Sunday, April 28, 2013

Art All Night

Last night we went out to dinner with my friend Stevie Numbers and his charming wife.  We went to the very middle-of-the-road Rivertowne Brewing Company on the North Shore.  The beer and conversation were both very good, the food not so much.

As dinner was winding down (after catching DB~'s oldest brother walking along the Riverwalk with his here-to-now secret girlfriend), I suggested we all check out Art All Night in Lawrenceville.  We missed going last year, so it was something I kept in my mental calendar for this year.  The Numbers clan was down for an urban adventure, so we agreed to re-meet under the 40th Street Bridge and Willow Street.

When we entered Lawrenceville proper, it was obvious to us that we underestimated just how popular of an event this was.  At 9 p.m., the streets and especially side streets were packed with people walking around.  We got lucky and found a parking spot relatively quickly about a block away from the abandoned warehouse/factory that was home to this spectacle of an event.

Art All Night is pretty much as it sounds.  This is the 16th year of it and it runs from 4 pm on Saturday to 2 am on Sunday morning.  It is free to enter and free to exhibit your work.  The event is funded entirely on volunteer donations.

If you were out on Saturday night and wondered where all the weird people were, I found them for you.  They were concentrated in Lawrenceville.  The dress code was....diverse.  Everything from long ankle length dresses to short skirts.  And that was just on the guys. (A few, not all.)

The art was interesting and some of it was quite good; the more interesting art was the mobile kind walking around the warehouse observing the art.  For a people watcher type of person, this was heavenly.  At one point, after seeing the 38th strange outfit on a girl, I turned to DB~ and asked "Where do they buy these type of clothes?" to which she answered "I think you make them yourself."

Obviously we were at Hipster Ground Zero, which is kind of funny since the last time all four of us went out to dinner, we ended up listening to jazz and ensconced in some huge hipsterism and wide variety of characters as well.  There was a guy with a spiked mohawk that stood at least 2 feet above his head in a series of 5 distinct spikes.  How does it stay up -- "Glue," replied Numbers.

The event was super cool, though, for as much as it seems like I'm running it down.  Keep in mind that the four of us are all pretty middle-of-the-road, non-artistic folk, so we were a little out of our element.  I'm sure Mrs. Numbers and (of course) DB~ are very creative, but not that weird artistic aesthetic.  It was a very interactive event with a section devoted to people painting live for all to watch.

There was also a model ( least at 9 and 10 pm!) who was being sketched by a circle of people.  And the bands.  Oh, there were bands.  Bands would have about 20-30 minutes of time to play on the stage and it was a mixed bag of genre and talent.  When we first got there, some type of metal/rock band was finishing up.  They were followed by a folk singer, then some banjo guys, and on and on.  It was good background music to help fill up a cavernous warehouse.

Nearly all the art of display was for sale.  The way that most of it was for sale was by bid, so you would just scan the QR code and enter your bid.  I'm assuming you were notified on Sunday if you were the highest bidder.  There were also some pieces that you could just go to a desk and buy, I think.

As we left at 10 pm, people continued to pour into the warehouse.  It made me wonder what the people who lived on Willow Street (facing the warehouse) thought of all the commotion, music, and people milling around their houses until 2 am, but I guess they were just collateral damage.

Art All Night is truly an experience and a sight to see, so mark it on your own mental calendar for next April.  It was definitely a trip that made "a life more interesting".

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homemade Pizza with Pesto, Goat Cheese, Pears

My friend Stevie Numbers had a Holiday Pizza Party back in December and it opened my eyes to making your own pizza dough.  It was hard to go back to making pizza on Boboli crusts after trying his simple but tasty pizza dough recipe.

His recipe is very similar to a standard pizza dough recipe you can find on the Nets:
2 cups of flour (I made it scant 2 cups to keep it a little smaller)
1 pack of yeast (I used quick rise)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 cup of warm water
1 tsp of olive oil drizzled on the dough after formed and resting

After mixing the flour, yeast, and sugar add the warm water and form the dough.  I let it rest for 1 hour (with a damp towel on top of the bowl), as DB~ made a quick errand run.  This was the second time I made my own dough and it was much improved this time.  The first time was perfectly fine, but this one was much lighter -- perhaps to the quick rise yeast or perhaps to the longer rest time.

For the topping, I made a quick pesto with some basil I had laying around.  I added a 1/4 cup of grated mozzarella, some pine nuts, and a splash of olive oil to keep it moving in the food processor.  After I put some flour on my pizza stone, I added the dough to the stone and worked it around the circle.  I spread the pesto, added some crumbled goat cheese, sliced some ultra-thin pears, and then topped with some chopped wild chives we foraged last week in North Park..

I baked it at 450 degrees for 12 minutes

It was fantastic and one of my favorite specialty pizzas we've ever had.  It was so light and the basil pesto was fantastic.  I'll have to ask Numbers to add this one to his deep repertoire of pizza recipes for his next Holiday Party.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Just Give Us One More Year, A.J.

After watching A.J. Burnett spin a masterful game on Wednesday night, thanks to a ridiculously good 2 plane curveball, I realized just how important Burnett has been these past 2 years.  Burnett has been something the Pirates have lacked since 1992 -- a true, bonafide stopper.  He's not a true "ace" like Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, but he is a strong, strong #2.

Burnett has also been a positive influence on the clubhouse and has warmly embraced and appreciated the support the fans have given him.  I didn't anticipate that Burnett would be like this, thanks to a less than stellar impression received about him due to some of his youthful immaturity and perceived "big-timeness" that I thought he would bring with him.

Burnett has already hinted that when his contract expires after this year he may consider retirement.  It seems that when you first start to think about retirement, you're all ready to retire.  But I hope that, selfishly, Burnett will give the Pirates one more year.  Yes, he has kids and a wife that spends more time in Baltimore than Jimmy McNulty and Avon Barksdale from The Wire, but his stuff is not waning in the least bit.

In his first four starts of the season, Burnett has racked up 35 strikeouts in just 24 innings.  I'm not the Elias Bureau over here, but my quick research has showed that this is the most K's compiled by Burnett in a four game period since Aug/Sept 2008 when he pitched for Toronto and had 36 K's, albeit in 29 innings.

A.J.'s contract is up at the end of this year on the tail end of a 5 year/$82.5M deal ($16.5/year).  I would love to see the Pirates re-up him for 1 year at $14-16M.  Normally, the response would be "the Pirates can't afford that", but in 2014 the new national TV deals go into effect and each team's share will rise from $23M to $50M per year.  That's $27M more to spend on major league payroll and I could think of no better place for it, especially when the Pirates' core player are still relatively affordable and under team control.

If Burnett would come back in 2014, he could front a power rotation that would feature Gerrit Cole and possibly Jameson Taillon straight out of Spring Training.  If Rodriguez exercises his player option, he would be the #4 starter.  That would easily be the best rotation since the halcyon days of the early 90's.

So please A.J. let's do this one more time.  I'll even spring for a tattoo for you.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dish and Cocktails

On Thursday, DB~ sent me an email that ended with "I'd like to go to Dish this Saturday".  No problem.  I knew she's been wanting to go there for a while, so I got on the phone and called.

"Good afternoon, Dish Osteria."
"Hi, I'd like to make reservations for this Saturday."
"How many?"
"Two, please."
"I have either....5:30 or 10:30"
(awkward pause, slight chuckle on my part)
"Little busy on Saturday?  I'll take 5:30"

Dish is a tiny little restaurant, probably 12 tables in the main eating area and another 3 in the bar, tucked into a house off of East Carson Street.  Parking is a complete nightmare in the South Side (and is actually a deterrent for us going down there much -- hint, hint mayoral candidates), so I dropped DB~ off at the intersection of Sarah Street and 17th Street.

"Where is it?" asked DB~.
"Over there, in the greenish house."

There's just a tiny little sign out front that says Dish Osteria.  But inside you're transported to...some part of Italy, maybe Sicily -- I don't want to say the wrong one for fear of retribution.

We had a very friendly server that was very personable.  She recommended making reservations at least 2, if not 3, weeks in advance.  Good to know.

We started off with an order of Melanzane Grigliate con Mozzarella di Bufala or Grilled Eggplant with Buffalo Mozzarella and some pieces of basil, if you're not hip on your Italian.  It was fantastic, as the eggplant wasn't chewy and layered with a lot of seasoning.  The mozzarella (boo-fa-low, not Buffalo, DB~) was a little charred and quite fresh.  Basil is good on anything.  I wish I had a picture for you, but I'm a terrible food blogger.

DB~ went with Halibut and Saffron Risotto for her dinner.  I wish saffron wasn't so ridiculously expensive because it is fantastic.  It just gave a softened, mellow vibe to the risotto and was a great complement for a light fish like halibut.

I went with the Tagliatelle con...Rabbit (don't know what the actual item was called and it's not on the online menu).  It was a tagliatelle bowl with a tomato based ragout of rabbit and garlic, with some mushrooms sliced and mixed in.  One of my rules of thumb when dining out is "If you see rabbit on the menu, order it" because it is somewhat of a delicacy and if it's on the menu the chef must know how to work with it.

Our server asked if we wanted dessert, but we decided that we were going to drink our dessert that night by going to Acacia up on East Carson Street.  Acacia was started by some folks that use to work/own Embury -- the erstwhile handmade cocktail bar in the Firehouse in the Strip District, now home to Bar Marco.

By the time we got up there, it was a shade after 7 pm.  DB~ wondered if we were going to be the only ones there.  We opened the door, with windows covered in newspapers, and were greeted with a torrent of noise from the completely jammed bar.  We were fortunate to grab two seats at the bar as people were leaving.

I started off with a Pulitzer (on the right in the picture), which was a mix of Gin, St. Germain, and Fernet Blanca.  The art of making these drinks is fascinating to watch.  It was great to watch our bartendress make it and smack the hell out of a piece of mint to "wake it up".

DB~ chose a drink called the Combier Smash, otherwise known as the new love of her life.  Combier, we learned after looking it up, was the original Triple Sec.  It has a lighter citrus taste than Triple Sec.  A half of a lemon and some mint were muddled with the Combier and poured in a highball glass.  It's a very dangerous drink, as you couldn't even taste the alcohol.  DB~ had 2 and was looped.  If she had 3, I would have had to give her a piggyback ride back to the car.

Between Acacia, Meat and Potatoes, Bar Marco, and probably some other places I'm forgetting, handmade cocktails are definitely the rage.  I'm not sure how long it will last, but it's one of those trends that makes you wonder why people would NOT want to go to them anymore.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Food Truck Roundup - March

This one fell through the cracks, so I'm going to post it now.  Just pretend you can fire up the flux capacitor in the DeLorean and I typed this a week ago.

So the last Saturday of March, it was a rare nice March day.  DB~ and I decided to poke our heads in on the Great Food Truck Roundup of '13 at Coffee Buddha.  The Pittsburgh Taco Truck owner, James, organized 7 other food trucks to join him in the cordoned off lot.  The event was scheduled to run from 12 to 4, so anticipating a crowd we got on-site at 11:45.

There was already a line 10 deep at the Taco Truck and Oh My Grill, a truck that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese.  The other trucks had a smattering of people, but these were definitely the two most popular when we arrived.

The other trucks in attendance were Fukuda (sushi), The Pierogie Truck (self-explanatory), Dozen Bakeshop (cupcakes and other desserts), a tricked out Ice Cream truck of some sort, BRGR (gourmet burgers), and Franktuary (hot dogs).  After surveying the menus and being mildly disappointed by Fukuda's limited selection, we both decided to sample Oh My Grill.

DB~ made the power choice and went with a double cream brie/pear/wine sauce grilled cheese with a wine dipping sauce.  I did a custom sandwich with turkey, monterrey jack, and pepper jack that came with a potato soup dipper.  It was fantastic, but not as good as the potential-heart-attack-but-worth-it from Melt in Cleveland.

BRGR drew a crowd by the time we were leaving, but the most popular overall was the Taco Truck.  Going solely by Twitter followers, James and the Giant Taco Truck (Roald Dahl?  Anyone?  Jeez, read a book) laps the rest of the field with over 4000 compared to the 1500 that the others have.

DB~ said it best.  Nearly everyone likes tacos (she met a guy recently who said tacos were "outside his comfort zone") so they show up.  When there, they're greeted by tacos with exotic ingredients like kimchi or jerk seasoning or Indian butter, so they're drawn in.  They try it and are hooked on the freshness and quality of each one.  Two tacos is $6 to $9 usually, you're full, and you had something interesting.  What a business model.

It seems like the last Saturday of every month will be a roundup at Coffee Buddha, so I encourage you to check it out if you're in the area.  Tell James I sent you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Steamed Won Tons

I've always thought it would be hard to make won tons correctly, but recently on the Food Network I was watching a show that made it seem pretty easy.  So on Wednesday I gave it a shot.

I put some carrots in my food processor and pulsed it a few times to get a good grind.  I bought a bag of shredded cabbage and gave it another chop to make it smaller.  Finally, I diced up some uncooked shrimp (after peeling and deveining them, of course).  I put all that in a bowl and added some rice vinegar, ginger, and a dash of white pepper and mixed all of it together.

I bought a package of won ton wrappers (48 in a package) and put 12 on a baking sheet.  Using a spoon, I put a small amount of filling in the center of each wrapper.  With a small bowl of water next to me, I dipped my finger in the water and ran it around the edge of each wrapper.  Then I used the most common technique for won ton wrapping by taking two opposite corners of the wrapper and bringing it into the middle.  I pressed the edges together to get a good seal.  Then I brought a third edge into the middle and sealed.  The fourth corner was brought in at the end and sealed all around.  I decided to make 8 more for 20 total.

For a finishing sauce I put some hoisin sauce in a saucepan and added some diced green onions.  After adding a splash of water, I reduced this on low for about 15 minutes.

I wanted to use my Asian steamer basket to prepare them and figured it would take 10 minutes to prepare the bunch.  I added some of the shredded cabbage to the bottom to cover the slats and prevent the won tons from sticking.  I set my wok on the range top and added a few cups of water to generate the steam.  The first batch turned out great so I put them in the steamer while we started to eat dinner.

As we were enjoying the won tons and the quinoa-goat cheese-currant salad I made as a side (future post), I noticed a little bit of smoke coming from the steamer basket.  There was an interesting charred wood smell in the air, too.  Both DB~ and I went over to investigate.  Sure enough, I didn't add more water to the wok for the second batch so the steamer basket was essentially smoldering from the raw heat.  As I type this, the smell of charred wood still hangs in the air of our house, even with the windows open on this crisp spring evening.

Even though I need to buy a new steamer basket, it was worth it.  I'll probably make some ravioli with the won ton wrappers tomorrow and freeze them for this week.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pirates Opening Day 2013

Last year, I went to my first Opening Day ever with my dad.  It was a gorgeous April day and unseasonably warm.  I was worried that my dad was going to get a sunburn.

Fast forward to April 1, 2013.  I was able to get tickets again to Opening Day, but this year I was worried that DB~ was going to get frostbite.  It didn't rain (or continue to snow as it did at 11 am) but the sun was fleeting and the wind strong at time.  It was kind of miserable overall, as the Pirates were totally flustered by Jeff Smzararjgharagagja of the Cubs.

Further complicating matters was the parking situation.  We got down to the North Shore at 12:30, an hour before game time.  I didn't figure I could just breeze into a parking spot like most other games, but I didn't anticipate the trouble I would have.  After not being able to park in the Clark Building parking lot, I dropped of DB~ and her dad and started my sojourn.

I did a spin through the North Side, hoping to get a street spot by Gus the Iceball Guy.  No luck.  Nothing around CCAC, either.  I went around Allegheny Center -- no good.  Over the 9th Street bridge for me and into town.  I hoped to squeeze into the O'Reilly Theatre Square garage to no avail.  Ditto 3 other garages.  I started to sweat a little bit and consulted ParkPGH to see that the Grant Street Parking Center (Greyhound bus station past the Convention Center) had some spaces.

I was able to park there and then hustled my muscle over to PNC Park.  I got to our seats at 1:20, plenty of time to see the national anthem performed by a Pittsburgh Symphony violinist that was aching to go all Charlie Daniels on it.

I was also able to secure my first Pierogie Race win of the year, thanks to Cheese Chester winning a photo finish at the end of his race over Sauerkraut Saul.  As for the game, it pretty much sucked. Hurdle started his (final?) season off strong by starting right-handed hitting Gaby Sanchez at 1B and Jones in RF instead of Jones at 1B and left-handed Snider in RF.  What's the use of having platoon partners in 1B and RF if you aren't going to use them?

Yes, it is only 1 game, but there are already some unpleasant memories of April 2012 when the Pirates seemed allergic to scoring runs.  If that happens this year, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hurdle fired with so much riding on this season for Huntington.