One of the perks of not being a management consultant is NOT traveling. Seriously, for almost 4 years I lived out of a suitcase from Monday to Thursday. I could pack like a champ, sometimes with just 3 pieces of clothing and a toothbrush. Now that I am in the same place Monday through Sunday (!!!) I am able to participate in my community. Since healthy food is my number one interest, Slow Food, is an organization that is close to my heart. Here’s how the organization describes itself:

Slow Food Philadelphia is a chapter of an international grassroots movement, represented in more than 130 countries, working to reconnect us with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We want to inspire a transformation in food policy, production practices and market forces so that they ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.

Slow Food partners with different organizations to put on great events and there’s one coming up: Good Food, Good Beer and the Rest is History. There will be food tastings from restaurants offering sustainable fair, including Fork and Penne as well as complimentary beer, donated by the brewers, including Victory and Stoudts.

If you’re in Philly, please come and support Slow Food and Farm to City. Details below.

On April 30, 2010 I left my corporate job and decided to pursue my dream of owning a small food business : Better Butter, an all natural, reduced calorie peanut butter spread. Its been a little over 2 months since I left and we are 100% legal, operating, and selling so I’d like to share a bit about the experience of starting a food company.

My motivation was the lack of love for my corporate job and I was looking for something to throw my creativity, love of food, and hard work into. As a lover of nutbutters and a hater of 100 calories per tablespoon, I have made modified nutbutters for a few years. By adding banana or pumpkin, and nature’s sweeteners, I was able to retain the nutty taste but for half the calories and fat. Sweet! My boyfriend joked that I should sell it and as they say the rest is history. Well, not really…

First, I got really lucky and found a  partner who was equally passionate about healthy food and who has a great business sense and in general is brilliant. We thought we’d start small and sell at Farmers’ Markets, but upon contacting the markets we learned that we’d need to produce in a certified kitchen, be licensed by the city thus pass an inspection, and have food safety certificates and insurance. Product development was also a struggle since peanut butter is shelf stable but low acid foods like banana and pumpkin are not. Faced with the choice of adding funky things to our ingredient list we decided Better Butter would have to be a refrigerated product.

On June 18, 2010 we participated in our first farmers’ market at the Piazza in Northern Liberties.  About 300 people stopped by to try a sample and we heard a lot of “mmm” “so good” and “I’ll take some”. That same day we brought a sample to a local store, Almanac (900 North 4th St), and later in the week we had our first case order! There’s many highs and lows every day as we figure out how to make our small business work but I am unbelievably thankful to have the opportunity to give this a go.

First Farmers' Market at Piazza Northern Liberties

Our next big challenges are to invest in equipment that allows us to somehow speed up the process and to build awareness for Better Butter and have stores sell it.

If you are in the Philly area please support our small peanut butter spread business by asking your local retailer to carry Better Butter. Visit our website to see what farmers’ markets we are selling at and what stores are doing tastings and starting to sell our product. Additionally, we will  list pick up points outside of farmers’ markets where you can purchase the product. For those outside of the Philly area, we will start shipping once the weather cools down so stay tuned.

A final request – please be our fan on facebook!

As part of Beer Week in Philly, many local restaurants are teaming up with breweries and putting on really fun events, such as the Magic Hat Dinner at National Mechanics. We actually won tickets to attend in a Quizzo trivia game…my boyfriend’s smart like that! If you know me and read this blog, you’ll know that I never talk about beer. That’s cause I don’t drink it. However, after hearing about Matt Cohen’s (brewer at Magic Hat) passion for creating new beers I do have a better appreciation for beer drinkers.

Matt Cohen Talks Beer

This event was a great introduction to beer for me, especially because of the food pairings.  So here’s what we had:

Course #1: Magic Hat #9 paired with Guacamole, Salsa Fresco, and Plantain Chips

The first plate of food was demolished by our table so I didn’t get to snap much of a picture. It was a yummy starter as I am a huge fan of guac and plaintain chips. The Magic Hat #9 turned out to be my favorite beer of the night. I’m sure many of you have had it but I was surprised that beer is even described as having hints of apricot…kind of like how wine has fruity characteristics. I guess I need to give small brewers some more credit. The pairing of beer and food was great, nice light beer with fresh flavors of tomatoes and avocados.

Course #2: Wacko paired with Jumbo Lump Crabcake served on top of spinach salad with orange-lime vinaigrette

Course #2

Magic Hat's Wacko

The Wacko gets its pretty pink hue from beets, and the sugar from the beets actually does some of the fermenting (or something like that). Because of the color I kept expecting to taste raspberries so it just created some mind – taste confusion. We were all surprised at how much crab was in the crabcake. I’m used to seeing places use mayo and other stuff as filler and I always stay away from ordering, but National Mechanics did not deprive us of lump crab. They have a crab sandwich on the regular menu that I will give a try during the next Quizzo.

Course #3: Summer Odd Notion with Turkey Lasagna

Course #3

When I initially saw the menu, I thought I would skip eating this course. When I tasted this, I couldn’t stop eating. I didn’t grow up in a family that made lasagna and I’ve always thought it was a heavy, fattening dish, so I think there might be a possibility that I have never had a true lasagna. WOW – it is heavy, and fattening, but so good. The beer, Summer Odd Notion,  is ginger flavored. It paired wonderfully with the hot lasagna. However, this was the first controversial beer where people either said I can’t drink this or I like this.

Course #4: Notion paired with Lamb Crusted Peppercorn and Vegetable Couscous

Course #4

Sadly, I don’t remember a thing about this beer or to be completely honest, the next one. I’d had 4 or 5 drinks by then and was stuffed and it kind of gets blurry. I will say the lamb was delicious.

#5: Magic Hot Sorbet

Course #5

I tried a bite and there were real chunks of peach. But, after that I had to throw in the towel. Too much of a good thing leads to a big buzz and fuzzy memories.

I should also mention that throughout the night there were performances by Olde City Sideshow. Body contortions, sticking swords down throats, really weird stuff!

Great night.

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a workshop about creating farm revenue in urban spaces and walked away with my head spinning. A very talented and enthusiastic guy by the name of Nic Esposito, who self proclaimed himself as just a “west-philly-grundge”, passed on his success and knowledge of how to start a small farm on urban land.

Working with several organizations in Philly, including UC Green, to green up urban areas, Nic earned enough of a reputation and was approached to see if he could do something with a particular vacant space in West Philly. In its lifetime the empty space had served as a place to get high, in trouble, and as a site for cherry pickers to park while constructing a new SEPTA station.  This is the space today:

Urban Farm in West Philly (Market & 46th)

In an area that traditionally viewed fresh and organic produce as expensive and out of reach, the community now has direct access to home grown. It gets even better though. Nic is working with a group of college students who are treating the non CSA part of the garden as a traditional farm. The students are learning the day-to-day operations along with selling the produce at Farmers Markets and to small stores and restaurants. The proceeds are there’s to keep.

The workshop spoke to many of the challenges and creative solutions to questions such as how to get land, community participation, water, and even wooden blocks for the plots. The answers to these questions are truly inspiring from a sustainable and community perspective. For example,  the blocks and bricks come from many unused scraps throughout the city. The water from rain will be gathered on the SEPTA station (red brick building on left) will go into barrels and then be used in the garden with the help of a battery and solar panel.

SEPTA station will collect water for Community Farm

Even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, which has 400,000 vacant lots, chances are there are vacant lots in your city. These places are typically gross and home to activities such as loitering, drug use, and other crime. See who you can contact in your cities to simultaneously improve the urban area and give people better access to fresh produce.

Broccoli

Lastly, I want to mention the organization that put together this workshop, SAITA (Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance). SAITA pulls together interns throughout the southeastern PA farms and creates a network in which they learn about new sustainability topics. Luckily, these workshops are opened to regular people too. Its just really impressive that an organization like this exists to bring together like-minded young people and create an environment where they can learn together about relevant topics.

Thanks SAITA and Nic Esposito!

Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training alliance

Audrey Claire makes me want to be there. Something about the light green facade, large windows, outside street seating, and a granny smith apple on each table to pull it all together, pulls me in every time.

Entrance to Audrey Claire

Outside Seating at Audrey Claire

Although I ride past the restaurant almost daily, I didn’t even know the cuisine served. When I stumbled across another blogger’s post title “the best (philly)”, Audrey Claire, in their view was not only best BYO, but also Best Place for Date. And to to top it all of us, it was Mediterranean (nothing exceeds my love for hummus).  That sealed the deal, and a few days later my boyfriend and I were sitting outside.

On whats turning to be normal Philly day, the 85 degree sticky weather, made sitting outside a little uncomfortable. Sitting inside, unfortunately, felt like the same 85 degrees but cramped and with loud talking.  We were quickly offered water outside and the water was replenished constantly. That is appreciated, but perhaps the highlight of our visit.

After  cooling down with water and getting started on our rose, the bread and oil were brought. The bread was crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, but when its humid, bread for us, is too heavy.

Crusty Bread with Oil

This logic does not apply to pita bread. We decided to start by sharing the 3 dips and pita, choosing: Sundried Tomato and Garlic, Pumpkin Hummus, and Babaganoush.

Mediterrenean Dips

The sharing turned into just for me because my boyfriend didn’t like a single one. Yes, he usually like hummus and dips. Personally, I liked the pumpkin. It had a smooth texture, and none of the rawness of pureed pumpkin. The sundried tomato and garlic was not a spread but chunks and I’m glad we still had the crusty bread around because it didn’t belong on the pita. The babaganoush was gross. It had the bitter taste that you get when you don’t remove parts of eggplant.

For our next course, we decided to share the special salad of the day with watermelon, feta, and mint. This at least was refreshing, but lacked the finesse of a pulled together dish. I can slide feta and watermelon at home too…at a restaurant I would expect some sort of light dressing to pull it together. The bites with all 3 ingredients were delicious but with only 2 mint leaves, those weren’t too many bites.

Again, for our main, we decided to share, and ordered the  feta and garlic crusted baby rack of lamb with fresh mint and dill labne.

Rack of Lamb?

We had both interpreted the feta and garlic to be a coating…similar to black sesame seeds on tuna. I was shocked when we received, basically fried lamb. It was a think coat of breading, greasy, and turned the lamb meat into a flavorless lump. We received 3 lollipops like the one pictured above and I left my boyfriend have at them. I tried one and decided to pick at the crusty bread from the beginning of the meal instead. My boyfriend was none to happy with the dish but after ignoring the dips and salad, he was hungry enough to eat fried lamb.

In short, the outside is cute, its the worst dinner I’ve had in Philly so far, and the service leaves a bit to be desired.


A had a perfect Saturday. After preparing a picnic, we left the city behind and set off for Sandcastle Winery in Buck’s County. Normally, the car is not my friend. I tend to act like a bratty child and annoy all passengers with cliche statements like “I have to pee” and “Are we there yet”. This drive is different though; after 40 minutes of highway you enter River Rd. Its small towns, nature, and a large dose of yearning for the serenity of country life.  After you’ve swore up and down that you are moving to Bucks County to everyone in the car, you arrive at Sandcastle Winery. I had no expectations for Pennsylvania grown grapes, but the tasting is one of the best I’ve ever experienced (Including Napa and Mendoza)! Each wine was paired with a different spice or chocolate and we were instructed to take a taste then to chew on the food pairing, everything from rosemary twigs to white chocolate, than have another taste. The wine changed drastically with the pairings, so much so that we were shocked.

Sand Castle Winery

After the tasting, we selected a bottle of rose and enjoyed a picnic:

Spread of Goodness

DiBruno's Cheese - never disappoints

Post picnic we headed to a Pick Your Own farm to collect strawberries and passed by a Polo game. Couldn’t help but stop and watch…really this Bucks County place is another world.

A casual Polo game

The strawberries were in full bloom, about 2 weeks ahead of schedule to the unseasonable hotness, and were incredibly easy to collect. I filled a 4 quart basket in about 15 minutes with perfectly ripe strawberries. They are so fresh and make me realize that somethings are better enjoyed in season.

Strawberry Fields

All in all, a perfect day!

In my infinite amount of free time (Thank you Philadelphia Health Department) I’ve been able to make time for a beautiful vegetable and herb garden. I’ve tried this in years past but when you are a traveling consultant and watering your plants is known as rain…it doesn’t really work out. Since I’m no longer a consultant, I can give my plants a little attention every day, and I make it rain for them :)

With all this love, my basil is doing a little too well. Its growing so fast that its starting to creep into the tomatoes and cilantro area.

Basil Abundance

If you have an abundance of basil, or just love things with basil as a star ingredient, here are some of my finds:

As an immediate solution, I made a sandwich for lunch which included Basil. Whole Foods has a bread called OrganicPrairie that makes me swoon. Between the two slices of goodness I added pizza sauce, goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and of course basil. All of that goes in the George Forman which I pretty much use as a sandwich or wrap press. Fresh and delicious.

Basil: Garden to Belly

If anyone has recipes with basil send my way.

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