Sunday, July 24, 2011

DB~ and the Blog Hibernation

Yesterday, DB~ and I tied the knot. It was a massive techno-geek-fest all day long. The wedding was shown live on UStream by one of DB~'s friends. It was a smaller type of reception, with only 85 people, and you had to find it by coordinates (we gave the address, but not the name, for those scared of GPS'es).

At the reception, the favors were geocoins for everyone. Even though we had a jazz trio, we still had DB~'s iPad to fill in when they were on break.

The best part was that as soon as the limo door closed at the church, DB~ updated her status on Facebook to "married".

As for the blog, this will be the last post for about 10 days while we honeymoon. But don't fret loyal reader(s)...we are going to Greece, which will supply ample material. And the Pirates are still in the thick of the race! August should be a good one at DBS.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Azul - where it all started

On Thursday night, DB~ and I had a date night of sorts. More like the calm before the storm of our wedding on Saturday. So we decided to go back to the place it all started, Azul in Leetsdale. Leetsdale is a fly speck of a municipality up Route 65 from Sewickley.

Our first date (DB~ says it wasn't a date, but she knows it was) was to cache together in the Sewickley area in mid-December. I asked her to pick the meeting place, but only tell me by coordinates, not the name. She picked one of her favorite restaurants.

After we cached all afternoon in December 2008, we went inside for some appetizers and drinks. Only last night did I find out that after that "encounter" with me, she went on a 2nd date that night! What a playa!

Last night's weather was a shade different from Dec 2008's weather, as it was holy beejezus hot last night. We figured we could enjoy some nice air conditioning, sip some beers, and have some great Mexican food. In the words of Meat Loaf "two outta three ain't bad".

When we got there, the place was packed solid. Couldn't even get a seat at the bar for a while. We waited about 30 minutes and were seated. We then realized that the AC wasn't on. At all. Sweat was pouring off of us. Our server wasn't super attentive, either, and didn't appear to have nearly as many tables as some other servers.

It took a very long time to get our food (braised beef enchiladas for me, fish tacos for the Squiggle). I had a salsa verde on mine that had a great amount of kick, sour cream drizzled over the enchilda and enough cool lettuce to give it crunch. The side of pinto beans were very smooth as well.

I was thinking about a lot of things last night while we were there. A lot of it had to do with the end of my single life. And I couldn't be happier about that because of DB~. Without her encouragement, this blog wouldn't exist. And then what would the six of you that read it do for food, travel, and Pirate advice?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Red Star Ironworks

I had the occasion to have a sign created as part of a project for my day job. I wanted the sign to be a little bit different, so I scouted around for different artists in the area. My love of wrought iron steered me in the direction of Red Star Ironworks in Millvale.

Red Star Ironworks is owned and operated by Peter Lambert, who has an inspiring back story of his own. Peter, 30, was not an apt student in high school and dropped out at age 15 and didn't really have a direction for his life. Knowing that he had an artistic side and liked working with his hands, he latched on with the owner of Iron Eden, an iron works studio in Bloomfield.

After getting his welding degree and apprenticing at Iron Eden, Peter started Red Star in 2001. It was originally in Oakland, but moved to a warehouse in Millvale a few years back. Red Star has built pieces for restaurants in Pittsburgh (a sign for the new BRGR in Cranberry just went out the door), falcon statues for gravesites, ornamental fences, and anything else that can be pounded on an anvil, welded together, and bent into shape.

When I went down this past week to check on the progress of the sign, Peter took me for a short walk around Millvale to show me his other passion. Peter and some others with Red Star have worked with Allegheny Grows to plant urban gardens on vacant lots in Millvale. He showed me three separate lots. The first, planted 2 years ago, had 20 cedar raised-bed boxes on it. There were a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and pumpkins. The second lot, planted one year ago, had a large amount of sunflowers and other flowers planted. The sunflowers, in particular, are rather adept at remediating pollutants that may have existed on these urban lots.

The last lot, started this spring, will be an orchard with apple trees and other fruit-bearers. It reminds me a lot of what Detroit is trying to do on a larger scale -- reducing the footprint of the city by turning vacant and abandoned parts of the city into urban agriculture. Detroit wants to shrink the footprint by reducing the infrastructure load (roads, water, sanitary, power) on certain parts of the city. They are doing this by buying out the few remaining residents in certain blocks and ripping out the infrastructure.

Maybe that's not what Millvale needs to do, maybe it does. But it's good to see that there is a grass roots effort to make Millvale's vacant lots useful. All by one of the top iron artists in the City. So when you go to Sonoma Grille or the new BRGR in Cranberry, think about Peter Lambert and his artistry and his passion for urban agriculture.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tagines, the Pirates, and Homeless People

Last Wednesday, DB~ and I went to the Pirate game with my company's two IT consultants. Before we went down, I made the gang dinner at our house using our new tagines. This time, I did a diced vegetable mix of red peppers, squash, onion, and garlic with a chicken broth. I then topped each tagine with a piece of tilapia and let it cook for 35 minutes on the stovetop.

It was served with a couscous (Near East box of Toasted Pine Nut) and some roasted asparagus topped with a pesto mix and pecorino romano cheese as a finisher. It sure beat having another hot dog, fries, and Coke for $20 at PNC Park.

After dinner, we made our way down to the game and enjoyed ourselves in the seats just a few rows behind the 1st base dugout. DB~ was on high alert for foul balls for the first few innings, but then settled down after that. Around the 6th inning, I made my way over to the left field bleacher section to meet in person for the first time a poster from Only Bucs. It's always good to put a face to a (screen)name.

Unfortunately, the Pirates lost and quite badly at that, to the lowly Astros. But they still won 2 of 3 from them in the series. This game was my 5th of the year and brought my record to 2-3 (they won both of the Red Sox games I went to). An interesting anomaly is that I have now seen every pitcher in the rotation exactly one time. There were many years that I would see Maholm 4 times or Duke 3 times and Snell 2 times.

After the game, when we were walking back to our car, there was a lull in the conversation. I decided to pipe up with "In the summer of 2008, I spent a whole night walking around downtown observing homeless people." That was a conversation stopper. 2008 was a "transitional year" for me, as I was working through some things. It was also a few months before I met DB~ in December of 2008. So one summer night in July, I put on some beat up clothes and wandering around town trying to see what the homeless did in the City at night. Saw a few prostitutes and probably a drug deal, too. I went to the Terminal Building around 2 or 3 in the morning to watch the tractor trailers come in and off load. There were a few n'er-do-wells there waiting to help off load the produce shipments for a few dollars. I watched from underneath the Veterans Bridge mostly.

So all in all, that night last week was the epitome of this blog -- it involved food, the Pirates, and Pittsburgh. Maybe the seemy side of Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh nonetheless.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Something Else I'll Never Be Able To Do

When ever I hear the word "banjo", I think of the movie Deliverance. The infamous "dueling banjos" scene where the inbred is playing on the porch, of course. And then I think of Ned Beatty getting butt raped and I shudder horribly.

Tonight we went over to DB~'s cousin's house for a small family get-together because her cousin (Kane) and his wife were in town from Colorado. After dinner, Kane went to get "Allegheny" and returned with a case with a banjo inside. He proceeds to tell us about how he hand built this banjo and he would play gigs in order to keep funding its construction. He remembered each grommet and bridge and string and where the money came from. The banjo had beautiful detailing and design on the neck. The bridge that suspends the strings over the "circle part" was made of wood raised from the bottom of Lake Superior that never decayed after it sank, making it super strong.

Kane hand-etched the word "Allegheny" in script on the banjo to remind him of his roots, the Allegheny mountain range home to good bluegrass, and the cemetery where Stephen Foster is buried.

He played a few songs and sung them to the 8 of us there. He talked about how in 1986 he hitchhiked across the West to explore the world and he would busk in different towns. He did quite well in Jackson Hole, Wyoming even though you weren't allowed to have an open case to encourage tipping. He said people would just stuff money in his shirt pockets as he played.

Just being a wanderer, as Kane was for a while in his youth, is such a foreign concept to me. My life is scheduled and planned and organized. I can't imagine just...freelancing your life. I found myself thinking of how semi-jealous I was of thinking of Kane just living on the tips of strangers and seeing the country one town at a time. It's time like this that make me wonder if my hectic schedule is really the best way to live life.

His songs were about life in the 1800's and involved a lot of outlaws, because that's what he liked he said. He even played an original bluegrass song that he wrote and fighting a fire (he was a forest fire fighter for a while back). I was struck by the simple beauty of these songs and reminded that along with jazz, bluegrass is America's contribution to music. I can't imagine there are a lot of banjo players among the youth nowadays, but I realized that these traditions need to be passed down. It's our way of keeping our heritage alive through the storytelling form of music.

Sadly, I have zero musical ability, so it will have to fall on someone else to progress this forward.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trade Target - Conor Jackson

In perusing around the teams that are seemingly out of contention already, I stumbled on Conor Jackson as potentially being a low-cost platoon option in a trade.

The A's are one of those teams that I really don't follow a whole lot. I think they're phenomenonally boring as a franchise. I see them mired 10 games under .500 and in last place, but don't really think much of it.

So when I went to check out the A's today on Baseball-Reference, I was stunned by how putrid their offense is.

They have since traded Mark Ellis and installed Jemile Weeks, but when you look at their starters there is not a single one above 100 in OPS+.

I went on to Athletics Nation and they are talking about building around Weeks, Scott Sizemore (trade acquisition from DET who washed out there), and Chris Carter on the offensive side of things. Yikes.

They also lament how all three of their OF's are free agents at the end of the year. Now, they do have Michael Taylor in AAA, but he's a corner OF only. So I'm thinking that maybe they would go for a Gorkys Hernandez-Conor Jackson swap straight up.

About Conor Jackson:
He was a hot prospect back in 2005-06, so Neal Huntington immediately likes that.
Somehow, after all his struggles with Valley Fever, he procured a contract for 1 yr $3.3M this year, so he will be owed $1.1M from 7/31 onwards.

He's a RH, so his splits against LH's are:
.316/.402/.395 (797 OPS) with more BB than K's. He's not good at all against same-siders.

He came up as a 1B, but he's been playing the OF too in recent years, so he can help in 2 spots against southpaws.

Conor Jackson is not made of pure unicorn horn, but he could be a low-cost acquistion that may do well back in the NL. Wouldn't be my first choice of a trade target, but there may be something there. Essentially Conor Jackson would give you what Steve Pearce would, but how can you count on Steve Pearce for anything at this point?

Gorkys Hernandez is reputed to be the best defensive CF in the minors, but even with his surge this year in his numbers, I still see him struggling to maintain a 700 OPS in the majors. With McCutchen, Tabata, Marte, and possibly Presley in the mix, it's hard to see where Hernandez would fit in with the Pirates. He may be more valuable as a trade chip than as a prospect.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Trade Target/Obsession - Michael Cuddyer

Recently I laid out why the Pirates should be looking for a trade in order to improve the Pirates for 2011. One of the players that I have had my eye on in recent weeks is Michael Cuddyer from the Minnesota Twins.

Here's the lowdown on the sitch with Cuddyer and the Twins:
The Twins are currently 36-46 and in 4th place in the AL Central. Even though they got hot for a little bit in June, they are still 10 games UNDER .500. You can't be considered a contender until you are at least .500.

If they win 10 games in a row, that would put them at .500 approximately at July 18th. At that point, keeping in mind this is a perfect scenario, they would still only be .500 and probably 3-4 games out of first place with 2 weeks before the deadline.

Cuddyer is a free agent at the end of the year and makes $10.5M this season. By July 31st, he will be owed approximately $4M.

The Twins had their highest payroll ever in 2011 at $113M. Their season has been submarined by injuries to Mauer and Morneau, plus Nathan's ineffectiveness. Their offense has been wretched for most of the year.

The Twins have both Matt Capps and Joe Nathan up as free agents after this year. Capps ($7.15M) and Nathan ($11.25M) are not living up to their contracts. The rest of their bullpen is awful, as well.

The Twins have a very bland farm system, with no "wow" players on the 2012 horizon. Kyle Gibson is good, but not a future superstar.

All that said....
The Twins can save $4M and pick up 2 prospects that can help them in 2012. I would think a Diego Moreno/Alex Presley package would work for them. If the Pirates pick up all $4M, I would say only trading 1 of them would be fair.

If the Twins and Cuddyer want to get together for 2012 at a reduced rate, so be it. They would save $4M in 2011, pick up a prospect, and get him back for 2012. Maybe things go really well and the Pirates re-up him for 1-2 years, too.

Either way, Cuddyer gives the Pirates a much needed power threat and true RH'ed bat in the lineup against lefties.

It all makes perfect sense. To me at least.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bloomfield - Pittsburgh's Little Italy, but how much longer?

DB~ and I have been spending some time in Bloomfield lately. It is the site of the church where we will be getting married 3 weeks from today (eye twitching ever so slightly..jk!) and it is where her parents grew up together. It holds a special place in the DB~ clan's heart.

When you enter into Bloomfield, you are greeted by a sign that reads "Pittsburgh's Little Italy". But when you cast your eyes to the right, you see the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern with a Polish Eagle flag painted on the side of the building and Polish Night Thursdays advertised.

There was a time when Bloomfield was a completely homogenized enclave of nearly 100% Italians, I'm sure. Even the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern aside there are other influences now penetrating the neighborhood. There's the Wai Wai Cafe restaurant of fine Chinese food, with a sushi place being built next door. There's a Starbucks, which is universal in heritage, I suppose.

The neighborhood has Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and a whole host of "mutts" from mixed heritages nowadays. Not everyone's last name ends in a vowel. There's nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but you have to wonder how much longer the old staples like Del's, The Pleasure Bar, Alexander's, and d'Amicos will still be there. There's a new place called Stagioni in the neighborhood, but it is gourmet Italian, not the true red sauce on a plate like these other places.

Bloomfield is a neighborhood in transition, partly because of pressures applied by the other neighborhoods around it. Shadyside is relatively stable and preppy still, with CMU backboning many of its residents. But Lawrenceville is in a huge upheaval of re-development, both due to Children's Hospital and the re-invention of Butler Street with great restaurants like Piccolo Forno, Round Corner, and Tamari. East Liberty has been well discussed on this blog, due to its restaurants, but I probably haven't detailed the commercial side of things as well as I should have. The new Target will join Whole Foods, Home Depot, and Bakery Square in leading the revival of this once-thriving "2nd Downtown".

And there sits Bloomfield. There are still plenty of tiny Italian grandmas shopping at Groceria Italiana for their plum tomatoes, basil, garlic, and oregano to make Sunday sauce, but they are shopping next to a more diverse clientele than in years past. That's encouraging, but also a little bit sad at the same time.