Category Archives: food & drink

No Kid Hungry: 14 Days, 14 Ways

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nkh holiday

Every time I see or read a news clip, post or tweet about what’s happening in the Philippines, one of the first thoughts to pop up is, “How are these organizations doing it?” I think about the recent refugee crisis in Syria, and wonder how the world’s relief agencies are going to be able to meet the nutritional needs of all the Filipinos who barely survived. It’s an unfathomable burden that requires “a village” — aka you and me.

Because along with the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons across the globe, we have many, many hungry families here in our own country, who are having equal difficulties obtaining food. Hunger continues to be one of the world’s most pressing issues. It’s hard to make sense of it, or to visualize an end. But in a country where food is practically recreation, it feels unacceptable that so many go without. If you’re not fully aware of what the real story is regarding hunger, particularly in kids, a visit to NoKidHungry.org will open your eyes. My fellow Pennsylvanians can also get a local perspective via Coalition Against Hunger. Skimming this PDF addressing the state of hunger in PA, it’s hard to overlook the big numbers…

nkh breakfast Continue reading

The best holiday tradition: Simplicity

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The word “tradition” flies around as frequently as falling leaves this time of year, with more than half the universe assuming that “traditions” are the norm. They are for some, but there are plenty of people out there who never really grew up with holiday rituals. It’s a great excuse for adults to poke fun at their own parents, but also causes a bit of anxiety when years later, they’re put in charge of bringing special occasions and holidays to life.

Here’s the thing: traditions don’t have to be a big deal. And, they can be updated each year to fit in with your family’s changing size, ages, marital, financial or health situations. (Sorry to sound bleak, but hey, life happens.) And if you haven’t yet started a family (or don’t want to ,) ), you can still do all the things mentioned here, just with half the mess and half the noise.

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Your family’s tradition can be as simple as everyone piling into Mom and Dad’s bed with crayons and colored pencils, books, magazines, even tablets, and engaging in conversation about what’s happening in the world that morning, what kinds of foods the kids would rather eat than turkey and cranberries—and drawing a picture of said preferred meal; reading stories or poems aloud, or looking up new words (hence, the tablet); playing Go Fish, cribbage, gin rummy or backgammon; drafting a letter to Santa, making place cards for the table, or just snuggling and tickling and watching the Macy’s parade (or better yet, Sponge Bob) with breakfast popcorn (a mix of cereal and popcorn) and hot cocoa with marshmallows. This is especially wonderful when you’re not hosting or rushing out the door to get anywhere.

Other cheap, easy and fun ways to get in the holiday spirit, is to write a thank you letter to another family member (everyone can pull a name out of a cup and then big sisters/brothers and moms and dads can help the younger ones write to their drawn recipient). The letters can also be used as place cards, dressed up with a doodle or drawing of a turkey. (Thumbprints are perfect for making a turkey’s body.)

If you’re cool with getting a little messy, having the kids find rocks outside (they do need to run around a bit or they’ll drive you bonkers), and set out some washable paint so they can create colorful place markers that can be saved and used all year long.

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Older kids can design an official menu, then incorporate that into the festive tablescape you’ll put them in charge of laying out. While they’re looking for rocks, they can pick up twigs, feathers, acorns, leaves and anything else they fancy. With your help, they can decorate the table making them feel a part of the special celebration. If you’re bringing out any family heirlooms, now is the time to share stories about their history (the objects and the person who gave it to you).

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Jazz up each place setting with mini pumpkins, bundles of twigs and feathers (you can buy these at the craft store) tied with twine or raffia, clementines embellished with whole cloves (it’s a Martha Stewart rip-off that I can’t take credit for, but do every year because they make the house smell amazing). My kids also

always loved making baked apples or apple rings, and this is something they can do while your working on the turkey and trimmings.

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Speaking of turkey, one of the most coveted to-dos for kids as they get older (after they turn 14/15, the magic ends), is timing the turkey. They get to watch the clock, set the timer, help you baste the bird and get a lot of the credit when it is pulled out of the oven in all its juicy, mahogany glory. Designating someone as “candle lighter” always went over big at our house as well.

Less original, but requisite, is writing down what we are each thankful for and putting into a bowl, then everyone picking a slip of paper and reading it, guessing who wrote it. (Handwriting is usually a giveaway, but that doesn’t take away the fun.) We’ve also been known to go around the table and talk about what we weren’t thankful for that year, which is actually a positive and subtle way to encourage behavior change, tolerance, empathy, forgiveness and compassion.

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click image for recipe; photo is from the recipe’s mastermind: Cooking with Chopin

Last but not least is family movie night—or afternoon, while the turkey roasts—everyone votes on what to watch, someone makes the admission tickets and someone grabs the blankets. After all, this isn’t just a movie; it’s snug time.

And when all hell breaks loose, and everyone starts fighting, there’s only one more tradition to uphold: outside with a basketball or off for a walk. Mom gets to stay in and get a few minutes peace.

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Home(made) for the Holidays: Teachers’ Gifts

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This post is dedicated to my daughter Nicole, who as a teenager said to me, “Remember when you used to be crafty?” 

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Many moons ago, when social media wasn’t invented, and I was in full-on childbearing mode (aka the decade of pregnancy), and it actually snowed for consecutive days, I was into all kinds of creative activities. Whether for the home or a gift, my hands were always busy sewing, baking, cooking, painting, gluing, decoupaging, measuring, sketching, and occasionally, melting (chocolate, crayons).

During the holidays, especially, I would go slightly overboard, baking individual gingerbread shapes (with copper wire hooks embedded at the top), decorating with royal icing and silver dragées, and then stringing with twine to make garland. I only used Martha Stewart’s gingerbread house-making recipe (reliable for making sturdy, large houses) and painstakingly knotted each hook so the “ornaments” wouldn’t slide, before wrapping them in holiday gingham tissue paper and cellophane bags.

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At that time, three of my children were in nursery  school and Pre-K, and there were no rules about teachers’ gifts or any organized collections taking place. It seemed logical to have my kids help (that being a relative word back then) with the gift-making.

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Probably the easiest craft for them to tackle was pinecone bird feeders. And, since we live in the Northeast, with lots of trees—and birds—this fell into the “practical” gift category. And, low-budget; something to consider when giving out presents to several teachers and school administrators.

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Chocolate-covered pretzel sticks, rolled in Almond Roca crumbles, coconut, crushed chocolate-covered coffee beans and ultra-mini m&ms, were also easy for the kids to make. Just don’t have them do it on an empty stomach or before an activity where they’re supposed to sit quietly. I love this updated version.

Though it looks to be for Valentine’s Day, I can easily envision a Christmas or Hanukah version with mini dreidels or green and red m&ms, silver and gold spray-painted acorns or miniature pine cones or rocks to prop up the pretzels; and pretzels dipped in white chocolate as well as dark or milk, and rolled in appropriately colored ingredients. You can get small-sized cylindrical vases at the craft store, and keep the pretzel count to 3 or 5 to maximize your effort.

pretzel flower arrangment

Hand-painting one (or a trio) of terracotta pots, filled with potting soil sealed in a baggie, and glass vials of seeds also proved to be a successful endeavor that the kids enjoyed helping with and the teachers enjoyed receiving. While the kids painted the pots, I divvied up the seeds and soil. Had Pinterest been around then, I would have logged all of these ideas in step-by-step photos, but at that point, I am not even sure we had a computer in the house!

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One year, we made picture frames, using paper or wood frames purchased at AC Moore, a store I barely step into these days. The kids would draw patterns (or some semblance of) on the frames, paint them with tiny paintbrushes, then add glitter, rhinestones, scrapbooking icons or tiny flowers, depending upon who they were for. We did not put photos in them, because we figured that when the teachers were at home, they didn’t need to be reminded of their students—no matter how adorable they were.

Last but not least, and always a fan-favorite, were the homemade cookies, beautifully packaged in boxes layered with colored tissue paper (first wrapped as 2-3 cookie bundles in plastic baggies for freshness) or vintage cookie tins that I’d collect throughout the year. We’d do mini chocolate-chip sugar cookies cut into holiday shapes, regular sugar cookies adorned with red and green sprinkles, half-dipped in white or dark chocolate first… peanut butter cookies filled with mini m&ms and piped with dark chocolate zigzags, white chocolate-cranberry-almond oatmeal cookies diagonally dipped into white chocolate, and of course, old-fashioned gingerbread boys piped with royal icing.

No matter how much the teachers moaned and groaned each year that they’d gained 10 pounds during the holidays, each year they asked if we were making cookies again for the holidays.

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OS_RC_1143_WD(Cranberry cookie courtesy of ocean spray; p-nut butter courtesy of Crisco. Click through to recipes.)

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More than the taste, I think their heartfelt anticipation reflected an appreciation for the time and effort we, and other families, dedicated to making them feel special. I think this is something we all need to remember, especially when budgets are tight. Homemade gifts aren’t cheap or “junky,” and have the power to make a much more lasting and meaningful impression than something picked up thoughtlessly amidst the rest of your holiday shopping.

Eventually, the schools swayed the class moms to collect donations for a larger, more sophisticated non-teacheresque gift such as dinner out on the town or a gift certificate to a boutique, and our crafty days began to wane. (OK, I admit there were A LOT of reasons our zeal for crafty endeavors died down.) And now of course, there’s Pinterest, so I am all about DIY’ing it up. I may be short on time these days, but since I am down to two kids at home and one heading to college next fall, I think I’ll have no problem jumping back into the creative zone. No doubt there will a zillion Pinterest boards to keep me busy during those “where did my kids go?” days. Leave a comment if you want some actual instructions. I’m a pro at making gingerbread houses.

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NKH Bake Sale Inspiration

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This recipe is an extension of DEW’s post RE: Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry.

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Get your Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry started with this sumptuous cake, courtesy of The Brown Betty Cookbook: Modern Vintage Desserts and Stories from Philadelphia’s Best Bakery with a few Baker’s Note’s from Jennifer Gutmaker Morgan.

(serves 20 people)

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray with flour (*Jen’s note: Pam Baking spray is what I prefer)
  • 4-½ cups all-purpose flour (*Jen’s note: I used White Lily soft wheat flour and converted it to all-purpose measurements because I prefer the texture of this brand)
  • 1 teaspoon regular salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups superfine sugar (*Jen’s note: I didn’t have caster sugar in my pantry, so I took granulated sugar and ground it in the food processor for about 2 minutes. It’s a more cost effective method too, as you can buy granulated sugar in bulk).
  • 8 large eggs, at room temperature (*Jen’s note: you can quickly bring eggs to room temp by placing them in a large bowl filled with hot water for about 10 minutes)
  • 1-½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract (*Jen’s note: I like the Nielson-Massey brand)
  • 1-½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1-½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • 1-¼ cups buttermilk
  • 1 recipe Lemon Buttercream frosting (*Jen’s note: I skipped this and used a friend’s vanilla buttercream recipe instead, although I added some lemon extract)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Coat a 10-inch angel food cake pan with nonstick cooking spray (*Jen’s note: I substituted three 9-inch round cake pans to make a layer cake).

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy and then add the sugar on low speed until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until blended and scraping the bowl occasionally. Beat in the vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon extract.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, and buttermilk, ¼ cup at a time, to the butter mixture, mixing until well incorporated.

5. Spread the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake until golden brown on top and a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely (*Jen’s note, I used three 9-inch cake pans lined with a parchment circle and nonstick spray with flour. I baked the cakes in a convection oven and reduced the baking time by about 10 minutes).

6. To frost the cake, turn it bottom-side up onto a cake plate. Using an offset spatula spread the frosting all over the cake (*Jen’s note: I opted to tort the cake to make a multi-layer cake. I sliced each of the three individual cakes in half to make six layers. I alternated filling each layer with lemon curd, lemon-vanilla buttercream, and raspberry preserves. In the interest of time, I used Trader Joe’s brand lemon curd for the filling, which tastes fairly close to my homemade lemon curd using the Barefoot Contessa recipe).

Tip: The cake does not have a strong lemon flavor, so if you prefer a more tart/lemony cake, you can either increase the amount of lemon extract used in the batter, or you can frost the cake with a lemon flavored frosting.

Sweet Smell of (hunger advocacy) Success

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In the better late than never category, I’d like to send out a not-so-gentle reminder on behalf of No Kid Hungry and Share our Strength.

…In just 10 days, this in-constant-action organization will wrap up its October initiative, spurred by two very generous “sugar daddies,” Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar.

Of course, I mean this is in the most positive interpretation of the colloquialism, because these two food industry superpowers have offered a dollar-for-dollar match on October’s Bake Sale No Kid Hungry proceeds.

If  you’ve been itching to get your baking on, NOW is the time to grease those pans, melt that butter and cover the counter in flour. (It’s a good excuse for your kids to make a mess without being scolded too!)

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Want to make a stand against hunger? A neighborhood or community bake sale is an effective—and tasty—way to get involved and make a positive impact.

The No Kid Hungry team is happy to receive your Bake Sale contributions all year long, but the promise of matching funds is irresistible—apparently to bakers across the country, who have raised $75,000-plus since October 1. Talk about “sweetening the pot;” at minimum now, a total value of $150,000. This is a big deal at a time when families are facing SNAP cuts along with a generally unstable economic foundation.

Whipping up a bake sale is easier than you think: With one weekend between now and October 31, and plenty of football, soccer and fall ball games happening at parks and schools across the country, you’ve got a captive audience. And, who wouldn’t want to bite into one (or three) of these tasty cupcakes (or these and these!). Click here for a gluten-free option. 

Spreading the word and showing support for food-challenged families through an old-fashioned bake sale is an affordable and fun way to get your community talking about hunger. Having that time and effort rewarded with a matching gift, is the icing on the cake.

Happy Baking!

do it: Heritage Farm Fare

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heritage-flyer

Cool things are happening in Philly next week, among them the Heritage Farm Fare, a celebration of food, nutrition and community. If you’ve never heard of Heritage Farm, you’re not alone; it was only recently that I discovered this wonderful farm, tucked into the campus of Methodist Home for Children, a former orphanage that’s evolved into a hub for community activities and outreach.

As a year-round organic farm, Heritage is able to impact families by providing fresh, seasonal produce—three acres full. Children are able to walk around the farm, and meander up and down rows of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit, and temporarily forget about concrete buildings, convenience stores and fast food.

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Workshops focus on food preparation, nutrition and sustainable, urban farming, and families are encouraged to dig in all with their hands and their taste buds. The bonus, is agricultural training, as well as critical thinking, planning, time (and occasionally, crisis) management, and problem solving. Learning how to resuscitate a dehydrated plant, rid a crop of pesky insects, irrigate during a drought and other on-the-farm issues, offer children unique opportunities from those experienced at school or on the playground. And though we all promote teamwork within our children, working side by side in what for the moment, IS a life or death (of plants/crops) situation, strengthens relationships and leadership skills.

This “bumper crop” of benefits for our community’s youth, is the best reason to come out and join the celebration. Saying, “Yes” to an invitation came easy for me; food and kids in one place is a win-win in my book, especially as mine are maturing way too fast. Events such as this, that unite families through the bounty of Mother Nature and an appreciation for the magic of a fresh-plucked tomato, carrot, blue/raspberry or handful of lettuce and fresh herbs, offer a special type of bonding, different from socializing over drinks or at a ball game.

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By now you’re wondering what’s on the menu. As you can see from this collection of logos, this is no sandwiches and chips affair (though I wouldn’t object to that), with adventurous preparations both on the plate and in the glass. You’ll see a lot of familiar chefs, all who have actively been supporting Heritage and other farms in our region for a number of years. The side dish, if you will, is a pot full of donated funds designated to help offset the costs of operating the farm. This, of course, being the cost of your ticket. Providing the evening’s soundtrack, is Doc Gibbs, former band leader on the Emeril Lagasse show.

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All of the details are on the website, including location—Belmont Mansion Lawn—and those seeking additional information can contact Christine Moore at (215) 877-1925 ext.104 or heritagefarm@methodistservices.org. And, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

Heritage Farm at Methodist Home for Children is located at 4300 Monument Road, Philadelphia PA 19131

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Photos courtesy of Nina Lea Photography  

 

ShopMoxie Meets Philly

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(this post is part of ShopMoxie’s “Best of the U.S. by Local Bloggers” series launched 9.12.13)

ShopMoxie Feature:
Best of Philadelphia

aka The City of Brotherly (in this case, sisterly) Love

So, about this gig… I recently decided that life wasn’t busy enough, or maybe it was just that I wasn’t writing enough… Anyway, I started a new blog (you’ll find a link buried somewhere in here) and in establishing myself as an independent blogger outside of my PR/Marketing biz, answered a query for ShopMoxie bloggers. I was very happy when I received a thoughtful email from founder Tom Tovar, who actually took the time to review my writing history, and my fledgling blog, inviting me to be a part of a Best of the U.S. by Local Bloggers series. As we exchanged emails, and learned more about each other (take it from me, this guy is interesting!), he really took me by surprise and offered me the opportunity to kick off ShopMoxie’s “Best of the U.S.” guest post series. Having spent many years writing such copy for Main Line Today magazine, I was instantly game. My only disclaimer, is that Philadelphia is full of wonderful businesses to frequent, as I am certain every city across the country is. Our collective picks are not meant to slight any of these businesses. If we had the time and the space, we’d cover all of our favorite haunts. However, what you are getting today, and in the coming days, is the tip of the old iceberg… places we know and love and feel strongly that you will too. So with no further ado, I present a handful of picks for my hometown, Philadelphia, U.S.A. Forget what you’ve heard about us in the news; we love our city. And, we really love our food.

Sophisticated night on, er in, the town: Presidential Suite, Hotel Palomar

Presidential Suite | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

We’re starting our Best of the U.S. Series at the top, literally, in the Presidential Suite.

The next time someone asks me for a suggestion on where to celebrate a special anniversary, birthday or momentous life event, I will definitely be pointing them to Hotel Palomar (117 South 17th St. at Sansom, Philadelphia; 215-563-5006) This past February, I had the good fortune of being part of a milestone birthday overnighter. Before you go judging my budget-consciousness, a little full disclosure: other than dinner and drinks, this was on a free ride. Now, I don’t have many swanky suite stays under my belt, but even with limited comparisons, it’s hard to deny the Presidential Suite’s fabulousness. Stylishly dressed up in traditional with a contemporary twist furnishings, each room is comfortable without being cold; decadent without feeling pretentious; it is clearly a Best of Philadelphia. If you’re into bathrooms, the lavish glass enclosed tub/shower with intricate mosaic floor tiling and Carrera marble will have you swooning.

Presidential Suite | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

We agree, a great bathroom does make all the difference in a hotel room.

Push aside the luxurious stretches of fabric separating you from the rest of civilization, and you’ll be rewarded with an interesting perspective on the city. In my case, that was a black and blue sky, dark clouds and scattered bursts of white and yellow lights…very much like a charcoal drawing. Any plans you had to go bouncing around the city, will likely fade away once you get a taste of the Presidential. Especially during the colder winter months, I recommend booking Square 1682‘s private dining room.

Sqaure's Mama's Squeeze Box Low | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Signature cocktails are always enjoyable, when they’re perfectly made and we trust you when you say these are best.

Our meal did not disappoint, nor did our gracious server, who not only knew his food and drink, but also how to dole The Lady Treatment. You’ll be tempted to run back upstairs to the comforts of Kimpton—and the luxe tiger and zebra patterned robes that await—but take it from me: suck up the full, tired feeling that comes with a delicious meal, and hunker down at the bar for one (or three) of the restaurant’s signature, and delectable, high-minded cocktails. Great sipping, great people watching. Be there AND be Square. If you’re lucky enough to get two nights in, take advantage of the in-house yoga and bike programs, which will make a handy excuse for taking those extra bites and sips during your stay. Here’s the scoop: Hotel Palomar offers yoga mats in room and an ON DEMAND yoga channel 24/7. If you call down to the front desk, they provide a complimentary roll out service including a delivery of flavored water and trail mix to your room for after your work out. And, there are complimentary bikes on premise for a joy ride around the city.

Worth the drive or the walk in the cold, rain, sleet or snow: Bloody Mary, The Dandelion

Bloody Mary | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Bloody Marys, then afternoon tea, oh my…we love it!

Another favorite haunt in that corner of the city, is The Dandelion (124 S. 18th St., 215-558-2500), a superb weekend brunch/lunch spot that serves up a wicked good Bloody Mary, along with a few other lascivious libations. (Be forewarned, this joint is multilevel and requires strong stair negotiating skills.) The vibe is reminiscent of The Standard Tap, in Northern Liberties, with lots of warm woods and a homey feel that leaves you thinking what a cool house it would make. Afternoon Tea pose a conundrum for patrons, with tea and cocktails available from 3-5pm. I haven’t had a meal there that I didn’t like, but if you need a recommendation, the EVERYTHING is worth the bite. How’s that for Best of Philadelphia?

Perfect Pairings: Couture and Customer Service…Nicole Miller

It is not true that all women love to shop, at least for clothes. However, when a big event is around the corner, and a figure-flattering dress needs to be procured, like, yesterday, my go-to is Nicole Miller in Manayunk (4249 Main St., 215-930-0307). And my favorite reason to go is store manager, Samantha Sciolla, who can read a woman’s body type within seconds. (Yes, better than you men!) Whether you’re looking for formal (charity ball, wedding, graduation), street or contemporary career fashions and accessories, this longstanding Main Street boutique keeps up with the trends without shunning the classics and they know how to combine couture with customer service. (There’s also a store in town, at The Bellevue.)

Couture and Customer Service | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Couture and Customer Service a perfect combination in our book!

My favorite “say yes to the dress” story actually does have to do with my wedding dress. I was shopping solo, carrying on about it being a second wedding, “…still want a gown, has to cover this, hide this…” After being banished to the dressing room, I hear a knock: Samantha hands me two gowns. “This is the one you’re going to buy; this is the one you’ll try on because you feel you have to.” I didn’t even bother zipping the second dress, and I’ve been a born again Nicole Miller customer ever since (there are some sweet sales throughout the year). The wedding dress story is just one of many similar scenarios where Samantha made getting the desired dress, skirt, blouse, boots, etc., possible and guilt-free. If you go, tell her I sent you.

Romantic Dinner with a side of the Best.Foie.Gras.Ever, Bibou

Best Foie Gras | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Give me liberty AND give me foie: Bibou plates up Philly’s finest.

Bibou (1009 South 8th St., Philadelphia; 215-965-8290) is not new (opened in 2009), however it is to me. I finally got a chance to visit this petite byob last spring, for my first wedding anniversary. I’d just met Charlotte Calmels, wife and partner of chef Pierre Calmels, earlier that month. After engaging in a lively conversation about cooking, dining, sharing food experiences with children, and more, I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d not yet dined there. In comes Open Table. Happily, I can report, unlike many hyped experiences, Bibou delivers. Every morsel of the 7-course meal (Chef’s Tasting) had my taste buds doing somersaults. Especially the creamy foie gras that was perfectly seared to a rich mahogany, and so buttery that I was licking my lips all night. Gorgeous stemware and decanters elevated our wine sipping several notches (save your best bottles for Calmels cuisine). Cap that off with attentive, but not overbearing service that left us plenty of time to savor each course (embarrassingly, I think we reveled in the food far more than our first-year memories), and we were in a state of absolute dining bliss. All you need to do for a similar experience is make a reservation.

Just outside the city limits…I Sea-food, I Buy It, Philadelphia Lobster & Fish

Tucked in a corner of Wynnewood, just around the block from the R5 Philadelphia Lobster & Fish (333 E. Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood; 610-642-1082) is a dangerous place for my wallet. Not only will you find a sublime selection of fresh seafood—personally cherry-picked by owner John Shon each morning—this quietly humming fish market stocks its cases and shelves with pristine produce priced far lower than its neighbors.

Seafood | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Knowing where to buy the best and fresh seafood in any city is key. Thanks for sharing this pick!

It’s impossible to go in and not come out with twice as many groceries as you need. It’s practically a ritual for me to wait to the last minute (about 90 minutes before friends are slated to arrive for dinner), to race over and make a flurry of purchases. Upon returning to my kitchen, and within minutes of pulling out the goods, it’s totally plausible that I can have a gorgeous selection of house-made maki, tekkamaki, and shumai dumplings plated; a tuna steak swimming in a wasabi-soy marinade, skate prepped for a brown butter lacing, or thick-cut salmon steaks seasoned with fresh and dried herbs ready STAT—all with time to spare for a quick shower.

Seafood | Best of Philadelphia | read.eat.DEW.write.

Yummmmm – Best of Philadelphia here we come!

Talk about an easy button! When I really want to cheat, there are 15 different prepared entrees and sides available throughout the week, along with $2.99 containers of fresh, peeled garlic cloves, fully-cleaned mixed greens, baby bok choy and Brussels sprouts, sliced zucchini, cut-up mango, pineapple, honeydew, blood oranges and other quick-cook-quick-eat ingredients.

During planting season, you’ll be treated to an impressive curbside display of flowers and herbs, proudly tended to by Shon. Everyone I’ve turned on to this local purveyor agrees: it’s a feel- and taste-good shopping experience every time.

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We love read.eat.Dew.write. and its founder/author. She’s an accomplished food and local scene writer who knows great places in several towns. We look forward to her picks!

Visit GetLocal@ShopMoxie often to look for more “Best of the U.S.” picks from read.eat.Dew.write.!

Register today to get more posts from this Best of the U.S. by Local bloggers series. Or, sign into ShopMoxie to create your own Top Picks and link to this or other great posts from around the Internet!

Coffee Talk: Liquid eXcellence

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IMG_9351A few weeks ago, I followed up on an invitation to visit micro coffee roaster Café eXcellence in Audubon, PA. For those living in and around Philadelphia, the name of this boutique coffee company may sound familiar. Though it might be “micro” in size and capacity, the java coming out of Cafe eXcellence is macro in flavor.

Currently, the company offers just under two dozen blends from 25-plus countries, as well as a recently introduced line of herbal teas.

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The “factory  store” as it’s  billed, is  open  Monday-  Friday, from  8:30AM-4PM.  You don’t  need an  appointment to pop in and stock up, but because cuppings are a bit labor intensive, procedure calls for advance outreach.

We had the opportunity to meet with Anthony Valerio, the family-owned company’s president, at the end of our visit. Humble, yet passionate, he certainly gave off the impression of a guy who works hard, appreciates the business’ success, and who has lived the ups and downs of launching a niche brand in a very competitive market.

The tour itself was led by right-hand java genius, Irene Satterwhite (a fellow member of Les Dames d’Escoffier), whose passion would make her an impressive brand ambassador for any company. Her follow-through—from a casual conversation one evening to a series of follow-up emails—made an impression, as did the effort put forth during the tour.  I actually felt guilty toward the end of the tasting, because there were so many cups, spoons, coffee presses, and tea steepers left for Irene to clean up and put away.

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I would have loved videotaping the entire  experience, because walking around, touching,  smelling and sifting, and listening required my full  attention—taking notes and photos was very  distracting, and diluted the experience. Throwing  caution to the wind and not recording the bulk of  the details resulted in an information gap,  however, everything you need to know is on the  company website. I can’t do better than this  graphic version of cafe eXcellence’s history, but I can vouch for its coffee being as standout as some of our region’s top contenders.

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Just recently, I was dining out at Paramour (Wayne, PA), and after a ridiculously decadent meal, we got our hands (and lips) on a sublime bold cup of Joe. I remarked to our server, how satisfying the coffee was (and went into my usual schpeel about how a bad cup of coffee can ruin an otherwise amazing meal) and the light bulb went off when he revealed the coffee’s brand. I had known that Paramour served Café eXcellence, but it was nice to experience a moment of validation regarding the quality of this brand’s beans. (One of these days, I need to write about the fabulous meal we had there; took me by surprise.)

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Along with a front-row seat to numerous  pounds of just-roasted beans loudly  bursting  out of the 450-  525° roaster, visitors can take  home a  burlap or sisal bean bag (based on  availability) as a souvenir. (I happily  snagged  two for my son’s college  apartment—and put in  an order for two  oversized French presses.)

Here’s what the big coffee bean dump looked  like. (Caution: this video is wholly UN-pro.)

Roasting starts between 510-525°, depending on the weight of the coffee going into the drum… 85 lbs. starts at 510° and a 100 lbs. starts at 525°. The roast will finish between 450-475 depending on the roast profile.

The darker the roast, the higher the temperature—and, the least caffeine. (If you’re pulling an all-nighter, stick with lighter-colored beans/blends.)

The main event was the coffee and herbal tea cupping, a savory combination of Costa Rica El Indio, Sumatra Lintong, Full City, French Roast and delectable (and colorful) MajaTei teas: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Sencha Green, Strawberry Green, Apple Cranberry Green and Destiny Chai. In total, the fledgling tea program features 14 varieties of both loose leaf and pyramid teas. I’m not sure my photos do these colorful blends justice… the hues of some reminded me of dying Easter eggs.

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Regarding the coffee we sipped, each flavor had its own flair. Guided by Satterwhite, we thoughtfully engaged our senses, sipping, licking, lapping and sniffing to measure flavor, acidity, aftertaste, and body. The process was one cup at a time (and only a few spoonfuls at a time to avoid getting too hopped up), and as we moved from cup to cup, we took in hints of citrus, smoke, sweet fruit, and earthiness. We also noted that as the coffee in each cup began to cool, new flavors emerged.

As a French press or vintage Pyrex percolator drinker, I can’t speak for how this tastes brewed under different conditions, but prepared by our seasoned cupper, each spoonful was flawless. Check out the coffee bean tree and get a gander at some beans and bags…

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family-friendly grilled pizza five ways

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Realized that I was sitting on some pretty tasty recipes over here on the day gig’s blog, so I decided to share the deliciousness. As you’ll read, this post was originally part of a virtual dinner party experiment by a group of Philly Social Media Moms bloggers. There are a number of interesting, easy-to-prepare and family-friendly recipes to click through, so enjoy. And, if you’re up for a virtual dinner party and have room at the “table,” I would be thrilled to join in the fun.

tomato lust—and lament

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So after running up and down the East Coast three times over the course of two weeks, I finally returned home to seven not-so-thriving tomato plants. Now, I didn’t have high hopes, because here in my neck of the Philly woods, the weather during the spring and early summer was not the most favorable. We had lots of rain, which I actually appreciated and even lamented not bucking up and outfitting my yard with some of the shrubs and trees on my wish list. But, temperatures fluctuated from super cold, to super hot, to super wet, then super hot and finally super cold before getting, you guessed it… super hot.

Without me being home to supplement my tomatoes—this year planted in pots, a practice that has rewarded me with wonderfully flavorful, and abundant crops for the past couple of years—I lost an opportunity to give them a much-need nutrient boost to spur those promising yellow blossoms.

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Now that August is here, reality is setting in: My tomatoes are a flop.

At least I can shrug it off as not putting enough time and energy into caring for my dear plants, rather than bumming out about how hard I worked for the same result. And, the truth is, there are plenty of resources for yummy tomatoes wherever I turn.

Just the other day, I purchased two large green quart containers of locally grown heirloom tomatoes. All week, we’ve been slicing, chopping, halving and forking into our mouths, a colorful and juicy array of odd-shaped tomatoes, all perfectly ripe and worth the mere $3.99/quart I paid for them. (Thank you, Wegman’s.) The photo above is an oldie but goodie from Jack’s Farm.

Hopefully, you’ve had better luck than me this season, and are proudly displaying your daily harvest to dinner guests, dressed up in basil chiffonade, balsamic and EVO, slivers of garlic, chunks of feta or thickly-sliced buffalo mozzarella. I am envious, but I am far from deprived. And, I am already refreshing my head with different recipes that will showcase this coveted, seasonal fruit from now through mid-September.

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My favorite way to eat tomatoes are chunky, in wide bowl, with fresh, ripe avocado pieces, sweet summer corn off the cob, red onion, buffalo mozz, also chunky, accented with salt, pepper, minced garlic, fresh basil, EVO and lemon juice. Second favorite, is as bruschetta, with LOTS of finely minced garlic, salt, pepper, basil, EVO and just a wee bit of balsamic—served on crusty, grilled sourdough bread that’s been brushed with additional EVO and rubbed with garlic cloves after being grilled. Any leftovers, goes right into a bowl of linguine the next day.

Then of course there’s fried tomatoes… green being the best, of course, but if you choose underripe tomatoes, cut your slices thick enough, and drain them on a paper towel for a bit, you can make some very tasty tomato slices to go with a side of scrambled eggs with chives and crumbled goat cheese. (That grilled bread goes down quite well with this combination.)

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Stuffed tomatoes are surprisingly a hit with my kids. Just cut the top of, scoop out the insides (save for that bruschetta), and fill with a mixture of sautéed baby kale and spinach, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, sautéed onions and garlic, chopped kalamata olives (these, the kids do NOT like) and a few coarsely cut pieces of artichokes—all tossed together with good quality EVO and topped with breadcrumbs that have first been mixed with a little Kerrygold herb butter. This dish makes a fantastic accompaniment to butterflied leg of lamb (drooling just thinking about that beautiful pink on the inside, charred on the outside, sweet and juicy meat) or a whole roasted (or grilled) bronzino, red snapper, or butterflied whole grilled chicken seasoned with Greek spices. (I have an amazing recipe for this that I promise to dig up and post.) The preparation is called “spatchcock” and is one of those superb entertaining recipes that leaves your guests feeling like you put in a lot more effort than how it actually went down.

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At this point, you probably have gathered that I am not a cook bound by recipes. In fact, I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook, who luckily, gets away with it more times than not. So if you’ll bear with me, I will dig up some delicious recipes for you to test out over this final month of summer, and I hope that you will share a few with me in return. For now, here’s a stash of tomato recipes that I borrowed from one of my favorite resources, Huffington Post (@HuffPostTaste).

I hope that you enjoy, and more so, that you’ll come back and see what else is cooking. Oh and by the way, I just made a kicka*@ dinner in about 35 minutes just by going shopping in my fridge, freezer and pantry.

Not the best photo, but extra delicious with oven-roasted asparagus on top.

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tagliatelle with pan-grilled chicken, shrimp and red onion; tossed with browned garlic chunks, fresh basil, lemon juice, Poggio Etrusco olive oil (from last year’s honeymoon!) homemade crushed red pepper flakes (my friend makes the best) and shaved manchego cheese.

If you want to learn how to cook “by the seat of your pants,” I can help you out. Though I can handle the more formal techniques and preparations, with five kids and a job, it’s often a last-minute dash to the dinner finish line. My secret: a well-stocked pantry. We’ll talk about that someday too. Thanks for tuning in.

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