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!


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.  or 412.963.8565

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.

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!!

Spring Culinary Tours

I’ve been super busy researching all of the fantastic stops for the Spring 2011 tours.  The Fork and The Road did a culinary tour to Bedford and to parts of the Laurel Highlands last fall, and both were terrific, but there’s always room  for a little tweak here and there.  The number of high quality artisanal foods in these areas just keep increasing and it’s so hard to decide where the tour bus should go.  So hard and so fun!

New this season is the Italian themed tour.  Of course, lots of testing of all of the stops and products is in order, so as soon as there is a day without ice and snow, I head out on Route 30 to investigate all things food. I’m not giving away any big tour secrets, but I can say I’ve been sampling dark chocolate truffles, freshly made cheese,  delicious pasta, crunchy biscotti and a variety of pasta sauces. Oh, and a little vino always enters the picture, too.  The Italian tour is a mix of “old school” and “cutting edge” cuisine. Good stuff.   We’ve already had quite a  response to this tour, so we’re doing two of them instead of just one.

The small tour size (18 people max.) allows us to have a more personal experience at out stops . . talking with the chefs, store owners or vintners.  So don’t delay in signing up.  A few tours are close to capacity.  For more info, click on the Tours tab above.  For even more info or to register, email me at or call 412.576.1755.  Hope to see you on the bus!!

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

Sign up now for the fall tours!

Mix this kind of scenery with amazing food . . . and you've got The Fork and The Road Culinary Tours!

This fall, we are able to take larger groups on our culinary tours. It is going to be so much fun.  The tours are still small – maximum number of 18 people – and we are travelling in style in a luxury mini-coach. It really is comfy and nice, with big windows for watching the autumn leaves go by.

Our three day-long Autumn 2010 tours start and end at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores in Monroeville.  The October 21st tour focuses on the hidden foodie secrets of the Laurel Highlands.  Our October 26th  tour takes us to historic Bedford, Pennsylvania, which also has its share of hidden culinary gems.  The third tour, on November 12th, keeps us closer to Pittsburgh in the Gateway to the Laurel Highlands –  Greensburg, Latrobe and some  little towns in between.  Who knew there were so many great food experiences right in our eastern backyard?

Each tour includes round trip luxury transportation, tons of samples, a meal or two (depending on the tour), cooking demonstrations, some history of the area, and a few surprises. All meals, samples, and other fees such as museums are included in the cost.  A great time is guaranteed.

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about areas North, South and West of Pittsburgh, but you’ll have to wait for Spring for those tours.  We’ll keep you posted about the dates as soon as everything is lined up.

For additional information, click on the Tours tab.

Ligonier Country Market

I bounced out of bed this morning, knowing that I was about to explore a new outdoor bazaar, the Ligonier Country Market, held on the grounds of the Loyalhanna Watershed Farm in, you guessed it, Ligonier, PA.  I went mainly to look for a nice cookie baker by the name of  Dorothy Madore, who I met a few weeks ago at the Rivers of Steel tour. As I wound my way around the booths to find Dorothy,  I came across lots of  pleasant surprises – from toasty mohair shawls (it was about 55 degrees outside,) to yummy raw milk cheese  and unique rustic flower arrangements. I wanted to buy everything in sight, but was limited by the lack of funds in my wallet.

Maple Syrups from Paul Bunyan's Sugar Camp

I met recent college grad Molly Enos, who was manning the booth for  her family’s maple syrup business, Paul Bunyan’s Sugar Camp. Their Maple Cream is smooth and sweet and is heaven on muffins, pancakes, even crackers.  It’s good just eaten right off the spoon, too. For a  late summer treat, mix a few shakes of their maple sugar in a skillet with some fresh sliced peaches and a bit of butter. Heat until the maple sugar and the butters melts and the peaches are slightly tender . Oh . . . . my . . . goodness.

The Salsa Sisters' products

Next stop, The Salsa Sisters (724.538.7212) for some of their zippy One Peach of a Salsa.    Then, it was across the grassy “aisle” to Nicole Nickischer’s stand, where she sells her Serendipity Dip Mixes.

Nicole and mom from Serendipity Dip Mixes

I like her Tuscan bread dip mix but wanted to try a few others.  This mom of five (yes, five) suggested I try the spicy flavors like Habanero and Cayenne Jalapeno. I’m mixing them up tomorrow when my folks come over for dinner.  Finally, I made my way to Dorothy Madore’s One Tuff Cookie.  I”ve seen photos of her cookies, but never met one in person until today.

One Tuff Cookie's many cookie choices

Sometimes purchased cookies look good, but the taste is only so-so.   The Apricot Snowcap, the Dreamsicle and (yes, I ate three) the Chocolate Cherry Shortbread not only looked like they just finished a “Martha” photo shoot, but they tasted great, too.   Before I knew it, the clock struck noon and the market was ending. So many treats, so little time.