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.

Pittsburgh’s Bar Marco (by Night) + The Great American Water Balloon Fight

July 2012

When I was a kid and my family would go out for dinner, my mom wouldn’t let me order the exceedingly basic kids menu items. By no means was she plunging me into a world of foie gras, but she wasn’t about to pay for a PB&J or a hotdog. The point was to order something out of the ordinary, something beyond what she would have made, had we stayed at home. Her approach to dining really shaped how I think about restaurants. They are experiences. They should earn my money by exposing me to something unique, distinguishing their offerings from my own kitchen.

This explains why I review design, atmosphere and responsible food choices when I think about a restaurant. Brunch at Pittsburgh’s Bar Marco had already met my criteria by day, so I was excited for samplings when the sun would set through the enviably large front windows. My excuse for dining at Bar Marco proved even further this new Pittsburgh establishment is crafting not just snacks, drinks or meals, but experiences.

I happen to work with one of the nicest girls in the world. As part of her desire to care for everyone (and I mean everyone), she volunteers with an organization called Team Tassy. Inspired by one boy’s story in Haiti, the organization works to eliminate poverty one family at a time. They’re not a simple handout charity. They aid each situation on a case-by-case basis to enable a child, so perhaps that child will become a solution for his or her impoverished nation, rather than a tragic story. What does a Pittsburgh restaurant with an eye on the community and local foods have to do with an organization set to save the world..?

Water Balloons!

Team Tassy hosted The Inaugural Great American Water Balloon Fight. Why? In their words, “Giving and helping should be a joy, so when we sat down to talk about how to involve the community with what we do, we thought of the craziest, most joyous stuff we could. ‘Water Balloon Fight’ topped the list, and now you’re up to speed.”

As you might imagine, throwing a HUGE water balloon fight requires a LOT of water balloons. That’s where Bar Marco came into play. They provided the space and the snacks for water-balloon-filling volunteers, and this blogger happened to count amongst the balloon fillers for a wet minute.

From the filtered, river water to the faucets with balloon-tying apparatuses, Team Tassy had really engineered the outfit! After working our way through a few cupfuls of balloons (and a few balloon casualties resulting in wet feet), we redirected our attention to the host with the most.

Bacon Wrapped Dates w/ Manchego

As any serious bruncher will attest, the boys behind Bar Marco do not mess around with bacon. For an evening salty-sweet, bacon fix, this snack is an obvious choice.

Polenta Fries

If your inner child won’t shut up about mozzarella sticks, this is a far more fulfilling way to appease your inner brat. Your inner game-night fiend will appreciate the Jenga-like structuring of this appetizer. Win-win!

Mussels + Frites

Simple, saucy/sassy mussels (tongue twister?!?!) with perfectly textured fries (not too crisp, not too mushy)

Entree: Duck 

That dreamy glass of “pink wine” belonged to a certain British fella who is not known for restraining his opinions, and this duck passed his test. If you can trust a restaurant’s duck, then you know you have found a keeper. Bar Marco is a keeper!

When we told one of the Bar Marco boys we wanted one of each dessert, he professed love. The feeling was mutual after we ate their tiramisu, an Australian chocolate dessert called Lamington and peaches with a chocolate sauce, especially after the peaches with the chocolate sauce. At this point, I feel obligated to clarify, the “we” I have been using referred to a rather full table of foodies, and all of us were impressed. Mind you, there was even a hamburger, but it never made it in front of the camera. Even foodies have their photographic limits.

If you play nice, you might even end your meal with a digestif compliments of the Bar Marco crew.

Salud!

As for The Great American Water Balloon Fight… (keep an eye on the moose!)

From Pig to Plate: Hog Butchering Demo at Cure Restaurant (Pittsburgh, PA)

July 2012

To my father, a “vegetarian diet” is what you feed a cow. Hence, I was reared on animal protein. Though I had a very brief stint in the meatless world, I am of the conscientious omnivore persuasion. As part of that adjective, it’s important to come to terms with what it means to eat meat. Once one takes the slightest peek into the meat industry, a priority on local food sourcing is a very logical next step.

In addition to my interests in new local food scenes, one of my food goals for the year is to better understand cuts of meat. Fortunately, Pittsburgh Chef Justin Severino provided me with an opportunity to eat local food and learn more about the food I was eating! As part of the ever creative line up of Sunday events, Justin offered a Hog Butchering Demo.

Before a cleaver was ever raised, there was a charcuterie spread to remind us of why we had gathered and beer from East End Brewing Company because sometimes the good people want to drink before watching a pig cut into pieces!

One way to get the attention of a large group of eaters and minglers is to drop a huge hog onto a metal table. You will have the entire room’s attention!

The story of hog butchering began with Justin’s own story. Growing up in an Italian family fostered a love of food and gathering around the table. When it was time for him to enter the big, wide world, a career related to food was an obvious choice. His love of cooking first took him to the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute. Then he made the logical foodie mecca to California, where he worked under several great chefs all the while absorbing the culture of sustainable food sourcing. As Justin said, “Californians care about local food like Pittsburghers care about the Steelers.”


Justin’s curiosity about food and sourcing led him to read the standard library and view all the documentaries revealing the truth about mega food industries. Buying food for the various restaurants where he worked meant trips to farmers markets and farms, where he saw a more humane and sustainable system.

Wanting to forge his own path in the food world and support the positive systems he had seen, he opened up his own butcher shop- Severinos Community Butcher, where he butchered whole hogs from local farms. After successfully running the butcher shop, Justin decided to return home to Pittsburgh, and the steel town food scene is ever so grateful for his return! 

Why does Justin butcher his own hogs? A few reasons…

First, Justin butchers whole hogs because no one else is. Much like a painter who stretches his own canvas to enable the vision in his head, Justin takes the time and care to butcher whole hogs so he can cut very specifically for the meats he wants to cure and the meals he wants to create.

Another reason he controls so much of the food process is just that- control. The butchering demo is worth viewing for various reasons, but more than anything, it made me appreciate Justin’s extreme attention to detail. He cuts away any piece that potentially could have come into contact with other hogs or surfaces at the USDA facility (all slaughtered animals must go to a USDA facility first). He does not trust the mega food industry and takes great care to guard the benefits of a selecting a local hog.

The Bonus Reason?

Have you ever lifted a pig? It’s a really great workout!

What does Justin look for in a hog?

Color: Caged, factory-raised pigs will be paler unlike their free-roaming counterparts who will tan in the sun.

Nose ring:  Justin looks for pigs that have not been ringed. Pigs are natural foragers. They root into the ground with their noses to search for food. Factory farms pierce pigs’ noses with metal rings to prevent this habit, since rooting in the unsanitary factory farm environment could lead to illness and disease. This practice causes the animal pain when it tries to perform one of its natural, ingrained tendencies.

Ears: Factory farms clips pigs’ ears to identify them. Free range pigs do not require this cruel practice. 

A Tail: In confined spaces, pigs will bite on each other’s tails. This can lead to infection. To prevent the confrontations, factory farms cut off piglets’ tails.

There are various ways to butcher a hog, and as Justin said, his way is dictated by what he aims to prepare at the restaurant. This is the point in this post in which my butchering insights stop for two reasons:

1. If you live in Pittsburgh, you should attend yourself! Justin’s demo offers an incredible chance to understand our food and food sources better. We even met the farmer from Clarion River Organics who supplied the demo hog. I’m sure he would have had a lot more tidbits to add, but we all excused him early, as he was a very proud new father and needed to be with his brand new baby!

2. I am still very far from being an expert! I wouldn’t mind attending another butchering demo, since Justin offers a wealth of knowledge. I also would attend another butchering demo because of the meal that followed…

Behold the pork belly! It was a work of art!

(Charred radicchio, cherry custard, cherries, lovage)

With fresh, seasonal ingredients, a simple salad begins to compete with the main courses for space on a plate!

Spaghetti Bolognese with Mint

“We’re going to have spaghetti because it’s Sunday,” Justin said, and not a one complained. This was the first time I had mint in my spaghetti, but it will not be the last!

Pork Roast & Green Beans

Risotto

Zucchini and a healthy serving of taleggio cheese

Conclusion…

How often does your meal begin with the farmer who raised your food? How often does the chef take time to prove his food convictions? As always, I’m grateful to Justin for his commitment to creating a food community. We all walked away from our Sunday dinner with a better understanding of the care and detail behind each course. It’s important for chefs like Justin to foster the local food dialogue, but it’s also important for us, as patrons, to vote with our forks and dollars! If you live in Pittsburgh, a visit to Cure not only results in a fantastic meal, but your money feeds into the local economy and supports a more human treatment of the main course. Let me know what you learn!

The Pursuits of Picnics & A Life Less Complicated

July 2012

“Maintaining a complicated life is a great way to avoid changing it.” ~Elaine St. James

How very true.

The routines. The self-imposed business. The friends we don’t see. The little strolls forfeited.

Most of us have the opportunity to reclaim the moments that matter in the long run. As a blogger, this may be blasphemy, but sometimes…sometimes, you just have to turn off the computer, pack up something simple and meet a friend on a stoop.

The rest is a time to listen,to listen to each other and to listen to ourselves.  You’ll be surprised what you’ll hear, what you might contribute and what you’ll gain.

A beautiful picnic can be as simple as fresh cherries and coconut green tea on ice. The sunshine will add the glimmers, and beautiful friend will add just the right radiance.

Happy summer simplicity!

Frozen Berry Dessert, Part Deux: The Delivery (sans celebrities this time around)

July 2012

My fascination with food is not limited to the how. I’m curious about the who, the what, the where and perhaps most importantly, the why. We associate memories with food. We bond over food. We pass our stories as we pass our plates, and we make friends via our tastes. I already showed you the how for a very memorable frozen berry dessert. It was a failure of sorts, but the revisions succeeded in a way that utterly surprised me! However, the dessert’s story did not end there. I was making that dessert for a summer Sunday-the type of summer Sunday that perfectly reminds me of the happiness growing underfoot!

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” ~ James Oppenheim

(A summer Sunday can be downright torturous for a dog who has eyes only for saaaaaausages!)

If we don’t make time, summer’s golden ears will quickly disappear, and grills will enter dormancy.

If we do make time, we might use more butter on golden kernels than we should, just because it’s fancy butter. We might sip more sangria than we should, just to reach the wine-soaked, sangria peaches, bursting with the flavors guarded best by local growing.

If we don’t make time, we might miss the show (sometimes the show is a little racy)…

If we do slow down, we might see what a cold beverage can do to a lady on a hot day. ;P

If we do slow down, we can learn more of our own food story from those who taught us, and we can pass it to those who who care to share it.

If we do slow down, the sky might put on a show in our honor. In our case, the Pittsburgh sky sure was feeling fancy!

The show transitioned to flickering candles and second rounds of adult root beer floats then a downhill stroll to fall asleep to the hum of a fan.

May your hot oven be worked minimally. May your frozen desserts refresh you maximumly! May you enjoy summer’s best hues and lights until a quiet stroll leads you peacefully home!

Frozen Berry Dessert & How A Failed Meringue Led To A Celebrity Encounter

July 2012

The Agenda:
A BBQ/Potluck on one of the best decks in the city, hosted by a loyal and true friend.

The Plan:
A more summery version of this maple mousse pie.

The Fail, the EPIC FAIL:
The mousse pie recipe has a meringue component. Oh that meringue! I totally bombarded it with hot honey, and the poor, fluffy cloud didn’t stand a chance! It collapsed like an uncapped air mattress under a sleepy soul.

The Recalculation:
I pride myself on being the Daughter of Invention, but try though I did, the meringue had failed. There was no salvaging the eggy mess, so I had to “click” undo a little farther back into my history. What I had was a perfectly good crust, a fresh fruit puree and a new idea borrowed from the very woman who inspired me to improvise- my mom. What I didn’t have was more heavy cream. What I did have was my special one’s car!

Recalculating Route…:
To Whole Foods! To the dairy aisle! (I also tried to buy an air conditioner at Home Depot, but that effort lingered on the fail side of the spectrum).

The Moment That Made Me Grateful the Meringue Had Failed So Miserably:
As I walked to retrieve a cart, I saw a tall man with thick, thick, thick glasses and dark hair. Could it be…no…but…is it? His voice even sounded familiar as he spoke to his shopping companion who was retrieving a cart. She looked familiar as well! It was them! It was! My heart raced a little bit and fluttered with glee.  I worked up the courage to be that dorky fan girl and approach them in the produce aisle.

The Celebrity Encounter:

“Excuse me, I have to ask. Were you in Party Down [ie: one of the best shows ever!!!]?”
“Yeah…yeah, I was, and so was she [points to Kristen Bell as she picked berries].”
“It was such a great show! It got me through the winter! You guys were amazing!”
“Thanks, thanks very much! I’m Martin.  What’s your name?”
“Quelcy.”
“Nice to meet you, Quelcy.”

I was blown away by his sincerity and humility. Not only had he introduced himself, but he had taken the time to ask my name, repeat it, and furthermore, he had pronounced it correctly! I asked about the rumors of a comeback movie, and he said they had to keep pushing the writers! Meanwhile, the two of them were in Pittsburgh “to pick up some food at Whole Foods” and to shoot a movie together. Between Anne Hathaway in my yoga class and Party Down cast members at Whole Foods, Pittsburgh is becoming quite the little Hollywood.

The Uplifting Moral of the Story

Have you ever noticed how most life lessons have at least one kitchen counterpart? Susan Sarandon (and others probably) said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” Had I not failed my meringue but persevered with my dessert, I wouldn’t have had the serendipitous encounter in the produce section. Silly as it may seem, that little twist in my day really set a positive tone for my week. On top of the encounter, my friends really enjoyed the dessert.  All in all, I am a really lucky girl, and it pays to appreciate these moments in life!

Coconut Walnut Crust

Ingredients

2 cups walnuts
3 Tablespoons organic light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 Tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 teaspoon organic almond extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a parchment lined baking stone, and bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, brown sugar, nutmeg and almond extract until the nuts are finely chopped.

Add the coconut oil, and pulse to incorporate.

Press the crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan in an even layer.

Refrigerate until firm.

I know science would say otherwise, but I prefer to see the making of whipped cream akin to the making of magic. Suddenly cold, heavy cream turns into fluffy clouds.  The bowl of clouds holds the imagination if you stare and allow yourself a spoonful of creativity while the mixing blades spin. What do you see, friends..?

Whipped Cream Filling

Ingredients

1 pint organic heavy cream, chilled
8 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup wildflower amber honey
3 Tablespoons Kraken Rum (or the like)

Directions

In a large bowl, beat the heavy cream and the Neufchatel cheese until soft peaks form.

Add the vanilla, honey and rum and beat until combined.

Scoop the filling onto the crust, and spread evenly.

Fruit Filling

3 cups cherries, pits removed
1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions

Puree the cherries and blueberries in a food processor. Either set the fruit puree aside or strain to drain off some of the excess juices.

Add the fruit in dollops, and use knife to swirl the fruit with the filling.

Freeze until the top begins to set slightly. Remove from the freezer, and add the fruit garnishes. Return to freezer, and freeze until firm.

Garnish

4-5 large strawberries, sliced
Blackberries to your aesthetic liking

The revised and rather improvised dessert remained in the freezer until the kielbasa was grilled, loaded with fixins on a bun and eaten with corn on the cob and fancy butter. The dessert remained in the freezer while the band played atop a neighborhood hill. The dessert remained in the freezer until the happy neighbors returned to the deck with the beautiful views of a sky changing from blue to pink.  Stay tuned, and I’ll show you what that all looked like.

-QTK

Table Magazine + Porsche + e2 = “Drive & Dine Breakfast”

June 2012

It pays to join Table Magazine’s mailing list because when you do, you’ll receive emails like the one advertising the “Drive & Dine” event- an odd, yet enticing offer to test drive a Porsche at Auto Palace and then (more importantly in my book) be rewarded with a mimosa AND free donuts at one of my favorite Pittsburgh brunch institutions, e2.  Until Auto Palace decides they want to sponsor local bloggers, this was one of my few opportunities to drive a Porsche, so I recruited a pair of friends, who turned out to be waaaaay more into this than I ever imagined, and zipping and zeppoli-ing we went!

Red is my favorite color!  I think it suits me in its Porsche form, don’t you?

Ever wondered what the world looks like reflected in an expensive, German sports car? Pretty fantastic, let me tell you…!

Look how cute my Porsche loving pair of friends is…!

Rev it…

My test drive supervisor: “So what kind of car do you have?”

Me: “A red vespa… oh, and these two legs.”

Not having a lot of “car talk” to offer, I sought other avenues [intentional driving pun #1] of conversation with my passenger.  What’s the most unusual test drive experience he had had?  He once ended up eating dinner on a test drive. The husband/driver wanted to show his wife the car in question, and she was home prepping spaghetti.  Next thing you know, the three of them were eating dinner together (and probably talking mostly about Porsches).  Too bad it was only spaghetti [this girl ↑ = so judgmental].

↑ That’s me!

Step on that gas pedal a tad, accelerate through the morning [intentional driving pun #2], and next thing you know, we were reading the very Porsche-centric menu at e2.

Really this marketing event had me at free donuts!  Though I never expected to say it, a morning comprised of a Porsche drive followed by mimosas and ginger donuts is quite simply a very happy morning. Damn those rich folks.  They’re onto something with their expensive toys and lavish living!

The Fast Frenchy was my choice for refueling [intentional driving pun #3] with a few sneaky bites of my pal’s Cayman Carbonara.  How could I resist the creamy pasta with plump, sweet peas and chunks of salty bacon?!? As always with e2, the food was so fresh.  The style of the food may seem simple, but the flavors of each ingredient really shine. Even the toast has a complex contrast of textures and flavors- the toast!  Chef Kate has such a way with tomatoes and sauces.  Look at those beautiful reds…they’d match my new ride!

Me: “Heeeeey, Quit playin’.  Give me back my keys! Get back here!”

What’s next Table MagazineBeamers and Beignets? See you soon. Can’t wait!

The End.

The Happy Show

May 2012

Am I happy?

It’s a question I ask myself constantly. I want to be part of a world changing organization, and yet, I find myself dreading the day-to-day route to contribution.  I want to spend more of my day being creative, but I want that creativity to count for something.

Am I unhappy?

If I am, am I choosing to be unhappy? Am I merely expecting too much? Am I complaining instead of trying to change?

These types of questions had me watching a lot of TED talks on the subject, and these investigations led me to Stefan Sagmeister, who was also questioning happiness through design and documentary.  When I learned Sagmeister was opening a show at the ICA in Philadelphia, I marked my calendar for the entire duration of the show in an effort not to miss this quirky, talented designer’s insights.  Memorial Day weekend proved to be the opportunity, and I highly recommend marking your own calendars and making a point of journeying to the show.

“I am usually rather bored with definitions.  Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” - Stefan Stagmeister

My card told me to do push ups, but listen Stefan, I didn’t feel like it, so I traded cards, and I was pretty happy with the trade.

EVERYBODY ALWAYS THINKS THEY ARE RIGHT.

This is true for all the little crap fights in my own life, as well as for all the BIG CONFLICTS in the WORLD.  I, and I suspect everybody else too, was born a giant egotist.  I have had all these experiences forming my reality, and very much by default, I am at the absolute center of every experience I’ve ever had. These experiences are completely immediate while everybody else’s feelings have to be communicated to me, so of course it’s difficult to truly understand someone else’s reality formed by different experiences.

-Stefan Sagmeister

To participate or not to participate?  The precarious question made popular by postmodernists who sought/seek to break the rules of museums and galleries. We took Sagmeister as the kind of guy who would want us to share his favorite ginger candy from Bali, so we did.

[so sad]

What is my symbol of happiness?

[It's not inappropriate because... it's ART..!]

Welllll….[menacing look]…

The Happy Show didn’t draw any final conclusions, for how could it? Can one man really define happiness for many, let alone himself? Maybe.  He is on the journey at least.  I will say, his exhibit was thought provoking, moving and inspiring.

What did I conclude?  What did I really submit as my symbol of happiness?

A beautiful outdoor dining experience for a few, which is why I’m sharing my wanderings through this exhibit on this, the corner of posterity and blogosphere. As the image came to mind, it affirmed my goals and where I’m going.  I want to bring people together and help create the magical moments they remember all of their lives.  If, in the process, I can contribute to a world changing company, all the better, but I have to focus my attention more resolutely. I also have to choose to be happier.

Sorry, fresh out of money.  Stop back later though.

:)

Header_kinfolk

Third Time’s A Charm: The Kinfolk Dinner Series

May 2012

Once upon an internet stroll, I happened upon a beautiful, blossoming endeavor entitled Kinfolk.  Beneath a video that admittedly moves my overly sentimental side to watery eyes, was a manifesto that spoke straight to my sensibilities:

Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us…. Kinfolk is the marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends.

Thus, I made a habit of regularly visiting the pages of Kinfolk.  What impressed me beyond the refined design and the enviable places and products (and they are enviable!), was the way the site seemed to preserve  meaningful moments in time.  Reading Kinfolk feels like a quiet visit to a memory.  

Beyond the awe inspiring posts and publications, Kinfolk began a dinner series tour! When I noticed Philadelphia on the list of cities in the tour, at Terrain specifically, my mind began whirling. Before I knew it, my finger was clicking the option to enter the lottery for tickets. Fortunately, whimsy and practicality worked in a harmony entitled Memorial Day Weekend!

This harmony almost did not come to beautiful, burlap accented fruition. The lottery for dinner tickets did not favor me, but the Monday before the dinner, I received an uplifting email.  Due to a few cancellations, there was room for me and my guest should I still want to attend. Should I still want to attend?!?  Of course I did!

Beyond the excitement of taking part in a Kinfolk dinner, I was especially thrilled with the choice of location.  This marked my third attempt to eat at Terrain.  Please excuse what will surely sound like the “woe is me” ramblings of first world problems when I say my first attempt to visit Terrain (not just Terrain but a craft beer and local honey festival!!!) was thwarted by the heavy rains of a passing hurricane (on the up side, I prepared this meal for my friends, and they’re still talking about it!).  On the second attempt, I took my good old time meandering through the store then joined my place in line to be seated.  As my turn came, I looked at the hostess hopefully, and she announced my second failure- they were no longer taking names.  Hence, attempt number two was a beautiful fail. As I arrived at Terrain, yet again, the other two fails felt purposeful, as if they had led me to this third time, the beautiful, enchanting charm!

And oh, was it charming!

If you, like me, associated Pennsylvania wines with the taste of communion, then you, like me, will be thrilled to discover a wine that proves us wrong.  From what I gather, what distinguishes Galer wines is the intentional choice of which exceptional grapes are suited for PA soils versus existing PA grape varieties turned into wine. Dr. Galer also sought experts in the field of viticulture when he began his endeavor, which you can read about here.

To Start

Flower Pot Bread:  tarragon honey butter, smoked sea salt

Mixed Field Greens:  sliced radishes, wild strawberries, toasted almonds, micro basil, balsamic vinaigrette

Main

Rosemary Honey Mustard Leg of Lamb

Quinoa:  sugar snap peas, baby carrots, english peas, pea tendrils

Kennett Square Mushroom Skillet:  wild mushrooms, organic eggs

Sauteed Lancaster County Vegetables:  Fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes, dwarf bok choy

Sweets

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pecan Pie

To see the beautiful menu in its full glory, click here.  The design came all the way from a talented artist in the Netherlands named Anja Mulder.

Even the napkins added a clean and rustic touch, so I adorned my lap very proper like.

Do you spy the brilliant idea in the photo on the right?  I shall soon try my hand at gardening little pots of soft, fluffy and slightly sweet bread.  Beyond the brilliance of the idea, the bread was one of the most delicious breads I have ever sampled (and I have sampled quite an array of breads!).

One benefit of eating with foodies and photo fiends is the patience given to the documentation of beautiful meals.  These weren’t just any foodies either!  I’ve been a fan of Something’s Hiding in Here ever since I saw the tour of Shauna and Stephen’s Philadelphia loft, so meeting the incredibly enthusiastic and humble couple was much like a celebrity encounter for this dorky blog reader.

Sitting directly to my right was Sullivan Owen, who had adorned the Terrain barn with her floral designs.  Aside from being very friendly and talented, Sullivan offered me lots of business inspiration!  I hope to spend more time learning from Sullivan in the future, and if that time is accented by one of her stunning arrangements, all the better!

That wasn’t all!  Across the table were Andrew and Carissa, the lovely couple behind many a Kinfolk video, specifically the Manifesto video that drew me to Kinfolk in the first place!  I can’t wait to see what they culled from this dream dinner.

Quite the plate!  My favorite main was the Kennet Square Mushroom Skillet. The mushrooms were quite meaty!

One might expect the coffee to be prepared with utmost care at a dinner focused on bringing people together, and one would be right.  Two Rachels served coffee prepared specially for each and every coffee partaker.

They even sent us on our merry ways with a creatively packaged single brew sample.

Additionally, Sullivan offered her floral displays as a generous token of her talents, and the very stylish farmers of Happy Cat Farm bestowed organic tomato plants upon us and an extra pack of seeds in the little totes on a big mission from Nest.  The night just continued to impress!

It was a beautiful dream dinner, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!  My third attempt at Terrain was beyond a charm. Kinfolk shared their own account of the night through the multiple lenses of this talented and personable photographer. I love how dark and saturated Parker’s images are, and I was especially excited to see this photo made the cut.  ;)

Here’s hopin’ many of us cross paths again!

Header_Vday Finale

Valentine’s Day Observed: The Finale

February 2012

From the dinner, we settled onto the couch, to put my birthday present projector to use. You see, part of the present was a video, to him, from me!  (Did you catch that wee little rhyme?)

ps:  I really like almond croissants!

p.p.s:  That J.R.M is pretty special! On the grossest, grayest, NJ-spitting-upon-us day, he helped make my mecca come true even though this is how he feels about New Jersey. Why?  He knew how much that giant, lovable elephant meant to me!

Let Us Eat: Good Food For A Good Cause [Salt of the Earth]

February 9, 2012

This might be old news, but this little tidbit bears repeating just in case it’s new to you.  If you live in Pittsburgh, there’s a monthly opportunity to eat some of the city’s finest foods for a good cause:

Let Us Eat is a dinner series that takes place on the second Thursday of each month at a different local restaurant. The owners and chefs that participate in [Grow Pittsburgh's] series support locally grown food and Grow Pittsburgh‘s mission to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production by donating 10% of the evening’s sales to [Grow Pittsburgh].

The site selection for February 9th gave me a really good reason to dine at Salt of the Earth, not to mention my trusty dining companion had yet to eat there.

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

I’ve mentioned Salt on here once before when I took my out-of-towners there.  Though the lamb shank on this Let Us Eat night did leave me with a more lasting impression, I stand by my initial conclusions:

After hearing positive review after positive review, I was expecting to have several of those bites that burst from the fork, cause your face to freeze then turn away from dining companions, so as to say, “please do not interrupt me right now.  I need every ounce of my concentration to focus on how orgasmically good this bite of food is.”  I have had those moments, but I have yet to have one at Salt.  It’s not a climax, but it is a worthwhile adventure and learning experience, as most of the menu items not only deliver on presentation and overall taste merits, but the wait staff will helpfully offer a lesson on “what is cardamaro?” or “what is a sunchoke?” if you take the time to question the more unique aspects of the descriptions.

Having made a reservation, we were seated on the second floor, meaning a private table (versus the main floor communal dining style) and a variant on the menu display, which takes up an entire wall on the first floor.

Bourbon Cocktail
Buffalo Trace, Green Chartreuse, Meyer Lemon, Hickory

While the fella above pondered why any bourbon cocktail would ever be served in a glass so strongly associated with martinis (is there a bartending rule we are missing?), I pondered whether or not “Green chartreuse” was a redundant title.  As it turns out, it’s not. The mix definitely had merit as a thought provoker, but more importantly, it was a smooth sipper.  It made me strongly resent the slight cold from which I was recovering because I would have loved to have partaken in a drink of my own.

Starter:  Salad
Frisee, Truffle, Poached Eggs, Beets,

The combination of the egg and the dressing gave this salad a creamy heft, accented by the sunflower seeds’ texture.  It’s safe to say, beets are never wrong in my book.

Starter:  Gnocchi
Beef cheek, tongue, chestnut, papaya

My inaugural trip to Cure taught me a very important fact about myself:  I like beef cheeks, or at least, I liked the very first beef cheeks I had ever eaten.  Thus, it seemed appropriate to challenge this recent assertion by eating round two of beef cheeks.  Safe to say, I do like beef cheeks.  If not done correctly, I tend to find gnocchi to be a soggy little pile of carbohydrate, but these gnocchi had a crisp texture around an inner burst of meaty flavor. Bravo!

Main:  Lamb Shank
Polenta, chard, gremolata

Perhaps the one caveat to my aforementioned repeated conclusion was the lamb shank.  I won’t go as far to say I was closing my eyes and savoring every morsel as if it was the last I would ever experience, but the way that tender meat fell of the bone into the gravy doused greens and polenta was indeed something to savor!

The Sharing & Shuffling Game…plate rotation…

Main:  Scallops
Scallops, Mussels, potato, sunchokes, pancetta, olive

Kudos for the use of purple potatoes for extra presentation merits.  The mussels were especially noteworthy in this mix.

Dessert:  Fruit Cake
Chestnut, pistachio, orange, amaretto, egg nog

This fruit cake was definitely a far and distant cry from those holiday versions with the bad reputation.  The amaretto and orange packed in moisture and flavor akin to the delicious attributes of an almond croissant (without reaching the pedestal that is the truly authentic almond croissant).

I would be remiss not to add this concluding critique.  If there were local foods being featured, their presence was unclear.  As an organization who promotes the local, it seems you should work more closely with the restaurants to highlight their ingredients and the significance to the local economy, their nutritional merits and their environmental benefits, especially on a night promoting your mission.  I know Salt lists local/seasonal foods as one of its values, but I only know this from reading the restaurant website.  Had I dined there without knowing it was a benefit night, my only clue would have been the lettuce token of thanks (which I do appreciate).  I want to support your cause because it is one in which I firmly believe, but this is the second time I have put money toward the organization with little educational return.

The Birthday Party: My Black Velvet Bourbon Birthday Dream (28 Cakes for 28 Years)

January 2012

Oh friends, it was beautiful!

I curtsy to the multi-talented, mad scientist, Alex Mohamed for his photo documentation of the night.  Knowing someone else was preserving my moment in time really enabled me to act a fool (a true fool…just scroll down)!

(Click on the beautiful table spread photo to see the rest of Alex’s photos of the night.)

Good friends brought great food, the wine flowed, the Black Velvet burned, and a really memorable night ensued!  Speaking of that Black Velvet, we don’t drink it for its whiskeyness (it’s Canadian after all), and certainly, we don’t drink it for our health.  We drink it because of what happened here.

Don’t expect this to normalize what’s about to transpire, but allow me to explain (and forgive me if you have already read this before)…

On that dreamlike Fleatique & Pique-Nique Sunday, I happened to be wearing riding pants and riding boots and feeling very in touch with my [nonexistent] equestrian side.  One vendor even told me I carried myself with the dignity of Meryl Streep.  Keep talking, vendor!  In my flea market rounds, I spied a black, equestrian helmet.  It was a thing of beauty, but as I don’t actually ride, could I really justify a helmet in my hat collection?  I thought not, but as the market began to close, my nagging want at least merited a price inquiry.

By that time, Nicole and Nina were following my pursuit.  I found the helmet vendor packing up his already full car.  The price pursuit then seemed hopeless, but I asked about the beautiful riding helmet anyway.  When the vendor said “$12,” I though, “sold (but I still played my poker face)!”  Why not?!?

Nicole and Nina lingered by the man’s tables while I followed him to his car, which was literally packed so tightly, items were pressed against the windows.  Fortunately, the helmet was on the perimeter of the colossal squish.  He somehow pulled out only the helmet, and I perched it on my head (above my head really as it’s rather small).  I motioned to Nicole and Nina, “How do I look?”  The vendor told me I looked rich!

Meanwhile, from what seemed like a football field’s distance away, a melody could be heard.  “Black velvet and that little boy’s smile… [mumble mumble]…”  FROM SOOOO FAR AWAY, Nina was serenading the black velvet [velour?] purchase in debate.  I admit, it took me a moment to understand what Nina was doing, but once she hit the chorus, I made the connection, and I sealed the deal right then and there.  I had to have this piece!  A real Kentucky Derby helmet no less!

We tried to sing the song on the way home, but we couldn’t seem to piece together the disparate lyrics in our heads.  Every sentence ended on a questioning high note- a new religion?  Southern…?  We didn’t find resolution until we arrived home and gathered around a computer to watch the video.  It was then we realized, or rather came to a concluding question- WTF IS THIS SONG ABOUT?!!?  She (do you even know the name of the singer?) sings with all the passion of some strong emotion but which emotion and why?!?  Which emotion?!?  We never figured it out, but we did go on a delightful train wreck of a viewing experience (ie:  This and this one too).  Once I discovered the whiskey version, this song really became our anthem.

Then it was my birthday, and a few AMAZING things happened…

Well friends, the future is now!  Someone gave me the best birthday present ever, which gave me an idea!  Though Sandra, one of my absolute bests, was stuck in Florida, there was no reason why she couldn’t join my festivities, especially when the guitar came out.  You see, Sandra, Nina and I go back to 2002, and my life is definitely better for it!

You saw it here first!

Once again, I forgot to make a wish.  I was so concentrated on summoning enough breath to hit all those candles, and furthermore, I was already having a perfect night!

One last antic…

As a baker, I have a silly affinity for the band Bread.  As lifelong loves, Nina and I have a special appreciation for this song, which called for a rekindling of a dance we started ages ago.  (You might notice our projected version featured subtítutlos en español for some reason).

The night concluded like this…

It was the best!