Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’
We had a two night stay in this once decrepit-turned-hipster hot culinary mecca cum capital of Appalachia, and I blew it. Just like those erstwhile Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Pens did against Tampa Bay in the Friday the 13th Game 1 of the Eastern Conference hockey finals across from our boring but totally clean and congenial Marriott Hotel.
It’s just not that liberating to parachute into a new city anymore, with a baby in tow, now that we are world-weary parents of two. I crave routine. I want home (but is home Maine, where we had settled or Virginia, which felt like a homecoming this sabbatical year?). I need comfort, predictable home-cooked meals (with local produce) and kids that happily drift off to sleep at the anticipated hour. I hereby relinquish my pulse on our nation’s Millenials-driven food scene. I’m too tired to care.
Still, I was excited to go back to Pittsburgh with Dan for his Behavioral Models of Politics conference. Back in 2005, I’d had a memorable night out there at the Harris Grill in Shadyside, when, staring down my graduation from J-school, I interviewed for a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cub reporter job I didn’t get. (I forgot: neither the Harris Grill or still provincial, so hard up to be hipster Pittsburgh impressed me as much during our brief stop there as we crossed the country to our new life in Oregon in 2008.)
But since then, the Steel City-turned-wannabe Silicon Valley’s slick revival has been much (over?) hyped. The New York Times gushed about post-industrial Lawrenceville’s “Youth-Driven Food Boom.” Zagat recently proclaimed PGH the country’s top food town. Conde Nast Traveler just celebrated Pittsburgh’s old YMCA turned Ace Hotel (alongside the Quirk from my hometown of Richmond and The Ivy in our beloved Baltimore) in its 2016 list of hot new hotels). We’ve stayed at the Ace in PDX, and cool as it is, I didn’t come to Pittsburgh for facsimiled Portlandia culture, replete with that selfsame Stumptown coffee. I’d rather go to Baltimore import Zeke’s Coffee next to the Dollar General across the street from the new PGH Ace.
But I stopped in the lobby for a local Red Star kombucha while baby Emmet napped in the double-parked car the valet tolerated. I had to at least witness the familiar, yes reassuring and aesthetically on par downtempo yet somehow contrived vibe. We’re no longer in that hard cider and Bloody’s before 11am phase of life. I wanted something a little more real Pittsburgh, a little more sense of this French fries on sandwiches, Pierogies and milkshake loving place. (No wonder many Burghers I saw walking around downtown seemed unhealthy/overweight!) I didn’t think I wanted the greasy indulgence of Primanti Bros., but it’s the real deal reliable 24 hour joint on The Strip to taste true local flavor.
The Ace’s affable parking attendant, a young, black St. Joe’s graduate from Philadelphia, understood why the Whitfield’s sanitized menu, even with its nods t those ubiquitous hash browns and tots on its local duck confit sandwich, even though I espouse those ideals and lamented Pittsburgh’s lack of community gardens and overt farm-to-table scene, pandered. Wasn’t what I yearned for. This earnest valet said Philly loves (yes, parochial, provincial) Pittsburgh, but the Appalachian underdog doesn’t return the admiration East. He steered me to his favorite cozy neighborhood bistro Avenue B. Menu seemed solid with nods to “local greens” (yet I’m always, even before this Tampa Bay investigation, on high alert for farm-to-table food fraud). We just wanted something less fussy since traveling with a hungry baby.
So why not Primanti Bros.? Dan had only tried it once at the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium. My farm-to-table, practically Paleo preferences these days rarely let him indulge in such gut-busting cuisine. Why start eating healthy the day we left our two-night sojourn here, where I went to bed hungry, gobbling pomegranate glazed Sahadi cashews (I masticated out of desperation for baby) and Cheddar Chex Mix and a $5.50 Marriott lobby HagenDaz bar because room service is a rip-off and there aren’t good restaurants in walking distance of the Consol Energy Center, which was mobbed with the hockey playoff game the Penguins lost anyway. So what better time to indulge in one of those famous sandwiches?
Plus, I wanted to eat the first place native son accomplished chef Damian Sansonetti goes when back home. He has chef de cuisine at Bar Boulud in NYC and now runs Abruzzian Italian charmer Piccolo and Blue Rooster Co. gourmet hot dogs with his master pâtissière wife.
Primanti did hit the spot. The perfect stick to your ribs food on a rainy, grey, mid-May day with a high of 58 degrees. I got the Colossal fried fish and cheese sandwich to get Omega 3s into the baby, but it was no healthier than a Filet-o-Fish, with that fried Alaskan Pollock and cheese. At least the coleslaw was vinegar-based. We devoured Dan’s pastrami sandwich, the meat expertly cured and smoked next door at Jo-Mar Provisions and griddled with melted provolone. We did miss the bite of mustard that chases the fatty pastrami at a Jewish deli. Our only complaint: the sandwiches lacked sauce.
Sometimes, you’ve got to let yourself enjoy a little industrial meat. Good thing we had sautéed spinach and Swiss chard from our New Branch Farm CSA for lunch the day we left, with the garlic preschooler Theo and classmates harvested at our beloved Chancellor Street Cooperative Preschool.
Emmet and I spent most of Friday lolling around the Pittsburgh Children’s Theater Festival that took over Cultural District streets. But the booths of preschool hands-on crafts made me miss almost 5-year-old Theo, who stayed with his grandparents in Charlottesville. We’ll let Daddy go to conferences alone for now, and not disturb his sleep. I will have my time as adventurous trailing spouse again before I blink. When I’m not so laden with breastfeeding and baby care.
For now, I’ll rest my gaze on this quiet and so alert, calming baby “who is much more tuned in even than some 1-year-olds,” a kind woman remarked at the Adli German discount grocery chain I experienced for the first time near University of Pittsburgh in Shadyside. (We stopped in Aldi again on the drive home in Winchester, aka “Funchester”–even though it’s not that great, though the parent company owns Trader Joe’s.) Emmet’s stunning presence and constant happiness commands attention wherever we go. The Happiest Baby on the Block, indeed. That’s enough to keep his Mama happy for now, as we, awash in gratitude for all the joyous change of this year away but with that palpable hum of ever-present angst, transition back to our life in Maine.
Fermenting and pickling are my favorite of the food preservation arts. Fermenting especially, because there’s no cooking up a brine, stuffing jars, water-boiling them. I love raw fermentation, where all you do is salt and submerge the chopped vegetables in their own juices, and then the naturally-present lactobacillus bacteria transform the vegetable sugars into lactic acid, the vinegar-like natural brine that preserves your kraut.
I started fermenting my kraut about Nov. 7, so I could connect with the great Baltimore Thanksgiving tradition. Of course, I never made sauerkraut in Baltimore nor did I ever have Thanksgiving there, but I love Gertrude’s (site of our rehearsal dinner) and meant to attend their kraut festival. So I was thrilled to find Gertie’s recipe for Sauerkraut and Apples (tips on fermenting your own kraut here). The uptown version, with dry champagne and fresh ginger, graced our Thanksgiving table. The clean tang of the kraut helped undercut the grease and heaviness of the rest of the meal. Plus, those tangy probiotic bacteria (like the ones present in yogurt) really aid in digestion. Another secret to the kraut: we sauteed it with the maple-cured, applewood-smoked pork belly I just cured with Intaba at the restaurant.
The same day I made kraut, I also made garlicky, gingerly, salty-sweet Napa cabbage kimchi, with the recipe from hip chef David Chang of Momofuku fame. I still need to make his Fuji Apple Salad with Kimchi, Smoke Jowl & Maple Labne before we eat all the kimchi in the fridge. If only we’d smoked some pork jowl with our bacon.
You’ve heard about the rhubarb. Well, asparagus is that other early spring vegetable for which I eagerly await. Its presence marks the start of this abundant season. Maybe I’ll eventually plant my own asparagus bed, like Barbara Kingsolver, but you have to wait three years for the harvest. For now, procuring the green (and sometimes eggplant purple) spears from local farmers will more than do.
Asparagus featured prominently at my beloved old Waverly Farmers Market in Baltimore, which I got to visit when briefly in town for a wedding last weekend. That’s Hannah and I fingering the skinny, almost stringy stalks for sale at the stand run by a farmer from Seaford, Del. But Hannah said they’ve been tough and not that flavorful. Here in Oregon, the spears are mostly sweet and fat. I received deliveries of them from the local organic Sunbow Farm here in Corvallis. Just order $10 of produce and they’ll deliver to your door. Pretty nice when you don’t have a CSA but are out of town for the weekend farmers market.
What do you make with your April and May fresh asparagus? I recommend this “Sesame Noodles with Fresh Asparagus Tips” recipe from Deborah Madison, via Culinate. I added local sauteed shittake mushrooms to the mix. Also substituted flat rice noodles for the Chinese egg ones, but don’t recommend that. And tonight I topped pasta with fresh local fava beans and asparagus, sauteed with leeks and green garlic in olive oil and a chicken broth and lemon juice sauce. Topped with chopped parsley, dill, tarragon and chives from the garden, it made for a light springy meal.
There’s nothing like bonding in the kitchen with friends you have missed. I have cooked with and for my Baltimore girls since our pot-luck days at Davidson College. Thankfully, we could squeeze in a home-cooked meal together on my recent trek back to the East Coast.
We made — surprise, surprise — a whole roast chicken with that herbed salt rub. Hey, it’s an easy crowd pleaser, yet Hannah had never made one. The whole bird can be daunting, though more economical and flavorful. After dinner, we made stock with the carcass (Hannah, what soup will you make? Don’t forget the pot in Adam’s fridge.) Olive oil and rosemary potatoes roasted in the pan with the chicken.
The highlight of the meal, though, was Hannah’s Korean Asparagus (see recipe below). Barbara Kingsolver made me feel guilty about eating them out of season, but California-grown ones were on sale, and we couldn’t resist the recipe. Now we know what to make when the elegant green spears grace our farmers markets in a month. Smelly pee, here we come! I liked the tangy Korean marinade so much I served it over lighty cooked broccoli and carrots, over rice, tonight.
Here’s the Korean asparagus recipe (from Madhur Jaffrey, I believe)1.5 lbs asparagusDressing:3 tablespoons soy sauce1 tablespoon sesame oil1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds1 tablespoon red wine vinegar1/2 teaspoon sugar1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper1 smashed clove of garlicShave the ends of the spears if the asparagus is thick.
Soak the asparagus in cold water for 15 to 30 minutes.Meanwhile, mix together the dressing ingredients.Boil the asparagus for about two minutes.Drain and run under cold water.Remove the garlic clove from the dressing (if you want) before pouring it over the asparagus and mixing.
In this week’s City Paper restaurant review, I love the way Mary K. Zajac describes how Baltimoreans cling to their landmarks, even though those that are long gone.
Baltimoreans have long memories. They refer to buildings called “The Civic Center” and give directions based on long-gone structures, confusing newbies in the process. (“The YMCA? It’s over where Memorial Stadium used to be.”) But this historical memory is a harmless nod to the past and part of what puts the charm in Charm City.
Folks totally referred to my Y as the Memorial Stadium YMCA, even though the former Orioles staidum was demolished in 2001. The old harborfront Baltimore News-American building meant more to folks than the recently-folded Baltimore Examiner in the same location ever did. When you ask for directions, what former icons do you still hear locals referring to?
Sadly, we weren’t enthralled with the meal we had at at Nirvana, the newer Indian restaurant in Corvallis. Dan said the Lamb Vindaloo and Mushroom Mattar sauces tastes ketchup-y. We’re heard the other place here, Evergreen, isn’t that great, but at least they do have South Indian veg dishes like Masala Dosa. How I miss the Woodlands in Charlotte, perhaps the best Indian I have had in the U.S. And I loved the thali Indian tapas-style lunch specials at Indigma in Baltimore.
For now though here, we’re content to cook Indian at home. Tonight I whipped up a really simple red lentil curry dish I found in The Thymes, the monthly newsletter of our food co-op. (See the recipe below). I only used one can of coconut milk, adding more water instead, and substituted some leftover scraps of collards and kale instead of the swiss chard. Throw any vegetables in the bin in! I also made cucumber raita as a condiment to give the dal more creaminess.
The start of the festival of lights nicely coincided with the winter solstice today, the darkest day of the year, especially here in Oregon, which has been usually cold, snowy and grey.
This half-Jew and her ambivalent Jewish husband were pleasantly surprised by the eclectic latke party and potluck the Beit Am Mid-Willamette Valley Jewish Community organized tonight. In a way it’s nice to have only one Jewish space in town, where those of all persuasions and degrees of unaffiliation are welcome.
We met a German-born economics professor emeritas, who migrated to Israel then studied at Berkeley and landed at Oregon State, where he retired in 1991. He had some colorful things to say about department politics and the writer and former OSU prof Bernard Malamud, who features Corvallis in his excellent novel A New Life. And we chatted with a young Israeli couple (guy is a resource economist) whose secular sensibilities reminded me just how out of touch American Jews can be with Israeli culture. Funny, the guy reminded us so much of Damiano, the Italian roommate of our Israeli friend Yoni back in Baltimore. Ah, Baltimore friends, we miss you:)