Monthly Archives: July 2011

Conversatin’ Fridays: Mama, I’m Movin’ Out

After a quick three-day jaunt out of town, I am back in Pittsburgh to finish what I really started last week: Moving out of my lovely apartment in the loveliest lil’ borough of Dormont. I packed up the books (Eighteen boxes! Not counting the cookbooks!), then the movies, then the records, which  meant, of course, that I’d have to eventually get around to packing up my kitchen.

Which I’m still in the process of doing. I spent nearly all day in and out of the kitchen, wrapping up glasses and plates in newspaper, stuffing boxes full of random utensils, stripping off the worn and dingy shelf paper, finding the right box to hold all of my spices and baking accessories. In one little kitchen there seems to be so much that needs to be done. You have to wonder how it only took two years to pack this much intricacies into a room. It feels like there’s something in every corner.

Tomorrow movers come in to transport my beloved yellow kitchen table (known as “Goldie”) and chairs to its new home in Shadyside, where the affluent and intellectual will surely sense that I do not match the delicate inner workings of the neighborhood and reject me, sending me right back into the arms of the South Hills.

It’s not that I’m not looking forward to trying out Shadyside. I sort of lived in that area while in my undergraduate years at Chatham, but I always stuck to the Squirrel Hill side of the campus. I know of good places to go, but mostly specialty spots, places that I wouldn’t necessarily visit on a regular basis. I need the rundown on the staples.

While I attack the rest of my apartment, I ask you affluent, intellectual types out there: What is there to do in Shadyside? Best coffee shop? Best restaurant? Best place to grab a cheap lunch? Any suggestions?

CSA #8: Summertime? Time for Summer Squash!

By this past week’s CSA, I had assembled quite a collection of summer squash, specifically the yellow summer squash variety. Why have I been carefully sealing the squash up and storing it in my crisper when I could have been cleaning it, chopping it, and cooking it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Well, the short answer is… I don’t really know. The longer answer, the answer that you know I’m going to expound upon because you read this blog and you know how long-winded I can get about trivial matters, is that I’ve become a bit of a hoarder when it comes to foods. Whether it’s a trip to the market or our weekly CSA, there are certain vegetables that I hold onto till the point of inspiration, and sometimes well past the point of inspiration. These are the foods that I can’t simply dump into just any old dish. These are the foods whose mere presence in my fridge makes me that much happier to be in the kitchen in the first place. These are the foods that are stored in the crisper until the brink of rot, just to be rescued at the last minute by whatever dish could use a little extra something. They were meant for so much more, but alas, time is a merciless force upon produce.

It’s a pseudo-fixation that is seemingly random as to the choice of its targets. For instance, though I use onions in almost every other dish I make, I have no intention of hoarding onions. It would make much more sense if I were hoarding onions, considering how often I use them, but instead, I hoard things like summer squash, for which I have limited (but delicious) uses. Is my hoarding inspired by my desire to keep close something that is not oft present in my fridge?

Or is it mere laziness and lack of knowledge? Perhaps I hold onto veggies that I don’t use on everyday basis because I simply don’t trust my ability to cook them effectively. Such was the case with the kohlrabi earlier in the CSA season. The bok choy. Even the radishes! (Although after finding that cold salad recipe, I haven’t had any issues using up my radishes.) Maybe my hoarding isn’t hoarding at all, but an insecure act of protection to keep the vegetables from being used incorrectly.

Anything in your crisper you’ve had trouble letting go of? If so, why?

Onto the bounty and bonus recipe!


Braising mix, sweet peppers, assorted tomatoes, summer squash.


Beets, purslane, eggplant, green beans.


Onions, Swiss chard, basil, carrots, potatoes.

Summertime Pasta with Eggplant and Summer Squash

Ingredients
- 1/2 lb to 1 lb of whole wheat pasta, prepared as directed
- 1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced into half-inch rounds
- 1 large summer squash, sliced into quarter-inch rounds
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
- 1/2 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- Salt
- Ground black pepper
- Olive oil (for the summer squash saute)
- Vegetable oil (for frying the eggplant)

Prepare the squash saute
- In a medium-sized pot with a lid, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the squash, roasted red peppers. Allow to simmer at low heat until everything is tender, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the eggplant
- Pour the non-dairy milk into a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, combine the flour with the rosemary, basil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

- Coat your eggplant by first dipping the rounds in the milk, then by tossing them in the flour. Make sure to get a light, even coat around the whole piece, including the sides.

- Heat vegetable oil a large frying pan on the stove. Add the slices, frying until each side is golden brown. Set eggplant rounds on a paper-towel covered plate to cool and drain.

Plate your pasta
- A top of a generous helping of pasta place two eggplant rounds, then a scoop of the squash saute. For non-vegans, add a sprinkling of Parmesan or a few chunks of Gorgonzola.

Conversatin’ Fridays: If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

I’m getting pretty damn cranky. The heat index is rising to 105 degrees. At that temperature, I’m unlikely to stand let alone get in the kitchen and make anything to eat. If I could couple my complete disinterest in food with any kind of physical exercise, the summertime would prove to be a great dieting season for me. Unfortunately, movement is not exactly at the top of my list either.

Now, if you have air conditioning (central or unit) then you can pretty much ignore this topic. Because you don’t count. If you have air conditioning in your home, you can’t really complain about it being too hot to cook. Not that you can’t find it hot outside, but if it’s cool inside your house, stay inside your house. For the love of God, stay inside your house.

For those of us who don’t have air conditioning, either because we’re too cheap to pay for it or too poor to pay for it or some kind of combination of poor, cheap, lazy, the weather is getting to the point why ere not even a thousand fans are going to do anything but generate more white noise. Shade offers little relief, breeze offers little relief. You take a shower only to dry in moments afterward, then to start secreting sweat moments after that. Drinking a warm beverage helps a little, drinking a cool beverage helps a little, but it can’t make your body dry, it can’t keep the sweat from pooling on your back or on the bridge of your nose.

What can you do? Strip down to as little as possible, keep a sweat-absorbing hankie close by, and drink as much water as possible. As far as cooking, I think I will make some dinner around nine, when the sun has finally gone down. And that dinner will be whatever is my fridge that won’t require even a minute’s zapping in the microwave.

So what are you eating in the heat tonight? If you’re dining out, do you have a preferred spot to run to when the weather gets this steamy?

Pure & Simple Bistro


Settler’s Ridge is about what you’d expect from the latest fashion of shopping areas. It’s expansive and open air. It’s filled to the brim with stores and restaurants of both high-class and mid-level appeal. It’s got a big movie theater. It’s got an even bigger Giant Eagle Market District, looming in the corner like an airport hanger filled with food. It’s  a huge maze of parking and commerce that on a busy Friday evening can drive a person to the brink of madness.

What a relief, then, that nestled in there, next to the movie theater, down the sidewalk from the monstrous and cacophony-laden Cadillac Ranch is a little oasis of calm?


Pure & Simple Bistro is about as far away from its neighboring establishments as it can get without an actual physical relocation. As quiet as the others are loud, as simple as the others are high concept, as low-key as the others are high energy, P&S is sweet Southern cooking with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients and simple, classic dishes done with careful attention paid toward proportion and quality.

Walking through the doors on a hot summer night is like taking a dip in cool waters. The decor is sleek, wooden, and stylish. If you ever wondered what kind of cafe Pottery Barn would have (if, say, they went the IKEA route), you can be it would look like this:

Pure & Simple Bistro on Urbanspoon

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CSA #7 -The heat makes for lazy bloggin’

I’m going to do what surely almost every other unproductive person is doing right now and blame the heat for my lack of productivity. The heat and a rejuvenating weekend trip to DC have led to a complete lack of momentum on matters both business and personal. No blogging, no article writing for the Patch, not even a box filled for my impending move.

What’s worse, in the last week, I’ve spent a total of an hour cooking time in my own kitchen.

The real tragedy there, aside from missing the cooking time itself, is that every week we’re getting a big supply of fresh from the earth produce through our Garfield Farms CSA. And every week, we come this close to wasting something because we just didn’t move fast enough, we just didn’t make the time, we just didn’t have the time. Every time I have to throw away even half a cup of salad mix, I feel a little sick to my stomach.

Recently I interview a woman for the Patch who runs Victorian tea services from her house and she shared with me her general philosophy regarding the teas. The services are meant to be enjoyed slowly and savored for more than simply their culinary delights. Tea and snacks and the accompanying conversation are the medium to relationship building. When we savor the process as much as the relationship itself, we are truly engaging with one another.

I bring this up not as a great argument for the installation of tea time in the American workplace (although I am a firm supporter of that issue) but as an analogy to what my relationship with the CSA should be. I should be savoring the process of working with what I’ve got more than simply the stuff itself. It’s all well and good to have a beautiful summer squash fresh from the farm, but if I’m not cooking with it, it is simply a totem, a symbol, an idle trinket. I need to savor these weeks with my veggies. These weeks are fleeting and numbered, and besides, I need to learn to save a buck and stick to what I already have in my kitchen instead of going out to the grocery store in a moment of impulse.

Anyway, expect a bit more productivity from me in the coming days. Until then, here’s a look at the CSA goodies from this past week:


Radishes, sweet pepper, mint, and tomatoes (all three of them)


Summer squash, red onion, garlic, broccoli


Basil, salad greens

Russian kale, braising mix (kale, chard, radish greens, etc)

 

Coversatin’ Fridays: Music in the Kitchen

Just a quick conversation starter for your Friday morning:

Last Christmas, me and my roommate considered setting up speakers in the kitchen, extending our living room stereo system into the second half of our apartment. For some reason plans for the project fell through, but whenever I’m slaving over any kind of meal, whether it be a quick cold salad or a four course Southern feast, I regret dropping the idea.

To be able to hear whatever is playing in the living room in my kitchen, I have to crank up the system loud enough that our downstairs neighbor is probably getting an unwanted free concert in her living room. When it’s old soul or jazz, I don’t think she minds so much, but I’m sure she’s getting sick of Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, or Fugazi’s Repeater or any of the smattering of more abrasive music we regularly listen to.

So I’ve taken to wearing headphones and either listening to the radio or my iPod. There’s also always the chance that I might want to listen to something loud enough to the point that I’ll bring my computer speakers down from my room and into the kitchen, but that’s almost as big a chore as cooking, so that’s pretty rare.

Music makes everything a little easier, though, and in the case of cooking, it makes an activity I do enjoy that much better. So the next time I’m setting up a new home, I can guarantee that there will be a set of speakers in the kitchen, carefully and safely hooked up to whatever dominant stereo system is in the household.

So the question: Do you have a system to play/hear music in your kitchen? Do you like listening to music while cooking/baking away? If so, what is on your current kitchen playlist?

Talk amongst yourselves and leave answers in the comments. I’ve got to get to work.

La Casa

Pittsburghers are often criticized for their so-called lack of sophistication when it comes to dining, but as a recent comment in the Pittsburgh City Paper pointed out, the attention and following of food trends has significantly increased in the last couple of years. We might not be New York City or San Francisco or Chicago or even (thank goodness) Seattle, but we’re not slacking in developing a contemporary culinary landscape.

Well, not slacking as much. We’ve gone from being several years behind the times in trends to several months behind, and that’s progress that I’m happy with, especially when you consider how much other cities have had to sacrifice to make both physical and consumer room for hot new eateries. It’s all well and good that you can try great culinary feats of unbelievable invention and quality, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to miss those greasy spoon, all-night diners when they’re all but an indigestion-causing memory.

We still have space enough for both the upscale and lowbrow, and as a result, there is plenty to be found in both directions. But if one we’re looking to sample a stretch of businesses that are strictly in the realm of the posh, Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside is a good street to try, and La Casa is the right place to start.


Nestled in the far corner of Ellsworth, La Casa’s back patio feels miles away from its neighbors, and yet, just peeking over the fences, there is the neighborhood. It’s the magic of Moroccan and Spanish tapas combined with killer sangria, the romance of little golden lights and big, artfully shabby umbrellas. As a spot for pre-dinner drinks and snacks and conversation it works splendidly.

La Casa on Urbanspoon

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