Archive | February, 2011

Will Work For Equality

26 Feb

The phrase, ‘women and children first,’ used to mean [that] in an emergency these groups should be the first ones given the lifeboats to safety,” said Heather Arnet, chief executive of the Women and Girls Foundation. “It did not mean, in a crisis, throw the women and children overboard. But that is exactly what the U.S. House budget does.”

From Thursday’s press conference about the devastation HR 1 (the federal budget passed by the House) will cause.
These past few weeks have seen an unprecedented assault on all that is good in the Government.
From the ACORING of Planned Parenthood, to the assaults on basic rights of workers, its been distressing and depressing.
On the other hand, there’s been this:
And locally, there’s been this:

And this:



And this:


And those are the ones I’ve been to. There were more efforts in Pittsburgh, even MORE in Pennsylvania, AND A WHOLE LOT MORE around the country.

Maybe we are waking up.  Now we just need to make sure we have plenty of THIS.

This is the Sierra Club folks standing shoulder to shoulder with UFCW Local 23 at an event at the Steelworkers building to support Wisconsin State Employees Union and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, among others.

That is how we protect the American dream folks and stop this billionaire funded assault on the middle class.

“If you want to unionize, they call you a communist. But you can buy a Congressman, they just call you a lobbyist.”

–Jasiri X




Ye ole booze

23 Feb

I am as susceptible to our national obsession with consumption as the next person.  But, not surprisingly, I like to buy food and beverage and food and beverage related “things.”  So when I go on vacation and am in a mood for prodigious over spending, I tend to buy stuff like these mugs.

I love it because it reminds me of the lovely time I had with my family AND I can use it to consume my favorite morning beverage every day.  (I actually choose my mug for the day based on my mood!)

This is a long winded introduction to this lovely product we drank last night, Blueberry Mead.

I bought it on our pre-vacation vacation in West Virginia (my first time there, it’s an amazing place if you didn’t know) at Tamarack, definitely geared towards the consumer vacationer, but at least it was primarily local products w/ an emphasis on crafts and art.  I of course bought neither but left with bags full of booze and food.

I’ve had mead. It’s faaaaaaaaaabulous. I’m not generally a fan of overly sweet drinks, but the honey flavor of good mead is a unique twist that draws me in.  This was blueberry mead. It could have been a spectacular failure, (think those cloyingly sweet local fruit wines they sell at the PA wine store in the waterfront and station square, *gag*) but it wasn’t.

It was sweet as mead always is, but not syrupy and the layers of flavor were subtle but distinct. Both the honey and the blueberry came through with authenticity.

After we appreciated the mead on its own, someone got the idea to mix it with champagne.

Even better!! It cut the sweetness even more (again, a matter of individual preference, but key for me) and added bubbles. BUBBLES!  I like bubbles. It wasn’t even a great champagne, but the two together were really spectacular. The champagne didn’t obscure the honey and blueberry, but cut the sweetness which made it much more drinkable.  The two empty bottles in my recycling attest to that.

The biggest drawback to getting consumables on vacation is they are often hard to replicate locally. I guess that is their magic, even if I am now wondering if I can make my own blueberry mead, just for this use.

Peasant food

23 Feb

I have more material than time to blog, so I’m going to throw together some bits and pieces that perhaps should be their own entry, but will have to learn to live together in harmony.

Peasant stock…

I’m not talking about broth made from peasants, I’m talking about my people. We are peasants. Unfortunately in middle age, my spreading figure cries out for a babushka and a plow.  This is definitely genetic. But perhaps also a little related to the fact that I. Adore. Peasant food.

Maybe part of aging is that along with developing a yen to try new things, I’ve also had the urge to go back to old favorites.  A theme in much of my cooking and eating has been old, comfortable foods, or new foods using old comfortable ingredients. To that end I give you…

Pittsburgh Potato Skins

We made these bad boys for the Super Bowl.  I prepared my potato skins then topped them with little chunks of Kielbasi and sauerkraut I sauteed together a topped it with a mixture of grated Swiss and cheddar cheese.   The smokey, tangy Kielbasi and the salty, tangy kraut were the perfect match for potatoes.  The cheese added…well, it’s CHEESE. It makes everything better!*  Anyway I thought these blew the traditional cheese and bacon skins out of the water.

Drawback? Lots of potato innards left.  And I hate to waste food. Solution?  PEROGIES!

I’d love to share the recipe, but I  don’t remember which one I used! Some have sour cream, some don’t.  I THINK this is the one, from Epicurious. But I’m not sure.

The innards were potatoes, salt and pepper, and cheese in the one. And potatoes, salt and pepper, cheese and sauerkraut in the other.

Review?  Saaaaaaaaalt.  Jesum is it hard to get enough salt into these. Both the dough and the filling cry for salt.  Other than that, I hate to admit it, still a little bland.  My friend made unbelievably good taco pierogi for the AFC championship, and mine didn’t hold a candle to hers. They also didn’t quite measure up to some of the best pierogi I’ve had elsewhere.  I think the insides needed either more cheese or a sharper/stronger cheese or more sauerkraut, or something.

So my advice is to make sure you use more salt than you think appropriate and kick up the filling just a bit. (I may have also overworked the dough just a bit. It was a tiny bit tough compared to some of the really luscious varieties I’ve had.)

PIE! I finally got to Dick’s Diner to Pick up a whole pie.

Fabulous. ‘Nuff Said.

*Except fish. Cheese and fish almost never works.


19 Feb

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been a little busy.  And a little distracted. Maybe you’ve noticed, but it seems that lately the country is under attack, and all that is good and holy is being assaulted.

I am frayed. I feel embattled. I feel like crying about 17 times a day. I want to act. I want to scream. I can’t believe the toll this is taking on me personally. I imagine its being replayed across the country too.

Someone emailed me to ask how they could help in the national protests and it took me a minute to figure out which national protest she was talking about; there are an unfortunate number of crises going on right now.

My response, and this post are part answer, part rant, and one relatively good idea which comes at the end…

There are a lot of groups fighting the good fight locally. If you want to help, find the groups working on stuff here and donate time, money or effort.

I think the other thing to remember is that it is probably not a coincidence that these identity issues are under assault at the same time. I’m angry at the assault on unions. Unions are VERY important. But the assault on Planned Parenthood makes me ANGRY. I see red. I feel attacked. It makes me stop worrying for a second about Wisconsin, or Immigration, or Student loans.   Divide and conquer.  But we must, despite the exhaustion despite over extension, despite the panic, WE MUST NOT let ourselves be distracted from all our shared fights. Unions, women, LGBT, immigrants, young people, poor people, people of color, the GOP is coming for us all and they will win if we don’t stand in solidarity.  Together there are MORE of us. Separated, we are “small” “interest groups.”

So what can you do? I don’t know. I wonder that myself every day.  Tweet, facebook, and blog all you can. Get those trends trending. Share petitions. Share exhortations to make phone calls. email all your friends 32 times until they’ve called everyone on every subject. Friend, join and fund the groups who are in the thick of it and answer their calls to actions.

Idea time: Maybe we should have a weekly happy hour to raise money to send to the embattled groups.  $5 (or however much you want) cover charge and send it to WI public unions, planned parenthood, USSA, Enviro groups, etc.  That actually might be a good idea…

Ok, crazy time idea.  We should do the happy hour. AND we should try to find bloggers/tweeters around the company and encourage them to do the same thing. Like drinking liberally except on speed and steroids.

I imagine a lot of us feel both the need to act and helpless. This might let us both use our anger to do something positive and give us the opportunity to be in the company of others who get it. We need to stand together.

Links on WHY this is a crisis, WHY this is an attack, WHY we cant lose.

Unions aren’t to blame for Wisconsin’s budget

1.94 million unplanned pregnancies and 810 abortions prevented because of Planned Parenthood’s family planning services….

Beck falsely claims Planned Parenthood assisting in sex trafficking

Final battle in the war against union’s is under way

There’s more, so much more. But I can only go so far down the rabbit hole at a time.

Until then,


In which I visit the famous Pat’s v. Geno’s in Philadelphia

10 Feb

(Spoiler:  They both disappoint, I present a much better option about 295 miles closer to home after the review)

As I mentioned last week, our last trip to Philly included a face off between the two landmark Philly Cheesesteak spots Pat’s and Genos.

Really Pat and Gino’s, as they are often referred to, is actually two spots:

Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.

Located diagonally across from each other in South Philly’s Little Italy, their rivalry is the stuff of great Food Television. Everyone from Diners Drive-ins and Dives to Michael Simons has done a show on the famous rivalry, usually with a tag line something like “Who has the BEST Cheesesteak….we’ll find out!”

So despite Philly Snowmageddon 2011, we headed to 9th street to do our own test.

Because of the controversy (and our parking spot) we started at Pat’s.  FYI, as my dad informed me with an ill concealed tone of disdain, “you know they use cheese wiz??” You can get real cheese, but in the interest of authenticity we decided to go wit da wiz.

At Pat’s we ordered:

  • Steak with wiz, mushrooms, no onions
  • 2 Steaks with wiz and onions

Overall impressions were “Eh.”

My dad’s girlfriend was really turned off by the bun which was quite soft. I didn’t find it overly off putting but coming from a place where sub shops put their subs on Mancini’s and other wonderful bakery bread, it also was completely forgettable.  The wiz wasn’t bad, I kinda like fake cheese product* but the mushrooms were canned and the onions were chopped small and cooked TO DEATH.  They were mixed into the meat and frankly added nothing to the sandwich. I was hoping for nice big pieces of onion sauteed and perched atop the meat, but alas the onions were virtual no shows to the party.  Worse yet, the star of the show, the meat, was frankly quite tasteless.

Disappointed but trying to show a brave face we finished our steaks and crossed the frozen tundra to try Geno’s.  In keeping with my commitment to eat responsibly we ordered one sandwich with wiz and split it into four.

I’m sad to report that the meat had more flavor and thus the overall sandwich was better at Geno’s.  In a face off between Pat’s and Geno’s, Geno’s was the clear winner.

However, if we consider each steak independently of each other and in comparison to some ideal cheese steak, both were flat out losers.  We had several major complaints that would deter me from ever eating at either spot again.

1. The bread. Both places used an insipid roll with little flavor and a texture more like soft, store bought white bread than a good hearty Italian roll.

2. Volume. Neither sandwich had enough meat on it. I was reminded of my High School cafeteria’s attempts to stretch their food budget and put half the required meat on any sandwich. There were a few thin slices of over cooked, under seasoned meat on each sandwich.

3. Size/Price. In my world, 1/2 a hogie is 6 inches (at least) and a whole one is 12.  These “whole” subs (there is no half option, so I have to assume it was whole) were 8 inches tops.  Eight wimpy inches.  But they cost $7.50 each (more if you got extras).  Yikes.  I’d have not blinked at the price if it were a hearty delicious sandwich, but it wasn’t. It was a tasteless, tiny, weak little effort.

4. Attitude. They make no bones about their attitude, it is rude. They will tell you how to order and if you do it wrong have no patience for your ignorance. We all agreed it’s part of their schtick and we might have put up with it for great product. But the product wasn’t great. So you are paying $7.50 for a tiny little, mediocre sandwich served to you by someone who seems irritated that you have the nerve to still be standing in their window. No thank you.

((I should add that I’m sure you can get a really fantastic Cheese steak in Philly, when I was in High School the one’s at Sal’s on 611 in Warrington kicked ass, I’m just saying the fantastic Philly Cheese steak you are looking for IS NOT at Pat’s or Geno’s))

Now, if you want a GOOD cheese steak approximately 295 miles closer to home, may I suggest Rudy Martino’s in Swissvale:

Disappointed by the Pat’s and Geno’s adventure, my chef promised to take me to get a good steak closer to home.  He was wrong, it wasn’t good. It was GREAT.  Everything a Philly CheeseSteak should be, except in Swissvale.

Look at that roll!  Can you see it? It’s a real Italian roll. And that “half” a hogie is easily as big as the “whole” thing Pat and Geno’s serve.  There is also about 2 times as much meat on it.  All perfectly cooked with less gristly fat and more seasoning.  The onions were nice strings (I’m certain there is a technical term for it but I have wracked my brains and cannot think of what to call them) cooked enough to take out the sharp edge but not so much as to make them flavorless.

And the real kicker, guess how much that cost?

Just guess…

FOUR FREAKING FIFTY.  $4.50.  For twice as much food and about 10 times the taste and quality.  Even granting P&G an upcharge for Philly rents, I still resent paying a lot for bad food when I can pay a little for great food.

Plus, at Rudy Martino’s you get the PITTSBURGH ATTITUDE. Which, as we all know, is congenial to a fault, especially when measured against the other Pennsylvania City to the East.

Go Us!

Added bonus, if you sit in the side room you can look out on a fantastic mural:


One final note, my chef always gets his steak subs with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.  I saw EW. BIG FAT EWWW.  I think this might be a Pittsburgh thing. We decided to call this a Pittsburgh Philly Steak. But  upon reflection I really don’t know if either preference is regional or personal.  Thoughts?

*Come to think of it, my dad has no place being put off by cheese wiz as this is the man that raised me on Velveeta cheese dip!  Yummmmmo!

Recovering lost treasures

3 Feb

Everyone has one. The cookbook their mother or grandmother eventually memorized the recipes in. The recipies for your favorite comfort food or most treasured holiday tradition.

This was my mother’s.  It was published in 1942 and I think I remember her telling me she got it when she left home to get married at 18 in 1955.

This weekend while visiting Doylestown I decided to let our taste buds talk over old times and make a Graham Cracker Cream Pie, a family favorite. So I pulled out the old cookbook and looked up the recipe.

No Graham Cracker Cream Pie, but I found Cream Pie. I wonder where my mother learned to put it in a Graham Cracker Crust. I have to assume home, growing up, because I’ve had the pie at Dick’s Diner in Murrysville (where my parents went when they were dating).

Armed with the recipe I set out to reacquaint us with this old favorite.

I premade the crust…

Followed by custard on top of a double boiler.  I know my mother didn’t use a double boiler, but I went ahead and followed the recipe.

My daughter whipped the whites into meringue and we added the yolks to the finished custard. Then we poured the custard into the shell, spread on the meringue and baked it.

Then comes the hardest part…waiting for dinner, and dinner to be over to EAT IT! My dad’s Girlfriend was still eating when he got up to cut the pie.

He is clearly as excited as I am about this.

Not pretty, but delicious!

If you’ve never had a Graham Cracker Cream Pie, get thee to Dick’s Diner in Murrysville and get a piece NOW.  (In fact I’d say if you are looking for diner food in general, Dick’s worth a trip.)

The crust is salty, sweet, and crunchy which is a beautiful base for the luscious creamy custard.  I thought this recipe had to much sugar in it and will reduce it next time. Regardless this is a good old fashioned custard where the flavor of the milk* is not hidden, the vanilla is pure, and the texture is more creamy than glutenous (like commercial cook and serve pudding.)

The meringue at Dick’s is piled several inches on top of the pie as it should be. Even doubling the white to yolk ration in this pie I didn’t have nearly enough meringue.  It should be a moist, fluffly cloud mountain, not the sad thin little layer I had, which, though delicious, was jut not enough.

Regardless of too much sugar and not enough meringue the Pie did not disappoint.  Close enough to what my mother made it brought back warm memories and earned itself once again a top spot on my dessert roster. Sometimes plain old fashioned pie really is perfect.

The Recipe:

*I actually hate milk as a drink, but I really love the flavor of cooked milk in things like custard, hot coco, milk on toast (another strange old country tradition).

Moral Dilemmas of Eating

3 Feb

We already dealt with the moral dilemma I have around eating meat while self identifying as a vegetarian. That one took more than a year for me to reconcile myself with.

I faced another one this weekend in Philly, one with broader implications.

Encouraged and enticed by numerous food network specials, including one of my favorites Diners Drive-ins and Dives, a taste off between Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia’s Little Italy has been on our familial bucket list for-EVA.

Driven by my recent personal commitment to move the BL forward and enabled by a soon to expire groupon to Eastern State Penitentiary, we set off for Philly this weekend with Pat and Geno’s finally on our schedule.

I tweeted it…

I was immediately met with a barrage of  tweets asking “you aren’t really going to eat at Geno’s are you??” And my bff in Doylestown informed me about the brouhaha over a sign at Gino’s “encouraging” non English speakers to go elsewhere.

Uh Oh.

It’s worse than she said for a conscientious liberal like myself.

Though he defends his English only policy as helping immigrants, there are numerous signs suggesting Gino is (ironically) anti (some) immigrants, anti health care reform, pro super duper gun toting rights, and all around extraordinarily right wing.

So now the dilemma.  And this is a general dilemma for people who are extraordinarily politically active/conscious when it comes to a lot of choices.

I try to shop at union stores (Giant Eagle) as opposed to non union (Target) or anti union (Walmart). I try to buy union made goods or small business made goods (Budwiser v Coors) (Craft beer v. non union mega specialty beer like Blue Moon). Made in America v. Made anywhereelse, Organic v. Factory farmed local v high-carbon-footprint made elsewhere green v full of chemicals….Whew! Exhausting.

Sometimes I go to the grocery store and a simple matter of buying dinner is so baffling I run out of the store with nothing.

For my political friends (and even just mildly conscious) the choice was obvious, DON’T. EAT. AT. GENOS.

But my entire family had been looking forward to this, including myself, for a long time. My Dad’s girlfriend said “this is food, not politics.”

In the end we decided to All get Cheese steaks at Pat’s and get one from Geno’s to share…a compromise.  I decided to be ok with this decision because we had been planning this for a long time and the exercise kind of lost it’s point without a comparison of the two spots.  We are never going back, and one cheese steak will not make or break Gino’s.  Anyway, I’m going to like Pat’s better.  (my review to be posted soon…)

So we went to Geno’s. And it was everything the controversy promised and more. I tried not to read the signs. I tried not to see the pictures of Gino proudly standing next to uber conservative icons like Rush Limbaugh.  I tried to heed my Dad’s Girlfriends dismissal and just enjoy the experience.

But I couldn’t.  And you have to understand, I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally LOVE me some food.  And I’m intent on not missing out on life’s experiences for much of anything.

But I think we have to be responsible with where the bulk of our support goes.  No. Let me restate that. I think we have to be intentional. All of us. When working class people buy cheaper goods/services because they are trying to stretch the family budget its important to understand those cheap Chinese goods are closing American factories. Now, as a broke-ass American on many occasions I can tell you, sometimes, even knowing your choice is making your country a little bit worse, ya just gotta do it.  If you have $45 to feed your family of four for the week, there are no organics in your cart, nothing locally produced or green if it isn’t on sale to be the cheapest choice in the isle, and nothing to consider except “will this get my family to the next paycheck.” Period. End of story.

Same to be said of putting shoes on their feet, clothes on their back and presents under the tree some years.  But I think ya gotta know what you are doing. And if forced to make a bad choice, I sometimes try to make up for it by sending an extra letter to congress or volunteering to make phone calls.

Because the choices we make even when it’s “food not politics” or Christmas not election day matter.  The profit off my $7.50 cheese steak gives voice to someone who uses it to bash immigrants (again, ironically). If he donates money to the Tea Party or Sara Palin or the Party of send-American-jobs-overseas free trade, then I’m enabling that.

I ate my quarter of a Cheese steak from Gino’s and it was tastey but it left a bitter after taste.  I wouldn’t get another Cheese steak from there if it came with a bucket of five dollar bills.

…….on the other hand….I reserve the right to evaluate this on a case by case basis. I have Republican friends and family and I’d patronize their businesses in all likelihood. Also if a restaurateur is a political but happens to be registered Republican, I’d probably not care. Especially because in that situation it IS food not politics.

….and, before you level the obvious criticism, I’d be OK with right wing customers steering clear of any restaurant I may open (in my dreams).  It’s everyone’s right to try to make the world a better place as they define it. Perhaps even our obligation.   I’m sure this dilemma will come up again. And I’m sure that I will make different decisions sometimes. But again, I think the rule is you have to THINK about what you are doing. If everyone thought about how their spending habits impacted the world, we’d probably already be on our way to a more solid future.