ShrubDown: A Shrub Competition at Wigle Whiskey + A Recipe

August 2014

“Have you got into drinking shrub yet?” I asked, and I immediately regretted the “yet” lingering pretentiously in the air.

I backtracked and attempted to erase the unintentional hipster tone I had assumed, while proceeding into what felt like a Portlandia skit. I explained to my friend, “Shrub is a syrup or concentrate made with sugar, vinegar and fruit infusions. The traditional beverage dates to colonial times when it was used as a fruit preservation method.” Luckily, my friend was a good sport because the more I spoke, the more “do you know the name of the chicken I am eating?” I seemed.

On that note, let’s talk about a gathering of shrub nerds . . !

Wigle Varieties

Sarah Walsh, owner of Caffe D’Amore Catering, is an avid shrub maker and drinker. She had the idea to bring other shrub nerds together for a tasting and friendly competition à la… a ShrubDown!

1947 Tavern

Jen from 1947 Tavern serving “shroda” and creating her competition cocktail.

We gathered at Wigle Whiskey, where we received a proper welcome in the form of a cocktail containing peach shrub, early grey tea, honey and Aged Wigle Wheat Whiskey. Set against the backdrop of whiskey barrels, was the “shroda bar,” where we sampled shrub (mixed with soda water) from local enthusiasts including Blackberry Meadows farm, Wild Purveyors, the Butterjoint, the Livermore, and 1947 Tavern. After adequate sampling time, the competition began.


Bartenders from said establishments shook, stirred and mixed at the designated bar before submitting their concoctions to the panel of judges. One critique of the event was the judges were the only official taste testers of the cocktails, but it pays to be friends with a competitor’s girlfriend and catch some of the extra sips. It’s all who you know!

Will's Cocktail

Will Groves of The Butterjoint

Shrub Jars

Various “shrodas”

Cavan and Abby

Cavan of Wild Purveyors and Abbie of The Livermore

Declaring the Winners

The panel of judges declared a first place tie- weak judging, says my competitive side, but congrats nonetheless to Abbie of the Livermore and Will of The Butterjoint on winning the first ever ShrubDown!

Winners Winners

ShrubDown organizer Sarah Walsh and the prize bottles of Wigle White Whiskey for the winners.

Good news for you local Pittsburgh shrub enthusiasts. There is another ShrubDown on the horizon! Mark your calendars for November 9th, and keep an eye open for more details. For you local and non-local shrub enthusiasts, here’s my own shrub recipe.


Photo by Adam Milliron.

I made the pictured shrub from local mint, fresh strawberries and a red wine vinegar when strawberries were bursting with local flavor. Pardon my blogging delay, and I might suggest using a more seasonal fruit if you’re making this during the fall or winter. I made another variety with lemon, rosemary and apple cider vinegar, which was for the more seasoned shrub palate, as it was far more tart and acidic.

Strawberry Mint Shrub
Recipe from The Kitchn

Basic formula:

Use 2 cups fruit per 1 pint vinegar. Sweeten with 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar (level of sweetness is up to personal preference). I suggest using an organic raw cane sugar.


Sterilize the container:
Wash the container in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Submerge in a pot of warm water to cover by 1 to 2 inches, bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. For the lid or cap, wash it in hot, soapy water, rinse well, and scald in boiling water.

Add the fruit:
Carefully remove the container from the pot using canning jar lifters or tongs. Place the fruit in the container.

Add the vinegar:
Place the vinegar in a saucepan and heat to just below the boiling point, or at least 190°F. Pour the vinegar over the fruit, leaving at least 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth, and cap tightly.

Let it stand:
Let the container cool undisturbed and then store it in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard or the refrigerator. Let it stand at least 24 hours and up to 4 weeks until the desired flavor is reached.

Add the sugar:
Place the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into a clean, sterilized container (use the original mason jar or other bottles; see step 1 for sterilization procedure) and cap tightly.

Store the shrub syrup in the refrigerator. Tightly sealed, it may last for up to 6 months. Taste before using to make sure the flavor is still good. Discard immediately if it has mold or any signs of fermentation such as bubbling, cloudiness, or sliminess.

To serve, mix 1 tablespoon shrub syrup into a glass of still or sparkling water. Taste and add more syrup, if desired. Shrub syrups may also be used as cocktail mixers, in salad dressings, and more. I highly recommend shrub and whiskey experiments.


Remember- you can shrub that!

Heirloom Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gnocchi with Browned Sage Butter, Cranberries, Pecans & Goat Cheese

October 2014

I had a roommate who lived off gnocchi alone, well almost anyways. She was the first person to introduce this foreign pasta pillow to me. Based on her description, I held these doughy nubbins on a pedestal of complication, thinking they contained a filling much like ravioli. How could one roll such a small encasement? It seemed impossible! When I finally ate one, I learned she was far better at architecture than she was at food descriptions. However, in some part of my brain, I maintained the idea gnocchi making would be laborious.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Then I went to a farm dinner, and I watched several chefs roll out dough at their makeshift prep table. Granted, that prep table surely cost more than most of my kitchen accoutrements combined, but still. There they were, far from their commercial kitchen comforts, pumping out dough pillows, and making it look approachable.

Pumpkin Gnocchi and wine

At long last, I made the gnocchi leap for myself, and much like making mayo for the first time, I now question why I waited so long. These little pillows are so, so, so easy, and the ROI, if you will business jargon friends, is high!

Gnocchi Bowl

This bowl of pumpkin gnocchi exudes fall’s traditional flavors. I used a real pumpkin à la the Urban Farmer’s harvest and a special grainy gift from a friend- Heirloom Sonora Variety Whole Wheat Flour grown in Pescadero, California. However, if you don’t have farmers and wandering, wheat-gathering friends, feel free to use an organic canned pumpkin and an organic whole-wheat pastry flour. Be creative with your toppings too. This is not a recipe of the precise persuasion.

Let your autumn cravings be your guide!

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gnocchi


1 cup pumpkin puree, from a roasted pumpkin
1 1/2 cups heirloom whole wheat flour
1 large, organic, cage-free egg
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt & Pepper to Taste


Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Using your hands, mix everything together to form dough. The dough will be sticky.

Divide the dough into four sections. Roll each section on a lightly floured surface until about 1/2″ thick.

Cut the long rolled out sections into 1″ chunks. Dust the pillows with just a little bit of flour to help prevent sticking.

If you want the traditional gnocchi indentation, gently press the pillows into the prongs of a fork.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and ad the gnocchi. Cook in batches if necessary.

When the gnocchi begins to rise to the surface, it is cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and let cool slightly.


Whole Wheat Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Butter, Cranberry, Pecan & Goat Cheese

Note: Remember, this part is all very ad-libbed and imprecise, so follow your instincts and tastes. I highly recommend adding Speck or Prosciutto, which are not shown in the photo, or forgo the cured meats and make your vegetarian friends happy.


Irish butter (or another high quality butter)
A bundle of fresh local sage, chopped
Organic kale
Dried cranberries
Pecans, some chopped, some left whole
Goat Cheese
*Speck (Not shown in the photo but highly recommended)


Heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add a few Tablespoons of sliced butter, and whisk frequently. Continue to cook the butter.

Once melted the butter will foam up a bit, then subside. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan, and the butter gives off a nutty aroma. Remove from heat and place on a cool surface to help stop the butter from cooking further and perhaps burning.

Pour the browned butter into a small bowl or ramekin with the chopped sage, and set aside.

In the same skillet, heat 1-2 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the kale, and stir frequently.

As the kale begins to crisp, add the pecans and cranberries, stirring frequently. Once the pecans begin to toast, add the cooked gnocchi. Add extra butter if need be. Stir everything to combine.

Remove from heat and stir in the sage butter with the chopped sage. Add in goat cheese crumbles and slices of speck.

Serve immediately with extra goat cheese crumbles, a pecan garnish, and a steady flow of red wine on the side.


You can do it!

Italian BBQ on the Farm

August 2014

The absolute fullest I have ever been was after an Easter dinner prepared by my friend’s Italian mother. Portobello mushrooms called my name through thick Italian accents. “Quel-ci, you want to eat-a us! Just-a one-a more bite-a!” After heeding the mushrooms’ call (and a lasagna’s call, and bread’s call, and cheese’s call, etc), I was so full I just wanted to die. It felt like the fullness would never ever dissipate. In my delirium, a quick, painless death seemed to be the only viable option. Thankfully, I took a nap instead, and I powered through the pain. Thus, in some pocket of my brain Italian = FULL FULL FULL, so I knew a dinner involving no less than five Italians at a grill would surely be an eating endeavor.

Barn and Gathering

An eating endeavor it was! Now in its third year, the Italian BBQ on the Farm is a tradition in the making for both the chefs/restaurants and the eaters involved. Like the holiday family gathering that nearly filled me to death, the Italian BBQ is a chance to see some familiar faces while focusing on food all afternoon and into the evening. In its first year, it was a chance to see the chefs kick back, enjoy their craft and enjoy a Negroni (or several dozen). In the vein of an inappropriate, distant uncle, their stories were as colorful as their plating, which is to say, when you’re at the Italian BBQ, you’re one of the family!


… but you’re part of a family with a better soundtrack. Union Rye is quickly becoming one of my favorite Pittsburgh bands. I first heard their folk inspired tunes at the Brooklyn Brewery Mash Dinner on the Farm, and they were the perfect fit for this long Sunday of eating.

Union Rye

The setting was the beautiful White Oak Farm, a mere winding road away from the city of Pittsburgh. With so many courses of food, there were necessary stretching breaks, which were the perfect opportunity to take in the beautiful farm details. I’m a sucker for an old barn and wood grains in every direction.

In the Barn

Barn Interior

Farm Machinery

This year was especially exciting, since I had the opportunity to decorate the event as part of my Harvest & Gather event design collaboration. Olive oil and tomato sauce cans were reborn as vases, herbs were bundled for each guest, and I illustrated the extensive menu with a farm scene.


Italian flag tents

Table and Tents

Herb Bundle Place Setting

Saving Spots at the Table

Appetizer Crostinis

Acacia Dramatic Pour


Italian Juleps by Acacia

Heave Ho

In the past, the Italian BBQ was a chance to see the chefs kick back, goof around and return to a lighter side of their business (while still delivering a really high caliber meal). This year was a chance to see the various chefs really work and take themselves seriously. With such a monstrous grill setup and an ambitious menu, they had to run a tight ship.

The Chef Lineup Included:

Chef Justin Severino of Cure
Chef Sam DiBattista of Vivo Kitchen
Chef Domenic Branduzzi of Piccolo Forno
Chef Stephen Felde of Stagioni
Chef Michele Savoia of Dish Osteria & Bar


Pizza Prep


Pizza in the Pan with a Lid

Feed Your Soul

Hanging Pork Butt

Pork Butt Conserva

Pork Butt Conserva

Wine and Grill

Meat Skewers

Evita Style

Addressing the Crowd

Bomb Peppers with Nduja

Carmen, Cubanelle and Cherry Bomb Peppers with Nduja

Burn the Eggplant

Burn the Eggplant

Cauliflower Course

Cauliflower, Salsa Verde, and Pickles

Making Gnocchi

Making Gnocchi


Gnocchi, Green Tomato Sauce

Roasted Corn Salad

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad

Grilled Radicchio

Romaine Lettuce alla Calabrese

Wagyu Beef Culotte

Wagyu Beef Culotte

Stoking It

Banana Leaves

Tools of the Trade

Before and After Fish

Fish in the Sand on the Beach

Fish Remains


Romesco sauce

Elephant Ear Process

Rolling out elephant ears.

Elephant Ears in the Making

Sillly Face

Elephant Ears

Elephant Ears with Stewed Blueberry and Vanilla Honey

The Italian chefs surely outdid themselves this year. If this post seems lengthy (and super delayed), it’s because the meal stretched from the sunny afternoon into the brisk sunset, and the food never seemed to stop.

La Fine!

Until next year!
Fino al prossimo anno!



#TBT: On the Trail of Johnny Appleseed

October 2014

Apple orchards still bloom along the roads of western Pennsylvania and Ohio, marking the journey of “Johnny Appleseed.” Almost 150 years ago, he walked through this region, giving away seeds of greenings, russets, Baldwins, and Grimes Goldens from an old leather bag, filled at wayside cider mills “back east.” As the first fruit ripened, pioneer women happily looked up forgotten apple cake “rules,” whose fading ink told of mothers left behind in the Pennsylvania Dutch counties, or in the Shenandoah Valley.

from Cake Tour of the U.S.A: Favorite Recipes From Every Corner of This Cake-Loving Country


This fall weather has me craving an apple picking experience, a real apple picking experience. I’ve been investigating, trying to secure a trustworthy location via an appeal to my local facebook crew. Pardon my français:


Where can I go to pick apples that have not been fucked by pesticides and/or fracking? Also, I don’t want to be surrounded by children with face paint or kids in line for a hayride. I just want trees with apples on them and baskets for my pickings.


And much like a Johnny Appleseed crossing my path in historical times, a friend bestowed a box of wholesome, grow-with-love apples, so perhaps a Hasty Mary Apple Cake is in my future. Stay tuned.


May Apples Cross Your Path!

#TBT (Throw Back Thursdays) glimpse into the vintage visual feasts in my personal collection of food and entertaining books.

Pumpkin Cranberry & Pecan Granola

October 2014

I often divide the world into two types of people: knot people and not-knot people. I am a not-knot person. I know no fancy knots, and beyond a slipknot, I am what you may call limited.

Pumpkin Granola 01

Another way to divide the world is into pumpkin people and pumpkin people.

Ie: We are all pumpkin people. Even the self-proclaimed, fall/pumpkin haters who get allll “oh god, if I hear one more person talk about pumpkin spices…,” would be hard pressed to refuse freshly baked pumpkin bread, or a slice of bright orange pumpkin pie. They may hate the game, but they love the player.

Pumpkin Granola

I can’t tie fancy knots, but I can do delicious things with pumpkin. I am a not-knot, pumpkin person. I am going to cook and bake with pumpkin and squash and all the associated fall flavors. I might even wax poetic about changing leaf colors, so don’t hate. Just join me. Crank up your ovens, mix some pumpkin and oats, and let’s all start our day with a spoonful of autumn!

Pumpkin Cranberry & Pecan Granola


3 cups organic old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup pecans
1 cup organic dried cranberries
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
2 Tablespoons toasted flax
2 teaspoons cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a dash of cardamom

1 can (15 oz) organic pumpkin puree
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon olive oil


Preheat oven to 350°F

In a big bowl, mix together oatmeal, pecans, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, flax and spices.

Add in pumpkin puree, maple syrup and oil. Mix well.

Spread mixture out on a baking sheet with non-stick/ parchment paper.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent the granola on the edge from burning.

Let cool and store in an airtight container.

Serve with local honey or a dash of organic brown sugar, with almond milk or yogurt. Then stare longingly out the window at the beauty of fall’s color palette.


Happy Pumpkin Times!


Instagram Lately: Keeping It New

October 2014

This past month has been a whirlwind, but that whirling wind had me discovering new places, new views, new spirits, new faces, and new projects. There wasn’t time for boredom (mom would be proud), but beyond keeping me busy, these newbies kept me inspired and excited, and for that, I am grateful!

Bundt Cake and Fall

New To Me Lately:

New releases of ideas/plans in the works.
New racing stripes/chevrons.
New recipes.
A new season.
Same little pal, but fall’s chill has her cuddling anew!
A new place to caffeinate surrounded by beautiful trees and a quiet neighborhood.
New experiments with spiced spirits and whiskeys are the best kind of experiments!
New views of the city. Who knew you could get so close to the water and see the brightness of the bridge just over yonder?

Blues of the Week

How do you keep things new? How do you stay inspired?


Happy Adventuring!

P.S: You can follow all of my Instagram adventures here.

Whole Wheat Lemon Blueberry Quick Bread

October 2014

I hadn’t spoken with my mom in a while, not because of any malintent, just because of the classic excuse of “busyness.” In our brief, my-life-in-a-nutshell conversation, I realized how much my life has indeed shifted in drastic ways. I have a major collaboration ahead of me, I have the Urban Farmer by my side, and I have a general slew of projects swirling everywhere in between.

I clearly like change and fast-paced changes no less, but describing this momentum to my mom reiterated how I need to be more intentional. I need to step back and realize I actually enjoy this workload and not frame the frenzy as stress. These are exciting times! Fortunately, in the midst of these changes, I have engaged in several conversations about intention, which helps to root these endeavors.

Why do I do what I do? Why do I want to do what lies ahead?

Lemon Blueberry With The Grains

Though you’ll have to stay tuned for the details on my major collaboration and those intentions, I can tell you why I bake. I bake because I love that moment when a friend or acquaintance takes a first bite and reacts with earnest “mmmm” sounds. I bake because I love appeasing sweet teeth with trustworthy ingredients. I bake because I love bringing warm bread to a breakfast meeting with my friends and collaborators.

Why will you bake this delicious quick bread?

Whole-Wheat Lemon-Blueberry Bread
Makes 1 loaf


1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, plus 1 teaspoon for blueberries
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup organic, unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup turbinado raw cane sugar
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

3 large organic eggs

1/2 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup fresh organic blueberries

For the Syrup

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
3 Tablespoons local honey


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and adjust rack to the middle position. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed until light, about 3 minutes.

Add in the eggs one at a time, until each one is incorporated.

Combine the milk and vanilla.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and flour mixture to the creamed butter, starting and stopping with the flour.

In a small bowl, toss clean blueberries with the 1 teaspoon of whole-wheat pastry flour. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Allow bread to cool in pan for a few minutes then turn onto cooling rack.

While the bread is baking, make the lemon syrup:

In a small saucepan, combine lemon juice and honey, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, until combined, and the syrup has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes.

Using a skewer, poke the top of the bread all over. Brush the bread generously with the lemon syrup.

Allow the bread to cool completely, about 2 to 3 hours.


May you fill all of man’s hunger!