Archive for the 'Pittsburgh' Category

Pilfered Poli Planter Pot Poor Pedigree

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Do you remember Poli Restaurant?  It was a Squirrel Hill fixture for decades.  I ate there once; my shrimp was gritty.  The establishment is now defunct.

Several months after the restaurant closed, I noticed that the parking lot featured planters made from large pieces of jet black cookware.  Several months after that, under the cover of darkness, I visited the chained-off parking lot—screwdrivers in hand—to liberate the pots for a gastronomic cause.

Alas!  The stockpots had been drilled with drainage holes.  They would serve no new master.

The brazier was on its side.  It held no plants.  It might serve me well.  Screwdrivers would be worthless, though, as it was held in place by mortar, or perhaps it was concrete.  I was forced by circumstance to leave it in place.

Several months more passed, and each time I passed the site, I would muse on strategies by which I might liberate the piece.  “I would love to have a piece of cast iron like that,” I would say.  “I can’t even imagine how much something like that would cost!  And it’s being wasted like a Stradivarius in a closet.”

Then one day the brazier was gone.  Some other food-minded fool had acted.  I had only talked. All that remained was a bit of mortar and some nails to mark where the brazier once stood.

Several months have since passed.  I walked past the parking lot today, in daylight, for a closer look.  A trademark was stamped in the sides of the stockpots.  I leaned in for a closer look, wondering whose cast iron had been defiled for drainage.

Aluminum!  It was all aluminum!  It had never been iron at all!  Ahh, nothing ventured and nothing lost.  Had I pried that brazier out and brought it home, I’d never have used it and would have lamented forever my act of vandalism for a piece of scrap.

Varnish Top Mushroom

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

As explained to me by Cavan Patterson of Wild Purveyors, the varnish top (aka Lingzhi, aka Reishi) mushroom grows in shingles on hemlocks and other softwood trees.  The source of its American name is pretty easy to determine: the top of the fungus is shiny, like varnished mahogany.

Cavan recommends drying it, grating it, and adding a tablespoon or two to tea or soup as a remedy for gastrointestinal concerns.

I asked Cavan how he learned enough about mushrooms to be confident foraging for them.  “The mushrooms taught me!” he joked.

In actuality, he’s done ten years of research and has hands on experience and assistance from his brother and partner in Wild Purveyors, Tom Cavan, who holds degrees in plant pathology and mycology from Penn State University.

Apple Varieties

Friday, November 12th, 2010

So, tell me…are these different types of apples sprung from different tree species or is there something else causing the variation?


The different varieties of apple are no more different species than you or I are.  They’re just different individuals within the species.

Apples reproduce through bee-assisted cross-pollination: pollen from two trees is required to fertilize the stamen.  Therefore, each seed produced is a cross between the traits of two different trees, and each seed has the potential to grow a unique individual.  Plant the seed, wait for it to grow; three years later, you could find yourself as the sole progenitor of an exciting new apple variety.

Or, more likely, you’ll find that you’ve got a crab apple tree.  There’s no way to tell what you’ll get until the fruits appear.

If you do happen to hit the lottery and grow a varietal worth reproduction, it’ll take some old-school cloning to make it happen.  Grafting is the process by which, in the spring, when growth is happening at an exponential rate, a branch from one fruit tree is cored from its trunk and transferred to a correspondingly shaped hole in the trunk/ rootstock of a tree from the same species.  When the grafted branch takes successfully to its new home, it will continue to grow apples of its own variety.  Thus, it is entirely possible (and used to be common) to have a single apple tree yield 2 or more varieties of apple, depending on how many types have been grafted onto its trunk.

For more great information on the biology of apple reproduction, and the history of apples grown from seed (including information about how John Chapman [aka Johnny Appleseed], who got his seeds from the cider mills of Pittsburgh, was in the business of providing settlers with the means to make booze for the long frontier winter), check out Michael Pollan’s pop-ag classic The Botany of Desire.

Pie Cookoff @ The Beehive

Monday, November 8th, 2010

I like pie.  Good pies are culinary treasures.

I tend to approach my pies from a Grandmotherly perspective: I demand the bestest of flavor, though it may not plate beautifully well.  I think here, for example, of strawberry pies.  The best tend also to be the messiest.  The ones that are held together with gelatin so that they stay together in a cohesive piece are awful!  The gelatin interferes with the juicy flavor of a ripe, in-season strawberry and drags the whole pie down in its quest for visual perfection.  But that’s just me.  You’re perfectly entitled to your own opinion (even if you might be wrong).

Should you like show your chops in the pie-baking venue, The Beehive is hosting a pie contest on Friday, November 26 (the day after Thanksgiving).  It’s a terrible day to shop, but a beautiful day for eating pie.  It’s also bound to be an interesting event, not only because of the creative clientele that the Beehive attracts, but also because the contest is being divided into three categories: Best Sweet, Best Savory, and Best Themed.  Entry fee is $5; sampling privileges cost $3.

I plan to enter.  Not sure yet what, but you’ll see me there.  You’ll be baking pies for Thanksgiving anyway.  Make one more, and head on over to the Beehive with it.

Get a Little Corduroy for Your Kitchen!

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Get a little Corduroy for your kitchen!

I’ll be selling some of my hand-built ceramic face magnets (as pictured above) at the East End Food Co-Op Art Harvest tomorrow afternoon (outside the East End Food Coop, on Meade St.).  Pick one up for your refrigerator….

…or perhaps get a hand-quilted, food-themed table runner or potholder (made by my mother, Clara Lee).

Bacon Bash at the Harris Grill

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Last August, I had the good fortune of being invited to the Pittsburgh iteration of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Tour, and had a blast!  This year, you should go.  In order to help make up your mind to do so, I’m pleased to be able to offer two readers a buy-one-get-one free deal on tickets to the 2010 Bacon Tour at the Harris Grill, taking place on Saturday, August 14, from 11 am-4 pm at the Harris Grill (5747 Ellsworth Avenue).

The first two readers who confirm purchasing tickets ($35 apiece) will be able to bring a guest free of charge.  Readers 3, 4, 5, etc.—buy two tickets, please!  You’ll be glad you did—the event is a blast: all you can eat bacon food, 2 free drink tickets, a t-shirt, the possibility of competing in a bacon eating contest, and the companionship of dozens of fellow bacon lovers!  Click here for ticket purchasing information.

Click here to email me confirmation once you have purchased your ticket.

Farmers’ Market Purchases

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I made it to Farmers at Phipps last night right before it closed, and was able to stroll through the Market Square Farmers’ Market this morning.  Such beautiful selections available at both!  Combined from the two markets, I bought corn, tomatoes, peaches, plums, blueberries, red currants, and apricots to supplement the vegetables I get from my CSA.  This is such an exciting time of year!

Click here to find farms and farmers’ markets in Pennsylvania!

Click here to find farms and farmers’ markets nationwide!

Firehouse Demo Recipes

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I had a fantastic time cooking fresh foods at the Slow Food Pittsburgh table on Saturday morning.  How could I not?  Slow Food unleashed me to shop for whatever ingredients I could use, then I got to cook up whatever I felt like making from the freshest food available!  I just hope we collected enough donations to make the day worthwhile for Slow Food—because if so, I hope that will increase the chances of my being invited back soon for another Saturday of fresh food demonstrations.

Several of the shoppers/ samplers asked me if I had recipes for what I was cooking.  The simple answer was no, I didn’t—because I had no idea what I was going to make until the ingredients presented themselves to me.  For instance, the first dish of the day was a total shocker: Mott Family Farm had yellow transparent apples available, and the early, sour apples make an excellent applesauce—so that’s exactly what I made with them.

Instructions follow for each of the dishes I made: applesauce, Grandma Tolley’s salad (with my own twists), sauteed sugar snap peas with kale, pan seared summer squash with parmesan, freshly made croutons and vinaigrette (to spice up any salad), and maple sugar salmon.  Whew!  That was a full morning of cooking.


Farmers @ Firehouse 7/3/2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Shopping in the Strip District this Saturday?  Be sure to swing by Farmers @ The Firehouse, the farmers’ market on Penn Avenue at 23rd.  It’s where you can connect with farmers for fresh, seasonal items straight from their fields.  I’ll be manning the demonstration table for Slow Food Pittsburgh this weekend, whipping up some improvisational items based on what the farmers have on hand.  Be sure to stop by and say hi.  If you have any cooking questions let me know–I’ll be glad to answer whatever I can for you!

Beef Cut Correction: Skirt and Flank

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

It’s been a couple of months since I held my 4th annual beef draft.  The event has grown quite a bit since the first time I wrote about it, having graduated all the way from 1/4 of a steer (in 2007) to a steer and a half in 2010!  Moreover, the steers have gotten larger, too—perhaps as a result of having been sourced from a different farm; 25% of the 2007 steer amounted to about 80 pounds of beef; 150% of the 2010 steer came to  about 525.  That’s a lot of beef: