Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Out Of The Fire

While we were at the Pirates-Dodgers game a couple of weeks ago, DB~ was flipping through the program and saw an ad for the Wine and Food Festival at Seven Springs this past weekend.  She had always wanted to go to this, so we booked a reservation to stay at the lodge and headed up this past weekend for the Festival on Saturday.

The actual festival will be a subsequent post, but this one is about the restaurant we ate at on Friday night on our way up -- Out of the Fire.  The restaurant is located on the main road (Route 31) on the way to Seven Springs, a few miles before the turn to the resort itself.  It's set back from the road in a tastefully painted green building, but with very little signage.  I practically put the car up on 2 wheels as I pulled into the parking lot "hot".

The day before we went up, DB~ called and tried to make reservations, as she heard from her friend that recommended the place that it gets busy on the weekends.  When she called, the very perky girl on the other end of the line said the only times were either 5 pm or 9 pm on Friday night.  She did say that outdoor seating was first-come, first-serve, so we decided the potential reward outweighed the risk and would chance just popping in.

When we got there, the outside seating was full so we went to the hostess area in hopes that we could put our name in and wait it out.  Walking in, there were empty tables and only 2 other couples waiting in front of us.  There were seats at the high top bar overlooking the grill station.  After we asked to be put on the list, we asked about the grill station seating.

"We don't like to have a lot of menus out in the restaurant.  This way the food comes out on time like it's supposed to," replied the hostess.  OK....that...sort of makes sense.  Kinda.

We were then told it would be a 15 minute wait.  On a Friday night at 7 pm.  In an area where there are no other good restaurants of this potential caliber.  Yeah, we'll gut it out for a whole fifteen.  As we were chatting and checking out the decor, the hostess came over after 5 minutes and seated us.

So yeah....there's no worries about the lack of reservations at this place.  A couple of people called in while we were waiting and the hostess turned them away by saying 9 pm was the only time available.  DB~ wanted to grab the phone and scream "Just come down and wait 10 minutes!!!".

Aside from the odd seating practices, this restaurant was fantastic.

As an appetizer we ordered the baked brie in phyllo dough.  It wasn't as "melty" as when I make it, and we weren't totally enamored by the red pepper and onion compote served with it, but it was still a very good appetizer.

The stars of the night were our respective entrees.  DB~ went with a lemon flavored halibut.  Her sides were some goat cheese gnocchi, an arugula salad, and some delicately seared peach halves.  The halibut was flaky in the middle and slightly crusty on the top.

I went with the filet mignon.  It was cooked perfectly to my medium-well request with the grill seasonings forming a little unexpected crust on the meat.  There was a fingerling and lobster hash drizzled in bearnaise sauce (that I also used to dip the filet mignon in).  My vegetable were some roasted baby carrots, with just ever so much crunch, that were seasoned with a house blend of Italian seasonings.

If you are anywhere close to the Donegal area and want an outstanding meal, head over to Out of the Fire.  It is a very under the radar gem in the Laurel Highlands.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Rise of the Athletic Class

There are three economic classes in the United States -- upper class, middle class, and lower class.  Sure, there's variations within each (upper middle, lower upper, lower lower), but it's basically those three.

Since the turn of the millennium, though, I would say that a fourth pseudo-class has formed --- the athletic class.  Although this case could be made about any of the four major sports, I'll just focus on baseball.  In 1992, on the cusp of free agency, Barry Bonds signed a 1 year - $4.7M deal with the Pirates.  At that time it was the largest in baseball and the minimum salary was approximately $105,000.  After the 1992 season, the Pirates offered him 5 years - $25M to stay, but he rejected them and signed with the Giants for 6 years and $43.75M.  The rest is roid history.

Today in 2012, Bonds' $4.7M is what a slightly above-average hitter can expect to make in his 2nd year of arbitration (think Garrett Jones this upcoming year), not in his 3rd year of arbitration like the great Barry Bonds.  In 2012, the minimum salary is $480,000, which is a figure that the common man can not relate to, unlike in 1992.  Think about Pirates' middle reliever Jared Hughes -- if he hangs around for 4 years, he'll have earned $2M probably, just as he turns 30.

For additional perspective, by the time Alex Rodriguez's current contract expires in 2017 (unlike his body which started to expire in 2011), he will have earned around $500M in salary.  That doesn't even count any endorsements.

What are today's athletes, especially the ones that get the first and second free agent deals, going to do with all their money?  Using the Yankees again, take recently acquired-from-waivers Derek Lowe.  When his current contract is done, he'll have earned over $110M.  Lowe was a very good, but not great, pitcher for many years.  He can take care of 5 generations of Lowes with his money, ensuring that they never have to worry about a job if they don't want one.

Will these athletes put their money to good use?  Will they help contribute to finding a cure for some disease?  Will they go back to their hometown and inject money in the business community or help them pave roads or aid the (most likely) struggling school system?

Or will they sit in their silo of money and roll around in it like Scrooge McDuck?  Watching the athletes perform today is interesting, but watching the next 10-15 years and see if there is any spillover effect from them earning all this money is fascinating.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Positives and Negatives of the Pirates' Success

On consecutive Wednesdays, I went to see the Pirates play at PNC Park.  On Wednesday, August 8th, I went to see the Pirates play the D-Backs with my friend Steve.  This past Wednesday, I went with DB~ to see the Pirates play the Dodgers.

On both nights, I was heartened to see attendance above 25,000 for a mid-week game.  That's completely due to the Pirates being in the heart of a playoff chase.  But that increase of fans has led to a new strain of casual fans attending the games.  Some would call them bandwagon fans, but I think that term is more pejorative than necessary.  Extra fans mean extra money.  A recent study showed that an average fan contributes $29.30 per game.  That revenue allows the kind of moves such as adding Wandy Rodriguez mid-season and will lead to an increased payroll for 2013.

However, these casual fans are by and large idiots when it comes to baseball etiquette.  During the August 8th Diamondbacks game, Steve and I were in Section 108 behind 1B.  More times than we could count, groups of people would wander aimlessly up and down the aisles while the game was going on -- looking for their seats, getting up for food, coming back from food, waving to friends, etc.  The worst situation was when the Pirates had the bases loaded and two drunken Jersey Shore washouts strolled through the aisles looking for their seats, highlighted by them sitting in seats only to be kicked out 2 minutes later by the rightful owners.

With DB~ last Wednesday, we were in Section 142 in the Clemente Wall.  I always prefer to sit out in the OF because of vantage point, access to the Clemente Bridge, and the fact that it's isolated out there.  The people at the food stands are fans in the OF.  There's no cross-flow from other fans for the most part.  The concourses aren't as jammed.  We had much less occurrence of people standing up at the wrong times during the game, but there were fans that didn't really know much about the Pirates aside from "McCutchen is really good" and "Boo Pedro Alvarez every time he doesn't hit a HR".  The level of short-sightedness with Alvarez is at epidemic levels at PNC.

There are still people at PNC just looking to meet other people/ogle other people.  As Wandy Rodriguez and company were blowing the game for the Pirates against the Dodgers, DB~ and I went to the Budweiser Bow Tie bar for a beer.  While there these two meatheads were lamenting the fact that they "thought this bar would have a ton of hot girls".  Going to PNC to pick up young girls seems counter-intuitive to me; most colleges are done the first week of May and don't come back until late August.  In April, the weather is bad and most students are doing finals.  In September, students are getting adjusted to their new classes and in more of a football mindset.  It will be interesting to see if college students, especially Point Park and Duquesne, attend games in September now that the Pirates are in contention.  Imagine being a Point Park student and having a 10-12 minute walk to PNC Park?  If they were smart, Point Park officials should buy a block of tickets and sell them at reduced prices to their students.

Things are different at PNC Park this year.  Even though there are a lot more casual fans, just grit your teeth and remember that those fans will help the payroll go up in 2013.  But stop booing Pedro, or any other Pirate, for anything other than being lazy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grilled Corn

Here in the heart of summertime, corn on the cob is plentiful.  It gets repetitive, though, to just boil it.  So tonight for dinner, I decided to try and grill the corn in the husk for the first time.

I peeled the husk back and removed the majority of the silk inside, but kept the husks on.  I brushed olive oil  on the corn and sprinkled some garlic salt on the corn.  After that I covered the corn back up with the husks and put them directly on the grill.

Approximately every 5 minutes, I rotated the corn after it started to char.  I grilled the corn for a total of 15 minutes and would probably do it for 20 minutes the next time I do it.  Once it came off the grill, we peeled off the husk and slathered some butter on each cob.

The corn had a crunchy "tight" taste to it.  Some of the kernels were charred and had a great smoky flavor.  While it was grilling, the aroma reminded me of going to a pumpkin patch in the fall.  That made me think of Soergel's and how that's right around the corner.

I had a strip steak on the grill and DB~ had an orange roughy fillet that I wrapped in aluminum foil on the grill.  DB~ made some fingerling potatoes as our starch.  It was a perfect night to grill out and sit out on the deck with some adult beverages.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

People Still Make Stuff

A couple of weekends ago, DB~ and I met up with other members of my family at a resort about a 1/2 hour drive away from Deep Creek Lake, Maryland.  While there, we went to this little slice of Appalachia known as Evansville, West Virginia to a shop called Allegheny Treenware.  Allegheny Treenware makes handmade spoons and kitchen utensils out of cherry and hickory woods.

When we stopped in (you have to really keep your eyes open for the sign to it, off of West Virginia Route 50), we entered a little compound of buildings that had the sales shop, multiple garages/sheds, and the workshop.  You know you're not in the city when you get out of your car and see a deer skin tanning in one of the garages...with the bullet hole prominently on display.

Since we were "on tour", so to speak, a very personable young guy took a roughly 2 x 4 piece of cherry wood from a pile, traced a 10" spoon pattern on it, and made us a complementary spoon right there on the spot.  He used a series of bandsaws, belt sanders, and routers to get the spoon into its basic shape.  He then passed it off to two separate ladies.  The first "fine sanded" it perfectly smooth.  The second lady burned her initials and the type of spoon into the handle, then rubbed an oil over it to give it some hue.

The whole process, with all three (plus a fourth guy hanging around) talking to us while they worked, took about 8 minutes.  They then proceeded to say that on a typical day they can make 500 spoons or 300-400 more intricate items that they sell.  As you can see on their website, they have a whole host of other things besides just spoons.  While they do well at retail at this home location, the majority of their items are sold wholesale to craft markets throughout West Virginia like Tamarack.  They only do very limited numbers of weekend craft shows now after establishing their brand through 22 years of hard work.

We ended up buying other items in the shop, too, but I know DB~ and I will always remember how our 10" spoon came into being.  We like seeing things made right in front of us.  That's probably why we love our wooden fish from Tony in Jamaica so much.  We watched it from start to finish and got to see the craftsman work.

It seems nowadays that everything we buy is part of the manufacturing machine in China -- we're no better, as most of our Crate and Barrel stuff is from China, I presume.  But we do have All Clad cookware from the good ol' USA.  And now we have a spoon from West Virginia, too.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Clay Holmes

Every season in the minors has surprises and disappointments.  This season is no different -- Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco are among the huge surprises, but one of the less-heralded surprises has been Clay Holmes at State College.

Holmes was a 9th round draft pick in 2011 and received a $1.2M signing bonus.  Holmes was assigned to State College for 2012, as is the case for most Pirates high school pitching draft picks in their first true professional season.  The 6'-5", 230 lb Holmes has put himself on the map after his first 9 professional starts in short-season.  Through 43 innings, Holmes has allowed only 19 hits and struck out 30 while walking 20 (a touch too high).  His ERA is a microscopic 0.83.  Holmes has allowed an earned run in only 2 of his 9 starts, with one outing having 1 run and the other outing allowing 4 runs.  Those 5 ER are the totality of the runs Holmes has allowed in 2012.

Holmes throws a fastball that ranges from 90-94 mph with the makings of a decent curve and changeup.  For 2013, Holmes will most assuredly move up to full season West Virginia and probably be on a 110-120 inning limit.  With Rudy Owens, Colton Cain, and Robbie Grossman traded to Houston and Starling Marte on the verge of losing prospect eligibility, there is a lot of room for advancement up the prospect lists for Holmes this offseason.

The one caveat to this Holmes love fest is the memory of Nick Kingham from 2011 to 2012.  In 2011, Kingham also dominated the New York Penn League to the tune of a 2.15 ERA over 71 IP.  This year has been a struggle for Kingham, although he has been much better lately, but overall Kingham has a 4.74 ERA in 106 IP (although he does have 98 K's, which is a good ratio especially since he's only allowed only 32 BB).

Holmes will be comfortably in my Top 10 when I start putting that up on the site in November.  All eyes will be on West Virginia next year when Holmes and Heredia make their presence known.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reviewing the Pirates' Deadline Moves

The Pirates at the 2012 Trade Deadline were in an unusual position: they were buyers.  And not just like last year when they bought Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick for the equivalent of a bag of beans.  The Pirates traded prospects, major league players, and absorbed future salaries this year.

The Pirates picked up LHP Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros, OF Travis Snider from the Blue Jays, 1B Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins, and RHP Chad Qualls from the Yankees.  In return, they gave up Robbie Grossman/Colton Cain/Rudy Owens (to Astros), Brad Lincoln (to Blue Jays), Gorkys Hernandez and the competitive balance pick (to Marlins), and Casey McGehee (to Yankees).  They also designated for assignment super utility man Drew Sutton.

Overall, I'm OK with the moves they made.  They could have been better, but they could have been worse.  I'm not the biggest Wandy fan in the world and I'm less than thrilled that his 2014 club option now becomes a $14M player option.  So at the age of 35, no way does Wandy turn that down.  The Pirates did get $12M in the deal to offset his 2012-14 salaries.  I'm not broken up about any of the prospects lost to the Astros, even though all 3 were in my top 15.  Grossman is the best one, but he seems more like a solid regular than a star.  Owens should be an OK #5 pitcher, but Minute Maid is tough on flyball lefties.  Cain seems to not be a starter long-term and projects as a reliever.

If this were the offseason, I would be ecstatic the Pirates got Snider for Lincoln.  But I'm worried that the Pirates weakened the 2012 playoff-stretch team for a player that has yet to establish if he is a full-time OF or not.  He has 4 years of control left and any time you get a regular for a reliever you take it; I'm just not sure if the timing is right on this move.

Getting Gaby Sanchez (and some non-prospect reliever) for Gorkys and the comp-balance pick is grand theft larceny.  Even though Sanchez is struggling mightily in 2012, he could be a great change of scenery candidate, especially getting away from the zoo known as the Ozzie Guillen-led Marlins.

Chad Qualls is not very good and the Pirates needed to get something for the superfluous McGehee after obtaining Sanchez.  He fills a need for the Yanks and the Pirates get a reclamation project for Searage.

All in all, the Pirates helped the 2012 roster a little and potentially helped the 2013 and beyond rosters a lot. The Braves did not improve more than the Pirates (Maholm and Reed Johnson), neither did the Reds (Jonathan Broxton) nor the Cards (Edward Mujica).  The Giants added Hunter Pence and the Dodgers spent wildly on Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, and Shane Victorino, but I'm not sure any power balance was tipped.  The Pirates still lead the wild card race on August 2nd with a very favorable schedule in the balance.

I can't believe the Pirates are legitimate playoff contenders.  It's a weird sensation.