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Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Friend Mona

Shortly after I moved to Pittsburgh, I met Mona. Our daughters were in second grade together, and Julia invited Kate over for a play date. Back in second grade, the mommies were part of the play date equation. There was the requisite drop off and chat, and then the pick up and chat. (Now that Kate is much older but not driving, there is no mommy chat, but instead a cell phone call from the curb to Kate telling her to hightail it out to the car.) I knew the moment I walked into Mona's house that we were kindred spirits. The scent of a delicious Portuguese stew was in the air, and she had just finished baking muffins. Our get to know you talk quickly turned to all matters food, and I felt immediately like I had made a friend.

Our friendship blossomed over plates of pasta at La Prima in the Strip District and walking tours of the  specialty food shops on Penn Avenue. Thanks to Mona, whose "foodieness" makes me look like a neophyte, I still buy my cheese and pasta at Penn Mac and my sausage at  Parma Sausage.   She introduced me to La Prima Espresso, where I believe every person in Pittsburgh with even a drop of Italian blood goes for his or her morning espresso. I wouldn't dream of buying my coffee beans anywhere else.  Mona made me feel welcome in a city so different from Los Angeles that I quickly began to feel at home despite the presence of snow on the ground and the lack of a Neiman Marcus.

Mona's culinary skills extend far beyond just knowing where to get the best ingredients in Pittsburgh.  She can whip up a pie crust like nobody's business and can customize a recipe as simple as the quick muffins below.  "Oh," she'll say to me, "I made muffins last night but instead of the chocolate chips, I split the batter and added blueberries and almonds to some."  I have to admit that, until I got to know Mona, I would never have had the confidence in the kitchen to play around with a recipe.  But, thanks to my friend Mona, basic muffins have become anything but.

Mona remains one of my closest friends, and we still talk a lot about food. She has just remodeled her kitchen so I am sure there will be some really wonderful meals coming out of that beautiful Wolf range. I hope we are invited.

Mona's Quick Muffins


1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chips, berries and/or nuts

Preheat oven to 400.  Sift dry ingredients together.  In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients.  Add wet to dry and stir until just combined.  Add chips, etc.  Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full and bake 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes 9 muffins

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