Tag Archives: Eat Cetera

Embracing Failure: An Apple Crisp Of Sorts

October 2012

Want to talk about failure?

No? You’re probably not alone. Most people don’t want to talk about failure. I happen to be a person who fears failure quite a bit, maybe even runs away from it, maybe even runs quite fast and quite far away from it. BUT the beauty of this big, wide world is that it is FULL of people and examples and conversations that have taught me failure isn’t the end. The beauty of this big, wide world is we are capable of changing how we fit in it. I am learning failure is just the brink of decision making; it teeters between settling and determining, between defeat and discipline.

A failed body image can transform into a culinary embrace. A failed marriage can become a display of strength and a fresh start. A failed yoga class…is the one I don’t attend for fear of “failing.” A failed business might be the very best example of how to start the next. A failed apple crisp can still be a crisp…of sorts!

I have a book, whose title I shall not mention, filled with pie, tart, crisp and crumble recipes. Being that it was fall, I thought it would be lovely to bring an apple crisp to the dinner party I was supposed to attend that night. The problem with the recipe I was referencing was the inclusion of the volume of the topping, as a whole, right above the total for the light brown sugar. Was I supposed to add all of those measurements together? They were in the same block of the ingredient chart, so I assumed yes. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I stared at a bowl containing an obvious abundance of brown sugar already mixed with the other ingredients.

Not to panic. An abundance of brown sugar isn’t the end of the world, but it could very well mean a trip to the dentist, so I developed a new plan. I compensated with butter! I added lots more butter, thinking I could turn the crumble into a crust, but when I pre-baked the “crust,” it began to melt and slip away from the pie plate. FAIL FAIL FAIL!

I had a mess of apples, ooey, gooey, spiced apples sweetened with the reduction of their juices. I had a melted crust. Slightly discouraged, I decided the slip ‘n slide crust could be an ugly but delicious base. I poured the apples atop the “crust” and returned the mishap to the oven, where it all began to bubble over the pie plate. I stared and stared at it, thinking of all the wasted ingredients, all the meaningless photos, and the failed attempts at winging it. The waste factor kept nagging and nagging, so I tried a scoop….not too bad. I tried another spoonful…not bad at all!

I stirred the juicy, apple mess into a container to take to the dinner party. I whipped cream into a Kraken Rum whipped cream, which incidentally had the very best consistency I have ever whipped to date! I offered a bit of an excuse when I presented the warm, apple mess to the table, and you know what happened to my failed crisp? It disappeared!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
-Thomas A. Edison

An Ode To A Cabin In Autumn: A Shared Plate & Thoughts

September 2012

Printed words, sipped drinks, thoughts shared and a shared plate…these elements seemed to slow time in the best possible way…the way that makes me pause and question why more of my life is not this memorably simple. Every now and then, it’s inspiring to borrow someone else’s words to preserve these moments, and in this case, John Muir’s words take me back to that afternoon…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. 

“Adult Root Beers” with Art in the Age Root
& Charcuterie

With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained on one of Nature’s most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial human love, delightfully substantial and familiar. 

One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers’ plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. 

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

-John Muir

Neon & Nature: Party at the Pier 2012

September 2012

For a city whose identity is branded partly by its rivers, experiencing a Pittsburgh riverside often requires extra effort, so I was excited to learn about the Pittsburgh Riverlife Group. Their mission is “to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts as the environmental, recreational, cultural and economic hub for the people of this region and visitors.” I was even more excited to attend the “Party at the Pier” fundraiser to see Riverlife put their mission into action (you may recall my giveaway to this event).

The Rivers Casino amphitheater truly came alive with both elements of the theme “Neon and Nature.” Bands played, neon clad guests mingled, and the Gateway Clipper cruised the river. The culmination of the party was the neon lit amphitheater, which enabled guests to take in the full scene of the party and the riverside. My special one and I were quite content to sit, sip our wine and people watch. Do you think we were neon enough?

A series of monochromatic, neon lit tents led to the green glow of the food tent. The menu featured an array of miniature delicacies on bamboo platters and tiny desserts. The chefs from the Rivers Casino prepared the menu and  sourced many of their ingredients locally. A few examples from the spread:

Yellow, red and white gazpacho shooters
Seared Lamb Loin with braised white beans, bacon, golden raisin, pine nuts and mint
Grilled corn with chipotle mayo, cojita cheese and lime zest 

It wouldn’t be a Pittsburgh event without a fireworks display…

It was a night unlike the rest, a brightly colored break from the normal city offerings, and hopefully that night will lead to more riverside endeavors. Let’s all stay tuned for more developments from Riverlife!

[It Really Was Quite] Outstanding in the Field! (Part I)

August 2012

In the foodie world, a chef’s name can carry the weight of a Hollywood celebrity. There’s an awe, mystique and fascination with those who are changing food scenes, tweeting their menus, gracing magazine spreads and most importantly, feeding us their finest. When one of those innovative and highly regarded chefs takes to the road, partners with farms and offers some of the most beautiful and authentic farm-to-table meals possible, the fan following escalates to that of a touring band.

After I first learned about Outstanding in the Field (through this beautiful blog post on Roost), I became one of the adoring groupies, routinely checking the tour dates and locations. I nearly flew myself to Florida, so great was my obsession. However, fate and luck and a chef named  Justin Severino intervened, and I finally had the long awaited opportunity to attend an event close to my Pittsburgh home.

[Outstanding in the Field's] mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.

Outstanding in the Field is a roving culinary adventure – literally a restaurant without walls. Since 1999 we have set the long table at farms or gardens, on mountain tops or in sea caves, on islands or at ranches. Occasionally the table is set indoors: a beautiful refurbished barn, a cool greenhouse or a stately museum. Wherever the location, the consistent theme of each dinner is to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table.

Ingredients for the meal are almost all local (sometimes sourced within inches of your seat at the table!) and generally prepared by a celebrated chef of the region. After a tour of the site, we all settle in: farmers, producers, culinary artisans, and diners sharing the long table.

The site of the magical meal was Blackberry Meadows Farm, a real work of love by farmers Jen Montgomery and Greg Boulos (and wee little farmerette Evelyn). The couple’s introduction and tour of the farm was truly moving. They are committed to community and future generations, as exhibited by their communal, brick oven and the trees they planted that will reach their real grandeur long past their children’s time.

Ella the cow under her umbrella…ella…ella…

The Plate Tradition

OITF added a personal touch to the meal through this tradition. Participants were encouraged to bring a plate and add it to the pile. The plates then appeared at the field where the seemingly, never-ending tables were located. Diners could pick any plate from the burlap pile, adding a more communal element to the dining experience as textures and patterns rekindled memories of our own kitchens or other dining tables of note.

As the event kicked off, we lingered near the farm house for starters, drinks, mingling and a history of Outstanding in the Field from artist and founder Jim Denevan and lead cohort Leah Scafe.

I wish my childhood had been filled with this version of “dirt” rather than that gummy worm and chocolate pudding version (sorry to spoil your childhood memories if you hold “dirt” near and dear, but after prepping a batch with a bunch of grubby, VBS kids and their dirty, grubby fingers dipping into the bowl, my memories of that dessert still feel funny and are less than fond…tangential rant concluded). Chef David Racicot, of Notion, really embraced the farm dinner theme with this playful hors d’oeuvre of roasted and dehydrated baby carrots emerging from edible “dirt.”

Ceramic bowls and fresh blackberries would later appear as the clafoutis to close out the meal. Oddly enough, even though the blackberries were locally sourced, they were not sourced from the namesake farm. Apparently, the farm was named (several owners ago) for the wild blackberries that grow in the fields, which require more sugar than its worth to counter their tart flavor.

From the field plate to the table plate…

Heirloom tomatoes atop red and yellow gazpacho with parmesan foam and fresh herbs.

When heirloom tomatoes are the source of a gazpacho’s flavor, one cannot let said gazpacho go to waste, even when in the company of new acquaintances. I call this one “And God Shined Upon The Gazpacho..,” which is to say, Cavan Patterson, of Wild Purveyors, made the right decision. He was a real champ!

Melon Salad
cucumber, garden flowers, red miso, coconut, mint, basil, jalapeño, nori

Chef Kevin Sousa (Salt of the Earth, Union Pig & Chicken, Station Street Hot Dogs) used liquid nitrogen to freeze the melons in this salad, which added a crisp, refreshing, textural contrast to the light greens and flowers, whereas a regular piece of fruit would have added too much water or mushiness on a hot, farm day.

As one would expect, Chef Justin Severino (Cure) prepared quite the impressive salumi spread garnished with violet, saffron and dijon mustards.

Though it’s easy to envy founder Jim Denevan’s role, it was clear this labor of love required a lot of persistance and passion to launch and grow to the whirlwind tour it is today. We Pittsburghers are quite lucky to live in the same city as Chef Justin Severino, who was instrumental in putting Blackberry Meadows Farm on the event schedule. Jim also declared Justin to be his favorite chef. Coming from a man who travels and eats the best the country has to offer for a living, that is not a praise to be taken lightly.

Roast* Chicken
chanterelles, bacon, tallegio

* roasted in the farmers’ communal brick oven!

Lamb Belly & Sweetbreads
green beans, potato, black garlic

The plates cleared, the candles appeared, the lights flickered, and the laughter grew in volume until finally, we applauded all efforts tremendously and meandered into the night. My work here will have been done should you read this and become one of the OITF groupies! Perhaps we shall meet in a field soon?

Riverside Picnics & Party At The Pier Tickets: A Pittsburgh Giveaway!

August 2012

This past fall, I took the solo sort of stroll and sat by the Allegheny River, amidst the wildflowers and shrubs. There were boats and quiet breezes. I quietly ate a scone, sipped a coffee and read. The slower, quieter time refreshed me, and the views renewed an appreciation for this steel town.

I’ve often critiqued the underutilization of the Pittsburgh riversides. There have been noticeable improvements as far as trails and overlooks are concerned, but the riversides still have yet to reach their full potential. Hence I was excited to learn about the Riverlife group whose mission is simple: Reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts. Make them the environmental, recreational, cultural and economic hub for the people of this region and our visitors.

I’m also excited to offer my readers a chance to participate in a Riverlife event!  I am giving away a pair of tickets (a $250 value) to the annual fundraiser, Party at the Pier

Party at the Pier
Friday, Sept. 7, 2012
7-11 pm

Join Riverlife as Pittsburgh’s North Shore is transformed into a dazzling electric playground for Riverlife’s Party at the Pier 2012: Neon & Nature, presented by PNC. Water, land and light come together at what is sure to be one of 2012’s brightest events. Enjoy dazzling river views, delicious bites, electric cocktails, Gateway Clipper jaunts and a neon dance party at the stunning North Shore riverfront amphitheater in front of Rivers Casino (777 Casino Drive, Pittsburgh PA 15212). All proceeds benefit Riverlife and their efforts to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts.

The menu will focus on fresh, locally sourced food with a farm-to-table philosophy. Here’s a peek:

Yellow, red and white gazpacho shooters
Grilled corn with chipotle mayo, cojita cheese and lime zest 
Seared Lamb Loin with braised white beans, bacon, golden raisin, pine nuts and mint

How To Enter

Leave a comment on this post describing a riverside picnic or dining experience. Describe a riverside meal you’ve already eaten or one that exists purely in your imagination. Tell me about your ideal menu or your favorite spot for picnicking by the rivers. Let yourself be inspired, and maybe we’ll share some farm-to-table food at the Party at the Pier. I will randomly pick from the comments and announce a winner on MONDAY, AUGUST 27th, which will leave you plenty of time to plan your neon ensemble and pick your partner for dancing.

What do you say?

 

AND THE WINNER IS…

Based on the numbering system of…

1:  Francisco
2:  Patricia
3: Kate & Charlotte
4: Hal B Klein
5:  The Small Change
6:  Amanda
7:  Sean

Congrats to Patricia Wojnar Crowley! She is the winner of TWO tickets to the Riverlife Fundraiser “Party at the Pier!”

Thank you all for your beautiful picnic ideas! Maybe we should all have a riverside picnic?!?

Italian BBQ On The Farm, Part II

August 2012

We gathered at White Oak Farm to partake in an Italian BBQ prepared by some of the city’s best Italian chefs, and what left such a lasting impression was the enjoyment those chefs derived from the afternoon. Their antics and laughter made the serene setting, the seemingly infinite table and each exquisite course all the more memorable. Here is what I mean…

Thanks to all involved!

Italian BBQ On The Farm, Part I

August 2012

There once was a Sunday that stretched lazily in the sun like a cat who knows no schedule. It was a Sunday filled with beauty, with the slow meandering path of a tractor in a field, with pillowy clouds changing course, with laughter and clanking glasses. It was the Sunday of an Italian style BBQ, at White Oak Farm.

This was no ordinary Italian BBQ! It was the culinary culmination of some of the city’s best Italian chefs, as envisioned and curated by Justin Severino of Cure. I once praised Justin for creating more than a meal, but rather, for creating an entire dining experience, and this was the epitome of a dining experience.

While peeking around the barn, we met one of the owners of the farm, Tony DiCio, who was as eager to give us a tour as we were to see everything. The farm had been in Tony’s family for generations, and he and his brother had long talked about restoring it. Realizing time would continue to pass them by if they continued to talk about their farm plans, the two proactively began getting to work.

They read a lot. They consulted with farming experts. They did some dirty work. Gradually, the farm became what we were seeing on that beautiful Sunday, and it was a lot to see! From the antique farm equipment slated for restoration, to the chickadees, to the horse in its own small barn, to the lake and quiet opening in the trees, the farm had so clearly been born again with a thoughtful passion and a history to share. Soon the farm will be sharing its produce as well. Keep an eye on the local food scene for ingredients from White Oak Farm. Many of them have already been enjoyed at Cure.

(Appropriately for my thematics, the above vintage beauty is a grain separator!)

Walking around that farm made me question my need for urban spaces and busyness. Tony has the advantage of alternating New York and the farm as his home bases. The combination of extremes struck me as ideal! We talked about the importance of slowing down to re-evaluate and recharge, a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. He described the farm’s revitalizing effect in his own work. Each time he stayed there, he developed a new focus in his return to his busier, business life. Sign me up!

Walking up the stone driveway, into the grassy field, and finally, to this table, provide so many details to behold! I was so excited by the beauty of that table that I nearly failed to eat some of the starters, but I quickly regained my food focus.

I can’t thank Justin Severino (pictured above) enough for inspiring this event, which combined the talents and efforts of so many people. It was a truly memorable meal with a very palpable energy from the chefs and in return, respect from their diners. Rather than dissect the menu, I am structuring this post much like my own experience. I read over the menu initially, but once the food started coming to the table, I just took it in with my senses (and of course with my camera as well). Hence, what follows is a visual delight rather than a course-by-course review! Believe me, each course was impressive and need not be dissected!

The Menu

Reception
Salumi & Negronies
[where there is a Justin Severino, there is surely a Negroni]

Heirloom Tomato Salad
w/ Pine Nut Brittle & Balsamic
Wine Pairing

Grigliata di Mare
2010 Bisson Bianchetta Genovese
“U Pastine” Liguria

Pizza A La Griglia
2010 Monteforche
“Lo Sfuso di Collina”
Cabernet Franc Veneto

Pork Belly
Coenoebium “Rusticum”
Lazio Bianco, Central Italy

BBQ Brisket
2000 Calabretta Etna Rosso Sicily

Watermelon & Olive Oil Cake
2004 La Stoppa “Vigne del Volta”
Malvasia Passito Emiglia Romagna

Do you spy little green spears? Those were sea asparagus, and they tasted like little baby asparagus spears! I have to admit, after an all too vividly textured octopus eating experience in Spain, I was hesitant to try those purple tentacles atop the sea asparagus, but I quickly found myself converted! I didn’t feel as though I was eating an octopus (if you ate what I ate in Spain, this statement makes sense), and the combination of flavor and texture worked! Bravo Michele, you sold me on eating octopus!

These two pictures sum up what I appreciated the most about this bbq event. I had anticipated an amazing meal and to be in awe of the setting, but I was pleasantly surprised to feel so inspired by the chefs. What impressed me the most about this experience was the camaraderie, the antics and the overall enjoyment the chefs derived from sharing their craft in a rustic and somewhat challenging fashion.

Thanks to all the chefs involved! I also walked away from this experience with the inspiration to visit the restaurants I had yet to try.

Justin Severino, of Cure
Sam Di Battista, of Vivo
Michele Savoia, of Dish Osteria
Domenic Branduzzi, of Piccolo Forno
Stephen Felder, of Stagioni

And thanks to the fellas of Bar Marco for orchestrating the libations!

By the time the brisket arrived at the table, my camera had called it quits, so I had to pull from the talents of my pal Alex Mohamed to show you just how deliciously this meal ended…

This was by far one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced. The hours passed without us knowing, and we all left feeling mentally lighter, happier and more relaxed. It was ideal, and I am tremendously grateful I had the chance to share in this event.

One Last Note…

Stay tuned for more Justin Severino/Cure events and be sure to keep updated on the Cure website so you too can join beautiful food festivities such as this. Also, check out Adam Milliron’s photos from the event on the Cure Facebook page. I could look through his photos for hours! You might even spy yours truly in front of the camera for a change.