Monthly Archives: February 2010

Useful Baking


In the past, I’ve looked at bread baking as something that was optional, recreational. I’ve played with the much-lauded No-Knead Bread technique. I’ve baking (and eaten) more loaves of quick, sweetened breads than I care to count. And yet, I’ve never really considered the fact that I could bake the type of bread I like to eat regularly with my own hands and oven.

It’s sort of a strange disconnect, but truly, I had it in my head that baking bread that required kneading and making it at all healthy was impossible. So I played with frivolous breads, all the while, buying my favorite whole wheat sandwich and toasting bread at Trader Joe’s.

half whole wheat bread

Yesterday, I woke up to a snowstorm and a work voicemail saying that the office was closed. With an unexcepted free day and kitchen almost entirely devoid of bread, I decided to see if I could make something similar to my favorite toasting bread. Looking around for a recipe, I settled on this one from The Frugal Girl, which she has adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe.

And now, I have no idea what was preventing me from doing this. It was incredibly easy (granted, I’m pretty comfortable with yeast, so take this “incredibly easy” rating with a grain of experiential salt). I mixed the dough in my Kitchen-Aid and hand-kneaded for about ten minutes. The dough was pretty sticky, but with the help of the bench scrapper and some extra flour for dusting, it kneaded into a supple, stretchy ball quickly.

In recent days, I’ve been trying to buy less and make more through canning, making my own yogurt and generally cooking more from scratch (I’ve gotten pretty adept at pizza in recent days). I do this in part because I want to have more control what’s in my food and also because I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of packaging I consume. Scott thinks that I sometimes take this to an extreme (like when I take a plastic container to a restaurant when I know we’re going to have leftovers), but mostly, he goes along with it.

I’m hoping to make this utilitarian bread part of my homemade, no packaging effort!

Fork You: PA Wine Trail

I’m about ten days later than I intended to be in posting this video, but better late than never, right? This is the episode that we shot during our Berks County Wine Trail visit back in January. It was a really great trip and one I highly recommend to anyone in the Philadelphia region who’s looking for an easy weekend getaway. And you never know, you might find a giant stash of second-hand jars (as we all know, that never fails to make my day).

A Weekend on the Berks County Wine Trail

If you’re interested in a getaway this weekend (February 13th and 14th), all the wineries on the Berks County Wine Trail are offering special chocolate and wine tastings. The Reading Crowne Plaza is also offering special deals on accommodations.

Fairground Farmers' Market

Last weekend (not this very snowy one just past, but the one before that), Scott and I piled into our 18 year old Subaru and took off for Reading, PA, and spent a couple of days exploring several of the stops along the Berks County Wine Trail (and in the process, filming an episode of Fork You). Up until recently, I’d not been particularly familiar with the concept of wine trails, but having spent a little time on one, I’m a fan. It’s a fun and visitor-friendly way to explore a region of the state and sip a very broad spectrum of wine.


Neither Scott nor I are huge wine drinkers. I like a glass now and then, and when around the right people, (I’m looking at you, David Snyder) I can really get into the ceremony of swirling, sniffing and thinking about the diversity of flavors in each sip. While he does appreciate a glass of bubbly, Scott is even less interested in wine than I am. And yet, we had a really great time on this trip, visiting the wineries and trying a tons of different wines. It’s nice to know that one doesn’t have to be an established vinophile to enjoy a wine trail weekend.

six wines

Our first stop was the Clover Hill Winery shop at the Boscov’s Fairground Farmers’ Market in Reading (what a great indoor farmers’ market it was too! It reminded me a lot of Lancaster’s Central Market). A very sweet and engaging woman named Deb poured us tastes of six different wines and generally made the experience a complete delight (and made us feel completely comfortable with the fact that we were drinking wine before 11 a.m.). My favorite was the Chambourcin (I’m a sucker for a dry red), while Scott (and his sweet tooth) found their Strawberry and Pear wine to be right up his alley.

smokey cheesers

Oh, and the picture you see up there of those smokey cheesers? Those little guys are delicious (and deadly, as they’re all butter, cheese and sausage, bound together with a bit of dough).

freshly bottled Blanc de Blancs

Soon enough, it was time to say good-bye to our new friend Deb and head to Manatawny Creek Winery in Douglassville. There, we were greeted by Darvin Levengood, who spent more than an hour with us, teaching me how to say Gewurztraminer, sharing some of his favorite wines (all made by his daughter Joanne, an accomplished winemaker who studied at the UC Davis wine program) and giving us a tour of their fermentation and bottling area.

Darvin Levengood of Manatawny Creek Winery

It was here that we learned the basics of wine sales, as well as the fact that the state of Pennsylvania taxes alcohol differently from the Federal government, making for complex bookkeeping for winemakers (sounds like a line of work I’ll be staying far, far away from). We also got a brief tutorial on the process of removing the yeast particles from sparkling wine after it has done it’s bubble-making work. It was fascinating.

When we left Manatawny with plans to visit a third winery on Saturday afternoon. However, when we started the car back up after lunch (really good burgers at Union Jack’s Inn), something was wrong. It had developed a throaty rumble, akin to a souped up hot rod. We called Blair Winery (our third stop of the day) and told them we weren’t going to be able to make it. Missy Blair, our contact there, was really flexible about the whole thing and told us not to worry.

From the front door of the Long Trout Winery

Sunday morning, we checked out of our room at the Reading Crowne Plaza (a terrific hotel with an indoor pool, comedy club and jazz nightspot), climbed back into the car (patched and road-ready thanks to Perry at the Reading Pep Boys) and headed off to Long Trout Winery in Auburn, PA. Long Trout is a hoot. As you can see from the picture above, their tasting room is totally wacky, every corner bedazzled by sixties rock and pop culture ephemera.

The wines are also different from anything I’ve ever tried before. We came home with a bottle of strawberry and milk chocolate wine, called Instant “O.” Other really intriguing ones included a vegetal Old One Eye and the Sour Cherriola. If you are in the Auburn area and appreciate a hippie culture and the work of a highly creative winemaker, I recommend stopping here.

wines at Pinnacle Ridge

Next was Pinnacle Ridge Winery, in Kutztown (we did take a brief detour in order to visit the Hamburg, PA Cabela’s. That place is a circus). This light-filled tasting room was a welcome relief from the chilly day and we were particularly delighted by the friendly grey cat who trotted up to greet us.

Pinnacle Ridge is on Facebook

Of all the wineries we visited on this trip, Pinnacle Ridge was my favorite. I think that’s mostly because it was the most familiar. It had a look and feel of some of the wineries I used to visit when I was in college in Walla Walla. Additionally, their wine was amazing. We were particularly blown away by their ice wine. Amazing stuff!

pouring the Rockland Red

Our last stop was Blair Vineyards. We were originally scheduled to visit them on Saturday, but postponed after our car trouble. Happily, they were incredibly flexible and made room for us to stop by late Sunday afternoon. It’s a long, curvy drive up to their tasting room and production facility, but totally worth it. This family-owned and operated winery is one to watch (and I’m saving the bottle of Pinot Gris we bought from them for something special).

And that was our weekend. I was really delighted to discover so many terrific wines being produced within an hour and a half from home. I’m really looking forward to finding out more about Pennsylvania wines!

To see more photos from the weekend, click here.