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.  mary@theforkandtheroad.com  or 412.963.8565


Subarashii Kudamono Asian Pear Wine Tasting

Photo courtesy of Subarashii Kudamono.

 

This past spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Holly Harter, who works for Subarashii Kudamono, a company based in eastern PA that grows Asian Pears and also makes delicious Asian Pear wine and spirits.  Holly is an expert on the subject of Asian Pears and on  Pennsylvania wineries, and I really enjoyed chatting with her.  This week, you can meet Holly and get a sample of luscious wines by stopping into a few local  Wine & Spirits Premium Collection Stores!

 

The dates & locations include:

Thursday June 9th – 2 PM to 4 PM – 521 Beaver Street,  Sewickley PA

Friday June 10th – 2 PM to 4 PM – Village Square Mall – 5000 Oxford Dr, Bethel Park, PA

Saturday June 11th – Noon to 2 PM – The Perry Shops – 7920 Perry Hwy, Pittsburgh, PA

Saturday June 11th – 4 PM to 6 PM –  Bill Green Shopping Center – 10 Clarion Rd, Pittsburgh, PA

Sunday June 12th – 2 PM to 4 PM – Cranberry Mall – 20111 Route 19, Cranberry, PA

 

Samples of Subarashii Kudamono dried Asian Pears, gourmet Asian Pear dipping spreads as well as several selections of hand-crafted, artisan cheeses from Eastern Pennsylvania will also be available.  If you’ve never tried Asian Pears, this event is a “must.”   More information about Subarashii Kudamono Asian Pears or  their award winning wines can be found at www.wonderfulfruit.com and at www.winesofsubarashii.com.

The Dessert Wine took home a Silver Medal at the recent 2011 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the Asian Pear Wine took home a Bronze Medal, and the Asian Pear Eau de Vie (clear, unaged brandy) also took home a Silver Medal in the same competition.

 

The wine is great with BBQ,  chicken salad,  hot dogs,  grilled salmon steaks, or most anything off the grill.  It’s refreshing and different, and perfect for summer.    Check out the websites for  recipes using  their locally made, uniquely flavorful products. And please stop by and say hello to Holly this week.

 

 


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.


Best Food Court Ever – The PA Farm Show

The State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania's Apple Goodies

Food Courts usually don’t thrill me.   I’ll walk on the other side of the mall  just to avoid the little chicken teriyaki sample that’s handed out at the Food Court.  But, oh, the Food Court at the 2011 PA Farm Show was different.  Filled with booths that were staffed by various food agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania, and designed to highlight PA food products,  the offerings included pulled pork sandwiches, milk shakes with milk from Pennsylvania cows, apple dumplings, and more.   In attempt to not bore readers who are getting tired of my Farm Show rants, I am just listing my top two selections from the Food Court. It was hard to list only two, but here they are.

1. Potato Donuts. There’s nothing like a freshly made cake donut. And the Pennsylvania  Co-operative of Potato Growers not only make these fluffy treats on site,  but the recipe includes Pennsylvania potatoes.  FANTASTIC. (About 20,000 dozen donuts were sold at last year’s show.)

Bits of Maple Cotton Candy

2.  Maple Cotton Candy.  My mother claims that when I was two years old, and being pushed in the stroller on the boardwalk at the shore, I cried and cried for cotton candy until they bought it for me.  Supposedly, I then got it all over my clothes and made a real mess. I doubt this story. First, my parents never caved to crying. Second, they weren’t into junk food at all. And third, I have never  liked cotton candy. At all. Until now. The cotton candy at the   Pennsylvania Maple Syrup Producers Council area was made from PA maple syrup and cane sugar.  Although it looks a bit like insulation, the flavor is maple-y and wonderful. Ha ha, mom and dad. I can buy my own cotton candy now.

If you missed this year’s Farm Show, next year I will remind everyone ahead of time. It’s a ton of fun for everyone.


The Pennsylvania Farm Show

There was a little cow poo on the floor and there were lots of chickens (not good for my avian phobia.)  But those were the only negatives  that I came across all day today at the 2011 Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.  A few weeks ago I drove past the old Allegheny County Fairgrounds at South Park and felt a real sadness for the old days when my dad would take me out to the fair to see the prize winning animals, perfect pies and giant tractors.  Today, I relived those days and was so excited to see that thousands ( literally tens of thousands, I think) of others get a kick out of this kind of thing, too.  Farming is hot in central PA.

So now,  Part 1 of my farm show highlights . . .

The Butter Sculpture

Enclosed in its own temperature controlled glass box, Jim Victor’s masterpiece took over ten days to sculpt and used 1,000 pounds of butter.  After the show, the butter will be made into bio-diesel fuel. (Pennsylvania ranks second in US butter production. Who knew?)

Prize Winning Produce

Look at this Best in the State Butternut Squash . .  .

And at these prize-winning jams and jellies . . .

And  this beautiful friend was charming the crowds!

The show runs through next Saturday and it is a wonderful way to spend a day.  Free admission, but parking is $10. It’s a real bargain. Tomorrow, I’ll fill you in on some of my favorite PA made food products at the show.


The Compass Inn

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Outdoor Cookhouse at the Compass Inn

For years, my friend Annette has been telling me about a great little museum near Ligonier, PA, called the Compass Inn. I finally got there over the weekend. What a hidden gem!!!!  My daughter and I were practically the only folks there and so we had the docents to ourselves.  Not a historical site gone wild, this old stagecoach stop is filled with original memorabilia  and lots of history. I loved it. All of the rooms had treasures like the owner’s own beaver top hat, bone eating utensils and even  an old stagecoach.

The dining table in the Common Room.

My favorite stops on the tour were the Common Room with its giant fireplace and both the inside and outside kitchens. The beehive oven in the outside cooking house is a bakers dream. Can you imagine the breads, pizzas and roasted chickens that could come out of that? Our docent mentioned special living history weekends where donuts and other goodies are made in the kitchens.  At the end of August, they are having a brewmaster on site for demos.  This museum is really a find. I’ve lived in the Pittsburgh area all my life and never even knew it was there until my friend who grew up in a nearby town kindly spilled the beans.  They only take cash and checks, so don’t arrive penniless (or practically penniless)  like we did because you won’t be able to buy all of the history and recipe packed little books in the gift shop. This place is real treasure.