2

Girls Weekend at Bedford Springs

Girls Weekend at Bedford Springs

My husband denies this conversation ever happened, but some time back I suggested to him that we go on a romantic weekend getaway to Bedford Springs resort. He said the idea sounded boring. This coming from the man who counts “sitting quietly and being left alone” amongst his favorite activities. So I said fine. I’ll go with friends. So I did. And then afterward I told him how my weekend involved eating good food, drinking good wine, time at the spa, and lots of sitting quietly in a chair and resting. All of his favorite things. So maybe I’ll just need to have another spa weekend soon.

My girls weekend was fantastic and so badly needed. I have a lot going on right now at work, so it’s go-go-go-go-go. A minute away to rest my mind was necessary to keep me form losing it entirely.

IMG_3539

Bedford Springs has long been known for its rejuvenating spring water. Appropriately, it has a very lovely spa. I treated myself to a luxurious mud wrap, spent a good long while soaking and scrubbing and showering through the spring spa ritual, and then spent several hours lounging in a chair quietly, reading, as my friends sat nearby reading or snoozing. It was amazing.

I didn’t take any pictures inside the spa, because when they check in they have you sign a thing that says NO TAKING PICTURES. Really though, it’s better for the ambiance, so I’m all for that restriction.

We visited Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal for dinner. Despite being usually in the know about the Pittsburgh restaurant scene, I had never heard of this place. It’s a must-stop if you’re spending some time out in the Seven Springs/Hidden Valley, but is honestly so good that may even is worth its own trip out from the City. Better yet, make your dinner reservations the central event for a weekend in the Laurel Highlands.

IMG_3544

I’d classify the cuisine as “contemporary American” but without getting into anything too artsy and not getting too indulgent in the comfort food direction.

IMG_3548

I had the cocoa crusted lamb chop. I find that the more food posts I write, the fewer unique descriptions of delicious meals I am able to craft. So this is where you put all kinds of wonderful adjectives about the wonderful meal. Because wonderful.

IMG_3549

The mushroom bread pudding with truffle oil was one of the most surprising and decadent side dishes that I’ve had in ages. It’s so buttery and rich that the portion size is overwhelming. But that’s what take out boxes are for.

IMG_3550

One of my friends ordered bronzino. I usually opt for any meal with eyeballs, because why wouldn’t you? But this time the call of the lamb chop was overpowering. Next time, my fish friend, you will be mine.

Our stress melted away over the lovely weekend. But as we returned, and drove mile by mile closer to the city, it crept back up on us. Work remains full speed ahead through May. But Mr. Beez and I do have plans for a trip away to Nemacolin in the not-too-distant future. Believe me. I’ll need it.

0

A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

A Holiday Break of Sorts and final countdown to my @CMNHospitals goal for @RunDisney

January 2 is my deadline for my Children’s Miracle Network fundraising goal for the 2015 RunDisney Glass Slipper Challenge! I’ve raised over $1,050 toward the $1,200 goal…ONLY $150 TO GO! CLICK ANYWHERE ON THIS PARAGRAPH TO GO TO MY FUNDRAISING PAGE!  Help me cross the finish line!!! PS– if you sponsor me, I’ll put your name on my running pance for the half marathon princess run! Yinz are absolutely the best, for SRS.

Despite my complaints that real grown-up life no longer has a winter break, things have been noticeably quieter around these parts for the last week. I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging out with family, reading books, and best of all napping. SO many naps. It’s been lovely. You’d think I’ve had used this time to finally get together our belated Holiday letter…but it’s already late, so what’s a few more days later, when I can use this time for glorious glorious naps instead.

We wound up last week’s Toronto trip with a stop at Mystic Muffin. It’s a local favorite, known for its friendly owner, Elias, and the amazing apple cake he bakes. It was such a laid back, cool place. We had a great time chatting with Elias about how he came from Lebanon as a refugee and ultimately settled down in Canada, and about his sweet little daughter. The breakfast bagels were great and the buttery, sweet apple cake did not disappoint. This place was the best.

Mystic Muffin

#1 Apple Cake Fan

#1 Apple Cake Fan


On the long drive home, we listened to Serial (LOVE IT) and made a couple quick stops at wineries in Niagara-On-the-Lake. I did my best to keep Baby Beez occupied with my phone as we sampled a few wines and stocked up for the long, cold winter ahead.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.

I found about 300 of these on my phone by the end of the afternoon.


We stopped first at Caroline Cellars, a homey and friendly favorite, to pick up some of their French Revolution marechal foch blend. Our second stop was Stratus, which has a cool modern vibe, and easily the most gorgeous tasting room I’ve eve seen. Our third and final stop was Jackson-Triggs which easily won me over as my favorite of the trip with its selection of multiple kinds of bubbly, both white and red.Jackson-Triggs

My mom came in to visit the day after we returned from our trip, and it’s been a laid back Christmas season. Baby Beez enjoyed ripping into the remainder of her Hanukkah presents and getting to show her grandma how she lights the Hanukkah candles.

Hanukkah Box

Since Mr. Beez’ family is Catholic, we spend Christmas at their house, and Santa even visits Baby Beez there. So basically, she’s the most spoiled kid ever. This was the first Christmas since Mr. Beez’ mother passed away, so the whole thing was a bit different and sad. Grandma was always in charge of Santa’s complete disregard for limits when it came to presents, and since I took over the Santa responsibilities, this year was more modest. I can’t say Baby Beez noticed the difference though. She did get her GoGo Pet pup, and was THRILLED.

Gogo Pup

Baby Beez

We continued the holiday spirit on Friday with a visit to the Nutcracker. On the way there, Baby Beez told us all the story of the Nutcracker. Her ballet teacher had been talking about it with the class, but I suspect Baby Beez added her own interpretation. According to her, in the Nutcracker: “The girl throws her shoe and kills the mices and then the Nutcracker grows and kills them with its butt, and then they get married.”

The Nutcracker

We also went to see Annie over the weekend. We intended to see it on Christmas, but with our foo comas and multiple naps, we decided to skip it for the time being. Instead we went this weekend. It was absolutely fantastic. The music is just as fun and catchy as the original movie (and play) with a modern twist to it. Baby Beez sang the songs nonstop afterward, and it was nice for her to be singing something that (for once) does not get on my nerves.

ANNIE

Let me tell ya, IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE, YINZ. Especially if you are 4. She looks all cute and cheerful in those pictures, but she’s been ridiculously difficult over the last couple of days. Even at the movies, where she is usually very well behaved, she was kind of a nightmare. Maybe it was lack of sleep, maybe it’s just a change in schedule, maybe it’s the lack of outdoor time. Who knows. But I’m ready to get back in our normal routine.

So that’s all for now yinz. Back in the office tomorrow, but luckily the courts aren’t chomping at the bit to get back to work, so it should be pretty easy going for the next week or so. Hope yinz all had a lovely holiday and are gearing up for a fun New Year!


0

Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

Moar Eats and Sights in Toronto

I asked Baby Beez this morning what her favorite thing is about our trip to Toronto, and she announced “EATING ALL THE FOOD!” Because she’s my kid. Obvs. I initially thought of writing a post for each day we’re on our trip, but drawing out our weekend might be completely torturous to my readers, because one weekend really is not that exciting. Also, we’re winding down our visit, Mr. Beez and I are sipping some beers while watching Gone Girl while Baby Beez is sleeping, so why not sit down and write a spell. The focus of our trip has been (1) eating things, and (2) looking at things. It’s been going very well.

St Lawrence Market

The #1 destination for our trip was St Lawrence Market, and we were definitely not disappointed. I had failed to do any research on the shops themselves before arriving, but my foodie spidey-sense was on point, and we beelined it to the first bakery we saw was Carousel Bakery, which just happens to be THE place to go for the Toronto signature dish, peameal bacon on a bun. Yes, pls.

Carousel Bakery

Donut for her, peabacon on bun for me

We continued wandering around, enjoying all kinds of tasty things, like a cafe au lait made from freshly-roasted coffee, sausage from the Ukranian store, allllll of the cheese-stuffed antipasti and delicious, buttery chocolate chunk shortbread.

Coffee Roaster

Ukranian Store

Antipasti

Chocolate Chunk Shortbread

all the cheese

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?

Have you ever seen more beautiful words?


I treated myself to a facial during the day. Mr. Beez stayed back at the room with Baby Beez. He fell asleep, during which time she took advantage of the situation and unwrapped all the Hanukkah presents we had brought for her. I told her she wasn’t in trouble, but we were just disappointed that we didn’t get to see her open them (and also she’d have to wait til we get back to Pittsburgh for any more presents.) She got all big and teary-eyed and said “I tried to wait!” I just wish we had a camera in the room, so we could have seen her “trying” to wait.

We went to the Hockey Hall of fame, and by “Went To” I mean “Stood in front of and took a picture.” We’re not really into hockey, or sports in general. But our hotel was right next to the hall of fame, and everyone else was taking pictures in front of the sign, so why not? If we come back when Baby Beez is older, and she actually WANTS to go there, I can show her this picture and tell her she’s already been there, and get myself out of that one for sure.


Hockey Hall of Fame

Our big touristy adventure for the day was going to the CN Tower, which was pretty neat and provides a lovely view. Baby Beez is apparently not afraid of heights in the least, because she just loved looking out the windows.

Taking pictures with her toy camera

Taking pictures with her toy camera



CN Tower

CN Tower

The thing with traveling with a 4 year old is that you only get about 2.5 hours of doing things until she starts absolutely losing her mind. Because she’s 4. And that’s what 4 year olds do. So we try to make the most of those 2.5 hours, and know that it’s all going to unravel afterward, so it’ll be time for us ALL to go back for a nap.

Toronto has an AMAZING food scene, and we were lucky enough to line up a sitter so we could go out for a grown-up dinner with friends whom we have not seen in way too long.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to Rent the Runway, I got myself dressed up!

Rent the Runway Lela Rose Floating Flowers

We went to Beast, in the King West neighborhood, and had a great time sampling its inventive, locally focused menu. My favorite dishes were the first two pictured below, the simple but amazing cava + oysters, and the stuffed pasta that I can’t remember more details about, other than it being fantastic.  All of the dishes were great, but those two were my absolute favorite.

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

Beast

As much as I would have LOVED to return to St. Lawrence Market and eat my face off AGAIN, it is sadly closed on Sunday and Monday.  Mr. Beez ended up getting tied up with work, so Baby Beez and I explored the City together. First things first, snacking Canadian-style at Tim Horton’s.

Tim Horton's

Next up, trolley tour!! It was very cold out, but it was a nice way for us to see the city (and conveniently fit within the 2.5 hour window of my child behaving like a human, instead of a gremlin).

Bus Tour

Of course, afterward a nap was NECESSARY. And did serve us well. Then we were off to Eaton Centre to wander around the mall. Because when we go on vacation, my child begs to go to (1) the playground, and (2) the mall. Next year, we’ll vacation in the suburbs. But to keep this little one occupied, we did let her pick out a toy at the Disney Store. She passed over the princesses, and picked out Eve from Wall-E, so we were extra-pleased. I must say, the mall WAS decorated in a lovely way for the holidays, and it was a nice night out wandering around together.

Eaton Centre

Tonight, I ordered the kid to go to bed at a reasonable time (she ignored me, she’s laying on the couch and sneaking goldfish crackers), and Mr. Beez and I are up watching Gone Girl and sipping some beers. And you know what, movies and beers, that’s a nice night.

0

Go North, Beez Family!!

Go North, Beez Family!!

Sometime in the Autumn, I hit a funk where it was clear that I NEEDED A VACATION. Not even a long vacation, just a little trip away, just to have some fun and (if all went according to plan) take a brief break from work. Smart people in Pittsburgh head south to where it is nice and warm. We are not smart, and we only had 4 days for this trip, so we went north, to see our friends in the land of moose and maple syrup. Mr. Beez had fond childhood memories of visiting Toronto around Christmas, and I had only visited Toronto once in my freshman year of college, and barely remember the place. Plus, hotel points=free lodging= yes pls. So Toronto, it was.

Our plan was to get on the road at 6am, but due to various work commitments for both Mr. Beez and I, we didn’t even get around to packing until 11pm the night before. We ended up waking up at a reasonable time and getting on the road by 7:30….so still early, just not as early as we hoped.We had our road “reading” all picked out. World War Z was a super fun book and was perfect pick, both Mr. Beez and I enjoyed it. (Note: We’ve got Serial all teed up to listen to on the drive back).  And then some idiot truck river got himself in a major accident on the highway causing a MAJOR traffic backup. It took us 2 hours to get to Wexford. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

truck accident

FINALLY we made it out of the Pittsburgh metro area. We did hit a couple more spots of traffic, but FINALLY Toronto was in sight!

CN Tower

Our plan for the first evening there was to visit Toronto’s famed Christmas Market in the Distillery District. It rivals the Christmas markets in Europe, and has been rated one of the World’s 10 Best Christmas Markets by Fodor’s Travel.

Toronto Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market

It really is a lovely and large Christmas Market, but everyone else in the Toronto Metro area apparently planned to go that night, too, and it was PACKED. Mr. Beez and I would rather sit and stare at a wall than be in a crowd, and crowded areas are even less navigable with a hungry 4 year old, so after about 20 minutes we called it a day and went searching for some food that did not involve standing in line.

I don’t know how people managed to travel or find anything before there was Yelp. I mean, I have vague memories of studying abroad in 2002 and lugging around a big ol’ travel book, but if I still had to do that today, I wouldn’t get to see anything cool, because I cannot get my act together to pre-plan our outings. We were leaving the Christmas Market, were hungry, and THANK YOU Yelp, found a well-rated Thai place nearby, Mengrai Thai.  Chef Sasi has won all kinds of awards and accolades, and we were very happy with the delicious and creative menu. The space is unique and comfy, the service quick and attentive. My favorite thing about the menu is that they have 4-course price fixe options, and they do not require everyone at the table to pick the price fixe. This meant I was able to get my price fixe, Mr. Beez picked out a couple of individual things on the menu he wanted, and Baby Beez ate steamed rice and deep-fried shrimp, as you do when you’re 4.

Mengrai Thai appetizer platter

Price fixe appetizer platter, ALL FOR ME.

Pumpkin Soup & Tempura Vegetables

Tofu with Cashews

Mr. Beez and I were both pleased to observe that our orders were chock full of fresh, delicious veggies. Lots of broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and all kinds of good things. After spending a day in the car, mostly eating carbs and salt, it’s nice to finish the day with a meal full of colors and flavors.

sticky rice and ice cream

My meal was completed with a dessert of mango sticky rice and green tea ice cream. While I’d describe most of the rest of the meal as a solid Thai option, the kind of place I’d have on speed dial for take-out if I lived nearby, this dessert stood out as awesome. There is something about rice based desserts that sounds disgusting to me, but this sticky rice was the perfect texture and flavor, and the green tea ice cream was fabulous. Loved it.

I’ll be sharing the remainder of our trip soon. We’re on our last night here, and plan to make a few stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake and make our way back to Pittsburgh. The time just zoomed by this weekend, and more than anything, I’ve noticed just how many zillions of things there are to do in Toronto. It genuinely has all the options and excitement of New York, with far fewer headaches and at a much better price point. We’re already talking about coming to visit again soon, because there are so many more things we still want to do.

0

Food and friendship at the Big Harvest Potluck .@TheBigPotluck

Food and friendship at the Big Harvest Potluck .@TheBigPotluck

So in the weeks leading up to this year’s Big Potluck, when I would excitedly tell people that I would be “GOING TO A CONFERENCE IN BUCKS COUNTY!!!” They would inevitably respond “Why on earth are you so excited about Bucks County?” Bucks County is nice and all, but it’s not a hotbed of tourism. Technically, we were staying in Bethlehem, PA which is either in Northampton County or Lehigh County (and I don’t feel like taking the time to sort that question out with specificity), but the conference itself was held at Fordhook Farm, which is the test farm for the Burpee Seed Company, in Doylestown, PA (which is in Bucks County.) Pennsylvania has a lot of counties. IN ANY EVENT, I am not here to write about counties. I’m here to write about a food writing & blogging conference, so here we go!

I went to the Big Summer Potluck last year and had a totally fabulous time. In many ways, this conference is out of my league. Many of the attendees make their careers out of food writing, either through writing cookbooks or food-specific journalism or sponsored/paid foodblogging. Maybe for a second I felt intimidated by this, but I quickly resolved that hey, conference tickets are open for sale to anyone who would like to attend, and the hosts and attendees are all extremely welcoming, no matter how long your food writing resume is. As a matter of fact, you can’t tell the professionals from us amateurs, unless you really start digging in conversation. And you know what, this ended up being really cool, getting to so casually meet people who have made such big careers out of a field I so casually dabble in. I have no plans to ditch legal practice for food writing, but I think it is invaluable to get out of my law bubble, and get to know people in all kinds of different walks of life and industries.

Our lodging was the Bethlehem Sands resort, which was actually pretty cool. Part of the Bethlehem Steel mill has been turned into a hotel, casino, and outlet mall. They have a couple Emeril’s restaurants in the resort, too. I drove into Bethlehem itself because I needed to make an emergency nail polish purchase, and the town looks really cute. I wouldn’t mind going back.

Bethlehem Steel

The remaining steel mill structure looked absolutely gorgeous against the autumn leaves.

photo 1(3)

We started things off by picking up our swag bags. The Big Potluck has  the absolute best swag. Hands down. It’s a small conference (60ish attendees), with big sponsors like Gourmet Garden, Kerrygold, OXO, KitchenAid, Sabra, Terra Chips and many others. This isn’t a hard-sell kind of conference. The sponsors know that the attendees love cooking and love food, and these companies all make top-of-the-line products, so the sponsors use the opportunity to show off new and unexpected things that their products can do.

pizza time

The first night of the conference was a pizza party at an absolutely GORGEOUS home. I can’t even describe how amazing this place was. It had it’s own little garden alcove where you could sit and chat, just like a little secret garden. Absolutely amazing.

Pizza

Dinner the first night was grilled pizza. Last year, we did a make-your-own grilled pizza. For an indecisive glutton like me, that was a problematic approach, because I loaded up my pizza with every single topping available, and it was a hot mess. This time, they offered 5 or so pre-made gourmet options, all of which were just delicious. I liked this approach much more, because the chefs were much better at identifying delicious combinations, and exercising the appropriate level of topping restraint, than I would ever be.

Veggie appetizers

We also gorged ourselves on mountains of roasted and fresh veggies and amazing amazing Sabra dips. I usually just eat hummus plain, but there was this hummus with caramelized onions and pine nuts and other stuff that I just could NOT get enough of. #FancyHummusFTW


Burpee Farms

The next day we ventured to Fordhook Farms for the main conference. Autumn in Bucks County is simply gorgeous. The air was crisp, the leaves were beginning to turn, the sky was clear, everything was amazing.

photo 2(2)

Canal House

The speakers including James Beard Award winning author, Barry Estabrook, who discussed the very real ethical issues of factory farming. I’ve for so long toyed with the idea that we need to, at a minimum, eliminate mainstream factory-farmed meats from our diet, and if we don’t eliminate animal products entirely, at least restrict purchases to ethically farmed meats. I keep beating myself up for not just jumping in and doing this, but it feels like such a huge effort, when it’s so easy to be willfully blind and opt for convenience.

Christopher and Melissa of Canal House (pictured above) shared the journey of opening their own food photography studio and publishing house, and their work to share the delicious, simple cooking, suitable for home cooks. I am eager to check out some of their cookbooks, and hopefully improve my seasoning/spice game in my home meals.

Karen Thornton shared her experiences researching her family’s history, and cooking history. I think her talk was the most meaningful to me on a personal level. She talked about feeling like her family did not have much in the way of “food culture,” but how you can make a food culture, from the things that are meaningful to you, your parents, your children, your siblings. I’ve often felt that our family’s food traditions were few, even though my cousins made an effort a few years back to make a Farina Family Cookbook. What I lacked wasn’t a family food culture, but perspective on that. Even if we did not create certain recipes themselves, they are recipes that are meaningful to us, and that we share with the ones we love. This is tradition, this is a food culture.

photo 4(2)

Our lunch of grilled veggies, soup and salad, was delicious. I love being at a conference where everyone is snapping pics of their plates.

photo 5(1)

We had an activity where everyone was given an apple and sent out to take a picture I took the one above, and just loved it. I showed it to Christopher (of Canal House) and she complimented me on it, and it made me extra-happy.

A new component of the conference was a writing exercise led by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I started the exercise somewhat unenthusiastic, but by the end of it, wound up with a quick piece of writing that I really enjoyed (and will share in a later post). For the “Open Mic” session in the later afternoon, adventurous writers shared what they had written. All the writing dealt with food, but in such incredibly different ways. One writer had the most amazing, emotional, stirring piece, that I think literally everyone in that room had tears in their eyes. The room was absolutely silent after she read, but reluctant to wrap up the Open Mic on such a serious note, I volunteered to read my piece, which was a funny one. It was a nice balance, and a lot of people came up to me afterward to tell me how much they liked my piece, and how they absolutely could relate to it.

We had a late afternoon ice cream break, because OMG YES WE NEED ICE CREAM. They had several different varieties, all of which I tried (oink oink), but the bleu cheese ice cream with candied pecans was absolutely divine. It sound so disgusting, but it was amazing. It was sweet and creamy, with just the tiniest hint of the pungent bleu cheese.

photo 1

photo 2

We wound down the day with some delicious, fresh cocktails and, OMG, tethered hot air balloon rides!!!

cocktails

Taking a hot air balloon ride was one of the unfinished items on my 30 before 30 list. A tethered ride isn’t exactly the same as a real ride, but I was sure as heck not going to pass this opportunity up. I’m so glad we got to go up in the air!

photo 5

Hot Air Balloon

IMG952014092795175624282

I was really amazed at how smooth the hot air balloon rides was. I hardly noticed when the balloon lifted up into the air. We only went about 70 feet up, but it was a gorgeous view and we just loved it.

bubbly

We wrapped up the evening with plenty of wine– white, red and bubbly– and a simple but delicious meal of antipasti, spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread.

Mr. Beez and I end up going to a lot of conferences, but this is the first one that we went to together, with shared interest in the subject matter. We had such a nice time together, sharing a weekend of learning about something that is big in both of our interests. In the last three years, I’ve spent a lot of my (limited) free time on conferences and other structured activities. I’ve hit a point where I need a little more unscheduled time, if anything just to hang out with my family and teaching Baby Beez about all the cool things to explore in our city. I’m not sure if I’ll attend again next year. If I do not attend, it is absolutely not a reflection on the conference itself, but rather a refleciton on how I need to prioritize my time at the moment. The Big Harvest Potluck was amazing, fun and inspirational.