Tag Archives: Vintage

Returning Home: The Local

December 2012

Like many a young suburban girl with eyes on city living, my plan was always to leave my hometown. As a little girl, the suburban backdrop was ideal. I had a big yard, where my imagination ran as wild as I did, and I had neighbors who were extensions of my family. I had softball games in big parks, and dinners from my parents’ garden. It was ideal, but as I filled my time with more than games of tag, I saw a city as a better fit for my personality, so I moved.

The Local Train Station

When I would return home for the holidays, the acres of new cul-de-sacs and chain stores would taint my nostalgia. The character of the town was on the decline with each new development, but on this holiday trip home, I found a resurgence of character in thoughtful redevelopment. Very simply, I found The Local!

The Local

Through partnerships with local food purveyors within very specific mile ranges from their kitchen, the restaurant’s commitment to their community is apparent, “Our mission is to show people how good local food can be. Our target customers are those who care about what they eat and are motivated like we are to keep money in the local economy as well as anybody just looking for a good meal….”  [= me!!!]

The Local Mural

What adds even more uniqueness to the menu is the venue! The Local serves the flavors of its community in a symbol of the town- a former train station. One can imagine the hustle and bustle f commuters, maybe even railcars filled with the local produce bound for Philadelphia markets. The antique elements (dark wood grains, radiators, mason jars, etc) come alive with the accents of red and the personality of the mural above the kitchen.

The Orchard Sandwich

The Orchard Sandwich
Fresh local turkey breast, crisp apple slices, hardwood smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and honey Dijon mustard on a *French round roll

The Local buys their breads from Bakers on Broad, another newer place I was hoping to hit on this trip, but I’ll have to visit next time I am home. Unfortunately, all the early bird lunchers ate the place out of sweet potato fries, but the regular ol’ spuds did the trick in their stead. The sandwich was delightful, and there are still so many more menu items I’d like to try!

From the Back Room

Though the window views revealed white, wintry skies, there were a few signs of lingering greens, and I could imagine the summer garden beds brimming with lettuces, herbs and fresh vegetables.

Places for Growing

Though a big part of me wishes such places had been around when I began to forge my own food philosophies, I couldn’t have found this reclamation at a better time in my own development. This holiday I found myself seeking to understand my roots more than ever as a woman, as a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend.

Quiet Local Window

I came home to unearth buried memories, forage for deeper conversation and plants seeds for more growth. As the restaurant nurtured its community, I finally reconnected with mine.

First Annual Pepper Farm Festival (Pittsburgh, PA)

October 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, and it was on that Sunday the owners told us about an upcoming Chile Pepper Festival.

The First Annual Chile Pepper Festival was a chance to celebrate bursts of flavor and bursts of fall colors. It was a chance to see the farm filled with vendors and visitors. It was a chance to see the trees filled with colors. The owners of Reyna Foods, Pittsburgh’s premier Latin American grocer, created the event to celebrate the food they love on the farm they love.

Since my introduction to the farm, the barn had been transformed. More of the vintage farm equipment had been restored, and the barn felt more like a museum dedicated to old farming practices than the stumbled upon, nearly forgotten collection it felt like previously. Meanwhile, the outdoor area was a brand new set up of food and craft vendors.

Grilled corn + a slather of melted butter!

A grilled chile pepper (sweet) stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon

Somehow the bacon-pepper came out looking like a sea creature?!?

A Hoboken Gourmet sausage sandwich topped with HOT peppers! The peppers were so hot, we had to buy a Mexican Coke to de-spice our palates.

I’ve mentally planned so many events in that beautiful barn space.

Reyna’s isn’t exaggerating when they call themselves the “premier Latin American grocer.” The store is in constant motion, with fresh corn tortillas riding up and down and around little conveyor belts. Meanwhile, one finds Pittsburgh’s best, made-to-order tacos street side (I highly recommend the chorizo taco). The same taco expert responsible for Reyna’s sidewalk sales was sizzling meats at the festival as well, and this time Edgar the expert and his crew were selling lamb tacos! LAMB MEAT TACOS!

After finishing our tacos, it was time for a wander…

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate autumn and give the season the praise it deserves without complaining about the cold that is to come. Sometimes I just dread winter too much to enjoy the last warm breezes, but this day was the perfect way to appreciate fall in all its glory.

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
-William Cullen Bryant

Wandering Into A Dream (The Old Lucketts Store & Design House)

September 2012

Driving home from Chantilly, Virginia was a scenic route, and one corner of the scenery caught our eyes in particular. We had seemingly arrived in a small town sustained by antiques. Two houses flanked an intersection, and their scattered wares beckoned to us! In the end, we only had time for The Old Lucketts Store, which is a little like saying, “In the end, we only had time to see the Louvre.”

As fate would have it, we had arrived at the right place at exactly the right time! We didn’t know it then, but we had stumbled upon this antique mecca just in time for The Design House.

The Design House at the Old Lucketts Store is a monthly interior design showcase where everything is for sale. We bring together the best creative minds and the latest finds in a truly inspiring way. At the Design House you will see well-designed spaces that incorporate items that you never would have thought to put together. 

Had we not already filled a large SUV with wedding decor, I’m sure we would have tried to haul furniture, vintage bicycles, letters, tea sets and more, but as we were already quite packed, it was more of a visual feast. Oh what a visual feast it was! Mark your calendars and get yourself to that beautiful design house. You might just find me nestled in one of the bedrooms or whipping up something in their kitchen. I’m fairly convinced I could just pretend to live there until they accepted my adopted accommodations as true. Until then…

Fin.

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.

A Cookie For The Kind of Man I’d Be (Snap ‘Staches)

February 2012

If I were male, it’s pretty safe to say, I’d have obnoxious facial hair, channel the Prohibition era in my fashion choices and fantasize about having a dimly lit den, where my male counterparts would gather, perhaps even smoke some cigars (though I generally find this habit disgusting), drink brandy and discuss the world.  If I were male, I’d channel the quintessential high society, manly man (minus the misogyny) of yesteryear.  In a distilled manner of speaking, I’d be one of those Brooklyn hipster types.  If I were that man, these would be my cookies, and this would be my coffee!

Presenting another collaboration between yours truly on the baking/styling front and the ever talented man behind the camera, Adam Milliron, who has now entered the twittersphere!  Three tweets for Adam!  Tweet tweet hoorah!

Strong Black Coffee + Snap Whipped Cream

Strong black cuppa joe, prepared as you see fit (I generally press my beans in the French style)

1 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
1-2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup, to taste
2-3 Tablespoons AITA Snap, to taste
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized, chilled bowl.  Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form.

Add in heaping dollops to a cup of joe.  Political debates to ensue.

Snappy Gingerbread Mustaches
(Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups chestnut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamum
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly milled organic smoked black pepper
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg (local/free-range)
2 Tablespoons AITA Snap

Directions

Combine the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the molasses, egg and Snap.

Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough.

Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. (The dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.)

Position a rack in middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

To roll out the cookies, work with one disk at a time, keeping the other disk refrigerated.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until just warm enough to roll out without cracking, about 10 minutes. (If the dough has been chilled for longer than 3 hours, it may need a few more minutes.)

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick.

For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and transfer to a baking stone lined with parchment, placing the cookies 1 inch apart.

Gently knead the scraps together and form into another disk. Wrap and chill for 5 minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies.

Bake until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely.

The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in airtight containers at room temperature.

The Method To Our Madness & Make Believe

Want to see how obsessive Adam and I are about arriving at the perfect shot?  Here’s a glimpse into our madness.  It may seem petty to some, but finding that perfect spot for a sugar cube really makes our day!  Hopefully, it makes your day in some way as well!

Fin.

World Nutella Day Commemorative Brunch

February 5, 2012

Someday I’ll have a calendar marked with all the quirky, commemorative food “holidays” (does that calendar already exist somewhere?).  Last year, I discovered I had just missed World Nutella Day, but I did what any modern girl on a mission might do:  I marked my Google calendar and let technology take care of the rest for me!  Last year, I also discovered what I had always thought was the result of a flash of French brilliance was actually an Italian invention.

Fast forward to 2012, and my calendar reminded me I had a celebration in store!  When Italy is due kudos, it’s my time to queue Nina, the best gift Italy ever gave me (albeit it via America, but she does have the passaporto)!

I am not one to argue against the flavor combination of chocolate and hazelnut, but I do have a few objections to some other items on the Nutella ingredient list.  Thus, I made my own version…my own “rustic” version (my food processor is a bit on the tired side) and then put it in between layers of panettone bread for a really rich flavor and an additional nod to Italy.

Look what happens when we pretend!!!
(click on the image ↓ below ↓ to see us in action!)

We channeled the best of Italy- the curvaceous women of Fellini films, donned our sunglasses for a spell and proceeded to pretend we were sitting at an Italian cafe.

Little trays with a view certainly help the Sunday morning game of pretend…

Brunch beverages…

One Village Coffee (with a dollop of homemade whipped cream, perhaps?) and a cinnamon swizzle stick for a touch of fancy and spice!

Blood Orange Bellini and a toast… to our inner Sophias!

World Nutella Day Baked French Toast

I had some egg nog approaching its final days.  Being the daughter of invention, I used that egg nog for a really decadent milk source in the custard sauce.  Waste not, eat creatively!  Feel free to use regular milk instead.

World Nutella Day Recipe:  Baked French Toast

Ingredients

Organic, unsalted butter
1 loaf Panetonne bread in 1-inch slices,
1 cup homemade nutella
pure maple syrup
Goat cheese (Soignon), sliced
Mixture of cinnamon, raw sugar and cocoa
3 cups organic egg nog
2 eggs (local/free-range)
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons Frangelico
1 Tablespoon AITA Root
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Generously grease a 9×9-inch baking dish with butter.

Arrange bread in a tightly-packed layer in the pan.

Smooth a layer of homemade nutella over the bread, followed by maple syrup and the slices of goat cheese.

Use the remaining slices of bread to complete the top layer. Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon, raw sugar and cocoa.

Whisk egg nog, eggs, vanilla extract, Frangelico, Root, brown sugar and salt. Pour over the bread. You probably will have extra liquid, but make sure the mixture seeps into the top layer of bread.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Cut into squares and serve with maple syrup and homemade whipped cream.

Homemade Whipped Topping

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
1-2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1-2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 Tablespoons Kraken Rum

Directions

Step One:  Release the Kraken!

Step Two:  Combine all of the ingredients in a chilled bowl.

Step Three:  Use an electric mixer to beat until stiff peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Step Four:  Heap onto French toast and maybe even add a dollop into your cup of coffee!

Felice festa di Nutella!

[Mi dispiace io non parlo italiano.]

Finale.

Birthday Eve: The Cure for What Ails

January 20, 2012

Not only am I the youngest of five, but I was my parents’ late life, “miracle” baby.  What does that mean?  It means I do not shy away from birthday attention.  Despite what someone says, I see no problem with claiming most of January as mine (I generously leave NYE to the world).  Without stress about my fabulously young age, the only thing ailing me was an overdue visit to one of the newest and most promising restaurants on the Pittsburgh food scene.  Fortunately, that desire coincided with my birthday month, so dinner was no longer just dinner.  It was my Birthday Eve dinner!

I had heard the buzz.  I had been tantalized by insider peeks from my photographer extraordinaire who was working on the restaurant’s website.  I had heard the first impressions from trusted foodies.  I had admired the values and the design, and at last… at long last, I arrived for my turn…!

Cure
5336 Butler St, (Lawrenceville) Pittsburgh, PA 15201

“Cure is a neighborhood restaurant with a small menu focused on local urban Mediterranean food. [Chef/Owner] Justin [Severino]‘s vision of cure is for it to be a reflection of the seasons in Western Pennsylvania and its local farms.”

Oh Cure, I liked you even before I had arrived, but when I saw those wooden walls, you had me, you really had me!

Then I saw the tin ceiling tiles and the globe lighting feature, and I knew that we were forging something really special!

The reclaimed wood asserts its character and emanates its warm hues here and there.  This nook of the booth is part of the partition between the lower level seating and the open kitchen on slightly elevated, second level.  My curiosity has been piqued, and next time, I’d very much like to sit and watch the kitchen action.

I may have been smitten by all the wood grains, but I hadn’t yet fallen completely head over heels.  Don’t you think that hanging chalkboard menu would be even more dramatic hanging from old, rusty hooks, especially old butcher’s hooks or maybe something like this?  I would light it with exposed bulbs dangling from ropes.  I also would have chosen a bolder color for the painted wall.  A deep burgundy or a burnt sienna or a maybe even a plum.  This tangent speaks to my mounting obsession with restaurant design.  Let it be said, I will pick paint swatches in exchange for high quality, local food!

In addition to the chalkboard menu, there’s a printed menu for each diner.  I am definitely in the chalkboard menu/focal point camp, but the torn edges of the table version speak to the details in everything Cure is doing.  Sometimes chalkboards show a glare or you end up reading an entire menu to your dining companion.  This just makes sense!

Sitting in the dining room entails a wee, wee little game of I Spy.  There are little pigs in various hiding places.  One pig in particular recalled a happy memory for me.  However, once the food arrives, the pig kitsch will quickly fade into the background.

Let’s Eat…!

Salumi
lardo, mortadella, prosciutto, ciccioli, chicken rillettes, pate campagnola, pickled beef tongue, cornichon, mustard, red onion

When the name of the restaurant is “Cure,” when a little pig peeks greets you at the entrance, and when the logo practically oinks, of course you order the Salumi platter.  Of course!  And you don’t regret it!  This assortment taught me two things about myself (appropriate since birthdays should be reflective times):

1.  I like pickled beef tongue.
2.  Chicken rillettes can really hold their own if properly made, and despite my typical preferences for other meats , I will like them accordingly.  Cure makes chicken rillettes properly!

Sunchoke Soup
Venison chorizo, kale, goat cheese, crispy shallots

This is more than soup.  It’s soup with a ceremony!  The bowls arrived with the kale, shallots and chorizo.  I thought perhaps I had misunderstood the term “soup” until the server arrived with a deep blue creuset to pour the creamy base over the salty and spicy contents in our bowls.

This night marked the second time in my life I have knowingly consumed Venison.  The first occasion was also a birthday month celebration, but in the form of a chilli, that inaugural consumption hardly counted.

ps:  I ate this as per the strict instructions Nicole gave me to try it on her behalf.

Beef Cheeks
Apple cider, potato gnocchi, maitake mushrooms, celery root puree

Jono was gung-ho about ordering the more daring cut on the menu, but I was truly hesitant.  I kid you not- when I saw beef cheeks on the menu, I chewed on my cheek a little and tried really hard to imagine what that cheek would look like on a plate (I shouldn’t tell people that tidbit).  Knowing full well my little cheek was not going to give me the answers I was seeking, I asked the waitress for help.

Would beef cheeks fall on the fattier side like pork belly, the thin, often tough liver side or the roast side of the spectrum?  She described the slow cooked beef cheeks like a brisket or a roast, and I finally felt the courage Jono had from the get go.  On my last day as a twenty-seven-year-old, I ate beef cheeks, and I dare say, it was a very good decision!

Citrus Chamomile Curd
Crepes, hazelnut Italian meringue, saba

When our friendly waitress told us about the desserts for the night, she mentioned the pear option.  Then she described the crepes.  As she did so, she was far, far away from us, in a dream land where she sat at a table with a fancy crepe platter just for her.  It was a beautiful endorsement, so the choice was obvious.  I do love a tart burst of citrus curd, but I must say, I can’t wait to go to Cure on an apple pie night!

I can’t say that the crepe closed my eyes and sent me to a dreamland, but don’t you think that crepe was winking at me?!?  It was giving me that smiling wink because that dessert knew none of the Curers weren’t going to sing or make fools of themselves, but they were all wishing me Happy Birthday nonetheless.

That was just perfect!