Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mama Nina Foccacheria

This week, I finally had the chance to meet Mama Nina (546 Main Street, Bethlehem). She greeted my friend and me at the door, with kisses and hugs, and the two of us settled in for a big meal and a few precious moments of time together.

Bethlehem doesn't lack for Italian restaurants, even good Italian restaurants. Metromix lists 220 in the Lehigh Valley. There's a clear difference between Sal's on the Southside and Melt in the Promenade Shops. MN falls in between, with the homey feel of a relative's dining room, friendly and sincere service, and the flavors and presentation of a sophisticated chef. If you haven't visited yet, you might want to order your complimentary garlic bread with the garlic on the side, so you can "control" the amount of garlic intake. Also, you should know that the restaurant is BYOB. If you forget to bring a bottle, they'll offer you a complimentary glass of house wine, or you can scoot across the street to Franklin Hill to pick up a bottle of local vino.

We shared crab-stuffed-mushrooms, which were tasty, as was the salad underneath the mushrooms, and I had a salad. I ordered the Tour of Mama Nina, and the eggplant rollatini was to die for. I'm a sucker for ricotta in general, but the preparation was sublime. My friend also loved the Mama Nina's Angel Hair pasta with seafood and gorgonzola. Our bill came to $70.00 including tip. (His entree made up more than 1/3 of the bill.)

A few tables out on the sidewalk are always in demand this time of year. The restaurant doesn't take reservations except for large groups, so plan ahead. (And don't forget the mints - you'll need them after the garlic bread.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bloomie's Flower Shop

With all my job transition activities lately, I haven't been able to do as much exploring. I'm set to visit Mechanicsburg, State College and Pittsburgh in the space of one week so maybe I'll share some of my fun discoveries there, if you're interested!

Today I visited State Rep Bob Freeman's office in downtown Easton, next to Connexions Gallery. There was a meter spot right in front of the door. (I learned when I moved to the area to get a few rolls of quarters from the bank and just keep it in the place where an ashtray should be in my car - I have a knack for parallel parking and prefer meters to parking garages.) After our meeting, he mentioned that his wife, Terri, has a flower shop around the corner, and asked, would I like to see it? It's called Bloomie's (21 N. 2nd St., Easton) and they don't have a web site just yet, so you'll have to stop in or call them at 610-258-6331. Bob suggested their slogan should be "We peddle petals" but Terri prefers "Be surrounded by flowers." I walked with her and Michelle to the Eastonian Hotel, where they delivered an arrangement of calla lilies with red sticks (a subtle nod to Easton High School colors). In addition to floral arrangements, they offer greeting cards, balloons, plants and dish gardens. They do make deliveries and are open Tuesday-Saturday, 10-6.

It's Administrative Professionals Appreciation Week, so if you are lucky enough to have someone to keep you organized, now would be a good time to thank them for all their hard work!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Petra Mediterranean

In DC, I was very lucky to have close friends with roots in the Mediterranean: Miss Bridget lived in Morocco in college and brought spices and tagines back with her, cooking up a mighty Moroccan feast on more than one occasion; and my old friend Banu, who disappeared off the face of the earth when she joined the DIA (this happens sometimes in DC), who is half Turkish and used to read my coffee grounds after dinner at Zaytinya downtown. We would also wait for the lamb truck to come down Connecticut Ave. so we could get melt-in-your-mouth gyros at Yanni's Greek Taverna.

Not too long ago, I shared my experiences about one of the many little coffee joints in Bethlehem, Java Mill. Since then, Java's Brewin' (the one in the building where Melting Pot is moving in) has closed, and Java Mill (the one next to Chocolate Lab and Rippers) has closed, too - it's now Petra Mediterranean. When I ducked in out of the rain, the owner, Elias Salameh, mentioned that there is a $9.00 lunch buffet and a few patrons encouraged me to come back for couscous tomorrow. He and his family used to run a Moroccan restaurant in Jordan so you'd better believe they know their couscous!

In the meantime, here's a little snack to tide you over... some lamb in spicy pasta, muhamara (dip made with walnuts, pomegranate, molasses, toasted bread crumbs, olive oil, roasted bell peppers and spices), and tabbouleh (fine bulgur wheat soaked in lemon juice, fine chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions and seasoned with olive oil and mild spices). Anneke, please teach me to properly photograph food. All I can say is, I have never tasted anything like the muhamara but now that I have had it, I'm hooked. Everything was fresh and delicious.

Here's the menu:
Once it quits rainin', they plan to put out lots of tables and chairs for an al fresco dining experience, but in the meantime, we can stop in for lunch, takeout, or an early BYOB dinner. The menu boasts some familiar dishes, and family recipes which received rave reviews from a couple of friendly patrons I met.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dan Schantz Greenhouse

Our home in PA, unlike our DC apartment, has a lot of space for gardening, planting and landscaping, especially for a property on a quarter of an acre in Bethlehem. The previous owners were members of the garden club and had landscaped the entire backyard. We've since put in some grass in the back, but we still have roses, bushes and decorative grasses, planted annuals along the front walkway and planted an herb and vegetable garden in the back.

One of the first places we visited was Dan Schantz Greenhouse on West Union Boulevard in Bethlehem. We'd seen the ads on TV and were endeared by Mr. Schantz's Dutchy accent (we love how he pronounces the word "flowers"). We've since bought gifts, trays of mums, Christmas trees and seeds. The quality of the products and service is fabulous - definitely better than what we've found at Lowe's, which is both closer and often more affordable.

This weekend our mission was to get a few Easter gifts. We strolled past the huge outdoor display (complete with a man dressed in a sorta creepy Easter bunny suit), through the store into the greenhouse area, where hydrangea, lilies, tulips and daffodils crowded every surface. Men, women and families pushed carts through the wide aisles. "Hyacinths have never done anything for me," one gentleman said to his companion. "But lilies... ohhh... these are nice." No doubt, spring is in the air! We picked out two huge potted plants as gifts: total $28.00.

The Dan Schantz Farm is located just down Limeport Pike in Zionsville, PA. On their web site, they recommend waiting until mid May to plant annuals and seeds just in case the Valley gets a late frost. I have always used Mother's Day weekend as my planting time and so far it's worked well. This year I started a few seeds in a tray in by the spare bathroom window - some rosemary, cabbage, mini bell peppers and chives. The bell peppers always take forever to come up, and I'm often chasing the first frost in October, waiting for them to get big enough to pick before the freeze. The cabbage will get big enough to pick before it gets super-hot in July. The annual herbs we put in the garden last year - oregano, thyme, chives and mint - are growing and greening already!