Salem’s (2923 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1518,  412- 235-7828) for some Middle Eastern goodies and Greek treats at Salonika, both in the Strip.  I love these stores because the selection is great, the parking is easy and they’re a little bit away from the Saturday craziness of Penn Ave on a Saturday. And look at the happy exterior of Salem’s.


Next stop?  A quick drive ( it’s on the way home) to Lawrenceville to find the perfect last minute M-Day gift.  The Gallery on 43rd proved to be the right choice – not only did I find the perfect mosaic for mom, but I also had energizing conversations with Jennie from Bee Happy Honey, Zo Re of  ZoBaby and Mona of The Artful Tart.  Wonderful women.  By then, I was way behind schedule, and I needed to check the route for part of my upcoming Italian tour.  Mapquest wasn’t working for the backroads out near Latrobe, so I had to test the route myself. It was one of those afternoons with sun, rain, dark clouds and blue skies, all within minutes of each other. Fabulous.

The sky outside of Bardine's

With tour route nailed down,  I decided to pop into  Bardine’s Smokehouse in Crabtree to introduce myself, as I had written about them in the May issue of Frommer’s Budget Travel, and although I shop there frequently, I thought I should probably let them put a face to the name on the story.  Gary Bardine, the owner, was there and we had a long chat about sausagemaking and his passion for quality.  Thank goodness for people like Gary.

On the way back to Route 22, through gorgeous spring farmland, I noticed a cow standing in the field, looking kind of odd. I stopped to stare and right then and there she gave birth to a calf. Oh, my.  I pulled over and watched for a bit, then took some photos as the little one tried to stand for the first time.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

A mom's first Mother's Day!



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?