Pennsylvania passion fruit

passion fruit flower opening on the vine in the early morning

Whenever possible, I like to visit with the local “old timers” who have been farming and gardening here for years–in some cases, for a lifetime. I always learn something new from them. Sometimes we learn from each other.

As some of the formerly “exotic” fruits and plants become more commonly available, it’s amazing how often someone tells me, “You know, we always had those around when I was growing up, but didn’t know we could eat them.”

For example, this happened with paw paws. “I remember the stink of those trees,” or “We never ate those–the fruit would just fall, get mashed all over the ground, and be crawling with bugs.” (Hipsters everywhere would be crying about this lost foraging opportunity!)

And more recently, the same thing happened with passion fruit. Yes! Passion fruit!

I was getting a few of these fruits ready for breakfast the other day, and my buddy Chuck watched me with a frown. “You can eat those?” he asked. Yes! Passion fruit, I said. He had heard of passion fruit, but didn’t know what they looked like.

And then he tells me that he has a bunch of those all over the ground every year after the vines die down. Vines? What vines?! This guy doesn’t make stuff up, but I was still incredulous. Was he pulling my leg? I couldn’t believe that passion fruit would grow outside of a greenhouse this far north.

Long story short, he was right! It turns out that passion fruit vines were already there on the farm when he bought it thirty years ago. You can’t mistake these vines and flowers for anything else. We still don’t know how they got there. But now I know that they can survive the harsh Pennsylvania winters. (And I try not to think about all the passion fruit Chuck has been throwing on the compost pile for thirty years.)

This spring I bought and planted a couple of vines, and started a few others from seed. You never know what you’ll get when you start from seed–if the fruit was a hybrid, it can resemble either parent. The vines won’t fruit this year, in any case. They may not even flower this year as they take root and establish themselves. But I can’t wait until next year!

passion fruit flower opening on the vine in the early morning
This is a flower on a local vine, just starting to open in the early morning.
Bumblebee on a passion fruit flower on a vine growing in western Pennsylvania
Here is one local guy who seems to appreciate this tropical vine!

March 2016 Dinner with Daniel


Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom and buttermilk whipped cream

Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom whipped cream
Flan with bienmesabe crust and cardamom buttermilk whipped cream
This probably won’t surprise anyone, but let me come out and say it. I don’t agree with all the gluten free propaganda out there. If you have a condition, then yes, by all means avoid it, but if not, then I don’t want to hear it!

That said, my first reaction when targeting gluten free desserts is not to rework recipes to eliminate the gluten, but to look at recipes that are already gluten free and use them as a starting point. There are many of these recipes throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Bienmesabe canario is one of these great recipes. Its a traditional dessert of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. This dessert dates back to the 15th century and it has similarities with an Andalucía dessert of the Malaga region and other middle eastern desserts.

This dessert is made with almonds, eggs, sugar and lemon zest. A very simple confection that is sure to transport you to any of the almond growing regions of the Mediterranean.

Bienmesabe canario has been my inspiration for a gluten free “crust” for this flan dessert–the best “cheese-less” cheese cake you’ll ever have.

a few photos from the coffee dinner



Some say that this coffee drink dates back to when Spain occupied Cuba. Soldiers would drink coffee and rum to give them courage–coraje in Spanish, which later transformed into the current name of the drink: “carajillo.”

There are many variations of this drink. For January’s supper club, the carajillo I’ll be making will have Licor 43, Bella Aurora coffee, whipped coconut cream and citrus chocolate.

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Menu for the Jan 23 coffee flavored Dinner with Daniel

Matt Gebis has chosen a few select coffees for the upcoming Dinner with Daniel. I have designed the courses around each coffee’s unique character. You will be amazed to be introduced to a whole new range of flavors in this familiar daily beverage:

  • Coffee BBQ Pork Ribs – Miju Sali Coffee, Ethiopia
  • Pan-seared Emerald Valley Ricotta Chiesi with Cocoa and Coffee – Las Capucas Coffee, Honduras
  • Sea bass with Marcona Almond Crusted Prawns in Coffee and Coriander Sauce – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Brussels Sprouts with Onion and Coffee Jam – Finca de las Delicias Coffee, Mexico
  • Bella Aurora Coffee Roasted Carrots and Beets – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua
  • White Truffle Panna Cotta with La Dorita Dulce de Leche Liqueur and Coffee – Unafe Co-op Coffee, Peru
  • Carajillo – Bella Aurora Coffee, Nicaragua

Emerald Valley is a local farm in Scenery Hill, producing artisanal cheeses.

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a homestyle Spanish meal at the December Dinner with Daniel

January 2016 Dinner with Daniel: coffee flavor

Matt Gebis drinking an espresso
Matt Gebis, coffee maven and owner of Espresso a Mano, drinking his favorite coffee preparation (an espresso shot)

Coffee has always been a cherished part of my life. Even before I could drink it, the comforting smell of coffee and the sound of it percolating in the moka pot was a call to start the day and meet the rest of my family at the table. I am pretty open about my coffee obsession. Who else do you know who has a grove of coffee trees in his house?

My friend Matt Gebis may have me beat. He has converted his obsession with coffee into a career. In 2009, he opened the Lawrenceville coffee spot Espresso a Mano, a mecca for coffee lovers that’s still making headlines. He has been at the forefront of coffee culture in Pittsburgh for many years.
Matt will provide some of his favorite coffees to be featured in January’s Dinner with Daniel. Come to get a new perspective on coffee and let the coffee aroma call you to the table!
Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009
Here I am with Matt in Espresso a Mano in 2009