Mother’s Bread

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This ghost sign (an old hand painted ad on a building ) is on my route to the Lili Cafe at 3138 Dobson Street in Polish Hill, one of my favorite coffee shops in Pittsburgh. (If you go, get a Mind Mender . oh yeah.)   I love old faded signs, because they remind me of  Mail Pouch ads on barns and thus of  the sweet smelling tobacco that my grandfathers used in their pipes.

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But, imagine my excitement when, last year while reading a book  – NERD ALERT –  called White Bread:  A Social History of the Store Bought Loaf, by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, I found out that Pittsburgh was the home of one of the first white bread manufacturer’s in the country.  The Ward Baking company was  located between 31st and 32nd Street on Liberty Avenue and  made Mother’s Bread along with TipTop, the squishy white loaves that were all the rage in the early 1900s.   It was “the idea loaf, white, light , tasty palatable and nourishing.”    The Ward company, which was the largest bakery in the US in the early 1900s,  also made TipTop bread, which was the first nationally distributed enriched loaf .  As  the whiteness took over, the nutrients were stripped away.  Enriching the bread with vitamins and minerals was the way to go.    The Ward company eventually bought other companies, merged and this and that .. .. and eventually morphed into the baker and distributor of  items like Wonder bread and Hostess products.

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Anyway, the sign at 3209 Dobson Street, which was visible again after a fire in 2008 burned the apartment building next door, makes me smile every time I drive past.  Go check it out!!


The Fork and The Road returns!

After a few months of rest and rejuvenation . . . and lots of exploring new culinary treats, I am back to the website and blog. The past months have taken me to a food meeting in NYC which was beyond fabulous and an extended stay in south Jersey that totally cleared my mind and my constantly inflamed W PA sinuses. (Nothing like a beach breeze to cure all ills.) I’ve trekked to central PA for luscious produce and homemade ice cream, explored the history down to Pittsburgh’s south in Washington, PA and visited a brewery, a grain mill and a dairy up north of Butler.  But now it’s time to share my finds.

Blazing hot pizza oven at Keste in the West Village.

The culinary tours are still on the menu, but my focus is now mainly on charter tours. Here’s how it works. A business  purchases all 18 or 20 seats, and fills the seats with employees or customers as an incentive or “thank you” for work well done, great service or for stellar business patronage.The tours are also popular with book groups, garden clubs and “newcomer” clubs.  They’re a  great team building experience and a way to learn  about the many culinary treasures in our area without being worried about getting lost on the backroads.

The Fork and The Road is also currently doing  presentations on W PA culinary history to groups who are limited in time for a driving tour or who don’t care for riding on a bus . .albeit a luxury bus. These talks are lively, fun and involve tasting some local treats.

Milking time at Otterbein Acres farm near Carlisle. The cheese is available here in Pittsburgh in at least two markets.

If you’re looking for something new and different for your group, give me a call. I can build a unique tour specific to your group’s interests.


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 www.murielsbreathoflife.org  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.


My 2011 Holiday Local Food-ish Gift List. . . .and a Giveaway, too!

Although it’s only Halloween, the next few months fly by, so my “2011 holiday local food-ish gift list”  begins today. Yahoo!! Why the non-word food–ish in the title?  Well, there is so much negativity – really silly, in my opinion –  in the food world around “foodie” as a word to describe someone uber-interested in edible treats . . .and since this list doesn’t just include food . . . .  and since the word culinary is sounding too snooty to me today, I am using food-ish. Don’t be a hater of words. Just keep reading. And read alllll the way to the end to find out how you can be a winner.

Oh, so nice . . . .with some crackers and Common Folk Organics blue cheese.

 

My first gift suggestion is a beautiful cutting board by Cutting Board Art, Inc., made in nearby Girard, Ohio.  The boards come in various sizes, are safe for using with food and are made with various woods (maple, cherry and oak.) They are stunning. A Cutting Board Art board works as serving piece for cheese and crackers, sliced bread, charcuterie or dried fruit . . but it’s also great used simply as a cutting board. It can be used every day in the kitchen and also on special occasions. I think it is a perfect gift for everyone .. .whether a new homeowner or someone who has everything. Timeless and beautiful.

See, it even looks good just hanging out on my ottoman!

Owner Ralph Teets, a master woodworker,  makes each and every board himself and he will happily ship to you in time for the winter holidays.  Lucky for my blog readers, Mr. Teets has offered to give a cutting board to one of my lucky readers. All you have to do is leave a comment below about your favorite local food gift.   Tell me what it is and where we can buy it.  Then, on November 8, I will randomly choose a winner using an online random number generator. What a way to kick off the 2011 Holiday Local Food Gift List!  Good luck!!


A Blast from Naomi Gallego’s Past

Chef Naomi Gallego and the ladies from eatPGH

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was entertaining a few stowaways from Philly who were riding out the rain from  Hurricane  Irene. We were having a great time.  So I wasn’t going to leave my patio and my guests for just anything.  But for a cooking class with Naomi Gallego, the Executive Pastry Chef at Habitat at The Fairmont Hotel?  Bye bye guests and comfy patio chair. At a little after 4 PM, I was in my car and driving downtown, excited to see what Naomi had up her sleeve for a few food bloggers who were able to attend this special class.

Chef Gallego's homemade pre-dinner beverage.

Naomi didn’t disappoint. I was joined by the ladies from EatPGH to have cocktails and then some bubbly and sweet (and homemade by Naomi) hausmade federweisser, a barely fermented freshly pressed grape juice.   At only 4 percent alcohol, this fruity, fizzy beverage was refreshing and perfect with our first creation, a traditonal flammkuchen.  Both recipes are fond memories from time that Naomi spent studying and working in Cologne, Germany. The flammkuchen, a much better rendition of the Alsatian Tart that I frequently purchase at Trader Joe’s, consisted of a thin raised crust, topped  with bacon, onions ( both raw and caramelized), homemade creme fraiche,  fresh chives, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. As usual, I tried eat only part of it, but ended up eating the entire savory tart. Next, Naomi threw in a few greens, in the form of a baby arugula salad with white balsamic vinaigrette. So good.   Then we each made a Peach Bakewell Tart for dessert.  I mentioned that I have a hard time with pastry crusts – that the crusts are never flaky, and Naomi felt my hands, labeling them “hot.”   That’s no surprise to me. All of me is a few degrees warmer than it used to be these days.  Even with hot hands, my tart came out looking beautiful.  And it tasted great.

           

I’ve eaten at Habitat a few times, and also attended special events there. The food has always been carefully prepared and wonderful, with a special attention made to buying from local farms and purveyors.  Naomi is very talented and you umight know her from her appearances on Food Network Challenge.  It’s really a plus to have her in Pittsburgh.

One of Naomi's desserts from a lunch last spring.

I’m hoping the folks at the Fairmont will be doing more classes for the public in the future. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family and guests about the class and the recipes that were near and dear to Naomi. Next time, maybe  I can bring others  along. Thanks to both  Naomi and to Julie Abramovic, PR Director at the hotel, for a fun and informative class.


Two Pittsburgh Food Favorites

A Heinz ketchup dinosaur in the courtyard of PPG Place.

 

Pittsburgh’s largest (and most fun) food event, GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, has something new this year.  A chance to be a food star! Make a video highlighting your stellar cooking skills and your entertaining personality and send it to the folks at GoodTaste!    Four semi-finalists will be chosen at a cookoff on September 17 at the Carnegie Science Center’s Kitchen Theater. Two finalists  will them compete for the title on stage on November 5 at the show. And the prizes are good . . . . $1000, a professional video (you know, to promote yourself to the big leagues at The Food Network or  on a morning show), the opportunity to become the 2012 face of GoodTaste!Pittsburgh and other goodies, too.  There are a few rules and guidelines, so make sure to read the details here before you get going.    The deadline is coming up soon, so hurry and get your video sent into the nice folks at GTP.  Good luck!  Hope to see one of my readers on stage on November 5.

Cooking knife demo at the 2009 GoodTaste! Pittsburgh show.

 

My favorite Pittsburgh food destination is the Pittsburgh Public Market.  From Friday, September 2 through Sunday, September 4, they are celebrating their first birthday.   You’ll find samples, live music, giveaways, and a special Public Market birthday cake.  I have loved watching the market grow and grow, and I’ve met some wonderful people who sell their products there .  The folks at The Berry Patch and at Glades Pike Winery are near and dear to me. And, oh, the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory is just so heavenly.  Happy Birthday, Pittsburgh Public Market!  It’s been a great year.

Brenda and Scotty from The Berry Patch. Luscious local berry products.


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 info@youractivcity.com or www.bike-the-gap.com or www.youractivecity.com.

 

 


Food Folks near Pittsburgh

Part of the fun of buying local food is meeting the interesting folks who bring it to us.  This Saturday, as the sun peeps out from the clouds for once, get out there and say hello to some of our area’s best. Here are my suggestions:

– Bank 40 Mercantile (2184 East National Pike) in Scenery Hill is celebrating Pike Days by serving up lots of  local cheese, meats, toffee and other goodies. It looks as if the sun might shine this Saturday, so enjoy it by taking a little drive to the south. After you eat some of her delish food, find Emerald Valley Artisans owner, Alisa Fasnacht, and say hello.  Alisa’s fromage blanc is a personal favorite.

Local asparagus at Farmers@Firehouse

–  The farm markets are up and running and some of the best are open on Saturdays.  The Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip ( stop at The Berry Patch and meet the super nice Brenda and Scotty.)

The hard-working owners of The Berry Patch

– The Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty, although open year round, is really hopping in the spring.  Give a shout out to David Lagnese at the California Olive Oil Connection’s table as you buy great oil, local cheese and Jamaican coffee.

David Lagnese and his son at the Farmers' Market Co-op of East Liberty

 

Farmers@Firehouse is open on Saturday mornings at 2216 Penn Avenue  .  Owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm,      Lucinda not only makes the freshest, cleanest goat cheese products I’ve ever taste, but she is a huge supporter of women in agriculture. Go there on Saturday and meet Lucinda, as well as the other farmers and artisan food producers.

Lovely Lucinda . . . and her out of this world goat products.

Enjoy!


Pittsburgh’s Food Network Connection

Read on to find out where you can eat this luscious chocolate dessert.

Last Saturday night, while flipping channels on our television, I came across a show called Food Network Challenge.  Claire Robinson, the host,  caught my eye, because she was in town last fall for the GoodTaste! Pittsburgh Food and Cooking Expo. I didn’t get to meet Claire, but I heard she was really nice. So  I paused from my channel surfing to watch for a minute. As the four chefs on the Challenge were introduced, lo, and behold, one of the chefs was from Pittsburgh!   Naomi Gallego, the executive pastry chef at the newish Fairmont Hotel restaurant, Habitat, was a Pittsburgh representative on this episode.  The episode was called Chocolate Surprise Proposal, and the mission  was to have the chefs construct a chocolate creation  to celebrate a marriage proposal.  Naomi made a light green, swirly chocolate structure with a beautiful white chocolate flower,  and although she didn’t win the 10k on the show, she was a winner to me.

Meryl Hellring from VisitPittsburgh with Chef Naomi Gallego from Habitat

Skip to Tuesday, when I had a meeting with Meryl Hellring from VisitPittsburgh. We were talking about food (what else?) and I told Meryl about  Naomi and the Food Network show.  Meryl suggested we walk across the street to Habitat for lunch.  After my savory and earthy mushroom soup, with local mushrooms courtesy of  the guys at Wild Purveyors, and a huge grilled tuna sandwich, I mentioned to Tyler, our server, that I saw their pastry chef on TV last weekend.  Minutes later, out popped Naomi to say hello.  A native of Texas, this talented chef has also spent time cooking in Germany and Washington DC.  She loves competitions and is currently training for one with a group of female chefs.  It is wonderful to have talent like this here in our city.

Meryl and I were lucky to be able to  share two beautifully executed and very tasty desserts from Naomi’s kitchen  that day.

Look at this lovely, yet exotic creation!

Sometimes hotel dining leaves a bit to be desired.  But not at Habitat. They focus on local and seasonal foods and I haven’t been disappointed there.  So give it a try . . and make sure to try some of Naomi’s fabulous desserts.  Oh, and watch The Food Network on February 12 at 6 PM for another airing of the show.