Hometown Hidden Gems: A Picnic on Observatory Hill

September 2014

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
-John Steinbeck

Poor Autumn. The vibrantly colored in between. It’s such a gorgeous time of year in Pittsburgh, but all too often, autumn is overshadowed by a fear of the looming winter. In an effort to channel my winter fears positively, I took advantage of the PERFECT fall day, abandoned my afternoon laptop plans and took to the hill…Observatory Hill, with a French picnic, a dog, and an Urban Farmer in tow.

La Gourmandine Facade

Picnic Source: La Gourmandine

Due to the last minute nature of these picnic plans, I needed to fill my basket quickly. When it comes to throwing together a delectable outdoor meal, my mind wanders to a time in my life when I could glean from French bakeries, cheese mongers, farmers markets and butcher shops. Being that my Provincial and Parisian days are behind me, I do not have all these boutique delicacies available within an arrondisement, but I do have the next best thing- La Gourmandine.

La Gourmandine

Neighborhood Spotlight: Lawrenceville

Though not really a hidden gem, La Gourmandine is a Pittsburgh gem no less. While my mouth is full of almond croissant, my mind jets to Paris. However, if I put aside my Parisian residence dreams long enough, it’s easy to be inspired by the surrounding neighborhood of Lawrenceville. Here the enviable old homes have been reborn with vibrant colors and refurbished details. A quick stroll from bakery to car reminded me how important it is to tread beyond my normal routes more often, lest I take this city for granted.

Pastry and the Neighborhood

In a display of restraint, I managed to buy a proper picnic lunch and not just a basket of almond croissants. There will be weekend mornings for these baskets of pastries.

Observatory Building

Picnic Locale: Observatory Hill

If I was going to blow off laptop times and enjoy a warm day, I figured we might as well pick more of a destination. Nearly two years had passed since my first visit to this architectural gem, and like so many off-the-path places, I had had every intention of returning much sooner. The time was right.

Observatory and Blue Sky

Leap Farmer

Wave Detail

Now that I am a certifiably crazy dog lady, Julep-friendly adventures are especially appealing. Not only does Observatory Hill boast a hidden architectural gem and impressive views of the city, but my little Julep had the chance to sprint, fetch and gnaw on logs in the tree-studded dog park. Win win!

Dog park

Tree Trunk


Both man and dog tried to discover the building’s secrets to no avail. I must, must, must make a better effort to return here to take advantage of this telescope housed within and peer into the night sky (tour info).

Dog and Duded Exploring

Setting up the picnic 02

Setting Up the picnic

Et voila! A few of my favorite elements all came together on one piece of canvas: a French picnic, the Urban Farmer, my happy little dog and a beautiful view on a beautiful day…

Dude and Picnic

The Picnic:

Traditional Baguette
Blueberry & Toscano Cheeses
Vegetarian Quiche
Homemade Kombucha with Local Peaches
Paris Brest pastry for dessert!

The Picnic

It was a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon, fully soaking up the here and now of autumn.

Observatory Hill View

Where are your city’s hidden gems?


Happy Wandering!

p.s: After years of being a rather limited pedestrian in this car-centric city, I am every so grateful to have a little red car for maximum adventuring potential. However, it’s really exciting to see more and more car sharing programs popping up in Pittsburgh. This adventure was partially inspired by RelayRides, who wants more people to discover and share their city’s hidden gems. Relay Rides is a program for renting out your car when you’re not using it, the Air BnB of cars, if you will. If I didn’t schlep around my furry, four-legged friend, you might even be able to rent my little red whip. So grab someone’s keys, hit your hidden gems and report back.

Vestiges of Brooklyn

September 2014

Oh Brooklyn!

If I were more into the idea of 3+ roommates, I’d probably already be shacking up with said 3+ persons and absorbing all the inspiration that borough has to offer. That being said, my styling partner and I recently packed his Subaru to the brim and journeyed to Brooklyn for an amazing event design opportunity with Brooklyn Brewery. This job was merely one of the many plates we have spinning in the air, so the trip was very consolidated and approximately 99.9% focused on the venue/job. However, we took a very brief moment to soak up some inspiration via a sunset stroll through Redhook. The few blocks of shops and restaurants melted my heart in that way that progressive cities do, and it whet my appetite for a more immersive trip.

Brooklyn Recap

Ace Hotel; Art Installation by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels at Pioneer Works; our event design for Brooklyn Brewery & Dinner Lab at Pioneer Works; Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Until I have the opportunity to return for a jam packed Brooklyn adventure, I at least have a few vestiges of Brooklyn to hold me over…

Vestiges of Brooklyn

This weekend the fella and I will be French pressing these fragrant Stumptown beans, sharing and savoring every single bite of this $10 Mast Brothers chocolate bar, and sipping some Brooklyn Brewery Local 2.

What will you be savoring this weekend?


Happy Weekend!

Blueberry Nectarine Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Sage Syrup

 September 2014

“I was supposed to…”

Way back when, I was supposed to stay in France all summer long, but instead a visa complication threw a fork in all my farming and yurt-staying dreams.

Then, I was supposed to return to Pittsburgh for a farming program, only no one bothered to tell me the program’s funding had been cut.

I was supposed to work at that job for no more than a year.


Life is so full of “I was supposed to…” moments, and though I may be a complainer in the very wintry, “I’m so f%$king freezing right now” sort of way, when the real wrenches are thrown at me, I like to think I have the ability to roll with said wrenches. In most cases, these “supposed to” moments lead to a better scenario than I could ever have imagined. My personal and career paths appeared to meander in disparate directions for so long, but lately, I feel all the twists and turns coalescing into a meaningful direction. Had I been beleaguered by “I was supposed to..,” I may have inadvertently missed giant detour signage.

Blueberry Detail

I was supposed to take this cake to a dinner party, but ….

In a hurry, I snapped a few pictures in fall’s fading light, as the dinner party hour quickly approached. The cake, the linen, and the wooden surface yielded a sufficiently pretty picture, but the image did little to inspire me. Soon after the shutter release, plans changed, and attending the gathering fell through. The cake remained uncut, and the next day, I found so much more light and inspiration. Wooden crates, branches and berries reminded me once again how futile “I was supposed to” is, and my cake efforts were not in vain. I shared slices with my creative partners and that handsome fella I call the Urban Farmer.

Cake and Nectarines

When these reminders arise, and I muse about these lessons, I recall one of my favorite books- The Alchemist, in which author Paulo Coelho says, “And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” My friends, one of the best ways to move forward is with cake! Without further ado-

Blueberry Nectarine Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Sage Syrup


1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup local corn flour
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup half & half (or whole milk)
2 large organic, cage-free eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest

2  nectarines, sliced into thin wedges
blueberries, to your taste/aesthetic


Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 x 3-in. springform pan with baking spray.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in large bowl to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk milk, eggs, butter, vanilla and zest. Pour over flour mixture, mixing just until smooth, about 1 minute.

Spread evenly over bottom of pan. Top with nectarine slices and blueberries in a pattern that inspires you.

Bake 45-60 minutes, or until lightly golden, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Poke several holes in the surface of the cake with a cake tester or toothpick. Pour the lemon syrup (recipe below) over the surface of the cake.

Cool in pan on a wire rack. Remove cake from pan.


Lemon Sage Syrup

2 teaspoons AITA Sage liquor
juice from 1 lemon
1-2 teaspoons organic cane sugar


Stir all ingredients together until sugar is dissolved.


Thanks for musing with me!

p.s: If you’re eying this cake at breakfast time, you’re totally justified. A slice of this cake is a lovely way to start the day, especially when paired with homemade whipped cream.


Gluten-Free Chocolate Coconut Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches

September 2014

A Kogel Family Value: Ice cream knows no season.

If your family raised you to limit your frozen treats to the summer months, firstly, my sympathies.  Secondly, you better make these cookies soon! Then go ahead, and find that moment in the afternoon, when the sun is still beaming, the clouds are cotton candy, the breeze is warm, and eat an ice cream sandwich like a child who ignores ice cream rules. Hell, have that ice cream sammie for breakfast if you feel so inclined! I won’t tell your parents.

Coconut Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches

I made these cookies with a certain Hawaii transplant in mind, so coconut was heavy on my brain when scheming this recipe. Said surfer-turned-farmer boy inspired my first use of coconut flour, and it worked perfectly. The cookies were soft and chewy with a faint hint of coconut. As we move into crisper, fall temperatures, these cookies would also pair well with hot chocolate, but again, ice cream is eternal love in my book.

Gluten-Free, Chocolate, Coconut Cookies (for Ice Cream Sandwiches)


1/2 pound organic semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon organic coconut oil

3/4 cup organic coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 organic, cage-free eggs
3/4 cup organic raw cane sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pink himalayan sea salt for sprinkling

For Assembly

Organic vanilla bean ice cream
Unsweetened, shredded coconut


Melt the chocolate,butter and coconut oil together over a double boiler. Stir it occasionally until the mixture is completely smooth, then remove it from the heat and set it aside while you prepare the rest of the batter.

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

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or using an electric mixer, beat the eggs. Slowly add in the sugar, and beat until the mixture is light in color and the eggs have tripled in volume.

Stir in the vanilla extract, followed by the melted chocolate mixture.

Fold in the flour mixture until well combined.

The dough will be very soft, almost batter-like in texture. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes or until it’s firm enough to scoop.

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and portion the cookies into heaping tablespoons.

Sprinkle each cookie with salt, and bake them for 10-12 minutes, or until their tops are puffed.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then move to a rack to cool completely.


Scoop your favorite, all-natural, ice cream onto the flat side of one cookie. Top with a second cookie. Sprinkle the exposed ice cream with shredded coconut, and enjoy!


Here’s to Ice Cream All Year Long!

Instagram Lately: Suspended Like Scales

September 2014

Perfectly cocooned and protected from the morning chill, I awoke to that ol’ familiar feeling fall brings me: an intense desire to nestle. Fall is upon us, but summer hasn’t left us quite yet. We are teetering on the cusp of golden flowers and red leaves. Much like the seasons, I have been teetering on many a cusp: calm/chaos, excitement/nervousness, stress/satisfaction. Amidst this haze, I had an assignment to notice everything. The simple act of curling in the corner of my couch and putting pen to paper helped me slow down, encouraged me to take calming nightly walks and take a few deep breaths. I had to remind myself to be calm because of the chaos, excited by the nervousness and satisfied with the stress.

Yellow Summer

While attempting to appreciate these teetering moments, I read a passage by an author who penned these sentiments more eloquently than I:

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

…Verily, you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

From The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Fall Colors

So here’s to summer, and here’s to fall.
Here’s to chaos, and here’s to calm!


Happy Noticing!

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


The Makings of a Banh Mi

September 2014

Let’s talk Wikipedia food history for a moment:

Bánh Mì, a combination of the Vietnamese words for bread/cake and wheat respectively, is a term used to describe bread. Most commonly the phrase refers to the baguette style bread introduced by the Frenchies during their “vacances” there, ie: colonialism. The term, my fellow word nerds, is often metonymically used to describe the sandwiches commonly found in Vietnamese bakeries (or if you live in Pittsburgh, commonly found outside one of the finer drinking establishments).

The Makings of a Banh Mi

Typical Bánh MÌ fillings include steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, spreadable pork liver pâté, chicken, head cheese, fried eggs, and tofu. In short, good things! Given my new obsession with the many Carrot Daikon Slaw possibilities and my indifference for historical accuracy, I took the liberty of combining some key Bánh MÌ elements with some new twists to make one very memorable sandwich.

The Makings of a Bánh MÌ à la With The Grains

Soy & Gyoza Roasted Salmon
Homemade Mayo
Havarti Dill Cheese
All Natural Hot Sauce
Jalapeño Peppers
Cucumber Slices
Carrot & Daikon Slaw
Fresh Cilantro

Stack ‘em up every which way and however you please, but if I may, a few recommendations:

Mix the hot sauce and the mayo into one zinger of a creamy sauce (then commence using it on everything from oven baked fries to burgers). Then slather the combo on the baguette, followed by mashed avocado. The mashed avocado will be easier to bite, since this sandwich will not lack for height or messy bites.

Be careful with those jalapeño seeds! They’ll knock the wind out of you, make your heart jump a bit and fill your eyes with tears- like all the stages of a tumultuous love affair in one bite!

Now that you’re full on sandwich, imagine all the other Bánh MÌ inspired wonders you can make, like this hot dog par example.


Go Forth & Bánh MÌ!

Simple Soy & Gyoza Roasted Salmon

September 2014

You can relate to this scenario:

You unwrap a rectangular present, and “SURPRISE,” it’s a book! It’s not a book you’ve been dying to have, nor is the cover particularly compelling, but it’s a book that vaguely pertains to your interests and will add enough value to your life should you one day skim it. In short, it’s worth having in your repertoire. You toss aside the lingering wrapping paper and flip through the pages to feign how grateful and interested you are, and then…actual surprise…a gift card slips from chapter 12! It’s a gift card to the new restaurant you’ve been dying to try, and now that rather formulaic book makes waaaay more sense.

Roasted Salmon

Let’s just say this roasted fish is the book, and the gift card will follow in a subsequent post, so stay tuned! I won’t keep you waiting too long. I promise.

Soy & Gyoza Roasted Salmon


2 (~5-oz) pieces of salmon fillet with skin
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
Soy Sauce
Gyoza Dipping Sauce (or a similar ginger sauce)


Place the salmon in a bowl or pan. Rub salmon all over with 1 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover in soy sauce and Gyoza sauce. Set aside for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, preheat oven to 425°F.

Line a cast-iron skillet with parchment paper that is double the diameter of the skillet, letting the excess hang over one side only. Transfer the salmon to a parchment-lined skillet, skin side down.

Pour the remaining marinade over the salmon, and fold the excess parchment over the salmon and twist it with the other edge, so the parchment forms a tent around the salmon.

Roast until fish is just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate to serve. Discard skin when eating.


Bon Appétit!