Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yam Casserole for Everyone!

When db` came on the scene, DB~ suggested that we make his baby food ourselves.  It's healthy, cheaper than buying the jars, and we know what's in it.  We'll make a batch of whatever pureed vegetable we buy for him (avocado, carrot, squash) and then freeze it in ice cube trays.  After the cubes have frozen, we put them in a Ziploc bag and take 1 or 2 cubes out for him for his meals.

My local Giant Eagle had a Manager's Special on yams, as they apparently WAY overbought for the holiday season.  At first, I thought the sign said 4 yams for $1.  Man, 25 cents a yam?  Great deal.  When I got closer, it actually said 4 LBS for $1.  I still got just four yams, but it cost me a whopping 54 cents.  That's only 13 cents a yam!

After I peeled the yam, I cut it into four chunks and put into boiling water for 15 minutes until fork tender.  I put them in the food processor and added a little of the starchy water from the boiling process to help blend them smoothly.  In one minute of steady processing, it was a perfectly smooth blend.  We got seven cubes out of yam for db`.  In essence, each db' cube only cost 2 cents.  He's basically eating for free.

DB~ looked at the db' yam mix and said that it looked pretty good, so tonight for dinner I peeled and boiled the remaining three yams.  I processed one yam for db` and got another seven cubes for him.  But for us, I processed the other two yams, then put the puree in a casserole dish.  I added approximately 1/4 cup of brown sugar, two teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice mix, and mixed it together.  Finally, I topped with some tiny marshmallows.  I baked this at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  The marshmallows melted in to the mix and the brown sugar/spice mix gave it a deep, rich tone.  The mix was so smooth and inviting to eat.

So, yes, essentially we're eating augmented baby food.  Tonight, it was pretty good.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Having a tiny widget like db` has caused us to re-evaluate our social agenda.  Specifically, the fact that our time is no longer our time, but rather it's a byproduct of what db` allows us to have.  Rather than become homebound hermits, DB~ came up with an interesting idea -- go to interesting places for lunch, rather than dinner.  This allows us to feel "normal" while still preserving the all-important nighttime routine for db`.

Our choice this Saturday was Franktuary in Lawrenceville.  With the unfortunate closing of Station Street Hot Dogs, Franktuary is the premier place for gourmet, creative hot dogs.  We had not been to the "new" place in Lawrenceville, so we were thinking it would just be a small place with a counter.

Instead, it's a full sit-down place with a decor that is old-timey with some church elements, such as pews for booth seating.  It also features a full bar with a barman mixing up Prohibition-era cocktails.  Ten years ago, you couldn't find a place in Pittsburgh making such cocktails.  Now you can have one with a hot dog.

Franktuary's menu is robust.  Your hot dog can be a "standard" hot dog or different types of sausages or tofu, if you're a weirdo.  After that, there are different condiments you can get (some free, others for a charge) and up to 13 styles of hot dogs.

DB~ selected the PA Dutch Dog, with a side order of Garbanzo Fries, purely out of curiosity.  Her hot dog was topped with apple jam, cheddar cheese sauce, and scallions.  Of the three hot dogs between us, hers was my favorite.  The Garbanzo Fries were plainish, but excellent.  The garbanzo beans were pureed together, formed into rectangles, then (presumably) fried.  They were light and served with a delightful ranch sauce infused with dill.

My two selections were the Bangkok and the Memphis.  The Bangkok was a Thai-inspired hot dog with peanut sauce, carrot shreds, and cilantro.  I'm not typically a fan of peanut sauces -- maybe a teriyaki sauce? -- but this worked well here, as peanut sauce are a key Thai cornerstone.  The Memphis had barbeque sauce, cole slaw, and potato straws.  It was good, not great, but certainly didn't detract from our overall love of Franktuary.

We'll definitely be back, with db` in tow.  Long live the infant-infused lunch.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Beer Cheese Soup

We're really embracing fall this year, probably more than any other year in memory.  Lot of soups, stews, and casseroles.  It's probably, at least on a sub-conscious level, because we're home a lot more with db`.

We loved this restaurant called Ziggy's that is no longer open, especially their beer cheese soup served with a pretzel on the side.  DB~ found a good recipe and we decided to give it a shot.

To my dutch oven, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and then added a diced mix of onion, celery, and carrot for the base.  Once this got soft after 8 minutes, I tossed in two diced cloves of garlic for another minute.

After that I added 1/4 cup of flour and tossed it with the vegetables to coat for 2 minutes.  I then added 4 cups of chicken stock to complete the base.  I let this simmer for 40 minutes.  Once the simmer was done, I took the vegetables out and put them in the food processor with a little chicken stock base to make it smooth.  Once they were all processed, I put them back in the dutch oven.

Now comes the part where it turns delicious.

I added 6 oz of Yuengling (the rest is for you!), 8 oz of shredded yellow cheddar and 8 oz of shredded white cheddar cheeses, and 4 oz of cream cheese.  It's important that the heat is just below boil so that these dairy products don't separate.  Whisk well so they all blend in nicely and don't clump.

Then put in 1 cup of heavy cream, a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard, some salt and pepper.  Let it simmer for a few minutes.  DB~ made little pretzel rolls out of frozen Rhodes dinner rolls.  She melted some butter on top of them and sprinkled some sea salt, baked them for 10 minutes until they got a deep brown.

It's been a good fall for eatin' around these parts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pirate-Yankee Pipeline Still Flowing Strong

Sometimes you can tell that Fall is in the air.  The crisp, biting wind that riffles through your hair.  Ever-present pumpkins and hay bales.  The smell of burning leaves in the air.

And the Pirates getting a catcher from the Yankees.

Two years ago, the Pirates signed Russell Martin away from the Yankees (let that sink in for a second) to a 2 year/$17M deal.  Last year, the Pirates traded for Chris Stewart.  And on Tuesday, the Pirates traded LHP Justin Wilson for Francisco Cervelli.

Not only were all three of those catchers Yankees, but they also grade out as excellent pitch framers.  Cervelli's career has been forestalled by a series of odd injuries and a PED suspension, but in his limited action he appears to be a poor man's Russell Martin.

Cervelli has good power, especially for a catcher, and he can get on base.  His OBP last year was .371 and stands at .348 for his career.  For the projected estimate of $1.1M, Cervelli should be a bargain this year for the Pirates.  As long as he can stay on the field, which has been his issue.

At first blush, this looks like the Pirates admitting that Russell Martin won't be coming back.  The Pirates, perhaps to preserve positive public opinion, contend that they are still strongly pursuing Martin and Cervelli could be his backup.  Presumably, Stewart would be non-tendered in that scenario.  Otherwise, Cervelli and Stewart will be the tandem in 2015.

The only thing I know is that if he wants to save time, the equipment manager for the Pirates should start getting a jersey ready for J.R. Murphy in 2016.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Stuffed Red Peppers

For whatever reason (and it's probably some sort of disturbing psychological reason), I enjoy when foods are stuffed inside of other food.  One of my favorite recipes to make is a variation on a classic recipe -- Stuffed Peppers.  

When I was a kid, that meant ground meat in a tomato-based sauce.  It was simple, hearty, but heavy.  My variation is a vegetarian recipe for DB~.  My least favorite food are mushrooms, at least in their whole state.  Used in a sauce, they're not bad, so I decided to do a rich mushroom sauce for my girl.

First I cooked some Arborio rice just as the straight recipe, not as a risotto.  It was still creamy when done.  While still warm, I added some dry cranberries in an effort to re-hydrate them a little bit.  I added some feta, dry basil leaves, salt/pepper, and a little chicken broth to keep it all moist.

While the Arborio was cooking, I started the mushroom sauce.  I first melted down a couple of tablespoons of butter, then added two cloves of garlic and sauteed them down.  I added a dash of pepper and then a cup and a half of diced mushrooms.  Once that mix was softened, I added a cup of chicken stock and cooked on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.  At the end, I added a couple of tbsp of more butter to make it rich.

Once the sauce was done, I spooned it over the stuffed peppers (which were split in half and laying on their sides).  In the 8 x 8 baking dish, once the peppers were packed in, I added some more chicken stock around the peppers to keep them moist in the oven.  I baked them for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

In the middle, I did some sauteed zucchini with an Italian herb seasoning.  Even though mushrooms grow in the dark and are fungi, I actually like them in a sauce, especially when they make DB~ happy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Francisco Liriano and the Qualifying Offer

On Monday, the deadline passed and 12 players received 1 yr Qualifying Offers valued at $15.3M for 2015.  The Detroit Tigers tendered two players (Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer) and your Pittsburgh Pirates were the only other team to have multiple offers (Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano).

The Pirates are willing to take the gamble that if Martin and Liriano accept the QO, they will be paying $30.6M to just two players next year.  But in reality, it's not a gamble at all.  Martin is in high demand and will easily command a 4 or 5 year deal worth at least $50M total.  Some members of the Pittsburgh media (and, to be fair, the national media) feel that Liriano could be the first player in the history of offering QO's to accept it.

There is absolutely no way he will.  Liriano will pitch 2015 in his age-31 season.  Even though he's pitched just 160 innings in both 2013 and 2014, he's pitched as a #2 starter caliber pitcher.  The combination of his age and his skill level, especially from the left side, will make him a highly sought after commodity in the second tier of pitchers, after Lester/Scherzer/Shields.

Liriano will get a 3 year deal quite easily for probably $14M/year.  There's a possibility that a team may even go 4 years.  I'd love to see the Pirates re-sign him for a 3 year/$36M deal, but he's probably going to get into the $40M+ range rather easily.  Liriano would be the perfect #2 behind Cole this year and act as a good bridge when Jameson Taillon comes up later in 2015.

Liriano is probably going to wait until the big 3 pitchers sign their deals.  I hope that by early December the Pirates know if he'll on the bump for them in PNC Park for 2015 and beyond.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Emporio - A Meatball Joint

Last week, we were feeling bold, so we decided to take our infant son (db`) downtown for lunch.  Since he's a little meatball, we decided to go get some meatballs at Emporio - A Meatball Joint.  This is the bold new venture from Matthew Porco, owner of the excellent Sienna Sulla Piazza in Market Square.

Emporio is part of a three restaurant setup collectively known as Sienna Mercato.  It sits on the bottom floor, Mezzo (appropriately) sits on the mezzanine and is a wine and pizza setup, with Il Tetto consisting of a rooftop beer garden and small plates.

When we entered, it immediately reminded us both of the interior of Tenpenny, right up the street just a block away.  If the same interior designer didn't do both, then the two firms were on the same wavelength.  Dark, rough hewn wood interior with bare yellowish bulbs in mason jar holders suspended from the ceiling.  Very cozy and welcoming.

It's a pretty interesting setup at Emporio, as far as meatballs go.  It's kind of like a fast food style menu, disguised as a gourmet meatball joint.  By that, I mean you can order from 4 types of meatballs -- classic beef, pork, turkey, vegetarian -- and pair them with a host of different sauces, at least 10, plus a special one of the day.  You can also order 1 meatball as a slider, 2 smashed together on a panini, 3 on a meatball sub, or 4 as a mega treat known as "saucy balls".  Snicker.

DB~ went with a turkey meatball slider topped with an almond spinach pesto.  She also got the mac and cheese side dish with "government cheese" (american).  She loved the meatball; you definitely don't get cheated on the sauce.  She also really liked the mac and cheese, although she didn't get a chance to finish all of it -- more on that later.

I went with the 3 meatball sub of beef meatballs, topped with pork bolognese sauce, and provolone cheese.  It was a huge sub and full of sauce, so much so that I actually ate the first few bites with a fork.

My meatball was light, which is the opposite of what a meatball usually is.  I'm guessing it had some bread crumb/cheese mix to lighten the load of the beef, but it also had a great herb mix.  Of course there was oregano, but I couldn't tell if there was basil in there, too.

Our stay was slightly shortened when we looked over and saw db` grunting and his face turning red.  Not only did he poop himself, but the angle he was sitting in his car seat caused it to go down his leg all the way to his sock.  DB~ got to see the wonders of Emporio's baby changing station.  I suggested we just change him in the trunk of our crossover.

Poopnado aside, Emporio is excellent.  As I've been typing this and talking to DB~, we both fondly recalled our lunch.  We have to get back soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Baked Chickpeas

Tired of having rice or potatoes as your side dish, but still blissfully in need of a starch for balance on the plate?  May I recommend trying baked chickpeas instead?

Chickpeas may not be everyone's favorite bag of tea.  They have a slightly nutty flavor that could turn people off, plus their name isn't cool sounding.  But this recipe is easy to make and great tasting.

Preheat your oven to 375.  For two people, open one can of chickpeas and rinse them in a colander in the sink.  Then place them in a baking dish that has a lid that can on top.  Drizzle the chickpeas lightly with some olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Dice up a 1/4 cup of onion and 1 clove of garlic.  If you're feeling zany, put a dash of paprika on them too.  Mix the whole concoction together, add a little water to the baking dish to just come up to the sides of the chickpeas.  Put the baking dish with the lid on in the oven for 1 hour.

The first time I made this, I did them at 300 degrees for 2 hours, but people don't have that kind of time during the week.  Heck, with a 1 hour lag time, you have to pop these in the oven as soon as you walk in the door from work.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Discussing Russell Martin

The Pirates' season ended earlier than I anticipated.  I thought the Pirates could beat the Giants at home, but I didn't anticipate Bumgarner pitching an absolute masterpiece in the Wild Card.

So the Pirates are getting an earlier-than-hoped start to the offseason.  For Neal Huntington, that means working on his to-do list on forming the 2015 roster.  At the top of that list is signing Russell Martin.

Bob Nutting has given his blessing to expand the comfort zone to attempt to re-sign Martin.  What that exact level is remains unknown.  There are plenty of teams, including some big markets like both Chicago teams, the Blue Jays, and the Tigers that could be interested in him.  But the Pirates have an X-factor -- Martin really likes playing here with these guys.  That doesn't mean a lot, but it means something.

Here's my stance on how negotiations should go with Martin and the Pirates:
They should match any 3 year deal he gets.  There's no average annual value under $20M that they can't swing.
They should consider matching any 4 year deal.  I would go up to $14M/year for 4 years.  This keeps him less than McCutchen's free agent year value in his contract.
They should walk away from any 5 year deal.

He's still going to 32 at the start of next year with over 1000 games behind the plate.  No matter how great of an athlete you are (and he is), that's a lot of tread off the tires.  I would like to think that Martin could be spelled by playing a few games at 3B or maybe even 1B, just to give his knees and mind a break.

In a perfect scenario, I would go 3 year/$38M with a club option for a 4th year.  Now it's up to Martin to decide how much the clubhouse camaraderie is worth to him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Oui, Monsieur et Madame

Last Saturday, DB~ surprised me by making dinner.  She just doesn't cook.  She'll bake, she'll make a killer dessert to take to a party.  Dinner?  Not really her thing.

But when she does it, she does it right.  For this one, she had to go to two different Giant Eagles, she thought about it for two weeks, and she was beet red by the time she was done.  But it was great.  DB~ tried to replicate the Croque Monsieur and Croque Madames we had in Paris at Angelina's.  She got it to the 90th percentile.

I'm not a fan of eggs, so I had the Monsieur, which is small square white bread, ham, melted gruyere cheese, and then a bechamel sauce on top, then put in the broiler.  DB~ had the Madame, which is the same sandwich with a fried egg on top.

I always appreciate when she does things in the kitchen, because truth be told it can be a grind to come up with four to five interesting dinners each week.  After dinner, DB~ said, "I give you a lot of credit, because I don't know how you do it every night."

We each do our tasks that we're good at.  That's why it works.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bike Lanes on Two County Bridges a Bad Idea

Earlier this month, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that two County-owned bridges -- the 6th Street Clemente Bridge and the Phillip Murray South 10th to the South Side -- would have bike lanes installed in each direction on them.  The lanes would be 5 foot wide with a 3 foot buffer between vehicular traffic.  In theory, this is a great idea.

In reality, it's awful.  These bike lanes, one in each direction, will take away one lane of vehicular traffic as well.  So each bridge will be turned into a one-lane bridge in each direction. What this will do is cripple the ability of these bridges to do their primary function of moving vehicular traffic during peak periods.

As much as bike advocates would like you to believe that cars and bikes are equally important, they are not.  Roads and bridges are primarily for motor vehicles.  Their secondary function is for bikes and pedestrians.  The two can co-exist, but it's not an equal partnership.

Roads are like the human body's blood vessel system.  Certain roads are arteries and veins and have to push a lot of blood through; certain roads and bridges are the same and have to push a lot of vehicles through.  If there is a blockage or bottleneck, neither system will work and will eventually fail.

There is a big push to make Pittsburgh more bike-friendly and these bridges are part of that expanded network.  That's great, but it can't come at the expense of vehicles.  I predict that the Clemente Bridge experiment will fail and will be quietly modified in a few years.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Legends Of The North Shore

Legends of the North Shore has been open since 2002, which makes it a successful institution at this point.  Neither DB~ nor I have been there, but it comes highly recommended.  It's spoken highly of as a North Side restaurant, so we decided to give it a shot tonight.

When we walked in, we were surprised by how few tables there were and how awkwardly the restaurant is set up.  Upon entering, the kitchen and small bar area are right there.  You have to squeeze through and half-turn if someone is sitting there, in order to get to your table.

Although the appetizers sounded good, especially the always-good greens and beans choice, we went straight to the entrees.  DB~ picked the Chicken Romano and I went with the Gnocchi Bolognese.  When they came out, we were a little taken aback by the size of the portion in relation to the cost of the entree.

DB~'s Chicken Romano was $19.95 and featured two small breaded breasts, topped with lemon and parsley.  There was a small scoop of mashed potatoes and some slivers of squash.  To us, it was overpriced for the portion size.  DB~ liked it, but didn't love it.

My portion of Gnocchi Bolognese was a normal sized plate-bowl.  The gnocchi were small, but delicate and not heavy.  The sauce was a basic meat sauce, with some chunks of ground meat in the sauce.  Again, nothing special and certainly not $18.95 worthy.  It seems like each entree was overpriced by $3.

Sometimes with legends, their status is over-inflated by past glories.  There may have been a time when Legends of the North Shore was at the top of their game, but unfortunately that time has passed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taking Delight in the Brewers' Collapse

Coming into the season, I thought Milwaukee would win between 73 and 78 games.  They were atrocious last year, due to key injuries, but they had some declining players anyway.  Their big offseason move was to sign injury-prone, under-achieving Matt Garza to a 4 year/$50M deal.  How would Ryan Braun fare now that he (hopefully) wasn't juicing anymore?  I didn't see a playoff contender.

Imagine my surprise when at the end of April the Brewers were 20-8 and far, far ahead of the pack in the National League.  I was telling everyone who asked that the Brewers' return trip to Earth would be coming soon, but they didn't really flinch until July.  At the start of July, they lost 10 out of 11.  Their record on July 12 was still 52-43 and they were still tied for 1st place, albeit after they were comfortably leading by 6.5 games at the start of the month.  The rest of the NL landscape was forgiving, as well, with most of the teams just treading water.  Maybe this was the start of the end?

Fast forward to August 25th.  The Brewers had rebounded to playing strong playoff-contender baseball again.  I was still baffled.  Their record was a robust 73-58 and they were 1.5 games up on the Cardinals in the division.  Barring a soul-crushing collapse, the Brew seemed destined for a playoff spot of some sort.

Enter the soul-crushing collapse.  From that day forward, the Brewers have lost (and are still in the midst of it) 13 of 14 games.  Their record is now 74-71 and they are not only 6 games behind the Cards for the division, they are 1.5 games out of the playoffs altogether -- behind the Pirates, which makes it even sweeter.

Is this just the law of averages adjusting with unblinking fury all at the same time?  Have injuries revealed their absolute lack of depth, both in the majors and minors?

Ryan Braun, still one year away from his extended extension of 5 year/$105M kicking in, is having a poor season and now his thumb pain is leading to his whole hand maybe needing surgery.  Shades of Jason Kendall's thumb injury, which was the real reason for Kendall's collapse as a hitter, are echoing.

Carlos Gomez is a terrible human being, so he's also easy to cheer against, even though he's having a good campaign.  I would love to have Jonathan Lucroy, especially with that ultra-friendly contract extension, but he's really the only Brewer I would rescue.  The rest of them all deserve each other.

Hopefully the Brewers continue to collapse, much like the 2012 Pirates did.  The only difference is that the Brewers don't have a wave of talent on the horizon (or a solid, young talent base in the majors) to give them hope for the future.

It couldn't happen to a better franchise.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Re-Signing Russ Martin Is Important

Russ Martin has built a time machine.  Or, to be trite, has discovered the Fountain of Youth.  Either way, Martin is in the midst of his finest season since his 2007 season with the Dodgers.  That year, Martin triple slashed .293/.374/.469 with 19 HR and 21 SB.  As a catcher, mind you.

This year, he's put up a .295/.417/.416 line with 7 HR and 4 SB.  But if you're a stathead (like me) then you may be interested to know that Russ's 2007 line resulted in a 122 Weighted Runs Created Plus (22% than league average), while his 2014 line is a 142 wRC+.  How can that be?  Because back in 2007, offense was greater around the league than it is today.  So by this metric, this is Martin's career season.

Martin is a free agent after the season and it is imperative that the Pirates re-sign him.  At the start of next season, Martin will be in his age-32 season and he will have 1000+ games as a catcher under his belt.  He will start to wear down eventually, so the Pirates have to be cautious with the number of years.

2 years, I would be ecstatic, but Martin is looking for his final big payday.  3 years would be great.  4 years would make me nervous.  5 years -- good luck with your new team, Russ.

During his time with the Yankees and into his first year with the Pirates, Martin was trying to sell out for home run power.  This year, he's made a conscious effort for contact and it has resulted in the fine line you see above.  If Martin, over the course of a 3 year deal, could even bat .270/.350/400, that would be fantastic for a catcher.

Martin is a good athlete, too, so perhaps he could get a break from squatting behind the plate by playing 3B or 1B periodically.  This would keep his bat (and his on-base prowess) in the lineup.

It's also important that the Pirates re-sign him as a show of good faith to the fans.  The Pirates are in the middle of a contention window right now.  Martin's on-base skills and pitch framing are things that are not sexy, but they age better than other skills like speed and power.

With record PNC attendances and the new national TV deals, there is plenty of money floating around Federal Street.  Yes, the Pirates have a big arbitration class coming up, but even if you take their $23M of commitments and estimate $28M for arbitration, the Pirates should still be able to afford $12-13M/year for Martin.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rum Runner's Saloon

Sometimes buildings are built quickly.  Sometimes buildings are built slowly.  And sometimes things are built at a glacial pace, like Rum Runner's Saloon on Babcock Boulevard.  The offshoot of the North Park Lounge Empire seemed to take forevvvverrrrr to renovate the old Sunseri's restaurant on Babcock Boulevard.  They did add a second floor to it, but it's hard to believe that this wasn't some significant, unforeseen problem, because this place took a long time to open.

In July, it did.  Was it worth it?

At this point, you know what you're going to get with a North Park restaurant.  Solid food, big portions, lot of TV's to give you sensory overload.  By and large, Rum Runner's is cut from the same cloth.

The interior goes with the rum barrel theme, with the one wall having a series of deconstructed barrels.  It would have been very easy to run with a pirate theme or a beachy theme, but Rum Runner's showed restraint.  The main dining is small, with a series of TV's all tuned to some sporting event, but tasteful.  There's cut stone around the fireplace.  The remaining part of the main room is kind of plain, but maybe it's just that we were expecting clutter and were pleasantly surprised.

The menu is also restrained.  There are a limited number of sandwiches, salads, and dinners, but it looks like they're concentrating on doing a core number of dishes very well.  There's some creativity in the ingredients and dishes that doesn't exist at the other North Park restaurants.

There's a little bit of a New Orleans theme, as there's a Shrimp Po' Boy and some BBQ Grilled Shrimp on the menu.  Is this a nod to pirates that used to frequent New Orleans like Lafitte?  Not sure, because it's never spelled out explicitly.

For dinner, I went with the Grilled Chicken Wrap on the strength of the menu's ingredient description.  There was a Granny Smith apple slaw and bacon jam on the wrap -- not your typical lettuce, tomato, cheese, chicken wrap.

The bacon jam was the star here.  It gave it some smoky flavor to go with the sweetness of the base jam.  Rum Runner's also makes a good, crispy group of fries.

DB~ went with an appetizer of Fish Tacos, after we heard that the appetizers are all big enough for a lunch portion or a small dinner portion.  Three large tacos came out stuffed solid with a breaded cod fish covered in a corn salsa with a roasted pepper sauce, a hint of cilantro, and some cabbage slaw.  Those are ingredients you won't find at the original North Park or the North Park Clubhouse.

I was impressed by the grill marks on the tortillas, but they were still soft and pliable.  We both agreed that it was a huge appetizer, as she could only eat two of them (and a handful of my fries).  I ate the third one, of course.

For an appetizer, we would have gone with three smaller shells for perhaps $7.99.  Or two of the large tacos plus a handful of nacho chips for $8.99, rather than the current $9.99.

The upstairs was completely open with all the large windows, so perhaps we should have sat up there to check out that scene.  Maybe next time.  And there will be a next time -- Rum Runner's is a solid place to get a solid meal when you don't feel like cooking that night.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

If the Pirates don't make the playoffs, it's still a good season

The Pirates didn't improve at all at the July non-waiver deadline.  That's all right -- they were still in the thick of both the division race and the wild card chase.

Things took a decided turn for the worse on August 2nd when the neanderthal Diamondbacks retaliated for Paul Goldschmidt by plunking Andrew McCutchen in the back, which may or may not have been an aggravating factor in McCutchen tearing rib cartilage on a swing the next day.  This was on the heels of Neil Walker's back flaring up on August 1st, in the midst of his best season.

And just for added sport, Pedro Alvarez picked this time frame to become completely worthless by letting his mental weakness overcome his ability to throw from 3B to 1B.  Plus his bat has been less than stellar this year, too.

As of this writing, the Pirates are 62-55 and just lost their annual series to the Padres.  They're in possession of the 2nd wild card, but it's hard to see them fending off the Giants (and perhaps the Braves and/or Reds) without McCutchen for an extended period of time.  Getting Walker back too is vital if they want to be a legit contender.

Without getting healthy AND getting some reinforcements to the bullpen and bench, I fear that the Pirates will just miss the playoffs this year.  Perhaps by as little as one game, which will lead to an entire offseason of second guessing Huntington and Hurdle's decisions, plus lamenting all of the blown games.

If the Pirates do miss the playoffs, it's not time to rend garments and gnash teeth, though.  The Pirates will have had their 2nd winning season in a row and their outlook for 2015 is incredibly bright with more prospects headlined by Kingham and Taillon on the way.  It will be a huge disappointment if they miss, but isn't the alternative of watching a losing season even worse?

(Who am I kidding?  It would suck huge if they missed the playoffs by one game.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Grit & Grace

Last night, DB~ and I went to Grit & Grace, the newest venture from chef Brian Pekarcik and owner Richard Stern.  The two of them chef/own both Spoon and BRGR.  Spoon is one of our favorite places we've been, even though we've been there just once.  Both of us were eager to check out Grit & Grace.

Spoon is refined, modern American cuisine.  G&G is more casual, trying to play off the energy of nearby Market Square.  They actually have a very creative sign outside to court lunch traffic saying "Think Outside the Square".

G&G is in the space previously occupied by Taste of Dahntahn.  If DB~ and I weren't at that place right before it closed, we wouldn't have known it was the same space, because they completed gutted the place and started over.  It has a sleek, clean look with taupe and celery colors.  They have dark teakwood slats layered in patterns against the wall to give added depth and texture.  DB~ liked the recessed shadow boxes filled with doorknobs and hinges.

DB~ went with the American Dim Sum menu that G&G is known for.  There were five options last night to choose from, each of them $5.  She went with three of them -- pork belly, smoked tofu on soba noodles, and a tomato/bulger salad.  She ordered them one at a time, but we were both disappointed by the lag time between the dim sum girl returning to our table.  True dim sum, served by tiny Chinese ladies that bark at you, is virtually served continuously on wheeled carts that are pushed with the labored resignation of knowing you are tiny, old, and soon ready to die.  Ahem.  Scratch that last part.

I went with two small plates.  First was my siren call of short rib.  This one was served on a biscuit imbued with cream cheese and topped with a scallion shaving.  It was divine.  I wanted to line my pockets with foil and steal a basket of them.

I also went with the Chicken Meatball Ramen.  It was a very large serving with two chicken meatballs, two pieces of chicken thigh that practically fell apart at the touch of the fork, shavings of kimchi, pieces of daikon, all in a rich broth full of flavor.  I really liked this a lot and shared with DB~.

Overall, I would say G&G is 'very good' but not 'great'.  I guess we just expected more from the chef/owner of Spoon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pirates Need For A Frontline Starter

Imagine it's October 1st and the Pirates are getting ready to play in the Wild Card Game.  Who do you pick to pitch?

  • Liriano, who has been inconsistent and ineffective for most of the season?
  • Cole, who has been hurt and oddly non-dominant for most of the season?
  • Morton, who is prone to one bad inning it seems every game?
  • Locke?  Volquez?  Worley?  Do you really trust any of these three in a one game playoff?
Then think of the Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke), the Cardinals (Wainwright), the Nationals (Strasburg).  These teams all have bonafide aces to throw out there, guys who are locks for 8 innings in a crucial game.

The Pirates need a name pitcher.  I hope that Cole comes back from his rehab stint in early August and becomes that guy that we all hope he can be.  If so, that would be a bonus.  But right now, the Pirates need a horse.

Neal Huntington has been collecting prospects like they're Star Wars toys in their original packaging.  When he breaks open one and deals them one year, then I'll know that the front office and ownership both believe the Pirates are a World Series contender.  This year, if he deals Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham, Bell, or Meadows, that will signal to me that they are making a run and not worrying about the future as fastidiously.

There's a lot of big names out there, but most are out of the Pirates' price range for 2015 and beyond (Price, Lee, Hamels).  I see two that are viable candidates -- Lester of the Red Sox and Kennedy of the Padres.

Lester is a low end #1/high end #2 level pitcher.  He's got about $4.3M left this year and is then a free agent.  The money this year shouldn't be a problem, since I calculate that the Pirates have $8M left from their original offseason spending pool when they were rumored to have $19M last offseason for free agents.

The Sox want one premium and one other top 10 prospect for Lester.  I'm comfortable trading Bell and someone like RHP Adrian Sampson for Lester.  The Sox had a great deal of interest in Bell during his draft year, but avoided him due to the infamous note his mother sent to all 30 teams asking them not to draft her son so he could go to University of Texas.  Bell would be a loss, but that sting should just motivate the Pirates to win more.

Kennedy is a #2 pitcher and not as flashy of a name as Lester, but he would be an upgrade for this rotation.  The Padres are said to be seeking an ML-ready starter for the rotation and a prospect for him.  Since Vance Worley is basically found money for Huntington, why not include him?  Worley has 3 more years of control and has revitalized his career.  Imagine him in Petco.  I would also use Universal Trade Chip Adrian Sampson in this scenario.

The Pirates have rebounded amazingly from their April malaise and positioned themselves well for the playoff run.  It's time to solidify it.

Friday, July 18, 2014


It's fun when you go to a restaurant expecting one thing and it turns out to be something completely different.  Going to Tender in Lawrenceville, we knew there would be hand-crafted cocktails.  We figured that the name Tender was a shortened version of "bartender".  To my surprise, the restaurant actually has a double meaning, as it appears to be situated in an old bank.

The floor is that marble/terrazzo look and the entrance is this enclosed little box that made me wonder if a would-be robber ever got trapped in there.  Their logo has the same font and look of legal tender U.S. money, as well.  There was even an old (original?) bank-looking clock on the wall.

Oh...yeah..right there on their website it says they occupy the old Arsenal Bank from the 1880's.  I'm dumb.

We knew that the menu was limited and would mostly be some artsy appetizers.  We were here for the drinks and atmosphere.  The drink menu is extensively extensive.  Pages and pages of cocktails, followed by a page of wine and a page of beer.

I went with Don't Give Up The Ship, a gin based drink with Fernet Blanca, vermouth, and curacao.  Strangely, the curacao didn't tint my drink blue at all, but perhaps the vermouth cancelled it out.  DB~ went with Aviation -- also a gin based drink with lemon and two other things neither of us had heard of before.

To dine, I went with two appetizers.  The first were Wild Boar Meatballs served on a bed of polenta and topped with a touch of pesto.  These could have been a little more moist, but were otherwise excellent.  The Wild Boar gave just enough punch to the meatball.

My second appetizer was a segment of Pork Belly with cherry and apricot sauce, with fennel mixed in.  It was seared on the non-fat side.  The fatty belly melted in my mouth with the fruit sauce giving a sweet base to the savory bacony taste.  It was topped with some pickled onions and fresh arugula.

DB~ went with the Tender Burger, which was interesting because she doesn't like red meat.  Oddly, she seems to be reverting BACK to being a carnivore of late.  This was a standard cheeseburger, but it was well crafted.

Since I was driving, DB~ had a second after dinner cocktail and went with Immortality Juice.  This was a sparkling wine with a pear liqueur, walnut liqueur, and apricot liqueur, squeezed with lemon.  She preferred this one slightly more.

The background music was a mix of 80's synth and 80's cheese like Phil Collins' "Sususudio" (I probably misspelled that, but I don't care enough to look it up).  I didn't quite get that part of the atmosphere.  Is that what hipsters listen to in hipster cocktail bars?  Jazz, anyone?

Tender is a great place to drink and grab a small plate, but probably not as a pure dinner destination.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Central Diner

The name is nondescript.  The location is one next to a Red Roof Inn, off of a cluttered Route 60.  It sits slightly below the road, so you don't even really notice it, unless you're looking for it.

But that would be a shame, because you would be missing out on the Central Diner in Robinson Township.  Diner carries a certain connotation, neither positive or negative in my mind, of a tiny worn down little shop with the same standard fare.  A diner is solid, dependable food, consisting of all the staples.

And then there's the Central Diner.  This gleaming chrome and wood exterior belies just how massive it is inside.  This diner, replete with a case full of tantalizing desserts, also has a well stocked bar -- if you're in the mood for something alcoholic in the morning or at late night when they're still open.

This diner is owned by a Greek family, many of whom are on staff when you walk in.  There are hints, but not overtures, of their Greek heritage on the menu.  No matter if you're Greek or red-blooded American, this is the place for you.

We went with DB~'s dad and our widgets on Father's Day.  I've been remiss to wait so long to put this up.  There will most likely be a wait when you go, but they cycle people through quickly.  We knew what we wanted before we sat down.

Little Widget was going to have a bottle of formula, house blend.  Medium Widget selected the Pancakes with Oreos inside, topped with peanut better and whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate.

They might as well have just given this to every kid who walked in the door.  DB~'s dad went with the omelette topped with sour cream and bacon, plus a side of home fries.

DB~ went with a cream cheese filled French toast, stuffed with blueberries.

I chose the Napolean French toast topped with walnuts and strawberries.

This is the kind of diner that is worth driving to go check out.  You don't even have to call it a diner, if you don't want to.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Second Tier Thinking About Tony Watson

Tony Watson is making a mockery over keeping ERA's for the rest of the pitchers in the league.  He's sporting a 0.96 ERA so far this year with 48 K's and just 10 BB in 37 innings.  In a fair and just world, he would be going to the All-Star Game.

When he comes in to the game, you can exhale and go get a sandwich.  This inning is on lockdown.  So why is Watson not the closer, but the stress-inducing Mark Melancon is?

Is it because Melancon is a grizzled veteran and Watson is a young pup?  No.  Melancon and Watson are both 29.  Melancon has one whole year more of experience in the majors than Watson.  Is it because Melancon has superior stuff and Watson is getting by on luck?  No.  Watson is sporting a mid-90's fastball from the left side, along with a slider that is patently unfair to hitters.  He toys with hitters by throwing a changeup, as well.  Melancon is getting by on a 93 mph cutter that requires pinpoint location, or else hitters can sit on it and serve the pitch to right field.

After pondering this, I'm left with two choices:
1.  Clint Hurdle is a stubborn idiot that can't change his thinking about Watson v. Melancon.
2.  Something else.

The something else that I came up with is that Hurdle has been instructed from on high to keep Melancon in the closer role and allow him to rack up saves, while keeping Watson in the setup role.  The reason?  In arbitration, saves get you paid.  Melancon has already set his salary base in arbitration at $2.6M.  He has two years of team control left.  Watson, on the other hand, is going to arb for the first time this year.  A first year dominant closer with 30 saves and a minuscule ERA would get paid cash money, son.

Now instead of Watson going to arb and getting $2M as a new closer, he may make $1M as a great setup man.  Is it dumb?  Sure it is, but that's the outdated method of arbitration.  Find a comparable player and go with it.  With a handful of saves, Watson would be in the same bin as most other setup guys.

That $1M potential difference may seem petty, but that's the base future salaries are built off of.  Now instead of a $2M/$4M/$6M path, Watson could be installed as the closer in 2015 on a $1M/$3M/$5M path.  The Pirates, always on the hunt for a good deal, may have saved $3M on the process.

Unless you want to believe in choice #1.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

An Afternoon with the Riverhounds

On Sunday afternoon, a small person and I attended the Pittsburgh Riverhounds match versus the Richmond Kickers.  It was my first time at Highmark Stadium, adjacent to Station Square, and I was impressed by its physical cleanliness and its cleanliness in terms of design.  The good news is that I don't have UPMC insurance, so I'll be able to come to Highmark Stadium next year after the two entities split....

We got two tickets in the Supporters' section, which is the kind term for "cheap seats behind the goal".  They were $12.50.  I was a little taken aback by the price for regular seats in the grandstand -- tickets in the center section were $27/ticket and tickets in the end sections were $21/ticket.  The Riverhounds are in the lowest classification of U.S. Professional Soccer!  I understand that the stadium cost $10M to build, but c'mon now.

And after seeing the quality of the Riverhounds in person, I can attest that the 1-7-4 was achieved through honest means.  We were barely settled in after getting a hot dog when Richmond scored the first of their 2 goals in the first 10 minutes.  The Riverhounds' full backs were atrocious and completely hung the goalkeeper out to dry.  The Riverhounds lack a cohesive style of play, especially on offense.  It felt like I was watching a basketball team play soccer at times -- the Hounds would isolate a winger who would make some moves, then pass into the center of the field where the Kickers would then collapse down on that player.  Said player wouldn't be able to do much of anything to get off a shot.  The Riverhounds lost 3-1.

What I was impressed by was the unofficial/official cheering squad of the Riverhounds, known as the Steel Army.  They were sitting just to our left and entertained both myself and the 7 year old.  Led by a hefty guy beating on a drum, the 40 person group had a wide variety of chants to amuse themselves, energize the crowd, and attempt to distract the Richmond players when they were on that side of the field.  I particularly liked the adaption of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine to "we all cheer for the yellow soccer team".

They were attempting to make it look like an English Premier League game, but that kind of bothered me in some way.  On an 85 degree day, they were wearing supporter scarves that are ever-present in the EPL and the chants were the kind you would expect to hear at a Liverpool v. Everton game.  Shouldn't we be trying to do our own thing?

The ownership of the Riverhounds have grand plans to get the Riverhounds entry to Major League Soccer within 10 years.  The same ownership that filed for bankruptcy before the season started, mind you.  To do that, Highmark Stadium would have to be greatly expanded.  It currently holds around 3,000-3,500 if I had to guesstimate it.  A typical MLS stadium, as per this Wiki stub, holds around 20,000 (San Jose is the smallest at 10,000).  I was having a hard time envisioning how they could retrofit this stadium to get there, as one side is virtually adjacent to the railroad tracks.  I suppose the northern side where the main building is could have a steep array of seats placed over top of it, the supporters' section could have a corresponding array of seats and the main section would be expanded upwards, but that's a big leap.

The Riverhounds kind of suck right now, but the 7 year old who dreams of playing with Steven Gerrard loved it, so that's all the really matters.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chicken Picatta at Aracri's

I had a business meeting in Greentree last night, so I asked my boss if he wanted to catch dinner before we headed over to the Doubletree.  When I asked where he wanted to go, he went way out of the box and suggested an old school Italian restaurant off of Greentree Road called Aracri's.

How he heard of this place, I have no idea.  He doesn't stray out of the North Hills too much, so that made it even more puzzling.

When I got to the restaurant to meet him, it felt like I was entering a time warp back to the 1980's.  On the door of the old Tutor style building was a sticker advertising KBL with the logos for the Pirates/Pens/Steelers of that era.  Not ROOT, not Fox Sports Pittsburgh, not what was before that...no...KBL.

The interior of this place probably hasn't been touched in 30 plus years, either.  Was this place really good or popular at one time?  I'm not saying I know every restaurant in Pittsburgh, especially in the South Hills, but I have never heard anyone say, "Hey, I had a great meal at Aracri's last weekend."

I ordered the Chicken Picatta, partly to see how it compared to mine.  This one was done with mushrooms, so I was assuming the mushrooms formed some type of sauce base.  I don't like mushrooms themselves, but I like mushroom-based sauce.  They're earthy and honest and build flavor for the whole dish.

When the Picatta came out, I was struck by the gnarled pieces of chicken.  It just seemed like a cheap cut, instead of a nice pair of chicken breasts.  The dish itself was very good -- the chicken was tender, the sauce was rich, but I was missing the capers and that salty flavor.

The dinner rolls were standard and the vegetable was a dish of steamed broccoli.  Nothing spectacular.  This restaurant, if it had a heyday, has passed that peak by.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Future is Now in the Outfield

Tuesday saw the long-anticipated arrival of RF Gregory Polanco.  He was called up because of the emergency appendectomy of Neil Walker, which makes me wonder how much longer he would have to wait in AAA.  No matter, he's here now and I can't envision the Pirates sending him back down (short of him struggling epically).

The Pirates now sport an OF that is the envy of all of baseball.  All three of Marte/McCutchen/Polanco were not only top 50 prospects (and higher in the case of McCutchen and Polanco), but also capable of playing CF for nearly every team in baseball.  Each of them have a combination of power and speed that makes scouts and fans alike drool.

Both Marte and McCutchen are under team control for many years to come, at far below market value rates.  McCutchen is here until 2017 with a 2018 club option.  Marte is here even longer through 2019, with two team options in 2020 and 2021.  By virtue of his callup, Polanco is under team control through 2020, before any potential extension comes into play.

The things we build don't last forever, though.  At some point, hopefully not for financial reasons, the Pirates may look to trade one of the triumvirate in order to strengthen another part of the team.  The Pirates' cupboard is stocked in the minors with OF prospects, too.  Austin Meadows, Harold Ramirez, and Josh Bell (although I feel he's a future 1B) are all progressing at various speeds through the minors and have great pedigrees.

For right now, enjoy watching these three together.  I can't help but think that any short/medium term success the Pirates experience will be on the backs of their OF.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How Much Would You Sign For?

The Pirates concluded their portion of the 2014 MLB Draft today when they made their selection in the 40th round.  Counting two extra picks in the compensation rounds, the Pirates selected 42 high school and college kids.  Not every kid will sign, based on a combination of their bonus demands and the Pirates' draft pool of $7.0M.

How much each kid requires to sign is a complicated calculus of figures, though, that is roughed out by the area scout who has spoken with him at some point.  I'm wondering how much it would take for me to recommend my son sign, especially out of high school.

The Pirates selected a high school pitcher named Mitch Keller out of an Iowa high school in the 2nd round.  The slot value for that pick is $886,800, as per figures obtained by Baseball America.  Keller has been rated as a 2nd or 3rd round talent all spring, so he was picked right where he was rated.  He does have a college commitment to North Carolina, so it would appear that he may take a little over slot to sign and be difficult to get under contract.

But then I found an article with an interview from last month that Keller gave to his local newspaper.  In it, he tells the story of how his older brother, Jon, gave him some advice from his own situation.  The cautionary tale tells how Jon was drafted in 2010 by the Mariners and turned down a high six figure bonus to go to college.  In college, Jon developed arm troubles and was then drafted by the Orioles in 2013 and received only $100,000, a much lower figure than what he turned down in 2010.

His brother has told him that if the money is life-changing he should take it, because you never know what may happen in the future.  The $100,000 that Jon received sounds like a lot, but after 5% off the top for agent fees and then roughly 35% of taxes, Jon Keller only cleared approximately $60,000.  Good money, but not life-changing.

If Mitch Keller were to sign for (rounding up) $900,000, he could clear $550,000 probably.  That's not money to live off of the rest of your life, but that's a real nice start to a nest egg.  He wouldn't have to worry about a ton of stuff if his career flamed out early.

For me, if my son could sign for $500,000, that would be a net of about $300,000.  That would enable him to put a down payment on a nice house and get a nice car after his baseball career was over.  He would have to work, but some of the hassles of life would be reduced for him.  That amount is the slot value at the end of the 3rd round in this year's draft.

College is always there; it's not going anywhere.  Many teams will sweeten the deal for high school picks by promising four years of tuition to a college, as well.  At that point, it's almost a no-brainer.  Allow your son to pursue his baseball dream, then he can go back to college after it's over on someone else's dime.

I hope the Pirates can sign as many of their high school picks as possible, but they won't get them all.  I just hope that some of them don't sign just because it's not for every last dollar they think their son deserves.  Sometimes it's worth getting the bird in hand, instead of waiting for two in the bush.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

June Schedule Lightens Up for the Pirates

Perhaps the Pirates are just trying to add some degree of difficulty to their year.  Maybe working with the third lowest payroll in Major League Baseball is not enough of a challenge for them.  The Pirates dug themselves a hole in April, going 9-16, to enter May with a 10-16 record (March opening days are weird).  They've righted the ship, so to speak, in May with a 15-13 record to give a glimmer of hope that they can still make a run.
Their schedule heretofore has been brutal.  Of the 54 games they have played, only 20 have been against teams with losing records.  The combined record of the other teams they've played in those 34 games is 208-159, good for a .567 winning percentage.  In those games, the Pirates have gone just 15-19, with most of the damage due to the old nemesis of the Milwaukee Brewers (2-8).  The Pirates have fared better against the sub .500 teams (Cubs, Reds, Mets, Nationals), going 10-10 so far.
The good news is that better days lie ahead in June.  Hopefully, unlike their namesake pirates of the seas, the call of better days does not cause a shipwreck against craggy rocks.  In June, the Pirates play 27 games.  Of those 27 games, 20 are against teams with a losing record currently.  The seven games against winning teams are: the final game against the Dodgers in the current series, 3 on the road at Miami, and 3 at home against Milwaukee.  As the records stand right now, the Pirates wouldn't play a winning team in the month of June after the 15th.
The split between home and road games is fairly even for the Pirates -- 13 on the road and 14 at home.  So far this year, the Pirates have been abysmal on the road, so hopefully the lesser competition will start to build their confidence in that regard.
June 1st is far too early to start worrying about the playoffs.  July is when a team will typically decide whether to fish or cut bait, ahead of the July 31st trade deadline, but you also can't allow yourself to get too far under water.  The first thing the Pirates need to do is get back to .500; no team makes the playoffs under .500.  In recent years, 89 wins has been the magic number to secure a playoff spot.  The Pirates would have to go on a tear to achieve that, but maybe they won't have to this year.
If you set aside the current division leaders of Milwaukee, Atlanta, and San Francisco, there are no other teams really putting up strong records yet.  The Cardinals are 3 games over .500.  The Marlins, who are a prime candidate to swoon in the summer, are just 2 games over.  The Dodgers are spinning their wheels and just 2 games over.  The Rockies are already scheduling their return trip to Earth and 2 games above the break-even mark.
It's looking to me like maybe 86 wins could be enough to sneak into the 2nd Wild Card slot this year.  For the Pirates to do that, they would have to go 61-47 in their final 108 games (.564 winning percentage), which is essentially the Atlanta Braves current winning percentage.  Last year, when they went 94-68, the Pirates had a .580 winning percentage, so it's definitely in their wheelhouse to pull off.
So do not abandon all hope ye who enter.  At least until July 1st.  Aaargh.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Port Authority Looking for Public Input

By nature, I'm pretty cynical about things.  So when I read that the Port Authority put up an online survey and discussion board site, it sounded like a fluffy public input box that they were checking off.

However, when I went to the site, I was impressed by the layout and format of it.  I saw that some key people such as the CEO of Port Authority, Ellen McLean, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald were viewing the comments and even adding their two cents.

I submitted my conversion of I-279 North's HOV lane idea to the site, but I don't expect it to fly very far.  There were some good low-hanging-fruit ideas like offering real time bus/rail tracking at the stops and offering multiple pay lanes at T stops to improve service.

It's good that Port Authority is at least putting forth the effort.  They desperately need to connect with a younger, tech-savvy demographic.  People want apps and transparency in all facets of an operation nowadays.  Someone over there is recognizing that.

Go over and put your two cents in on the future of mass transit in Allegheny County.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

White Chicken Chili

DB~ has been on a roll lately.  This one was an instant-favorite and will be put in the semi-frequent rotation.

First, I sauteed a clove of garlic with some white onion in olive oil.  I added some salt, pepper, and cumin once they were soft.  Next, I added one can (2 cups) of chicken stock to the pan along with one can (drained) of navy beans.

While that was simmering for about 15 minutes, I cooked a chicken breast that I lightly seasoned with chili powder, salt, and pepper.  When it was cooked, I shredded it up into thin shreds that would be capable of absorbing liquid.

After the beans and stock had simmered for 15 minutes, I added 1/2 jar of salsa verde to the mix and got that simmering.  Once that was complete, I tossed in the shredded chicken to mingle for 5 additional minutes.

In those 5 minutes, here's the accouterments that I prepared to go in each serving bowl:

  • Chunk of avocado
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Sour cream dollop
I ladled the white chicken chili into each bowl and put the cilantro leaves throughout, the avocado on the side, and the sour cream on top.  It definitely had some kick, thanks to the salsa verde, but we loved it.  It was much better than a typical, heavy ground meat based chili.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Here's Why Polanco is Not in Pittsburgh Yet

RF Travis Snider is hitting .211 with a 623 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Platoon mate RF Jose Tabata is hitting .247 with a 605 OPS.  Every other ball seems to be a grounder to shortstop.
In Triple A Indianapolis, uber-prospect RF Gregory Polanco is hitting .395 with a 1057 OPS.  He has power (4 HR) and speed (7 SB), two things that Tabata is not showing and one thing that Snider (the speed) does not have.  By all accounts, he would be an upgrade over these two.  The added bonus is that he has no platoon splits (979 OPS v. LHP, 1092 OPS v. RHP).  So why isn't he up in Pittsburgh yet?
Let's take a look at some of the reasons, of varying degrees of legitimacy, why Polanco is not in Pittsburgh:
A spot would need to be cleared on the 25-man roster.  I find it hard to believe the Pirates would carry five outfielders, especially without the need for a platoon partner for Polanco, so that means that one of either Tabata or Snider would have to go.  I know what most of you are saying -- "OK.  Don't let the door hit your rear end on the way out," but it's not that easy.  The Pirates do not have options remaining on either Tabata or Snider, so they would have to Designate For Assignment (DFA) one of them.  If one of them were claimed during this 10-day waiver period, the Pirates would lose that player for nothing.
To the Pirates, that is a terrible offense.  They like to squeeze every last bit of value out of a player, so you can be assured that Neal Huntington is feverishly working the phones trying to trade one of them, even if it is for a low-level reliever.  A trade could be worked out during the 10-day DFA window, but those are not as common.  Because of Jose Tabata's long-term guaranteed contract ($3.1M in 2014, $4.1M in 2015, $4.6M in 2016) he seems very unlikely to be traded unless the Pirates ate a bunch of that money.  That means Snider and his $1.2M in 2014 is the better candidate.  Snider has two more years of control after this, but a team could non-tender him at the end of 2014 and not cost themselves any additional money.  There are plenty of teams out there with awful outfielders that might be interested in a flyer on Snider or Tabata.
He hasn't experienced any adversity yet.  This one always irks me, but the reasoning is that the Pirates need to see how a player responds to a rough patch.  They would rather see him work through a 1 for 32 stretch in Indy than in Pittsburgh against the best pitchers in the world.  This answer is part of the mythological "player checklist" that every team says a player has to complete before getting promoted.
The Pirates want to avoid the Super 2 Deadline.  And now we come to our portion of the program that really matters.  Essentially, if a player gets into the top 17% of service time for players in his service time class between 2 years and 3 years of service, he gets to go to arbitration four times instead of three.  This can mean an additional cost of $10-$15M of salary for a team over that time period.
This is a real, tangible thing for a team.  Not just the Pirates, either.  Many teams are wary of their top prospects getting to Super 2 status.  The rough threshold to promote is with 130 days left in the season (this year there are 181 days).  That outer threshold is around May 21st.  However, most years the threshold falls into the 118-125 range, so allow for a couple of extra weeks to be safe.  That puts the date around June 3rd.
It will be interesting to see how many top prospects around the league magically "complete their checklists" and are ready to be promoted in early to mid-June.  It's amazing how many of the top guys are always ready around the same time of the year.
When Polanco does get promoted, he can't be expected to be a miracle worker or savior.  Just because he's ripping the cover off the ball in Triple A does not mean that will translate to the Majors.  The class of competition is dramatically better.  I do think he will be an improvement over what the Pirates have in RF now, but where I expect the greatest improvement to occur is in the leadoff spot.
Polanco has greater plate discipline than Starling Marte or any of the other players the Pirates have penciled in to the spot so far this year.  Right now, the aggregate leadoff hitters are triple slashing .222 BA/.290 OBP/.310 SLG (600 OPS) with 1 HR and 7 SB's.  Polanco, even if he struggles out of the gate, should be able to exceed that very low bar that has been set.
Gregory Polanco will get here, probably within the next month, so be patient.  Once he gets here, he's not going anywhere for a long time.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pasta with Creamy Garlic Sauce and Langostinos

Yesterday was a Strip District kind of day, so DB~ asked if we could make a run.  We got down there at high noon exactly, so after looking for a free spot in vain on Penn Avenue, we parked in that huge lot behind the warehouses for $6.  Aside from our usual fun of "eat the street", which yesterday consisted of egg rolls, Reyna's tacos, and a peanut butter/chocolate crepe, we were on the hunt for a different dinner.

As it usually does, our journey took us into Wholey's.  When I was a kid, I hated Wholey's.  My dad tells me that a fishmonger handed me a fish, as if it were a lollipop, and I got freaked out.  It always smelled bad (which it kind of still does).  But back then, it was just a fish market.  Now they've made it a fun destination with a sushi bar, market for groceries, and plenty of free samples of lobster crab bisque.  There are always tons of kids in there now.

This time langostinos caught our eye.  I've always thought of them as faux-lobsters, but as DB~ researched they are more akin to hermit crabs.  We got an 8 oz. frozen box of them for $8.99.  DB~ had the excellent idea to serve them over pasta, so my mind went to a garlic-infused cream sauce.  After we got a couple of other things at Wholey's, we made our way to Penn Mac.

At Penn Mac, we didn't even dally at the cheese counter and see ol' Dearheart.  We went straight for the fresh pasta stand.  Although not as good or as many choices as Ohio Pasta at the West End Market in Cleveland, they still had probably a dozen selections.  We went with the Rosemary Linguini.  DB~ selected a tiny loaf of bread, as well.  Two bundles of fresh pasta and a mini loaf of bread?  That will be $3.76, please.

When it was time for dinner, I put two cups of heavy cream into a large skillet and put it on medium heat.  I diced up three cloves of garlic, sprinkled in some black pepper, and a sundried tomato seasoning.  Once it started to simmer and bubble, I turned it down to medium-low.  The langostinos needed to thaw for 10 minutes in cold water and then be patted dry.  After sampling the sauce, I added the juice from half of a lemon to it.  It gave the sauce a nice finish after the garlic led the way.

Fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes to cook, so I got the water going and dropped it in.  I added the langostinos and let them get to know the sauce for about five minutes.  Once the pasta was drained, I spooned on the sauce and combined it very well.  I served this with some roasted eggplant and the bread.

It was surprisingly good and "restaurant quality" as we both agreed.  Hermit crab, fake lobster, whatever...langostinos are a good substitute.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lemon Basil Ricotta Stuffed Shells

We have a really nice system worked out for dinner preparation between DB~ and I, as I've mentioned a few times.  She finds an interesting recipe online (primarily through Pinterest) and I make it.  Pretty simple.

Last week, DB~ found two really good ones and we tried them out.  The first was for Lemon Basil Ricotta Stuffed Shells.  The recipe is pretty much just as it sounds, so I could theoretically just end this post here, but I'll expound for you my loyal reader(s).

I salted a pot of water and brought it to a boil.  Once it was at a roil, I added 10 large shells to the water for 12 minutes.  They need to be big in order for them to be properly stuffed later on.

While that was going, I spooned out approximately 1/2 cup of low fat ricotta cheese into a bowl.  To that, I added some chopped basil.  I took 1/2 of a lemon and squeezed its juice into the bowl (watch out to not add seeds) and then zested the skin of that part of the lemon in for more flavor.

I stirred that together and that was that.  When the shells were cooked and drained, I stuffed each of them with a portion of the mixture and put them in a 8 x 8 baking dish into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

DB~ isn't a huge red sauce girl, plus I think red sauce would smother the delicate taste of lemon.  I made a butter and parmesean sauce that I spooned over the shells when they were done baking.  I roasted some red pepper strips in the oven at the same time as the shells were baking, as well.

This was a relatively easy dish to make, especially as a mid-week dish, and one that will make our list of recipes that we keep hanging on the side of the fridge.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Last Saturday, DB~ and I wanted to try someplace new for dinner.  Like yesterday, the Saturday of a week ago was full of sunshine.  DB~ made reservations at Tenpenny downtown at the intersection of, through no coincidence, Tenth and Penn.

Tenpenny is located directly across the street from the Westin and diagonal from the Convention Center, so I imagine at times it is packed in here.  In fact, we had to eat at 5:15 or else our other option was 9:15.

When we walked in to Tenpenny, we were greeted by a pleasant cross breeze.  As a result of being on a corner, Tenpenny put in two walls of floor to ceiling windows.  On this day, they were all open and allowing some circulation.  The interior of Tenpenny is striking, as it's fashioned with wooden beams and posts and a nouveau-rustic appearance.  Our server, a very affable guy named Barton, told us that the site was originally (many moons ago) a general store named Pickering's.  The way they had all the foodstuffs arranged throughout the dining room was to both simulate the general store and display some of the things they cook with.

Tenpenny also has a whole array of light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling.  At night, it's probably a very interesting look.  The whole place showed it was part of the new breed of restaurants where the interior design is just as vital as the food on the menu.

Tenpenny is the kind of place where you can come in for an appetizer and beer at the bar or have a full dinner in the dining area.  We kind of went with a hybrid of this concept.  We were told ahead of time to get the Mega Meatball.  It was...a giant meatball...but quite good.

DB~ went with two appetizers.  The first was the Truffled Mac 'n Cheese with three different types of cheeses (goat, cheddar, and gouda) melted over a twisty pasta.  It was good, but not the best ever (that might be the mac and cheese at Willow).

She also got an order of Crispy Brussel Sprouts, which is definitely large enough for 2 or 3 people to share.  The sprouts were the star of the evening.  They were cut up into small leaves, with their hard cores discarded, then flash-fried for a few seconds.  There was an excellent sauce drizzled over them made of a reduced Jack Daniels and balsamic glaze.  Some bacon and blue cheese were sprinkled over them as well.  If you don't like brussel sprouts normally, try these.  If you still don't like them, you can safely cross them off your list.

I played it safe, which made me disappointed in myself.  I went with a Braised Beef Cheek Ragout over papardelle pasta.  The dish itself was excellent, but too safe for me.

The part that quasi-annoyed us is that when we left at about 6:30 or so, there were plenty of tables seemingly available.  I know there is a function of how many servers are scheduled, too, but there were many tables in just the main seating areas that were sitting empty.  A minor complaint for an excellent dinner.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gaby et Jules -- who knew there were this many Frenchies in Pittsburgh?

DB~ and I are devotees of Jean-Marc Chatelier's bakery in Millvale.  His macarons are divine, his cakes are works of art, and his pastries are impossible to pass up.  A few years back, a French bakery opened up in Lawrenceville named La Gourmandine.  We've never even been there because...why would we?

In the past few months, a new French bakery opened in Squirrel Hill called Gaby et Jules.  When DB~ and I were out in Squirrel Hill in the summer, they were just getting ready to open.  It looked sleek and non-bakery-y.  It kind of reminded us a little of the valhalla of bakeries that we went to in Paris, Laduree.  Or a little like Sucre in New Orleans that we also went to.  Man...when you put it all in one post, we really like going to bakeries.

We haven't been to Gaby et Jules yet, but my parents went on Monday and were raving about it.  They bought two desserts for DB~ and I to try.  I imagine that it greatly cut into my potential inheritance to buy them.  But man...just look at these.

The presentation is better than Jean-Marc, but I think the taste still resides in Millvale with Jean-Marc Chatelier.  The chocolate rose on the right had a peanut butter creme, which delighted DB~ to no end.  I'm not entirely sure what the one on the left was, but it had a slight taste of alcohol in the creme to it.  I'd like to go there and check it out for ourselves sometimes, maybe check out their macarons, too.