thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Friday Photo: Americano, like rust, Tazza d’oro, Pittsburgh

Americano, like rust

Americano, like rust, Tazza d’oro, Pittsburgh

I’ve already claimed that this café near Highland Park has some of the most nuanced espresso I’ve found in Pittsburgh. This Friday Photo is dedicated to the beauty of their americano, gold-tinged, bubbled, haphazard – beauty.

Tazza d’Oro
1125 North Highland Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 362-3676

Monday-Friday, 7 AM-10 PM
Saturday-Sunday, 8 AM-10 PM

Carnegie Mellon
Gates Center 3rd Floor
Computer Science Building
Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Monday-Friday 7 AM-7PM
Closed Saturday-Sunday

Better in Masaailand: All about… Kenya {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.
This week’s post is written by Heather Loring-Albright who is pursuing on a Master of Arts degree at the Chicago Theological Seminary with a focus in Women’s Studies and Black Studies. She has traveled to Kenya twice, most recently for two months in 2011. This particular reflection is from 2007 when Heather traveled to a traditional Masaai village two hours from Nairobi. The entire trip was “a painfully short 13 days,” which is why she went back years later. About Kenya, she recalls, “I learned a lot about simplicity and community there. I learned that I don’t need many things to find joy in spending time with other people. Togetherness is a real value for the family that I stayed with in Masaailand, and their community reflected that strength.”
All rights reserved.

My safari at Masaai Mara. All rights reserved.

All too often for Westerners, the entire continent of Africa is envisioned in a series of generalizations that waft somewhere between sand, savannahs, sun, poverty, and violence. However, Kenya is, comparatively speaking, a well-to-do nation. Kenya’s economy is the largest by GDP in East Africa, although low infrastructure investment threatens their ability to grow. Kenya received its independence from the British on December 12, 1963, and today, much of the country is modernized with large cities that exist alongside smaller villages and towns.  Many people travel into and out of Kenya; safaris are the most well-known tourist attraction.
For the most part, Kenya is politically and economically stable. However, there was violence surrounding the elections in 2008, shortly after my first visit. In 2011, I visited an Internally Displaced Persons camp full of people who had lost their homes in 2008 and were still waiting for the government to grant them new plots of land. Government corruption, such as bribes, nepotism, and tribalism is rampant here, but this is not unique to Africa; with Hurricane Katrina in the United States, we saw how all governments tend to take advantage of the powerless and voiceless condition of the poor.
The following reflection is about the Masaai people who live simply and traditionally as nomadic herders within this modernized country. A semi-accurate metaphor would be to say that the Masaai are the Amish of Kenya, for they work hard to protect their tribal lands as well as their way of living. I’ve chosen to focus on how I feel life is better in Masaailand, Kenya, because I think people already have enough negative misconceptions of Africa as a whole, regardless of the country. I’d rather provide a positive and unexpected window into a place that many people will never visit to show what we can learn from Kenya opposed to what we feel must be changed.
Nairobi skyline.

Nairobi skyline.

In Massiland, I most appreciated the following:

1. Patience. When our car broke down — for the second and third time — while driving through Ngong, my host mom would just laugh and say, “No problem.” During one of the breakdowns, we pulled over by a concrete wall which acted as a gate for a nearby business, and as cars whizzed past us amid bright billboards and throngs of people, the driver patiently attempted to fix the car. A tape played over and over again in the tape deck, but eventually, we got going again. Nothing seemed to faze my host mom. In Masaailand, time revolved around our needs instead of the other way around.

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Friends from the village. All rights reserved.

2. Dancing. Unlike the States, where people feel that they need training or copious libations to make it onto the dance floor, folks in Masaailand are avid dancers. I noticed this at a cultural festival attended by over 1000 people, where soccer and volleyball, food, and time brought people together to talk and laugh under the sun. When a fun tune would start, everyone would begin moving, even the little kids! I was holding a small baby who bopped along to the beat. Back wraps held other children close to their mamas as they moved. It was amazing to see so much movement and appreciation of music by all ages.

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Gifting me a lesso, a traditional, loose-fitting garment used to provide color and to allow wind to cycle around your body and cool you down. All rights reserved.

3. Community. Because they are a distinct ethnic group, the Masaai have close ties with their family groups and larger clans. People often drop by uninvited. In fact, that is the custom. It is considered rude (or at least unconventional) to schedule an appointment to visit someone. Additionally, if you don’t make house calls, people will begin to wonder why you refuse to stop by and say hello. Visitors are to be treated with the utmost respect and hospitality, so one must always be ready to host.

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Adorable goats. All rights reserved.

4. Chai. Kenyans love chai. It is usually 1 part water to 1 part milk, with “Kericho Gold” or some other type of black tea (grown in vast tea fields in Kenya) plus mountains of sugar. When someone serves you chai, you must drink the entire cup. This becomes an issue when you are making numerous home visits in a row. Chai is highly caffeinated.

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The Maasai are herders; these are cows resting by a tree. All rights reserved.

5. Stars. Although plumbing is typical for the average Kenyan, in Masaailand, it is not, and I loved walking to the outhouse at night. I would regularly turn off my flashlight and gaze up at the night sky. There were so many beautiful stars, big and small, that I could hardly make out all the constellations I learned in school! Being in the southern hemisphere gave me a different view too. It was breathtaking.

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Leaving the Masaai valley. All rights reserved.

The lives of eight million: All about… New York City {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by Brian Richards, museum curator for New York Yankees. Brian has coordinated 10 exhibits from scratch since the museum’s opening in 2009, including last June’s exhibit on Mickey Mantle. He currently lives in the Bronx and enjoys strolling down Fifth Avenue on Saturday evenings.


This post may raise a few eyebrows when compared to the others in this series that focus on global places, since New York City obviously isn’t a foreign country. However, it was a completely foreign environment to me when I moved here four years ago. I grew up in the tiny borough of Hughesville, Pennsylvania (population: 2,000), with a cornfield behind our home. In my teenage years, I dreamed of teaching history at Hughesville High School, marrying a local girl, and raising a family in that same little town. Even when I went to college at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, and on to graduate school in Cooperstown, New York (both also communities of 2,000 people), I never thought I’d one day move to America’s largest, fastest-moving, most exciting metropolis.

When I was hired by the New York Yankees in September 2008 to assemble and run a museum in the new Yankee Stadium, I was filled simultaneously with exhilaration and terror. How would I ever live in New York City? Simply tolerating the “Big Apple” would have been enough for me, let alone loving the place. I settled into the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx and have grown by leaps and bounds, both personally and professionally… and in my understanding and love for my new home.

Here are five important things that I’ve learned about New York City:

1.) There are many New Yorks within New York City. Think of New York City… what images immediately come to mind? Most of us will imagine Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park, etc. As for me, I always thought of bustling Times Square where “The Great White Way” and Seventh Avenue grandly intersect. It’s easy to think that “this is New York City,” but that’s only partially true. New York City is also quiet streets of townhouses in Chelsea. It’s tree-lined streets on the Upper West Side where ancient brick paving pokes through well-worn asphalt. It’s Hudson Street in the West Village, with little shops and restaurants that offer a refreshingly laid-back atmosphere. And that’s just Manhattan! I regret to say that I haven’t explored Brooklyn or Queens very much… and have never set foot on Staten Island… but those boroughs no doubt offer even more “New Yorks” within New York. I no longer picture Times Square when I think of this metropolis; in fact, I intentionally avoid the area for that very reason. It’s beautiful to learn about and savor the unique aspects of these communities-within-a-city.

2.) New York City… it ain’t what it used to be. I think there’s a common conception among non-New Yorkers that NYC hasn’t changed since the 1970s and 1980s. By that I’m implying a New York City with crumbling infrastructure and subways that double as easels for graffiti artists, a New York of rampant homelessness and violent crime. Maybe that was just the perspective I came from, but I certainly believed it. When visiting a busy area of the city, my father warned me to always keep my wallet in one of my front pants pockets to avoid pickpockets. Before living here, New York City invoked in me a sense of wonder and an equally strong sense of fear. Thankfully, all my fears were unwarranted. NYC experienced a renaissance of sorts in the 1990s which continues to the present day. Streets and subways were cleaned up, new shelters were built for those needed housing, and crime rates plummeted. There’s a reason why New York is consistently rated as one of the safest cities in America; in Manhattan, there’s (almost literally) a police officer on every street corner. The days of municipal bailout requests, blackouts, and “Son of Sam” are long since over. I can walk down any street in Manhattan without fear of any sort of danger. And I always keep my wallet in my back pocket.

3.) Nuuu Yawkers — they’re not all pushy, arrogant boars. If you’re within “radio range” of New York City, tune-in to WFAN sports radio sometime. The not-so-graceful words of Mike Francesa may attack your ears. Francesa, a staple on New York sports talk radio shows, embodies the stereotype of New Yorkers that I formerly held. He gives his callers few opportunities to defend their opinions while arrogantly dismissing them in a condescending manner. This is what I expected all New Yorkers to be like — constantly blowing horns, pushing in lines, and griping in voices loud enough to permanently impair hearing. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find very few people here like that. It does, however, feel like every New Yorker is constantly in a rush, but everybody realizes that the people around them are rushing, too. New Yorkers recognize the presence of over eight million people around them and understand the need for tolerance and coexistence. That doesn’t mean that deliberately ignorant behavior will go unrecognized or without comment. But as long as you’re thinking and respecting those around you, a profanity-laden tongue-lashing in Brooklynese won’t be a concern. Unless, of course, you call in to Mike Francesa’s show.

4.) Owning… and driving… a car really isn’t necessary here. Okay, now this one seems like a no-brainer, right? Who doesn’t know that an empty parking spot is impossible to find in NYC? But consider this: if everybody really knows that “fact,” why are there still so many cars, and why is parking still so coveted? Life without a car was simply unimaginable when I grew up in Hughsville, and I still held that belief as I drove my 1993 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight Royale to New York from Cooperstown in October 2008. The dream of keeping my beloved car quickly turned into a nightmare. Not only are parking spots in Riverdale difficult to find, every car has to be moved at least once per week for the street sweeper. I drove 90 minutes straight without a break one night — literally, a full hour-and-a-half — trying to find another spot. I quickly realized that the car was a luxury here, not a necessity.  It’s definitely convenient to come and go whenever you please rather than just missing a bus or subway train, but the city’s public transit system really does get you where you need to go. I never thought I could live without my car. Now, I can’t live with the car here. The parking, sky-high insurance rates, city gas prices, etc. are simply unneeded stress.

5.) Celebrities are not standing on every street corner. Another “obvious fact,” right? Not necessarily. It seems like everybody who is anybody in film, sports, music, etc., calls a chic Manhattan flat “home” for at least part of the year. Many people come to New York expecting to bump into Jennifer Aniston in the supermarket, wait for a subway with Jay-Z, or get a restaurant table next to Eli Manning. I have yet to experience any of this (although I have spoken to Rudy Guiliani, Whoopi Goldberg, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Gere while working at Yankee Stadium. OK, so I’m special.). Next time you venture into Manhattan, you’d might as well forget the autograph books. What you will find is something far more beautiful — the lives of common people unfolding before your eyes, by the thousands, at any given moment. Everybody has needs, wants, longings, joys, and sorrows, and New York shows all that drama unfolding and multiplied by eight million. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind bumping into Rachel McAdams at Starbucks sometime. But seeing and hearing so much genuine human drama excites me far more than seeing any famous face could ever do.

"Daily Life in NYC," Chuck Kuhn

“Daily Life in NYC,” by Chuck Kuhn


Yankee Stadium (Stock Photo)

‘Uptown ginger brown’ cappuccino, Little Amps, Harrisburg

Uptown Ginger Brown, Harrisburg, January 2013

Uptown Ginger Brown, Harrisburg, January 2013

The “Uptown Ginger Brown” ($4.25) — a not-too-sweet cappuccino from Little Amps in Uptown — is made with ginger, fresh orange zest, and brown sugar. The first two ingredients bring a subtle brightness to the rich coffee, a tartness hidden in the rich and foamy mouthfeel. As for the third, owner Aaron Carlson prefers brown sugar over white sugar because it’s not as “clawingly sweet”; the molasses in the brown sugar better complements the espresso.

This drink for me is the brightness of summer enrobed in the coziness of winter.

(Plus, it’s worth it just to hear Aaron announce, “Uuuuptown ginger brown!” as he pushes your drink across the bar.)

Little Amps
1826 Green Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102

Monday-Friday: 7am-2pm
Saturday-Sunday: 8am-2pm


Aaron Carlson, January 2013

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