The ‘Burgh

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has become such a fabulous city to live in. Far from the days of industrial smoke and smog the city now glows. There are new businesses, stores and restaurants emerging constantly. The local food movement is moving hard. Nightlife is waking up. Parks and museums can be found in all parts of the city. The sports teams are thriving. There is a wide range of merchandise being sold in stores. Bike commuters are becoming increasingly more common. It has no less than 7 colleges and universities. What’s not to love? In 2010 Pittsburgh was named the most livable city in the U.S. by Yahoo! and Forbes. In 2009 and 2011 it won the same title from The Economist. Just a few days ago it was one of only 2 U.S. cities to make National Geographic‘s Best of the World 2012. Mighty impressive if you ask me!

Due to all of this growth in Pittsburgh I have an increasingly long list of places I want to go that I have never been to before. This weekend I crossed the Pittsburgh Public Market off my list. Located in part of an old warehouse on Smallman Street in the Strip District, it was just opened a little over a year ago. Inside are many individualized booths set up by local businesses. Some businesses that own a spot here also have stores elsewhere, but for others this is their only store-like location.

Although it is a small space there is a large variety of items being sold. Cookies, pastries, books, jams, beer, olive oil, soap, dog treats, clothes, artwork, produce from a local farm, and hot foods. All of the vendors were incredibly friendly and throughout our visit we enjoyed live music by the local duo The Squirrel Hillbillies. I rather enjoyed their covers of popular favorites like The Beatles and Elton John as well as their original songs.

It didn’t take long to cover the entire space but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it or well enjoyed. We didn’t head to the market intending to purchase anything but we managed to walk away with a few purchases. It was just too tempting. One purchase worth mentioning was our growler of beer from the East End Brewing Co. Filled from the tap right in front of us. How fabulous.

But what will happen when it is empty?

 

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My Boys are Winners.

Saturday was quite a day. It began at 6:15 when I reluctantly opened my eyes and rolled out of bed. I nearly slept my way through my physical therapy appointment and my doctor’s appointment. Finished with appointments by 11 am and still in a sleepy haze I returned home to relax with a warm cup of coffee and hang out with my puppy for a few hours. She’s really much too old to be a puppy anymore but I will call her that until her dying day most likely. Anyway, I had to rest and save my energy for the adventures awaiting me that evening. I was to be attending my first hockey game in the new Consol Energy Center. I toured the new arena last fall before the season started but I never got the chance to go to a game because I was in Seattle all year. Tragic, I know.

I love hockey and my hometown Pittsburgh Penguins more than words can describe. I don’t know how one can grow up in a town as crazy about sports as Pittsburgh and not love the teams like they are your own children. All three of Pittsburgh’s major sports teams (hockey, football, and baseball) wear the same colors: black and gold. That makes identifying a Pittsburgh fan a no-brainer no matter where you may be.

Before the game my parents and I planned to go to The Church Brew Works for dinner. It has been a favorite restaurant of my family’s for years. The earliest memories I have of eating there date all the way back to my early childhood when we would go for a quick dinner in between my Nutcracker performances on chilly December weekends. This time I wanted to go back A. because I haven’t been in a few years and B. so I could order the beer sampler of their house made beers. Sadly though, our usual route to get there was completely blocked. There has been non-stop construction on the highway we take from my house to get to the city for several years. We usually use the 40th street bridge to cross the river and get to The Church Brew Works but last night it was completely closed off. Not knowing this until we were herded past it in a web of orange cones, we had to improvise. My mom quickly suggested a restaurant that had been recommended to her and my dad that none of us had ever been to: Legends of the North Shore. What a name. It instantly made me think of the old Nickelodeon TV show Legends of the Hidden Temple that I loved as a child. Classic.

Legends of the North Shore was a mere mile from where we ended up getting off the highway. Nestled discretely among houses it perfectly defined Pittsburgh. The inside was small and cozy with framed pictures of Pittsburgh sports stars and celebrities decorating the walls. The menu had a good number of options without being overwhelming. The pressure of choice was lessened by the lack of a drink menu as well. The establishment does not have a liquor license so If you are planning on going and want a drink be sure to Bring Your Own.

We started our meal with a few salads and a Beans and Greens. A warming, homey combination of white beans, collard greens and garlic that just screamed “I love you!” every time I took a bite. With the garlic taste dwelling in my mouth I couldn’t wait to taste my main course. I ordered the special. Cajun chicken with sweet pea gnocchi, butternut squash ravioli, and pumpkin and mascarpone ravioli in a cream sauce. So tasty! When the three of us ordered our meals we intended to pass our entrees around to split three ways among us. Once each of us took our first few bites that plan was tossed out the window. We were all just too satisfied to give up any part of what we had in front of us.

Before I knew it it was game time!!! What should have been a quick drive through downtown to the arena became a 30 minute drive due to an unbelievable amount of construction and traffic. Luckily we made it in time to use the restroom, buy a beer, and sit in our seats before the first drop of the puck. Success.

The game was fantastic. As was the arena. My boys played a great game. Jordan Staal got the ball rolling in the first with his 99th goal of the season. The second period was highly anti-climactic. They also spent way too much time in their own end. In the third period the Pens woke up and scored three more goals, including Jordan Staal’s 100th goal of the season. Congrats Jordy! I was in heaven for the entire time I was in that arena. Even after we left too. I just love hockey. Fun Fact: I named my car after Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy. Really. That’s the truth. My boys are winners.

Deliciousness and a Dream Come True

Yesterday I did some exciting things. It was a long day. I went to sleep much later than I should have, I’m paying for that today, but my adrenaline was just too high to sleep at my usual bed time. Let’s start at the beginning…

The morning began in the standard fashion. My alarm went off at 7 am. The sky was still dark. Torture. I stumbled in to the kitchen for breakfast and lots of coffee, read a little paper, did my usual morning tasks and headed off to ballet. One class later and I was done dancing for the day so I headed back home. To kill some daylight hours (until my Mom returned home to be my activity buddy) I decided to replenish our granola stash. Home made granola. Oh yes. It seems that nearly every person who makes his/her own granola swears by one certain recipe, likely his/her own, and says that is the best granola recipe ever. Well guess what, mine is really freaking amazing too. I can’t get enough. There was still a little bit left from the previous batch but I made more to guarantee we wouldn’t run out. A morning without my granola just doesn’t start off the same way. I have come to depend on it as much as coffee. Ok, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. It is unbelievably simple to make and takes under 45 minutes from start to finish.

Granola

6 c. old-fashioned oats

3 c. seeds and/or chopped nuts (feel free to use your favorites. I use almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and sunflower seeds)

1 heaping T cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2/3 c. maple syrup

1/3 c. honey

1 – 1 1/2 c. dried fruit (depending on how fruity you want it!)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl then add the maple syrup and honey. Make sure you mix it well. Spread the mixture evenly on a sheet pan. I split mine between 2 pans so everything has room to breathe and get extra crunchy but I’m sure it would all fit on one. Put the pans in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After about 15 or 20 minutes give the granola a little stir so it can brown more evenly. I have found that 30 minutes is a little too long when I bake my granola on two pans. I always keep a close eye on it after the 20 minute mark. Once it is nice and golden brown it’s time to come out. Be careful it doesn’t burn. No one likes burnt granola. Trust me, I’ve done it. After you take the pans out of the oven sprinkle the dried fruit on top, split evenly between the two pans. Give each pan a gentle stir and just let it sit in the pan to cool. Once it is cool transfer your delicious granola into a container. I store mine in the fridge because it keeps it nicely crisp and crunchy. I like to keep my nuts and trail mixes in the fridge for the same reason. It’s just how I roll.

I should've taken more pictures...

Well, after I finished making (and consuming) my granola I moved on to exciting thing number 2. Camera shopping. For quite a while I have been interested in photography and have wanted to buy myself a nice camera. The time has finally come. I have saved up enough to make my dream come true. For a few days prior to yesterday I constantly read websites, got advice from my uncle, and browsed the market to find the camera of my dreams. The winner is the Sony DSLR A-580. A stunner of a choice if I may say so myself. It has an incredibly fast shutter speed so I can capture magnificent balletic moments. That was one of my main criteria because in addition to taking pictures of every day beauties and oddities I would love to take photos of ballet. Having never used a DSLR camera before I intend to take a class or workshop of some sort to familiarize myself with all the features that will be at my fingertips. There is only one slightly sadder aspect of this story. I don’t yet have the camera in my hot little hands. I went to Best Buy to look at the camera in person but they only carry the Sony A55 in the store. They have other brands too but I was most interested in Sony. I can’t really tell you why. I returned home camera-less but shortly thereafter placed my order online. That was probably beneficial however because the website that I purchased the camera from (B & H) also featured an “essentials kit” that I got. Being a first time camera buyer I am lacking a lot of knowledge and am without any materials so I just got the whole shebang right off the bat. The camera lady at Bust Buy mentioned I would need to get a few things in addition to my camera before I could get started like a memory card, case, and lens filter. Those items and many more were in this “essentials kit” so I’m thinking it was a good buy and will save me some trips to the store later. This way I can start using my camera as soon as it touches my doorstep and I rip open the box. It should arrive sometime next week. I will be waiting by the door.

It was due to my excitement from that purchase that I could not get myself into bed. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Brillobox

Thursday was an adventure night in Pittsburgh. It was Miriam’s 21st birthday (woot woot!) so I took her out for a drink. I am not very familiar with the bar scene in Pittsburgh because I have not been in the city very long since being 21. Quite frankly I have not even been 21 that long. In case you were wondering, my half-birthday just recently passed. Happy half-birthday to me! Anyway, since I didn’t really know the best place to go I resorted to searching the internet for help. I cross referenced a few websites and ultimately decided on Brillobox. It is located at the corner of Penn Street and Main Street. Just up the hill from lovely Lawrenceville.

Brillobox was small and quaint with an easy-going hipster vibe. They were playing indie rock faintly in the background and had halloween decorations adorning the walls and the ceilings. There was a very respectable number of people there. Some were just drinking and others were dining as well. We didn’t order any food but the menu was filled with very appetizing items. I intend to go back some day to have some food along with my drink. They also have a room down a floor that features bands of all sorts. From what I gathered on their website and in the bar they have nightly entertainment. I intend to go back to see a concert there as well.

The bar featured between 12 and 15 specialty beers on tap. In addition to that they had 2 pages printed up in the menu solely for bottled specialty beers. How fabulous. A few of them were locally made too I believe. Miriam and I both ordered the pumpkin ale they featured on tap. They served it to us in a glass rimmed with brown sugar. Yum. It was a refreshingly light colored beer. I could often taste the pumpkin as well as hints of spices like nutmeg. It was quite tasty.

Once finishing our beers we decided to head home. It was just a Thursday night after all. I do intend to add the Brillobox to my list of places to return to. Maybe next time I’ll go on a night the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing and watch the game on the large screen as I sip on my pumpkin ale. Or maybe I’ll try something new. Only time will tell.

Here is the link to their website if you are interested in checking it out!  http://www.brillobox.net/

Fun In Philly

This weekend I drove across the Keystone State to visit Harrison, one of my best friends. Being an avid fan of Pittsburgh sports I usually don’t get excited when I think about Philadelphia, but in this case I was extremely looking forward to going.
I arrived to the city at about 2 in the afternoon. After navigating my way through the narrow city streets which were flooded with sloppy drivers and bold pedestrians I found Harrison, then a parking spot, and we carried my things up to his lovely apartment. A very spacious 2 bedroom with lovely wood floors and sleek white walls. Last night we did a little wandering around the streets by his apartment and went out to eat at a very cute restaurant called The Dandelion. The food was very simple and delicious. English comfort food. The menu was full of dishes full of meat and cheese and potatoes. Harrison’s french fries were fried in beef fat. Enough said. After we ate up we headed back to his apartment for a low key night in. We had a lot of catching up to do.
Today we had a lazy morning at home before we headed down to explore South Street, suggested by my father as a fun area to check out. The street was full of life. It had many shops with incredibly varied items for sale. One record store we walked into had a bargain room in the basement. Every record in that room was only 50 cents! I found two records that were worth the price. Best $1.08 I’ve spent in a long time. (The $.08 was tax…).
After we walked the entire length of South Street we looked up directions to Pat’s and Geno’s. We wanted to do some cheesesteak comparing. Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks have each trying claim the title of “Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia” for over 50 years. Their biggest competition? Each other. They are both located in South Philadelphia directly across the intersection from one another. We first ordered at Geno’s. Opened in 1966.

The line was flowing out into the oddly shaped intersection and it took us only about 7 minutes to reach the window. Those guys know how to get their subs out efficiently. We ordered one cheesesteak with provolone cheese and onions. They handed it to us within 30 seconds fully wrapped. We grabbed it, stuck it in a bag, and walked right over to get in line for Pat’s. Around since 1930! The line at Pat’s took a bit longer but we were in the shade so at least we weren’t baking.

View of Pat's from where we were standing in line at Geno's

At Pat’s we ordered the same style cheesesteak. Provolone and onions. At Pat’s we were handed our sandwich in an open wrapper, still steaming from the heat of the griddle. As you shuffle down to the fry and drink window at Pats you can see them cooking the thinly sliced steak on griddle. At both locations, the first window is for cheesesteak orders only and the second window sells fries and drinks. We got our fries from Pat’s only. Along with two bottles of water.

Both establishments offer cheesesteaks with your choice of provolone, american, or cheese-whiz and either with or without onions. I wasn’t brave enough to get one with cheese-whiz but that was a very common selection among customers. As evidenced by the orders I overheard and the 10 empty gallon-sized cans of it siting in the corner of Pat’s. We got super lucky to snag a table so we could sit down and start our comparing. We swapped the sandwiches back and forth often so It was very easy to compare. The cheesesteak from Geno’s had thicker slices of steak, larger and harder onions, and the provolone was not melted. It held its shape very well all the way to the last bite. The cheesesteak from Pat’s had steak that was more chopped up and very moist and juicy, small and thin browned onions, and provolone that was melted. This one started getting messy from the juices of the steak. I think I have to say my favorite was from Pat’s King of Steaks. The flavors all blended much more nicely and it had a better melt-in-your-mouth quality thank Geno’s. Yummy.

After we were full of steak and bread we wandered back through Little Mexico, which then turned into Little Italy, on our way to Outfest. Outfest is the largest coming out party in the world. According to the MC making announcements on the main stage. The festival spanned about three or floor blocks with booths ranging from food vendors to jewelry stalls to Best Buy Geek Squad representatives. There were so many people walking around, chatting, and dancing and enjoying the unseasonable 80 degree and sunny weather the city is hosting today. After walking around Phily in the heat for at least 3 hours, we left Outfest once we made a complete lap and came back to the apartment to rest our legs.

And the Steelers won.

Pumpkin Time

It’s October now. To me, October marks the beginning of one of my most favorite aspects of fall… PUMPKIN. Pumpkin flavored anything. Cookies, muffins, bread, coffee, chocolate, soup, anything you can think of. Monday afternoon I kicked off the season by baking pumpkin muffins. It was the perfect rainy afternoon activity. It’s a simple recipe, just some pumpkin puree, flour, sugar, applesauce (instead of oil), cinnamon, nutmeg, (I added a little ginger too), baking powder, baking soda, eggs, and chocolate chips or nuts if you want them but I just left mine plain this time. Yum yum yum! Mix it all together and put it in the oven at 350 for just 20 minutes and you have yourself fall in a muffin cup. The applesauce not only makes them less caloric but I feel that it adds a more fluffy texture to the finished muffin. I enjoyed one on the spot, in addition to the raw batter that “accidentally” made its way into my mouth, put a few in a tupperware on the counter and froze the rest. That way I can enjoy them anytime of day for weeks to come. What could be better?

I will have to double check the exact measurements because I don’t have the recipe in front of me but here is what I can remember.

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce (or oil)
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
2 cups chocolate chips or chopped nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the wet ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Grease muffin tins or use paper muffin cups and fill each one about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool a few minutes in the tins then remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
You can enjoy one right away or wait until they are cooler. Sometimes I find that they taste better once they are cooled off completely. The spices jump out more.

A few other things I love about fall that I wish to share are these: sweaters. boots. jackets. layers. scarves. hats. gloves. colored leaves. stomping on crispy leaves on the ground.
I guess you could say fall is my season.