Busy Day and Great News

I am catering a party for some friends on Saturday night and have been working on shopping, food prep, tablescape (you know how this word makes me nervous), etc.  And I’ve had some great help!

I finished all the grocery shopping I could do in advance on Tuesday.  And if you’ve been reading you know I set up a schedule for myself working backwards from Saturday.  I am happy to say we (my mom and I – she is fantastic help with catering jobs) are ahead of schedule – but I try not to jinx myself with that kind of thinking!

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Di Bruno Brothers in Camp Hill

I am so happy I could turn cartwheels!  Today is a day for celebration if you are a foodie in Central PA!  I was in the Camp Hill location of Giant today and I witnessed for myself what I had heard to be true – Di Bruno Brothers, the best cheese shop and specialty foods market I have ever shopped (and which I have previously posted about), is opening a location inside the Camp Hill Giant.  And that’s not all….

As I was doing my shopping, I looked toward the back to see two guys setting up the new Di Bruno Brothers section and I saw a familiar face.  Jeff and I go to Philly a good bit and nearly every time we do we visit the Di Brunos location in the Italian Market.  We always hope to be waited on by Hunter. Although all the staff are knowledgable and friendly, Hunter is our favorite.  Over the years he has steered us to try many wonderful offerings.

I got to chatting with Hunter and his co-worker, Scott, and found out that Hunter will be working in the Camp Hill location four days a week.  Trust me, this is big news.  If you want to talk to someone who knows cheese, Hunter is your man.

The grand opening is on Thursday….guess where I will be!

Market Value

Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday.  Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading.  Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting.  Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.”  That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking.  It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Marketing

I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

Monday Monday

What a glorious day we had on Monday! We set out for Big Valley at about 8:15 a.m. with our good friend Ron O; unfortunately we had to turn around after discovering that both Jeff and I thought the other had grabbed the camera bag – typical married couple stuff!  Anyway, once we picked up the camera, we were set!  We decided to take the back roads and meander our way through the glorious orange, yellow, gold and rust leaf-covered trees.  While we drove, we talked about a million things – catching up like friends do.  We stopped to take some photos at an abandoned mill and the devilish part of me looked for secret ways into the building, but alas Ron kept me in check.

We arrived in the valley and headed for the Erhard’s home.  Denny and Sue are friends of Ron’s who also happen to go to our church, but whom Jeff and I have not yet met.  They graciously hosted us for the day.  I will tell you for certain that Ron really knows how to live!  When we arrived at the Denny and Sue’s home we were greeted warmly and graciously treated to a home cooked breakfast of a wonderful egg and sausage soufflé-like casserole (had we not forgotten the camera it would have been puffier, but it could not have been more delicious), sweet watermelon, pumpkin cinnamon rolls and some very scrumptious biscuit like rolls from one of the stops we’d be making later in the day.  Sue is a wonderful cook, a warm and generous hostess and she is a whimsical jam-maker.  The one we were served was entitled “Traffic Jam,” which was an end of the season mixed berry jam that was quite delicious!

After breakfast, Sue acted as our tour guide around the valley in which she grew up.  We heard stories about how and where she met Denny; about her mother – who I wish I could have met before she passed – who was the post-mistress in Allenville, among other pursuits; about growing up in the valley; and many other great tales!  We visited produce stands and Amish farms where Sue buys baked goods.  We visited an Amish furniture shop and Peight’s Store where we found many things to buy including deli meats and cheeses at fantastic prices and spices and soup mixes recommended by Sue.

We stopped several times to take pictures of an assortment of things including pumpkins and gourds, farm equipment, cats and cows (not together), changing leaves, wash lines (Monday is wash day), Amish farmers plowing their fields, Amish children returning home from school, and the general beauty of the valley.  As we rode around we bemoaned the fact that we did not have enough time to see all that we wanted to in one day. But in the short time we had, I learned that Sue and I, although we have some stylistic differences, share much in common.  We both love to cook, eat and entertain, we both love to write and we both love to read.  We talked with one another about our favorite recipes, and our cooking styles.

When we returned to Sue’s house after our adventure in the valley she served us another incredible meal.  It was like a chicken pot pie only better.  It was warm and creamy and served over what looked like crackers, but were actually pieces of cooked pie dough (what a great idea).  The side dishes were peas, a wonderful cranberry jello-ish salad, and a homey salad with warm bacon dressing that was not at all like the cliché bacon dressing you sometimes get on a buffet.  Instead it was warm and light and delish!  The final culinary straw was a triple chocolate cake with a gooey glaze that would only have been better had it been calorie free!

All in all, the day was a huge success.  We roamed the beautiful countryside in excellent weather, ate incredible home-made food  in a warm and inviting atmosphere, and made some terrific new friends!  The only thing missing from the day was Ron’s lovely wife, Leslie – unfortunately she had to work, but someone has to bring home the bacon for warm bacon dressing!!!

Click here to view more of the photos from the day!

Is Service a Four-Letter Word?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone utter the phrase, “Customer service is dead.”  And it’s not only when I am the one uttering it!

So how do you know when service is bad?  I think the answer is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography/obscenity in Jacobelis v. Ohio.  He wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it…”  [Emphasis added].

Two service interactions got me thinking about this today.  The first was at a farmers market stand.  I arrived at the stand at approximately the same instant another customer arrived.  I wanted to purchase one thing – a small bunch of Tuscan kale, which I promptly picked up.  The person working at the stand (let’s call him Herb) glanced over at me and began a personal conversation with the person who arrived at the same time I did (let’s call her Rita).  Herb and Rita continued talking about things unrelated to the stand for about 2 – 3 minutes, glancing over at me periodically.  I was quietly holding my bunch of Tuscan kale thinking to myself, “surely he is going to excuse himself to wait on me.”

Well, I was wrong.  After the initial 2 – 3 minutes of conversation, Rita started her shopping – or something you could call shopping.  She was indecisively asking about this and that with no real urgency or direction.  And rather than wait on me, Herb continued to indulge Rita’s indecision for at least a full five additional minutes, after which (and I’m not making this up) Rita had to tell him a story about something that happened to her in Kenya. So now, I am not only faced with bad service but also bad manners.

Now I’m sure you are asking why I waited.  Believe me, I asked myself the same thing several times!  The answer is simple.  I had only two things on my list – peaches and Tuscan kale – and I had already walked the entire market and this was the only stand that had Tuscan kale.

After the market, I went to lunch at a microbrewery and had the second service interaction.  The waitress introduced herself to me and my dining companions and we had some sociable chit chat.  She seemed friendly and efficient.  However, as the meal progressed her rating for efficiency dropped like a rock.  She was one of those servers who had to interrupt the conversation frequently to tell us she was going to clear our plates or tell us she was going to bring us more water, rather than simply serving without intrusion.  And during the meal one of my dining companions asked about a specific beer and whether it was available. Please keep in mind, we were at a microbrewery.  Not only did she not know if the beer was available, she replied, “I have my hands full (which she LITERALLY did) so you’ll have to look in that menu on the table.”

Some of you may be scratching your heads and asking, “what’s wrong with that?”  I am a firm believer that you can say anything you want to someone, but HOW you say it makes all the difference.  I would have been fine with her saying something like, “Let me just put these plates down so that I can give you my full attention.  I will be right back.”

While neither of my interactions was horrific, both were disappointing.  Having been a restaurant server in my college days and having worked retail as well; I know the challenges in both situations and hope I provided better service than I received today.

So what does this have to do with cooking, eating and entertaining?  Service – whether in a restaurant or when you’re entertaining in your home – can make or break a meal.  It can be the difference between someone leaving feeling like they’ve been pampered or leaving uttering obscenities!

Turn the Beet Around

I think Gloria Estefan would forgive me for the word play on her song title – especially if she tasted the pickled spiced beets from The Village Whiskey – Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Philadelphia restaurant.

The Village Whiskey beets are what inspired my purchase of 10 pounds of red beets at the Lancaster Central Market on Friday. Philadelphia is a little far to drive for an appetizer, so I have to learn to make them on my own.  I hope Jose Garces will forgive my twist on his recipe.

The Village Whiskey makes their pickled spiced beets with baby red and golden beets, but I made mine with oven-roasted, full-grown red beets since I am still waiting for a late planting of beets in my garden to yield results.  Sadly, the rabbits had their way with the beets Jeff planted in the spring.

I roasted my 10 pounds of beets after washing them and wrapping them in foil.  They cooked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 90 minutes (they were big beets).  I let them cool, peeled them and cut them into bite-sized pieces.  While I was peeling and cutting the beets, a pickling solution was simmering on the stove.  Now I don’t know what The Village Whiskey puts in their recipe – that is for them to share or not; but I put some allspice, cinnamon, mustard seeds, thinly sliced onion, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest and orange juice along with some water and different types of vinegars.

After the beets were prepped, I poured the pickling liquid over them and now they are just swimming in the liquid getting happy, subtly spiced, and “pickley.”  Tomorrow I will can them so that I can enjoy them for months to come.  When I serve them, I will likely want the toasted baguette and whipped ricotta that is served at the restaurant with all their pickle selections.

Whether or not you want to try to make pickled, spiced beets on your own; I would HIGHLY recommend a trip to The Village Whiskey if you are in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is small and they do not take reservations, so Jeff and I try to arrive between lunch and dinner.  Not only are the beets amazing, so are the pickled herb cherry tomatoes and the french fries cooked in duck fat – especially when they are topped with delectable short ribs and cheddar cheese.  And if you are keeping up with the latest burger fad, do yourself a favor and do not pass up the Village Burger.  It is served on a buttery, light and flaky sesame bun with lettuce, tomato and house-made thousand island dressing.  I add the caramelized onions and one of the terrific cheese selections.  This is the kind of burger you wake up hungry for!

The Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19103

To Market, To Market . . .

Sometimes cooking, eating and entertaining begin not in the kitchen, but with a journey.  My mom, Connie, and I set out early yesterday on a trip to Lancaster Central Market (LCM) in Lancaster, PA, which is approximately 40 miles from home.  We were not in search of anything specific, just adventure.  I haven’t been to the LCM in probably 18 years so I wanted to reacquaint myself with it.

I find a trip to the farmers market quite relaxing…. and it can be both informational and inspiring.  I like seeing the fresh ingredients and dreaming about what I can make from them. One of the ways I can tell the best stands at the market – the ones with the freshest, choice ingredients – is by spying on the chefs.  If the chefs are shopping there, I reason there’s probably some good stuff to be had!

We entered LCM at the corner of Orange and Prince Streets and were met at the door by beautiful sunflowers and the equally sunny disposition of the woman selling them at Spring Knoll Farm.  Although not all stands had as much personality, it was a great beginning to the experience.

As we meandered through the rows in search of nothing in particular, we spent a lot of time pointing to various things (produce, flowers, pastries, etc.) saying, “ooh, look at that” or “hmmmm, what is that” and telling each other about things we’d made from similar ingredients.

One of my favorite stands was Tulip Tree Hill Farm, which sells small packages of sprouts and greens and a lovely tart raspberry lemonade.  The stand is nice to look at and the woman who helped me with my purchase of micro greens and lemonade was quite friendly.   I don’t yet know what I’ll make with the micro greens, but I cannot wait to try them.  They will likely be served alongside the roasted veggie soup Jeff is making today.

*I put a quarter next to the greens so that you can get an idea of how tiny and delicate they are.

Other than some multi-grain rolls from Willow Valley that looked too yummy to pass up and 10 pounds of beets (more to come in a later post), it seems our adventure was in miniature.  In addition to the micro greens we bought some teeny patty pan squash and some beautiful mini purple striped globe eggplant.

What we will make with the patty pan squash and eggplant remains a mystery.  But I can definitively say that we had a great time at the Lancaster Central Market and will surely return soon.  Yesterday proved that not all who wander are lost….some of us are preparing to cook, eat & entertain!

Additional photos of the beautiful produce we saw at LCM can be found on my Photo Gallery page.  Enjoy!