Thursday, March 27, 2014

Walking Pittsburgh

I spent last week in Pittsburgh, visiting my brother. He lives downtown or dantan, as they say here. One of the things I love about visiting here is the amount of walking we do.

On Sunday we walked about 2 miles to the far end of the Strip district because I wanted to check out the indoor market, the Pittsburgh Public Market, at 2401 Penn Avenue. There were some great vendors at the market, including an olive oil and vinegar place, a fabulous charcuterie stand, a Lebanese vendor with excellent spreads and a shop with wonderful hand crafted wood items. We then explored the area around the market…going into stores and past restaurants and apartments that my brother had yet to explore.

As we walked back to his apartment we went into lots of the shops in the Strip. We compared the four Asian markets: Lotus is my favorite with its huge selection of sauces and condiments. We “popped” into the Pittsburgh popcorn company for a sample and stuck out heads into the Italian coffee shop nearby.

For lunch, we had delicious and totally decadent huge fish sandwiches at the Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grill. Checked out the handcrafted pottery at Penn Avenue Pottery and bought a hipster knit hat (Bobby will disown me!) at one of the street-side stands to keep my ears warm.

Monday we walked from his place over the 9th Street bridge, past the stadiums and across the North shore as far as the Carnegie Science Center. Then we crossed the Fort Duquesne bridge and walked around Point State Park where the 3 rivers meet and went through Market Square, meandered around downtown and back to his apartment…nearly a 5 mile loop!

I love walking around this city, particularly along the rivers' edge. On the first walk, the water was very high and moving swiftly with chunks of ice and winter debris, branches, even a large log racing down river. My brother commented that the log might make it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico….heading down from the Allegheny to the Ohio at the point, and eventually the Mississippi. By the end of the week the ice had gone though the river was still high. The natural geography of Pittsburgh is so prominent in the city…the downtown being bounded or really embraced by the Allegheny and Monongahela (I love that name!) rivers, with Mount Washington looming overhead.

You feel the natural world intimately, in a way that you don't in many cities. There is a conscious use of fountains that brings the water into the urban spaces so that when you don't see the rivers you are reminded of them by the fountains. And one of the most charming features, I think, is that many of these fountains are kid friendly…they are encouraged to play and splash in them!

I've taken my boys to visit my brother in Pittsburgh since they were small. For years, we avoided Smithfield Street because there is a great old fashioned toy store called Randall's that I didn't want to be dragged into! I think it was these visits to my brother where we lived in the city and walked everywhere that turned my kids into urban explorers, making them comfortable in cities, appreciating the ease of walking to dinner (and walking off  your dinner), seeing that cars are not always a convenience, and the value of public transportation.

On the lighter side, they learned to appreciate the people watching as well. For a couple of years, our visit seemed to coincide with the "furry" convention. If you are not aware of this subculture, wikipedia defines furries as "The furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics." ie kinky, real life stuffed animals. One night we went to dinner and on one side of us was a table with a half a dozen nuns in old fashioned habits, and the rest of the restaurant was filled with "Furries" in full regalia.....and us. One of the boys, quietly commented that we were the only ones in the restaurant not in some kind of costume! Ah, city broadens perspectives...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Returning to the Nest

This week Bobby returned home for spring break. It's his freshmen year and he is loving college. But he seemed ready to come home and nest for a week. He slept till noon, seemed to relish home made lunches and dinners, binged on "House of Cards", and confirmed his summer job.

I loved having him home...binging on the Netflix series with him (Wow! Season two is great!), making elaborate sandwiches and some ridiculously fattening dinners. The drama of high school has disappeared. He seems to actually enjoy his parents!

I loved being able to kiss his forehead at bedtime as I did when he was a small boy, this time with me being the one going to bed first. But the little, curly-haired boy who cried as soon as I dropped him off at daycare has been morphed into a six foot, handsome, confident young man...though I can't help but still see that little boy when I look at him.
I drove him back to school Saturday and having the 4 hours in the car together was a wonderful. The weather was beautiful, a blue sky with puffy clouds...the trees still bare but you could feel spring is not far away; not many trucks or traffic on the turnpike. We listened to a playlist he had put together that included Springsteen, Billy Joel, the Beatles, Van well as Adele, Maclamore and G Eazy...both of us singing away! It touches me that he includes music he knows I like. As we listened to Billy Joel, I remarked how strange it was that we were singing the songs that were popular MY freshmen year in college. We reminisced about various songs that we sang on different Dave always has us roll the windows down and stick our heads out as we sing Bruce's "...let the wind blow back your hair...". He talked about his roommates for next year and his fraternity and classes and how happy he is. As we approached school he directed me past the house he'll be in for next year, pointing out the best pizza places nearby. At his dorm, he introduced me to his friends that were there and let me see his room!

The trip was one of those moments of time that you want to wrap up and savor. A memory to treasure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Finally finished the last of my fall Goldrush Apples!

In November I had gotten a large order of Goldrush Apples from North Star Orchards ( I also purchase my fruit CSA from them as well. They are at the West Chester Growers Market from late June through the end of the main season and sell large batches of these apples at the end of the season. I love this variety; they start out kind of tart but sweeten up and last well into the winter. These last ones had wrinkled up quite a bit so I didn't want to eat them raw but I used them in an apple cake recipe that I also received from North Star.

I've always gotten rave reviews for this recipe. I recommend cooking it in two loaf pans as it has sometimes stuck to the bottom when I've baked it in a tube or bundt pan. I've made the glaze with both the cider as well as the bourbon and both are good. The bourbon does give it a bit of a kick!

"Shirley’s" Apple Cake

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ c. vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 3 c. peeled and chopped Gold Rush apples
  • 1 c. chopped nuts or raisins
  • 3 c. flour
  • ½ tsp. Baking soda
  • 1 tsp. Baking powder
  • ½ tsp. Salt
  • ½ tsp. Cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. Ground cloves
  • ½ tsp. Mace or nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease a tube pan or two loaf pans
  3. Combine sugars, oil, eggs and vanilla; mix thoroughly.
  4. Sift together dry ingredients, then add to the egg- sugar mixture. Mix until just combined.
  5. Fold in nuts/raisins and apples. (Batter will be very thick)
  6. Put batter in pan(s).
  7. Bake in tube pan for 60 to 80 minutes. Bake loaf pans for 45 to 60 minutes.
  8. Cake is done when inserted skewer or toothpick emerges clean.
  9. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then release to a serving plate or glaze plate*

Optional Glaze: I highly recommend using the glaze!
Note: This glaze is quite sweet and sets to a solid sugar coating. If you prefer more of a coffee cake, you may be happier to omit the glaze.
  • ½ c. margarine or butter
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • ¼ c. milk
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon or cider (optional)
  1. In medium saucepan, combine ingredients. 
  2. Over medium temperature, stir continually until butter melts and mixture is combined.
  3. Heat to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  4. Boil for 3 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, and add bourbon or cider.
  6. Spoon warm mixture over warm cake.

*For a more ‘polished’ appearance, glaze the cake on a paper plate or aluminum foil. Then, once cooled, carefully remove the cake to the serving plate.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Neighborhood bonds

Winter tends to tie neighbors down in the house, so the only time we see people is when we are cleaning off the driveway or getting our mail.We thought we were facing another mega-snow storm starting last night into today and we'd had it! So we decided to have a few neighbors over for a pre-storm Oscar party at the spur of the moment. It was a fairly small group, about 6 couples but a lot of fun to reconnect. We realized that everyone who came was from the original group of owners.

We are fortunate to live in a relatively small neighborhood and about half the original owners are still here. The development was built just over 20 years ago. It's amazing to me to realize that we've known these people, living among them for that length of time. We've seen the kids grow up, grand kids arrive, marriages dissolve and new relationships grow.

When we moved in, we were among the group of families that were just starting to have kids. There were other couples who were empty nesters or had older children when they moved in. It's strange now to realize that we are now in that group and the newer people moving in are the ones with the school age children!

The bond of raising kids together drew a group of us closely together, and those kids and families are now an extended family, as we get together for holiday gatherings and graduations. But the looser bond of being longtime neighbors still exists between the original owners, quietly observing how lives have changed, children growing up, parents passing, challenges overcome.

I moved around a lot when I was young, and never experienced the comfort of being part of a neighborhood. Now as our kids are out of the house, we are facing the dilemma of whether to downsize: a condo in West Chester with underground parking sounds pretty good after this winter! But I like having the community, the space and the house full of memories for the kids to come back to and I think they really value it. I never thought I'd live in one place for so long...but I do love it.