All the Best of All Things Local

People & Places

  1. Salt: A Love Story

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    Alaska Pure Sea Salt

    First comes love, then comes marriage…and then in one singular evening the unexpected happens that, eventually, changes everything.

    This is the love story (of sorts) of Jim and Darcy Michener of Sitka, Alaska.

    The unexpected happened in 1999 while honeymooning in a cabin on a remote Alaskan island. After unintentionally leaving a pot of seawater o
    n the wood stove overnight Jim made an unexpected discovery – salt crystals forming on the surface of the water. Intrigued, he and Darcy evaporated the remaining water and took their “handcrafted” sea salt home as a memento of their honeymoon. Returning to that remote cabin became an anniversary tradition where each year they would make a new batch of “anniversary” salt to use in their kitchen.

    The accidental discovery of salt making led them to a new life of culinary discovery and a passion for natural foods that only strengthened their relationship.   The two continued to tweak the process of salt making – for years – discovering along the way it is both a science and an art. Then in 2005 everything changed when they got serious and took steps to pursue their dream of producing North America’s first flake style sea salt.
    Jim (at the time a fishing guide in summer and a cold weather survival instructor for the U.S. Coast Guard in winter) hauled gallons and gallons of seawater to their kitchen where he tenaciously tweaked the evaporation process to get the perfect flake. Darcy (then an office administrator) let her inner chef come out to play, experimenting with local, seasonal flavors and infusions. The result? Their perfect pyramidal-shaped flake salt that looks like freshly fallen snow. It’s crisp texture, pure clean taste, and a variety of flavors that hail from and celebrate the natural beauty and bounty of the Alaskan wilderness.

    In 2007 the couple realized their dream when they officially launched, Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co.   Eight years later, they are 100 percent immersed in their growing business, supplying salts to some of the country’s best chefs who know, like Jim and Darcy discovered, good salt does matter!Like any great food, it’s the quality of the ingredients that make the difference, and often that means seasonal and local. Same with salt. With Alaska Pure, you know the exact ingredients – pure Alaskan seawater. Period. Interestingly there is also seasonality to the water they harvest – rich and full of life in the summer and crystal clear in the winter. While Jim has played around with creating distinct salts from each season’s water, he has found it would take an incredibly sensitive palate to discern any difference. Instead Alaska Pure celebrates the seasons in their flavored salts. In spring Jim and Darcy hustle during a brief two-week period to gather the emerging tender young tips of Sitka Spruce (Alaska’s state tree) to create their lovely piquant salt that is the perfect complement to seafood, like Alaskan salmon. In summer they harvest wild blueberries, climbing up to 2000 feet into the mountains (carefully avoiding bears), to create their deliciously fruity, deep red salt that is unbelievable on anything chocolate. Throughout the year they make an exquisitely smoked salt in a custom-built smoke house using alder wood, a hardwood abundant in Sitka.

    How best to use this finishing salt? Jim stated it perfectly when he said, “simple and seasonal is best…a slice of watermelon is absolutely AMAZING sprinkled with our sea salt!”

    My simply seasonal favorite is a slimmed down veggie “BLT” using their Alder Smoked salt. Skip the bacon and sprinkle a thick slice of juicy ripe tomato with the salt, cracked black pepper and add the rest of the sandwich fixings on toasted grainy bread. Sublimely addictive!

    However you decide to enjoy Alaska Pure Sea Salt, whether simply or sublimely like with our Molten Lava Cake, you will experience a labor of love…love of place, of season, of nature, of good food, of the art of creating something truly special, and the love that is Jim and Darcy’s relationship, which started it all!

    Originally written for and featured in TABLE Magazine, Fall 2015 issue.

  2. Finding or Following a Passion?

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    Sometimes we only know where we’re headed once we get there!

    The Founding and Philosophy

    of Crested Duck Charcuterie

    Kevin @ Crested Duck

    Kevin @ Crested Duck

    by Rhonda Schuldt,  Founder, Local Goodness, inaugural member of Crested Duck’s Bacon of the Month club, and loyal, adventurous customer! 
    (written for and originally published in TABLE Magazine’s  Summer ’11 issue)

    How does a one-time vegan with a degree in international studies and a stint in Africa end up running a decidedly local charcuterie establishment?

    For Kevin Costa, chef and partner in the local family business that is Crested Duck Charcuterie, it makes a lot of sense…if you trace the unlikely and unintentional path that led him there.

    One morning in Beechview, sitting on steps down the street from Crested Duck’s new establishment currently under construction, I asked Kevin how he ended up in this business.  As we sat he retraced the journey for me.

    Reflecting back, he realized he’s always had a passion for food and where it comes from.  But the first, uncharted, step toward a career in food was at age 16 when he took his first job in the restaurant business…as a dishwasher.  With no experience in a kitchen (even at home) he surprisingly found himself promoted to prep cook within a matter of weeks.  His first culinary endeavor?  Pancakes!  While earning a degree in International Studies at Ohio State, he continued his journey, working for a French bistro.  This time he found himself behind the bar where he expanded his knowledge of wine, but regrets not getting into the kitchen more.

    Following college, he confessed he “ran off to Africa.” While halfway around the world, reflecting on life and his future, Kevin came to the critical realization that what he’d always viewed as  “just jobs” could actually become a career.

    With a new focus and drive, Kevin returned to the states (and Cincinnati) where he joined a renowned restaurant to hone his skills.  There he found a mentor in the head chef who enthusiastically shared her hobby of charcuterie.   Kevin eventually left Cincinnati, moving to Indianapolis where he served as chef of a high-end specialty grocer and was further exposed to the art of charcuterie.

    The end of a relationship precipitated a change in the trajectory of Kevin’s journey and he found himself looking towards home.  Concurrently, Kevin’s brother, Adam, was feeling the entrepreneurial bug.  He approached Kevin about coming back to Pittsburgh and going into business together.  The brothers considered a restaurant, but the old neighborhood butchers Kevin got to know in Cincinnati intrigued him.  Seeing a trend in other cities, he pitched the idea of a specialty charcuterie business to his brother and parents.   This was in December 2009.  All of them recognized an unfilled niche in Pittsburgh and Crested Duck Charcuterie (and a family business) was born.

    Immediately Kevin immersed himself in learning anything and everything about butchery and the old-world methods for preserving and preparing meats.   Believing it’s critically important to know where your food comes from and being fully committed to using only locally, humanely raised animals in his products, he scouted out local farmers and ranchers to source his meats, poultry and game.   In rented kitchen space Kevin began making, curing, aging and testing prospective products.  The intense efforts paid off.  Within just a few months Crested Duck opened for business Mother’s Day weekend 2010 at Farmers at the Firehouse market in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.   They’ve been wildly successfully since, expanding later that summer into a permanent stand in the Pittsburgh Public Market and a new retail space this year.

    So, what ‘s the vegan connection?  Interestingly it plays into Kevin’s philosophy and approach at Crested Duck.  Essentially he wanted to understand and appreciate the vegan lifestyle and point of view so he committed to a vegan diet for two years.    He applies this same dedication to learning, understanding and appreciating all that goes into creating high quality, traditionally cured meats.  This leads to providing the best products possible for Crested Duck customers.

    A consummate student, Kevin readily admits he will always be learning and perfecting the art of charcuterie.  But he’s also a teacher and relishes sharing his knowledge.

    Serious when working (and admittedly grumpy-looking), he is thrilled when customers ask him questions about a particular product, types and cuts of meat, how something should be prepared, even the ubiquitous question, “what is that?”   Acknowledging an occasional person will simply turn up their nose at his products, he harkens back to his vegan experience and challenges them to experience something new.    Whether fresh cuts of elk, venison and goat, or nontraditional interpretations of traditional charcuterie, like prosciutto-style duck breast, lamb coppa, and rabbit rillet, those who take his challenge are likely to be pleasantly surprised.  As often happens, skeptics become loyal, appreciative customers.

    The next leg in the Crested Duck journey?  In late spring 2011, merely a year after they debuted at the farmers’ market, Kevin and family open the doors to Crested Duck’s new retail space, housing a production kitchen, aging room, deli and teaching space for classes on butchery and charcuterie.    Where this leg of the journey will lead is yet to be seen, but at the end of our conversation Kevin doesn’t hesitate to let me know that, yes, the work is hard but he is indeed following his passion…and loving it!

    Update since original article:  Crested Duck Charcuterie’s new kitchen and restaurant at 1603 Broadway, Beechview, PA  opened in  2011


  3. Planting Seeds of Sustainability

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    SSA Fox Chapel Farmer's Market

    Rhonda visited Shadyside Academy in Fox Chapel, PA, where school administrators, students, parents and the community partner in bringing “real food from real people” to the school and community through a new school farm and weekly farmers market.  Rhonda joined Paul Guggenheimer on Essential Pittsburgh to talk about this innovative program that integrates the farm and market in the school’s curriculum — strengthening education, the community and planting the seeds of sustainability among the next generation.


    Listen and Learn HERE


  4. Tis the Season…For Brussels Sprouts & Chestnuts!

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    One of the first to be planted and of the last to be harvested, Brussels sprouts are truly the holdout crop for local farmers!  Best picked after the first hard frost, Brussels sprouts come into season just as the holidays begin to roll around…and they pair nicely with another fall and holiday favorite – the chestnut.

    Seasonality, freshness and proper cooking techniques make the difference between the nasty sprouts of your childhood and ones that you will look forward to on your dinner table.  On today’s segment we cook up two tasty Brussels sprout recipes, one a Simple Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts dish from our friends at Harvest Valley Farms(where we also got our fresh Brussels sprouts) and a more elegant side dish of Bronzed Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Shallots & Chestnuts.

    Luckily in Pennsylvania, there are still some chestnut trees on local farms where we can get fresh, American-grown chestnuts.  We took advantage of some from Enon Valley Garlic’s chestnut tree an cooked up a silky Roasted Chestnut Bisque.

    Stock up on these two seasonal treasures for YOUR holiday festivities!

    Brussels Sprouts – Buying-Storing-Preparing

    Chestnuts – Buying-Storing-Preparing

  5. Apples and Sweet Potatoes — a beautiful pair

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    Somerset at Harvest

    Watch the segment HERE.

    Fall is in the air, winter squash, fruits and vegetables are appearing at farmers’ markets, and farms are wrapping up the growing season with their harvest festivals.   It’s time to stock up for the cold months ahead on the last of the season’s bounty.  Two powerhouse foods are at their peak – apples and sweet potatoes – and, while delicious solo, they pair beautifully as in our Sweet Potato and Apple Galette with Oatmeal Streusel Topping.

    Stop at your local farmers market for the ingredients  we got ours from Clarion River Organics (sweet potatoes) and Dawson’s Orchards (apples).

    Be sure to get out and enjoy the crisp fall air and fall colors!  Harvest festivals are still going strong through October.  If you’re in Southwestern Pennsylvania, here are just a few we know about:


    Soergel Orchard Fall Festival

    Shenot Farms Hayrides

    Harvest Valley Farms Fall Festival

    Reilly’s Summer Seat Farm Harvest Festival

    Janoski’s Pumpkinland

    Hozak Farms Fall Festival

    Triple B Farms

    Schramm Farms Fall Festival


    Happy Eating!

  6. Pizzas on the Grill – Fresh from the Farm!

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    WATCH the video of today’s segment HERE.

    Want an alternative to weekend barbecue?  Why not grab some farm-fresh goodies from your local farmers market or farm stand and grill up some pizzas!

    Franco and Joe from Ceramic Grillworks in Pittsburgh joined me today as we turned a dome grill into a wood-fired pizza oven.  Top your homemade pizza dough or store-bought crust with fresh, seasonal ingredients and the possibilities are endless….and fabulous!!

    Here’s a a few ideas to get your started!

    Grilled Pizza 3 Ways



    Ceramic Grillworks:

    Local Farms & Local Sources for Pizza-making ingredients:

    Dillner Family Farm (veggies & fruit):

    Enon Valley Garlic (garlic & eggs):

    Crested Duck Charcuterie (bacon & other meats!):

    Steffes Wood Apiary (honey):

    Callifonte Foods (sauce & shells):

    Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. (cheese & dough):

  7. Celebrate and Honor Mom with brunch… …fresh from the Farmers’ Market!

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    Markets are open for the season!

    Markets are open for the season!

    Watch HERE!

    Cook up a farm-fresh Mother’s Day treat with our Mother’s Day Farmers’ Market Brunch recipes.

    Not only is it Mother’s Day, but his first weekend in May is also the time when most farmers’ markets open for the season, so why not treat mom to a fabulous feast, fresh from the farm!

    At my local Market (which opens early, in April), I found a treasure trove of ingredients for our Mother’s Day brunch menu featuring early spring ingredients, fresh herbs, cheeses and even a decadent dessert that takes advantage of local duck eggs!  Not only was brunch covered, but I scooped up a several Mom-worthy gifts, including beautiful note cards (complete with recipes) beautifully illustrated by Karen Sandorf, a local artist.  I then picked up a gorgeous hanging basket from Pisarcik Greenhouse.  In addition, there were teas, soaps, lotions and even jewelry…all locally made.

    For local markets open near you, go to Local Harvest where you can search farmers markets, farms and other sources of fresh, local ingredients.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!   I love you!

    Farmers’ Market Tips:

    Take Cash!

    Take shopping bags

    Go early for best selection; end of the day for deals

    Talk to the farmers & vendors to learn about their farm, how they grow/raise their products, for tips on using the items you’re buying

    Try something new




    Karen Sandorf Gallery

    Local Harvest

    St. James Farmers Market

    200 Walnut Street

    Sewickley, PA  15143

    Open Saturdays 9AM – 1PM

    April – November


    Farms (at the Market) where we Sourced our Brunch Ingredients:

    Cherry Valley Organics

    Clarion River Organics

    Dillner Family Farm

    Enon Valley Garlic


    Contact Info:

    Pisarcik Greenhouse & Cut Flowers

    Elaine Pisarcik

    365 Browns Hill Road

    Valencia, PA


  8. Spring HAS Sprung — get your share of the Harvest!

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    CSA Bounty

    Try our…Field Green Salad with Spring Onion Dressing and Kale Pesto

    Watch HERE

    Cook up our tasty recipes:  Field Green Salad with Spring Onion Dressing and Kale Pesto.

    Don’t let April’s snows fool you…spring IS here!  And, now’s the time to grab your share of the season’s harvest by subscribing to a CSA — Community Supported Agriculture.  Typically a subscription service where you pay up front for a share of a farm’s weekly harvest during the growing season (typically June – October in Pennsylvania), today’s CSAs come in a variety of sizes and frequency, including some with extreme flexibility to suit every lifestyle.

    This is our fifth year as a CSA subscriber.  We have gone the traditional route, opting to get a box each week from Dillner Family Farm.  Each Thursday afternoon from June through October we drive to our local pick-up site and get our box of treasure.  Early in the season, the box is overflowing with green…lettuce, broccoli, spring onions, young herb plants, spring greens, kale, collards, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, etc…with a punch of color from strawberries, radishes, and rhubarb.  As the season progresses, the colors become more varied and the thrill of what we might find in our weekly box is heightened.  Like many others, our farm also offers ala carte items that can be ordered and delivered with our regular box, including cheeses, Amish breads and baked goods, jams, jellies, preserves & pickles, fresh flowers, chicken, and eggs.

    Cherry Valley Organics is a farm that offers a share of their farm through a CSA with ultimate flexibility.  After signing up with the farm, you are free to order what you want each week, opting to take weeks off if you’re traveling or simply don’t need anything that week.  Love fresh flowers?  They offer a fresh flower subscription…talk about a great gift idea (I’m thinking Mother’s Day)!!

    Isidore Foods is a local company begun in 2007 that has made it possible to share in many farms’ bounty with their variety of CSA  programs.  They work with multiple farms to offer not only vegetables and fruit, but also dairy, meats, poultry, bakery and even pantry items to their customers.  Weekly, bi-weekly and single-purchase boxes are offered, along with ala carte purchases of most items.  Their unique offerings, service, and farm relationships has made them wildly successful, expanding into Ohio and West Virginia in addition to Pennsylvania and growing from 150 customers its first year to 1650 now.

    Another CSA program that allows you to benefit from multiple farms is Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance.  A cooperative of more than 30 farms in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Penn’s Corner offers a vegan option in addition to its regular CSA. So popular, their Spring CSA is already sold out, but if you act fast there may still be time to grab a summer share!

    To find a CSA in Southwestern PA, you can search the Buy Fresh Buy Local Site, across the US Local Harvest is a great source as well!

    No matter your choice, there is no doubt you will eat well, eat more healthful, discover new favorites and find great satisfaction in becoming a part of a farm’s family when you share in their harvest through a CSA.