Nothing says lovin’ like fried potatoes in the oven.

I’ve never really been in a position to establish new family traditions since I was always the one living close to Pittsburgh. But while going back east regularly is extremely important to us, it’s also pretty necessary that we have new plans in our new home. Luckily, April and I are very good at this, because we understand the essential component of a good tradition: food.

Did you know that until recently I had never made latkes from scratch? True story. I finally have a kitchen with enough surface area to thoroughly trash while doing so, so I figured what the heck. Let’s grate the potatoes by hand, even!

Latkes

Yeah. So that was pretty successful, not going to lie.

Matzoh ball soup, check. April’s delicious brisket – whose one fatal flaw was not being bigger so there were more leftovers, check.

Hanukkah table

(This was about the point where I realized my casual plastic placemats and lack of tablecloth were, well, lacking. Next time I’ll work harder on the presentation. See also: not wearing my jammies to the dinner table.)

Candles were lit. Blessings were sung. Passive voice was written.

And then, dreidel. Popular among the under 8 crowd, especially. There is something intrinsically appealing about counting gold and silver coins.

Jonah with dreidel

Actual spinning is optional, however. (So is knowing the rules of the game.)

We ended the night with full bellies and happy hearts. Seriously. It would have been a Norman Rockwell-worthy evening if not for the soft pants.

decorations

Mussels: Achievement Unlocked

There’s a point when you’re making mussels for dinner where it becomes undeniably obvious that you are in fact preparing a live animal for consumption. That point most likely occurs during the “cleaning and de-bearding” stage – which, let’s be clear, is made worse by the use of the word “de-bearding” – when the mussels can get protective of their little beardy bits (seriously, what the hell are those, anyway?) and pull them back inside their shells.

Don’t freak out. This is perfectly normal self preservation behavior for a live animal about to become a tasty tasty snack. Says the former vegetarian.

I’d never prepared mussels at home, but our family’s love of all things mollusk is well documented (though we prefer them sans starfish, thank you very much). This weekend, inspired by San Francisco’s crab season (totally a thing) I went a little seafood crazy at the market. In addition to dungeness crabs, I also picked up 5 lbs of mussels.

Five pounds? you say. That sounds like a lot.

mussels

Oh yeah. It is.

I opted to go the traditional white wine route, adding tomatoes, onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley, like you do. It made for a lovely presentation.

mussels with white wine sauce

Coupled with crusty bread for sauce sopping, I’d say this was a pretty successful first attempt at making mussels in the comfort of my own kitchen. We didn’t actually finish all 5 lbs, by the way. Not that you can tell from the carnage below.

shells

But now Avi has an enviable lunch of leftovers to take to school, and I have conquered one aspect of a previously intimidating cooking category.

What should be next?

But we were on a break!

Dammit, August. I was trying to simplify. Relax. Enjoy the moment. Stop recording life and try living it.

But then you had to go and be awesome, and I have no record of it for The Posterity.

There was great cooking (despite the so-called x diet), family vacations, beautiful beer money (what?!) and of course, Batman. All in a day’s work.

So here’s August:

I’ve been baking, sans gluten or grains of any sort. Raw almond flour is my new favorite ingredient, followed closely by raw, unsweetened coconut. These are delightful, x-friendly and even passed muster with non-x friends at a dinner party.

I also turned these

into these

with the same raw almond flour. Fried green tomatoes a la x. Or something.

Meanwhile, these came

signifying our official “membership” in the Good Beer Investor Program at East End Brewing Company. We were number 21, if I recall correctly. A good omen? Really looking forward to drinking and spreading the Good Beer Cheer (Scott, that should totally be a thing) with these (dare I say?) beautiful beer monies.

Midway through August was vacation time, but before we left for the  beach we had to deal with the snow in Pittsburgh.

As Batman filmed downtown, we were treated to all sorts of vehicle and star-sightings as well as a lovely dusting of prop snow for several days. I missed most of it because I was on campus, but caught a bit at the end. Crazy weather juxtapositioning, since approximately twelve hours after I took that picture, I got to see this

We had a wonderful time at Bethany Beach again this year, due to the fabulous generosity and awesomeness of family. The weather was mostly perfect

and even when it wasn’t, it was beautiful. Exactly what we all needed before the start of the school year(s), since I indeed came right back to this

and this

(Can somebody *please* explain to me the significance of the panda??)

Avi’s hockey practices with his first official team started this month, also. He is very excited.

No really, he is. And we are, too. SHAHA is amazing.  More than worth the lengthy drive to the South Hills several times a week. Also: my hair is so long. Wow. Also also: I was not driving when this picture was taken. But! I can’t wait to see how quickly Avi continues to develop with this sport his whole family loves. His skating skills are really impressive and we can actually see him putting it all together on the ice. So much love!

Yeah, so that was August. I also took my absolute favorite picture of Avi ever (so far) during this month, so even though I’ve shared it with The Entire Internet already, I would be remiss if I didn’t share it again here. He’s so freakin cute, it slays me.

Told ya so.

Bring on September!

My Soapbox, or Win Tickets To “The Sound of Music” For Your Family!

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. Last week was Chicago, next week is Baltimore. All great trips, but it really hits home how much I love my family when I’m away from them for a couple (or more) days. On top of that, we’ve been so busy already this summer with camp and hockey and ballet – all for Avi, of course – that when we are home we like to sloooooooow down. Much time is spent in the kitchen, and I have a lot of delicious things I should get around to posting, but we’ve also spent some quality time reading and (believe it or not) watching movies. Avi and I finally finished the first Harry Potter book

(Ahem. I have read them all many many many times. He was reading [with me] for the very first time.)

and then I let him watch the movie. We also recently watched one of my favorite movie musicals of all time, “The Sound of Music”. How can you not love this show?! I myself prefer to ignore the political undertones entirely and just enjoy the timeless music. Avi was pretty interested in the puppet show.

I was super excited to see that Pittsburgh CLO is doing the show this summer (that’s right, I said “doing”, as in “locally produced theater”, not a tour) because as everyone knows by this point (and if you don’t, you should) taking kids to live theater is my giant, sparkling clean soapbox. And this! This is theater with kids in it, even! These kids:

They look very Austrian, don’t they?

So, yeah. Pittsburgh CLO’s production of “The Sound of Music” opens next week, and I have a pack of 4 tickets to opening night, Tuesday, July 19, to give away to one lucky reader and his or her family. Just leave a comment below telling me the name of the first show you ever saw. If you want, tell me how old you were, also – but no worries if it was just last week and you’re 42 years old. Theater at any age can be magical. My soapbox has room for everyone. One entry per person, and entries must be in by noon on Sunday, July 17. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner and contact that individual directly.

Even the mountains are wholesome, aren’t they? You know you want to go to there.

Disclaimer: Pittsburgh CLO is providing me with four free tickets to use and four tickets to give away. But you knew that since I explained it up above.  You can purchase tickets for “The Sound of Music” here if you don’t win, but I’ll cross my fingers for you.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, Vol. 4: Fish Tacos & Tomatilla Salsa

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post. Or find all the harebrained episodes via tag in the sidebar.)

I love fish tacos. My friends love fish tacos. My friends still eat fish tacos (or any tacos, actually), but alas, I do not. Too many empty calories in the common taco delivery system, be it wheat or corn based.

But! (with a finger pointing, I think)

It turns out what I love about fish tacos is the fresh, crisp flavor combinations inside, not outside, the taco. Authentic delivery system be damned.

Oh, the old lettuce trick, you say. Probably skeptically. But take a closer look: thick, crunchy, stalky lettuce with a nice center rib much like a taco shell. Black beans. Fresh salsa (often homemade, but this time Trader Joe’s did the work for me). Scallops. Homemade tomatilla salsa on top.

Wait a second, you cry. Did you say ‘scallops’?! I did indeed. Lightly seared, and perfectly distributing fish (okay, shellfish) throughout my taco.

Tell me more about this tomatilla salsa, you say. Pshaw, it’s easy. And we put it on everything. Every. Thing.

Tomatilla Salsa

6 or 8 tomatillas (Farmer’s Market)
1 green pepper (Farmer’s Market)
1 jalapeño pepper
1 leek (CSA)
1 small bunch of kale (CSA)
About a half T. Of kosher salt

Remove the papery coverings on the tomatillas and boil them for ten to fifteen minutes (depending on size and quantity). They’ll turn a richer green. Immediately throw them into a powerful blender or food processor and smash them to smithereens. Add the rest of the ingredients, or modify to your liking. Garlic and/or onion is good. Additional jalapeño is, too. Fresh cilantro or other herbs, whatever. Blend the hell out of everything, transfer to a container and chill in the fridge for several hours so the salsa can set.

Enjoy with fish (or shellfish) tacos or anything else you eat. Or just eat it by the spoonful. I won’t judge.

What I Love vs. What I Eat, vol. 3: Banana & Coconut

(For more on this once-and-future series, see this post.)

You’ve been to Nicky’s, right? You’ve tasted the absolute best tom kha soup in the city, of course. Oh, good. We can still be friends.

My always-meal at Nicky’s starts out with That Soup, followed by the grilled beef mint salad and accompanied by a pot of astounding ginger tea.

But there’s something else on their menu, something that I covet, something that surprises me. It’s something that I’ve shared with several of you after a lunch or dinner at dear Nicky’s, the perfect conclusion to our meal. On the menu, simply “banana with coconut roll”. You probably never even noticed it.

The dessert itself is not perfect. The ratio of banana to coconut is never exactly right, and the wonton wrapper is messy. But the combination of flavors is what gets me every time. Banana plus coconut. Of course.

I didn’t want to make an alternative banana with coconut roll. It’s not practical for everyday consumption. But I could take those flavors and use them to make whole wheat mini muffins, oh yes I could.

Banana Coconut Mini Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
5 ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon (or so) of vanilla extract
1 cup flaked coconut, sweetened
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Nutmeg to taste

Mash bananas and mix thoroughly with sugar, egg and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients (except coconut) and add to bananas. Stir completely, then add coconut and stir again. Spoon into lined mini muffin tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 36 muffins.

Now, get this: original dessert is fried, and definitely not diet-friendly. But these little guys clock in at about 50 calories a piece, and they’re perfect with an egg for breakfast. Next time I might really let my hair down and add coconut extract, too.

Nutritional information for one mini-muffin (1/36 of recipe): 51 calories, .9 grams fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 94.3 mg sodium, 10.4 grams carbs, 1.1 gram fiber, 5.7 grams sugar, .9 grams protein.

Baked Eggs and Happy Birthdays

My dad’s birthday was Saturday. A big birthday. We had a steak and eggs brunch to celebrate, and I offered to make the eggs. (My dad, of course, made the steaks.)

All week I thought about what kind of eggs to make, and all week i came to the same conclusion: steak+egg casserole=too much food. I didn’t want to set up a short-order station, but I couldnt think of a way to do eggs for eight people quickly and lightly. Every casserole I considered was heavy on the cheese, sausage or cream. Too. Much.

Then I realized that I could just bake the eggs, sans cassrole fixins. Yes, it took me the better part of a week to think of that. Shut up.

I found a recipe on 101 Cookbooks that intrigued me- great combination of individual eggs with assembly-line prep. I modified to fit my tastes, as usual.

Step one, avocados in multi-grain flat bread.

Step two, tomatoes, cilantro, onions and garlic.


Step three, gorgeous CSA eggs on top.

Bake for 13-15 minutes on 350 degrees. Or over-bake for 15-17 like I did.

Serve with steak and fruit salad and absurdly decadent cinnamon rolls, because it’s a big birthday, dammit.

Each baked egg cup is about 120 calories, by the way. Much better than a 300 calorie egg casserole. (Complete nutritional information forthcoming.)

So happy birthday, dad! Love you muchly, and so pleased we got to spend the morning with you.

Burgatory

We tried to go to Burgatory Bar a couple weeks ago. The wait (on a Friday night) was close to two hours, so we passed. The hostess that evening suggested we try a weekend afternoon before 5pm, so on Saturday we stopped by after Avi’s soccer game. She was right: we walked right in (mostly) around 3:30pm, and by the time we left there was a line out the door.

I’m a fan of branding-as-design when it’s done the right way, and I think Burgatory has a lot of fun with that end of things. The message and tone is consistent on everything, and a snarky flow chart on the wall near the front made me laugh out loud. It’s obvious that the attitude/aesthetic was a major priority to the owners, so high marks for that.

Generally, high marks for everything, really. I have some thoughts about the one aspect of our visit that was less than positive, but I’m going to save those for the end so I don’t detract from the deliciousness.

I might as well start by saying that Burgatory reminds me of Fuel & Fuddle, and I truly mean that in a good way. It also has some obvious similarities to BRGR, but I haven’t been there yet so I can’t speak to them directly. For the sake of science, we ordered our standard benchmark, the nachos.

A solid showing, although probably not in the top five (where Fuel & Fuddle comfortable sits). Too much glop in the center so the toppings-to-chips ratio was off. Nice homemade quac, bonus points for the green onions. But we didn’t really come for the nachos, we came for the burgers.

Beef+Farmhouse cheddar+bacon+field greens+tomatoes=

With a small child for scale:

(Pitchfork optional.)

As you can see, the burgers come with a side of handmade russet & sweet potato chips that even this potato-hater found enjoyable. Mine was a bit overdone (I asked for a pink center, but it was definitely medium-well) but quite juicy and flavorful. The brioche was fresh and the cheddar was extra sharp. Less than half the sandwich was consumed on site, however. Consider this your warning that these burgers are huge.

The other reason to come to Burgatory are the shakes.

Yes, you read that right: the shakes on the left are for grownups only. I tried a Peppermint Pattie.

(Forgot to ask for no whipped cream.) Waaaay too big not to share, and here’s your second warning: you can’t take this puppy home because of the alcohol. Which is a shame, because it was delightful but I’d need about a week to finish it, even if I had gotten it when I ordered it.

And that brings me to my final thoughts on Burgatory Bar, prefaced with the reassurance that we will absolutely be going back.

Our service was terrible.

I know, I know. I hate to admit it, too. But it wasn’t just one person and it did actually impact my enjoyment of our meal. I won’t go into petty specifics here, but I hope it was just an off afternoon at a recently-opened restaurant and not par for the course. Both the host staff and the wait staff were seriously off their game, and in a place like Burgatory which so obviously places a premium on ambience and experience, it was a definite bummer.

So we’ll give them a couple weeks and head over again. I want to try that bison burger anyway.

Park Bruges (and a status report)

We went out for brunch on Sunday morning. Like out. To a restaurant.  It was delightful. And we walked! From our house!! Clearly I am so excited by this potential that I’m speaking writing in clipped non-sentences.

But I do long for a more walkable neighborhood, even though we have vastly more accessible by foot than any other place I’ve lived since college. Maybe then I long for more taking advantage of the walkability? In either case, on Sunday when we decided to check out Park Bruges and I spontaneously suggested we walk (apparently the veritable 40 degree heat wave inspired me), I was totally tickled when the boys agreed.

The short version: Amazing food, delicious cocktails, lovely design, pricey menu, no line.

Totally recommend it, especially because I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There is no wait at the Highland Park location (so far). While people line up around the block at Point Brugge for Sunday brunch, we walked right in to Park Bruges at 11:30am. Awesomesauce.

And the food. Oh my, the food! Maybe I should just show you.

The mussels. Of course we had the mussels. We all had the same number to be completely fair; Avi would have eaten more if we had let him.

Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and field greens on challah.

Liege waffles with apples, cranberries and blueberries.

Steak and eggs with frites.

Not convincing enough for you? We tried several cocktails as well, two of which were completely new to us.

Bloody Mary and Prosecco.

Pim’s Cup – Pimm’s #1, ginger ale, soda, lemon & cucumber garnish.

Rte. 8 Mule – Boyd and Blair vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime juice. Incredible.

Such a fun family morning. I am seriously looking forward to more little walking excursions as the weather gets warmer and we emerge from our sickly winter cocoon.

Oh, and lest you think this was a brunch of ridiculous excess not in keeping with my avowed moderation, I can assure you that we *all* took a good amount of food home. I haven’t lost 25 pounds since January 3 by breaking the rules, but I still get to live a little, too ;)

Where do we go? Where do we go now?

I’ve said before that this is clearly not (exclusively) a food blog. Just look at the sidebar to see the giant “Avi Bear” and you’ll know right away I tend to write most about the kiddo. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy having a single place to document my cooking processes and calculated nutritional information. It’s just nice having no specific agenda. But since I have some great IRL friends with absolutely stunning food blogs, I do tend to think about that side of things when I’m in the kitchen.

What I have absolutely zero interest in doing, however, is posting “reviews” of local restaurants. Not only am I supremely unqualified (but if I ever wanted to learn, I’d start here) – being just of the “loves to eat” persuasion, and not at all of the “studied food formally” ilk, I very much want to keep my restaurant enjoyment exactly that: full of joy. And food. Right. I also now have several friends whose own restaurants are personal favorites, and I think about how it might feel to have some outsider write a negative review about a place I really love. I don’t want to ever be in the position to do that for someone else’s favorite place.

In any case, after two paragraphs of slightly-off-topic disclaimers, I’m finally to the point: I’m looking for some new restaurants to try. We’ve got two awesome babysitters (two links for two great gals) to put to work here, people. And lots of date nights to catch up on.

For context, here are some of our recent visits:

Seviche, in downtown Pittsburgh
The Grand Concourse (for brunch), in downtown Pittsburgh
Sharp Edge Bistro, in downtown Pittsburgh
Avenue B, in Shadyside/Bloomfield/Friendship (depending on where you draw the line)
Bocktown, in Robinson
Mitchell’s Fish Market (breaking the “locally-owned only” rule. Sorry.), in the Waterfront (but included here because it’s AKA, the place where we got a sea star in our mussels. True story.)

And here are some favorites/comfort food (you decide which are which) where we have a gift certificate from Groupon or Restaurant.com:

Abay, in East Liberty
Ryan’s Pub, in Regent Square
Burma-Tokyo, in Oakland

And here are two new places where we also have a gift certificate to use:

Ibiza, on the Southside
Original Fish Market, in downtown Pittsburgh

All that being said, I’m most interested in your MUST TRY spots. Your holy-cow-how-have-you-not-been-here-yet spots. Your go-here-next spots. And your extra-special-occasion spots. The only rule is that it must be locally owned.

So, go to it.