This year I’ve been researching my ancestry. Many (many) years ago, when I was in fourth grade, my great grandmother wrote to me relaying all she could remember about my family history that intersected with her part of the family. One thing she revealed was that we had direct descendants who arrived on the Mayflower. At the time I didn’t consider the magnitude of this information, which I was finally able to confirm this year (at some point I will write more about this). At this time of year I can’t help but reflect on the importance of that first feast of thanksgiving. Little is really known about it, but one thing we do know is that those hearty souls experienced nothing like the bountiful tables around which so many of us are now privileged to gather.
This year I especially give thanks to my Soule, Mullins and Alden family members (and all the pilgrims) who traveled to this new world and were a part of that first autumn feast, shared with their Native American allies who graciously helped them learn to live in this new land. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, may we pause and give thanks for living in a blessed nation that still offers people seeking freedom and opportunity a place to call home.
Happy Thanksgiving to you!
In coming days I’ll post some new favorites, but first I want to share (again) our family’s favorite Thanksgiving menu (link to the recipes are below)!
Roasted Turkey with Herb Butter
Apple Cider Gravy
Smashed Red Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions
Along a busy road in a Pittsburgh neighborhood are stunning remnants of the city’s gilded age. In this stretch of Fifth Avenue, known as “Millionaires Row,” lie two homes that once housed the family of Willis F. McCook. An industrialist and one of the nation’s first corporate lawyers, McCook was Henry Clay Frick’s attorney, representing him in Frick’s celebrated fight with Andrew Carnegie. After the McCook family, the Mansions were home to the Bonavita family who, shortly after moving into the mansion, began renting rooms on the second and third floors to carefully screened university students from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham. For more than 50 years, hundreds of students came to call the McCook Mansion home.
In 2004, a fire broke out on the third floor of the McCook Mansion, causing substantial damage to the third floor and the roof, rendering the building uninhabitable. It sat vacant until Mary Del Brady and Richard Pearson embarked on a long journey to restore the property with an unwavering commitment to preserving as much of the historical detail and integrity of the Mansions as possible. In her new chapter as a luxury boutique hotel, the Mansions on Fifth is now available for all of us to experience the history, grandeur and artistry of this city’s rich industrial past.
God of Fire – adorns the Mansions’ dining room fireplace
In 2015, Local Goodness joined forces with the Mansions to create a gift line of unique items created by local artisans. The Mansions Collection is the result of this effort and on November 29, 2015, the Mansions will unveil the inaugural artists and their exquisite items at a special shopping event. All items in the collection are available on the Local Goodness Marketplace. Proceeds support local artisans and historic preservation.
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.
I’m not one to typically swoon over chocolate, but this gooey, molten chocolate cake topped with the fruity, salty crunch of Alaska Pure Sea Salt knows how to satisfy my crunchy salty cravings in the sweetest way! This simple, decadent dessert is easy enough for a weeknight treat but spectacular for any special occasion.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter bottoms and sides of six (6-oz) custard cups; dust with cocoa. Place butter and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, microwave on high for 1 minute or until the butter has melted. Whisk until the chocolate has melted into the butter.
In a separate large bowl, beat whole eggs and egg yolks with wire whisk until well blended. Beat in the powdered sugar until blended, then beat in the melted chocolate mixture and flour. Divide batter evenly among custard cups. Place cups on rimmed baking dish, such as a sheet pan.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until sides are set and centers are still soft – the tops will be puffed and slightly cracked. Let stand for a couple of minutes. To serve, run small knife between the cake and the cup to loosen the cake. Immediately place a heatproof serving plate upside down over each cup; carefully turn the plate and cup over. Lift off the cup. Dust lightly with powdered sugar and finish with Alaska Pure Wild Blueberry Sea Salt. Serve warm.
thank you, Adam Milliron, for the gorgeous photography that accompanied this recipe and article on Alaska Pure.
I love the adaptability of this light and simple summertime pasta dish. It’s a staple at Fern Hollow Nature Center’s annual Italian Garden Dinner where we change it up each year depending on what’s at the peak of the season.
A simple, delicious and extraordinarily adaptable dish that takes advantage of the best of the season.
1 pound fresh pasta (Fede Pasta, made in North Huntington, PA stars in this dish at the Italian Garden Dinner)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pancetta, cubed
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 pints grape tomatoes (I like a combination of yellow and red)
1 small yellow squash or zucchini, halved lengthwise then thinly sliced into ½-round pieces
1½ cups fresh kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced into ribbons
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Place a large pot of water on the stove and heat to a boil.
As the water heats, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add in the pancetta and cook 2 to 3 minutes to render the fat a little bit. Add the garlic and stir until it starts to soften, but not brown. Toss in the tomatoes, squash, kale, and peppers. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the tomatoes burst, the kale wilts a bit, and the squash and peppers are tender. While the vegetables cook, put the pasta in the boiling water and cook according to package instructions.
Before draining the pasta, remove 1 cup of pasta water from the pot and reserve. Drain pasta and add to the pan of vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water, cook pasta and sauce together for a couple of minutes, stirring to combine, adding more reserved pasta sauce if desired. Toss in the fresh basil just before serving and with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Any summer vegetable can be used in this dish – corn, green beans, sweet onion, fennel, and broccoli rabe are all delicious additions. Omit the pancetta and cheese for a delicious vegan variation.
Rhubarb makes its appearance as one of the first vegetables of spring. It’s often polarizing. Those of us who grew up on rhubarb pie in the midwest have a fondness for its tart contrast to the sweetness added in the pie-making process. However, this fleeting springtime produce is equally delicious as a savory treat and this rhubarb ketchup recipe, created to utilize and preserve rhubarb when it is abundant, is sure to win over rhubarb skeptics. Try it with our Lamb Sliders.
1 medium sweet onion, cut in 1-inch pieces (approximately 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup water
2/3 cup raw sugar (can substitute light brown sugar)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
6 whole cloves
Place the rhubarb, onion, garlic and water in a medium saucepan. Simmer over low heat until tender, approximately 5-10 minutes. Let cool slightly then pour into a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Pour mixture back into the saucepan; add sugar, vinegar and spices. Simmer over low heat until thickened and reduced by half, approximately 45 minutes. Stir often to prevent scorching and sticking.
For a silky ketchup and to remove the solids, press ketchup through a fine mesh sieve. Pour into clean container, cover and store in the refrigerator.
excellent on grilled meats...especially lamb sliders!
Heat butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions and pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes over medium-high heat then reduce heat medium and cook an additional 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and caramelized.
While onions are cooking, place lamb, shallot, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Gently mix together with hands or a fork, being careful not to compress the meat. Evenly divide the mixture into six patties.
Place patties on a hot, oiled grill and cook for 4 minutes. Flip and cook an addition 2 minutes or until desired doneness. Place on buns. Add 1 teaspoon of rhubarb ketchup on each burger and top with caramelized onions.
Today a small group of us will gather to begin preparations for an early spring dinner being held at Fern Hollow Nature Center. This event, benefitting the Center’s education programs, celebrates the first foods of spring that emerge in the forests, farm fields and gardens after a long (and very cold) winter. Farmers, foragers and others have generously donated local ingredients that will feed a small group of lucky guests (to this sold-out event) a dinner full of the season’s treasures.
As we provision, prepare and feed these friends of the Center, we will also educate about the value of eating locally, seasonally, and sustainably. Along with locally raised lamb, eggs, potatoes, and vegetables, we will enjoy ramp fritters, garlic mustard pesto, greens and beans with sautéed nettles, wild mushroom crostini, and other foraged delights.
Thank you to all who provided, all who attend, and of course, to Fern Hollow staff, board and volunteers for incredible programming and community engagement that allow us to enjoy nature and learn with each and every encounter it provides to nurture and cherish it.
Ramps are one of my favorite early spring edibles. These wild treasures are insanely popular, leading to irresponsible harvesting by some. Be sure to get your ramps from those who wish to protect their delicate habitats to ensure their availability for years to come.
As the polar vortex, arctic blast — or whatever the meteorologists are calling it this year — hits us hard with frigid temps and blustery days, gather the family in the kitchen and whip up (literally) some homemade marshmallows and hot chocolate to help get you through this chilly time of year!
Here’s our favorite recipe created for TABLE Magazine’s inaugural issue way back in 2006. We’ve made some modifications over the years that have proven very effective and a little more healthy! Substitute the corn syrup with organic agave nectar and use organic cane sugar in place of standard white sugar. Either way you make them, homemade “gourmet” marshmallows are delicious treats for family, friends, teachers and those with whom you want to share a little love.
Yield: 20-40 marshmallows, depending on how large you slice; 4 mugs hot chocolate
3 packages of unflavored gelatin (such as Knox® brand)
½ cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
Prepare a 9x9 pan by lining with plastic wrap, spray with non-stick vegetable spray and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Put ½ cup cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to sit for approximately 10 minutes.
As gelatin sits, combine sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute. (Do not over cook or the syrup will get too hard.) Remove from heat.
Turn mixer onto high speed and carefully pour boiling syrup in the gelatin. Add salt and continue to beat at high speed for 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat for an additional 2 minutes or until the mixture is lukewarm, fluffy white, and the consistency of whipped marshmallows.
Scrape the warm mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly with wet hands. Dust the top of marshmallows mixture with more confectioner’s sugar. Allow to stand, uncovered, on the counter for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, to so the marshmallow mixture can set up and dry.
Remove the marshmallow slab from the pan by turning the pan upside down onto a board. Remove plastic liner if still attached, and cut the slab into squares (kitchen shears sprayed with non-stick spray make this job easier). Place in bowl and dust with additional confectioner’s sugar.
Yields 20-40 marshmallows, depending on size
For the Hot Chocolate:
½ cup water
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (to make this extra special, look for Mexican cocoa powder)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3½ cups milk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup half-and-half
extra cocoa powder
In a small bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar and pinch of salt. Bring water to a boil and whisk in cocoa-sugar mixture. Return to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 2 minutes, stirring constantly and being careful not to scorch the mixture. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of milk and heat until very hot, but do not boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla. Divide between 4 mugs. Divide the half-and-half among the mugs of cocoa and top with homemade marshmallows, sprinkle with cocoa and a dash of cinnamon. Enjoy!
Experiment with new marshmallow flavors and toppings: rather than confectioner’s sugar, line your pan with superfine sugar, finely crushed Oreos, mini chocolate chips, toasted coconut or other items to coat your marshmallows and give them your signature touch!
For an extra chocolaty touch, rim the mugs with a dusting of cocoa powder before filling.