Tag Archives: holiday

This Week on the Dormont-Brookline Patch: Neighborhood Options for Local Sweethearts on Valentine’s Day

I really need to get out of the habit of writing event or holiday – specific posts, but this week’s article on the Dormont-Brookline Patch focuses on neighborhood establishments that are offering a little something special for Valentine’s Day. If you live in the South Hills area and need a place to take your loved one on February 14th, definitely check out my article. It could be the difference between life AND death. Or, you know, it could just steer you to my favorite gyro restaurant in town, It’s Greek to Me on Brookline Boulevard. Either way…

As for my V-Day plans, I’ll be hanging with my partner and all will be swell. I don’t really go in for Valentine’s Day. It’s not a single-person bitterness thing, cause I’ve had plenty of relationships during the “holiday,” it’s just a sense of pointlessness that is too overpowering for me to enjoy the manufactured nature of the celebrations. Say what you will about the “commercialism” of Christmas, that time of year still seems to mean something more than what is given and received. That time of year has so much meaning to so many different people of the world, it seems ridiculous to dismiss it based off of American capitalist tendencies.

Whereas Valentine’s Day, although it is sweet that we have a day dedicated to the celebration of courtly love, is not even a traditional Christian holiday anymore. Why? Cause in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church presented the question: Who was St. Valentine, and why do we have a big ass holiday to honor him? And when they couldn’t come up with a good enough response (“…. he was… a martyr…?”), they decided that while it was all well and good that people were going to continue to celebrate the holiday, they would no longer honor it as an official church-sanctioned occasion. Good riddance, I say.

Still, I find the holiday a little unsettling in how it encourages people to save open expressions of love for a specific day of the year. Not that all who celebrate V-Day do that. As a matter of fact, most of the couples I know who do something special on February 14th are the kind of couples who are openly and expressively in love with one another. They don’t need the day to tell them to appreciate and celebrate their love, but they take it anyway, cause why the hell not?

But a holiday that at best is unnecessary and at worst a commercial waste of time, money, and intellect is not a holiday for me. Maybe I’m completely missing the full picture.

Anyone out there doing something special for Valentine’s Day?

Christmas Time is a Hungry Time

Deck the halls with a ton of food!

My mother has a bad habit of letting me know about family events way too late, so I miss out on a fair amount of family gatherings. Due to short notice, I was regretfully absent from the extended family’s Christmas gathering/cousin’s baby shower the weekend before Christmas. But because my mother was recuperating from surgery through this past weekend, I got a bunch of time in with my immediate family (including my aunt, who is like a second parent to me).

What did we do for three days straight? Chatted, played some games, watched some TV. But mostly we ate. We ate and ate and ate. We munched on snacks through games, we had sandwiches, we had dinner, we had leftovers, we had dessert. We ate till we were full, then as soon as we were a little less full, we ate something else. No wonder people gain weight over the holidays. What are you doing other than sitting around and putting stuff into your body?

Maybe it was the overwhelming amount of eating done on Saturday, but I stayed away from the Christmas pictures until later this week, when I was of clear enough in mind and appetite to handle the food porn. But seriously, next year? Let’s just stick to vegetables.

Continue reading

Good Morning! And Merry Post-Christmas!

Everyone have a good Christmas? Get lots of presents? Eat lots of food? Spend quality time with your loving family?

Good. Now get back to work.

Is there anything worse than returning to work after a holiday? Especially Christmas, with its focus on family and traditions and planning, cooking, and eating big meals, then the inevitable clean-up and after-dinner games and (at least in some families) bitter arguments.

I, for one, find Christmas nearly as exhausting as going to work (although with more cookies). You hardly get any time to yourself. You’re constantly bombarded by family rituals and traditions, and what’s more, say you get a few hours to yourself Christmas night (maybe your family is in a catatonic state, watching 27/7 Penguins Capitals), there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. Well, except maybe a Chinese restaurant.



Anyway, several days and nights away from my home ended up making me a little…cranky. Within three hours of returning to my apartment, I felt enormously better. There’s just something comforting in the retreat from a family environment. Does this make me anti-Christmas? I hope not. I love Christmas. I just like when it’s over too.

Now it’s time to get back to work, both my cubicle work (meh) and writin’n’postin on this here blog. This week, expect photos of the family Christmas feast (a table shared by both an enormous amount of baked ham and a vegan roast) later on this week. Also, I received the incredible Veganomicon as one of my presents this year, so I will be trying out a few of the Isa and Terry recipes (Ooh, Chili Cornmeal Crusted Tofu…) and sharing the results. Also, I hope to bang out a few more entries in the Vegan A to Z series.

And I’m really really hoping to try the new restaurant out toward Robinson, The Loving Hut, which is an international vegan chain that also might be a cult. Let’s shake off this post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s malaise with some soy shrimp and brainwashing. Hail, Seitan!

5 Christmas Songs That I Actually Like and Their Potential Recipe Counterparts

I love Christmas, but I hate a lot of Christmas music. This happens to a lot of people. If you work in retail for long enough, you start to hate Christmas music, and long after you’ve moved on to new employment, the beginning strains of most holiday music makes you go numb with terror. At least that’s been my experience.

Still, I’m not a total Scrooge, even where Christmas music is concerned. There are at least a dozen Christmas and holiday-related songs that I actively like. What’s more, this time of the year when I’ve set about doing my baking and entertaining and drinking, I like to have some seasonal tunes in the background, infusing the experience with holiday cheer and sentiment and all that softy goo.

In the spirit of Christmas (and because I am desperately trying to kill some time at work on this, the last day before my holiday), here’s five Christmas (or non-specified “holiday”) songs that are allowed in my house.  And because this is, after all, a food blog, I’ve matched each ditty with a compatible recipe. (I promise, these recipe-song match ups were done in a very scientific, not-at-all-arbitrary process. )

– “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Recipe: A weirdly comforting, weirdly upbeat song about the routines of the annual holiday (“Long-distance relatives, haven’t seen’em in a long, long time/Yeah I kind of missed ’em, I just don’t wanna kiss ’em, no/It’s Christmas all over again”) deserves a traditional, but quality comfort offering.  Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing from Conor & Bella’s on-going series using recipes from The Joy of Vegan Baking (a personal favorite) should do the trick. Just like the song, they’re a little gem in the dressing of something routine and expected.

– “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues, ft. Kristy McColl

Recipe – My favorite Christmas songs are both celebratory on the season and a little sour or a little melancholy. For people who have never heard this song, I describe it as thus, “It’s about being hopeful and hopeless and drunk and in love during Christmastime.” Get drunk and hurl insults at your beloved by visiting Delicious Noise for Monica’s seasonal offering, the Godfather cocktail.

– “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC

Recipe –  I don’t want to take the holidays too seriously, and this song really helps. Many people don’t realize that they know this song until they hear it. And because it gets a shout out early on in the song (“It’s Christmastime in Hollis, Queens/Mom’s cookin’ chicken and collard greens“), why don’t you try out Food’n’More‘s recipe for Collard Greens Southern Style?

– “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)” by the Ramones

Recipe – I know that plenty of people have peaceful, joyful Christmastimes, but holiday gatherings with my extended family often meant fighting. Play this song to honor the spirit of both fighting and trying not to fight during Christmas, then throw back some holiday brews (cause beer encourages peaceful behavior, right?). Need some suggestions? Check out Mike’s on-going “12 Beers of Christmas” over at Burghertime.

– “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses

Recipe – I’ve already posted this song here, but it bears a repeat, cause this is my favorite Christmas song. An upbeat number that’s still a little melancholy, a lot joyful, and even a little romantic. Plus it’s got a great sax line! As far as a recipe to match, look no further than Amanda‘s Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies. Perfect song and for people who hate that they love the holidays. (People like me.)

Got a favorite Christmas tune? Share it with me in the comments! (But so help me if you pick “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney…)

Good Morning, Cookie 2: Electric Boogaloo

Peppermint Snowball Cookies from Mamma Town

Haven’t done your holiday baking yet? You’ve got five days to mix up that batter, roll out the dough, set that oven, and cut out that cookie. If you’re waiting for decent recipes, you only have yourself to blame. Everyone’s got cookie fever right now:

Epicurious is having full-on holiday fever. If you’re stuck for ideas, their 25 Days of Christmas Cookies is definitely a good starting place. Sparkly lemon sandwich cookies, florentines, shortbread, gingerbread, every variety of cookie for the holiday season. And if anyone tries the brownie thins recipe, let me know how it works out.

– Miss Yunks over at Foodies at Work gets creative with her cookie swap recipe, combining a Martha Stewart and Joy of Baking recipe for Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache Filling. It seems she had a little trouble getting it all to work properly, but they ended up looking delightful and very Christmas-y. Plus added cookie porn from a Boston blogger cookie swap! (Those salted caramel thumbprint cookies look divine…)

– Need more peppermint? Mamma Town has you covered with a recipe for Peppermint Snowball Cookies. These cookies look like little sacks of peppermint chunks bursting open. (Seems like all I’m doing these days is crushing peppermint candy. I’m gonna need to get a grinder just to have on hand for candy fragments.) Because this recipe offers easy options for vegan substitutes, it’s definitely on my “Nice” list.

– If you crave the cookie, but not the crazy sweetness, check out Les Saveurs for their Spicy Gingerbread Cookies. With their dark, rich color starkly contrasting with the little dots of white icing, these classy cookies are perfect for a seasonal gathering of unspecified nature, a very modern way to celebrate the holidays. Or if you want to sit around your house in flannel pajamas eating cookies. I suggest combining the two and having a holiday pajamas and cookies party.

Peppernuts, Pfeffernusse, Pepernoten – by any name, these cookies are still crunchy, tasty, and utterly unique to a holiday cookie spread. Sarah gives us a neat and tidy little recipe for the traditional cookie (a favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch). Remember, kids, if it’s not chock full of black pepper, it’s not proper pfeffernusse!

Good Morning, Delicious-Looking Inedibles!

I am a huge fan of the site Regretsy, but I will admit to liking a lot of things April Winchell would probably define as “whimsical fuckery.” Sometimes you just can’t shake the twee out, no matter how much hip hop and rap you start listening to. (Besides, the Wu-Tang are more than a little whimsical themselves, albeit not exactly in a cutesy way.)

Occasionally, my friend Mo and I send links to different sellers’ items. While browsing at a seller link she sent me today, I saw an intriguing picture:

Pumpkin Pie Felt Food from BeckyM

That is adorable AND delicious-looking. Seeing BeckyM’s store made me wonder, what other food-related wonders awaited me on Etsy? The following are a few of the many, many delectable treats to be found. Still looking for a unique gift for a food enthusiast in your life? Check these out!

(Note: None of these count the actual edibles on Etsy, of which there are many. We’ll cover that another time.)

Waffles with Syrup Soap by AJSweetSoap

 

S'mores Earrings by Artwonders

Taco Purse by KermitsTiesEtc

Lemon Frosted Cupcake Soap by FrostedCrossbones

Mini Milk and Cookies Necklace by Kawaiidesune

Herbs Magnets from Papermenagerie

Good Morning, Peanut Butter Cookies!

It’s a busy morning in a busy season. Who doesn’t need a cookie?

The peanut butter cookie is a wonderful double agent of the cookie world. One one side of craving, you have the need for saltiness, for crunch, for savory. On the other side, you have a craving for sweetness, sugar, morsels melting on the tip of your tongue. The peanut butter cookie plays both sides. It’s the perfect combination of cravings, all delivered in one handheld little edible package.

The above pictured – and I’m just now realizing that the picture is blurry – is a batch of peanut butter cookies made from the recipe in Alicia Simpson’s terrific Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food. In my experience, nearly every peanut butter cookie recipe has a secret ingredient. Alicia’s is unsweetened applesauce, and it works really well for the texture.

My minor complaint is that these cookies aren’t super peanut buttery, but it could also be the unsweetened organic peanut butter that I used in the recipe. Although it’s not high cuisine by any means, the standard Jiff or Skippy work better in peanut butter cookies, at least if you want a good heavy dose of peanutty flavor. Alicia’s are pretty healthy, all things considered (yes, even with the refined sugar).  

The other problem with this cookie is strictly my own fault: NO. GRID. Why grid your peanut butter cookies? Several theories abound, most of them false. (No, grid-ing your PB cookie isn’t going to make it any better tasting, nor does it keep the cookie from spreading or being as greasy or whatever.) The only genuinely plausible reason I can come up with is that by now, the grid on the cookie universally means “This is a peanut butter cookie” thereby forewarning any possible snackers with nut allergies.

Still, it just doesn’t feel right when the cookies aren’t properly grid-ed. What do you all think?

Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies

In which a genuine attempt is made to invoke the holiday spirit via baked goods.

I have made my particular opinion on holiday-themed treats known, but I will reiterate: In general, with a few exceptions, I am not a fan of holiday baked goods, my reasons having been best laid out here. Too much fuss, too much gunk, not enough good, simple flavor to make all the effort seem worth it.

But I’m no Scrooge. I am susceptible to Christmas cheer as much as the next hot-blooded American consumer. And on Monday morning, I was struck with the urge to make merry, watch sappy Christmas movies, share some wine with friends, and bake bake bake holiday treats.

Epicurious has a nice collection of holiday cookie recipes, many of which aren’t super ornate. I had one of the visiting friends pick a recipe from their selections, and she chose the Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies. Now these are more elaborate than I tend to make, as I’m not a huge fan of icing sandwich cookies (it has to be just right in flavor, texture, and ratio of icing to cookie), but they looked fun, Christmas-y, and a once over of the recipe proved that they could easily be veganized. So-ho-ho why not?

Vegan Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies

Cookie Ingredients
– 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
– 1/2 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup sugar
– 3/4 vegan margarine (I used Smart Balance Light)
– 1/4 cup silken tofu

Filling Ingredients
– 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
– 3/4 cup vegan margarine (for heavier filling, use 1 cup)
– 3/4 tsp peppermint extract
– Red and green food coloring

1/2 cup crushed red-and-white peppermint striped candies.

– Mix flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl. Cream together sugar and margarine in mixer, then beat in tofu. Add dry ingredients, beating until blended. Store the dough in the fridge for at least an hour.

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets. Once the dough is hardened, scoop out with a tablespoon and roll into little balls, placing them about 2 inches a part on the sheet. This is where I flubbed a bit, leaving the balls to bake as is, instead of following the directions and flattening them. Whether or not you do that, the cookies will bake properly. It’s all about how you like your cookie sandwich.

– Bake cookies for about 11 minutes, until a fingertip pressed on the top leaves an indentation. Remove and let cool on cookie rack.

– For filling: Beat sugar and margarine together. Add peppermint extract. As for food coloring, if you just want one color, add a few drops to the main bowl. Otherwise, portion some into another bowl and add the red to one, green to the other.

– Peppermint candies – We put the candies in a bag and hammered them. Lay a dish towel down, put the candies in a large Ziploc bag, then using a mallet or hammer, gently shatter and crush the candies until they are reduced to merry little peppermint shrapnel.

– Assembling the cookie sandwich – Match cookies to like sizes. Add a teaspoon of filling to the flat side of one cookie. Place second cookie on top, squeezing together so the filling just peeks out from the sides. Then take the cookie and roll the edges in the peppermint candy pieces. If this process proves to be ineffective, add the peppermint candy pieces to the filling on the cookie before sandwiching.

Overall, the recipe was good, but not great. The cookie sandwiches weren’t quite sweet enough (the cookie or the filling), and the filling reminded me too much of less than substantial cupcake topping. They were definitely pretty to look at, but their method of adding the peppermint candy to the sides was better in theory than in practice.

With minor tweaking, however, I’d say this is a recipe worth giving a try, especially if you’re in need of something to go with a big mug of hot chocolate. I ate mine while listening to my favorite Christmas song, “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses:

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies on Epicurious)

Gimme Gimme Gimme a Gift Card for Christmas!

I try to be budget conscious. My love of dining out, however, has a way of breaking me down. It’s not always that I don’t have anything to eat at home – sometimes I’ll be ready and game for going out despite a fridge full of produce slowly rotting away. Sometimes I’m just feeling too lazy to bother, and the only thing that stands between me and possibly eating a bag of chips for dinner is the promise of a take out veggie sandwich or seitan wings and sweet potato fries. (When are you going to open a South Hills location, Spak Bros.? We NEED you here.)

Mostly, though, I love to dine out. I love exploring new restaurants, checking names off the “to try” list. I love wandering around a neighborhood until hungry, then choosing a place at random to eat. I love taking recommendations from friends and actually being able to report back my opinion to them. As much as I love to cook, I tend to fall into a loop of making the same dozen things, in variations, and dining out is a great way of shaking me out of an eating rut.

Is it healthy? No. Not for my body, not for my bank account. But dammit, it could be worse! It’s not like I’m hooked on smack or something.

This Christmas, I’m not looking to get anything really big. Last year, I received a mighty Kitchen Aid food processor, and that was the last bit of kitchen machinery that I really needed. Instead of expensive goods, I thought I might request gift cards and certificates to different restaurants, cafes, etc., in hopes that I can spread these cards out over a few weeks, and maybe adhere to my budget just a little better in the new year.

Five Restaurants on My Christmas List:

From Foodburgh.com

Salt of the Earth  Yes, I keep up on local foodie news as much as any local food blogger should, and I’ve heard raves and raves about this recent addition to the culinary blossom of Penn Avenue/East Liberty area. And admittedly, the menu isn’t all that expensive – I could probably eat there for a similar amount that I would gladly spend at Thai Cuisine – but when trying out the new hot place to eat, it’s go big or go home. I don’t want to stick to my expensive restaurant budget saving order – usually soup and whatever appetizer is the least pricey – I want to go all out, especially if it means ordering a dessert cheese plate (“Midnight moon goat, Maytag bleu, quince, maple, bacon” – $8) and a Rye cocktail (“Sazerac, cinnamon, Averna” – $10) to finish.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – It’s not readily apparent on their website, but they are the big buzz restaurant right now, especially after taking “Best New Restaurant” in the Pittsburgh City Paper’s “Best of 2010” poll. If they didn’t offer anything yet, they probably will soon.

Mekong – The best kept Asian secret in town. I have been to Mekong. I have been there many, many times. The way some people have a neighborhood bar they frequent, that’s how I view Mekong. And because I live within short walking distance, I am both a frequent in-restaurant guest and delivery order customer. Because I already spend a large share of my money there, and because I always like to see more business go their way (especially if that business leads to more Mekong food in my tummy), get me a gift certificate. Maybe I can save you some of my Spicy Vegetable Noodle with Tofu. Maybe.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – They certainly do.

Le Pommier – I’m not a huge fan of super fancy restaurants, but I’ll admit, all the time I was working in the South Side, broke as shit, and had to walk past Le Pommier on the way to my hourly wage slave job, my mouth watered a little at the thought of sitting down to a table covered in fine linen, set with sterling silver, a fine glass of red wine in front of me, candlelight softly illuminating the lovely face of my dining companion. Perhaps the Chou-Fleur to start (“roasted cauliflower with puff pastry and brown butter” – $8), then on to the main course, maybe the Cassoulet (“southern france white bean stew with a crispy duck leg and sausage” – $25) or maybe the Porc (“pan seared Duroc pork loin chop with apple bacon lentils topped with local cider gastrique” – $24). Then onto coffee and conversation over the season Trio de crème brûlée ($8). I haven’t worked in the South Side for some time, and yes, I’m considerably better off financially now than during those glassy-eyed days of yore, but I still haven’t gotten that fantasy trip to Le Pommier. It’s about time I did.
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – At last check, they had gift certificates, but that was pre-renovation.

From exploriate.com

Round Corner Cantina – Okay, yes, I’m being a little cheapskate here, cause this place isn’t exactly expensive. But I was thinking: if I got a gift card/certificate for like, thirty bucks, I could take myself and a few others out for dinner. Anyway, it would make a good excuse to finally get over to this restaurant. While living over in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville area, I had enjoyed a drink or two in the weird little setting of the Round Corner Hotel bar, so I wasn’t surprised when new owners took it over and turned it into a swinging hotspot Mexican restaurant. Get me some credit dollars there, and I’ll buy the first round!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – Probably not.

Wild Rosemary – Nicole from Yum Yum writes highly of this restaurant in Upper St. Clair, and I’m always eager to take a recommendation from someone whose tastes I can trust. It’s the priciest of the bunch here, so that’ll have to be a pretty big gift card to cover the Chilean Sea Bass ($37) and the Fudgie Mocha Tart with Espresso-Custard ($8), along with enough to include the nominal corkage fee and gratuity. But don’t worry, I’ll treat you when we go to the Round Corner Cantina!
Do they offer gift cards/certificates? – No mention of it on the website. Seeing as how they’re fairly high-end, they probably do offer something. Nicole?

Good Morning, Cookie Cookie!

[Say the above in your best Cookie Monster impression]

I have not made a single cookie in the month of December, which nearly criminal considering how much I:
1) Love cookies
2) Love to bake
and
3) December is INTERNATIONAL Bake a Shit Ton of Cookies Month

What is wrong with me?!?!?!? I straighten up, fly right, and get back in the kitchen for a serious Cookie Baking Fest. I certainly have a great deal of awesome cookie recipes to pick from. Here’s a few I’ve come across in just the past few days:

Mint-Chocolate Ravioli Cookies from <i>So Hungry I Could Blog</i>

– I do so love the ladies over at So Hungry I Could Blog, but they’re really out doing themselves with their “Holiday Dozen” series, featuring twelve holiday cookie recipes. The Mint Chocolate ravioli cookies are my new obsession. I can’t deny the power of the pastry pocket!

Veganthropology gets a little Pennsylvania Dutch/Lancaster Amish action and shares an awesome recipe for vegan Whoopie Pies. She even adds a little peppermint to give them that ho-ho-holiday touch.

Gingerbread Drag Queen from Food for the Thoughtless

– Okay, I’m a little bit in love with Food for the Thoughtless’s Gingerbread Drag Queen. Uh, or, er… rather, I’m in love with the hilarious mind that came up with this rather novel Christmas swap cookie. (If you haven’t yet, check out Michael’s blog. It’s one of the funniest, most charming food blogs online.)

– Oh, Katie @ Sweettater – You had me at cornmeal. My cornmeal renaissance continues with this delicious-looking share of Martha Stewart’s intriguing cookie recipe for Lemon Cornmeal Cookies.

– Hey, Two Cheap Vegans, if cookies are really a “sometimes” food then why do they taste delicious ALL OF THE TIME? Huh? Answer that! And while you’re mulling over that question, make me some of your Ginger Molasses Cookies. Quick, it’s been like three hours since I had a cookie!

Okay, take it away, Cookie Monster!