thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the tag “Pittsburgh”

30×30: Lesson 17: Lifelong listening and love

I couldn’t sleep after my first ballet performance (in case you were wondering, it was Laurel Valley Studio’s second rendition of “The Lost Children,” sometime around 1990). The heat of the lights and the swirl of the costumes kept me awake long after bedtime — as well as the memory of my favorite dancer named Crystal who broke her wrist onstage during her solo. Sometime in what seemed the middle of death (as nighttime always seemed to me as a kid), I crept over to my parents’ room.

“Mommy?” I said.


I remember searching for words to explain why I was awake. “I’m glad Crystal’s okay.”

“Me too. How about you sleep with me for a little while?”

And so I climbed into the warm space of the bed that my dad had left empty when going to milk cows, and I fell asleep with the sense that my mom would always be there whenever I needed her. For anything.


Is listening an art, a craft, or a choice? Is it the ability to be on the same wavelength as someone anytime they need you, or is it a skill you hone in order to read the longing in somebody else’s eyes?

For me, listening, like silence, is trust. But it is also peace. For me, growing up with a mother who would put down the phone, turn off the vacuum, and allow me to talk was fundamental to my ability to work through problems, express myself, and learn that I needed to lean on others beyond myself. And this way in which she allowed to breathe also founded my understanding of the friend, partner, sister, and teacher I want to be.

But what is incredible about my mom — about both my parents, actually; as well as my family; and especially my boyfriend, now that I’m really thinking — is the way in which not only has their ability to listen continued, but the way in which their love is followed up by selfless action.

“Just tell us when you need us,” my dad says each time I return to Pittsburgh for a new semester, “and we’ll be there.”

And they all have been. Such support — in action, in patience, and in the words at the end of the phone — give me a foundation on which to stand. Strength to go on. And love to share with others.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

Three of my favorite people in Pittsburgh, 2014

30×30: Lesson 4: Living for today

Rosalinda is my favorite part of living in Oakland, Pittsburgh. Her English is too thick for me to have figured out when she arrived from Italy or why, but she’s the grandmother that I never thought I needed.

Friendship came first in three large tomatoes, handed off the back porch on my way to class. Then, it was a fistful of basil, a freezer bag of spaghetti sauce. “Do you like jam?” I’d say. “Peaches?” And I’d scamper back to my apartment with a can of strawberry preserves I’d made myself or some apple butter, and the two of us would go happily on with our day.

When I’m sick of schoolwork, Rosalinda calls me “sweethear” and calls me up to her porch to sit while she tells me about milking cows in Italy, making Christmas cookies, her aching lower back, her son’s blind dog who “shit all over the place when he visit.” I mostly listen, half because Rosalinda talks better than she listens but half because her stories are fascinating. From spring to fall, Rosalinda tends tomatoes on her porch and waves at the neighbors as the sun deepens the creases around her bright eyes, and from spring to fall, I look for her out my bedroom window and wonder what it’s like to live clustered amid Oakland’s college students, so together and so alone.

She loves when my boyfriend Jon visits (“he wonderful guy”), but one day, she only nodded when I mentioned that I was driving to Harrisburg that weekend.

“Good for you,” she said. “Have fun wit him, okay?”

“I’m sure we will,” I answered.

“You know,” Rosalinda said slowly. “My husband and I, we always say, ‘We want to do this, we want to do that,’ and then we say, ‘No, no, we need to save money, for the college, for the bills.’ And you know wha? Now the money is in the bank, my husband is gone, and Rosa sittin on the porch.”

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, Pittsburgh

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, April 2014

Croque Madame, Salt of the Earth, April 2014

I’ve already hinted elsewhere that, for being a French food fan, I’ve eaten surprisingly few French classics. Somewhere between my busy schedule and the price of the Euro, when in France, I have tended to stick to lunches of baguette, butter, and ham sandwiches (which are pretty incredible) instead of white wine, escargots, and oeufs coquette.

However, this wasn’t good enough for Chef Chad Townsend at Salt of the Earth, Pittsburgh. After mentioning that I’ve never had a croque madame — a sort of elevated grilled cheese with ham — I was brought this delicious rendition of the old French favorite. Two buttery brioche slices are grilled with melted gruyère cheese and thick wedges of house-cured ham, then are crowned with a farm-fresh egg and slathered with béchemal. In every bite, the firm body of the bread gave way to the luxurious sauce, egg, and cheese; the smokiness of the ham cuts through the layers of butter. A green salad with fresh herbs and a bright, strong vinaigrette gives balance.

It’s not always on the menu (although it is right now), but — as this May 1 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states — any dish of Chad’s is worth trying.

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15602

Monday-Saturday 5pm-1am

Friday Photo: Erasing the artist

Gaby et Jules

Gaby et Jules, April 2014

In baking, like in art, the artist is meant to be eclipsed by the product of his hands.

Gaby et Jules
5837 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 682-1966

Tuesday-Saturday: 8am-8pm
Sunday: 8am-5pm

Not like Mom’s: Authentic Belgian waffles, Waffalonia, Pittsburgh

"The Antwerp"

“The Antwerp” with speculoos ice cream, April 2014

I happen to be intrigued by almost everything about Belgium. Geographically, politically, and historically lodged between Holland (the country that introduced me to Europe) and France (the primary country that speaks the language that I study), Belgium is the intersection of Europe at which I feel most myself. The French accent seems softer here, and the humor, brighter. In Belgium, Lynn and I began our walk along the Western Front in 2010, and I had my first argument in full-blown French (avec “vous” et tout) with a bartender in 2007. Wine as the national beverage is traded for the beer that links me to my boyfriend, and the land smooths into long wide fields that carry me back to my family’s Pennsylvanian farm.

So of course I was going to love the authentic Belgian waffles Waffalonia (Oakland and Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh), which serves up hearty, sweet waffles stunningly unlike those onto which my central Pennsylvania grandmother douses chicken and gravy. Instead, these Liège-style waffles are made from a yeast-driven dough and stuffed with imported sugar crystals that caramelize under heat.

It may be lost on many Pittsburghers that these waffles are named after Belgian cities and displayed on a menu that recalls a European railway schedule, but I used pass through Antwerp (here with speculoos ice cream and chocolate syrup) by train in 2007, and I was enchanted by the cobblestones streets of Bruges (here with strawberries and whipped cream) when I was fifteen.

Beyond the memories, the waffles are to die for. Pressed to order, the waffles are topped with fresh fruits, syrups, spreads, or locally-made Dave and Andy’s ice cream.

French student-approved

French student-approved, April 2014

Squirrel Hill
1707 Murray Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 521-4902

4212 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
(412) 685-4081

Friday Photo: Age of Days, Strip District, Pittsburgh

February 2014

February 2014

Friday Photo: Breakfast at Kelly-O’s Diner, Strip District, Pittsburgh

Breakfast at Kelly-O's, The Strip, February 2014

February 2014

Kelly-O’s Diner in the Strip doesn’t only serve up fish and grits, thick raisin toast, and fluffy omelets — there’s also a strong helping of tenderness and sturdy Pittsburgh pride.

Kelly-O’s Diner
100 24th Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 232-EGGS

Friday Photo: Macarons over the rainbow, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale


Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, February 2014

Light and dense, chewy and crunchy: these macarons from Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, are as colorful as they are delicious.

With flavors ranging from the familiar (Nutella, vanilla, orange, peanut butter and jelly) to the exotic (pistachio, raspberry balsamic vinegar, lavender), buying an array seems to be required.

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 821-8533

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery, Millvale, reinspires

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French bakery in Millvale, PA, is just a stone’s throw across the river from Pittsburgh’s other well-known French boulengeries: La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville, Gaby et Jules in Squirrel Hill.

However, in contrast to La Gourmandine’s rustic coziness and Gaby et Jules’ glittering elegance, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s bakery better gives the impression of being a small-town cake shop of 20 years ago: a turquoise-colored awning, neon OPEN sign, florescent indoor lighting. There’s no “bonjour” when you enter; there are no frilled aprons or chef’s hats; there are just pastries — and good ones at that.

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc

Paris-Brest, Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery

My purchase of the Paris-Brest — made of hazelnut or praline cream between two rings of choux pastry — was supposed to be the last time I was going to try this traditional pastry (which was inspired by a bicycle race between the cities of Paris and Brest in 1891). All too often, I’ve been let down, finding the choux pastry unable to live up to the flavor of the filling, due to the pastry having been too old or too refrigerated for too long.

Jean-Marc’s Paris-Brest proved me absolutely wrong. The light, firm pastry was the vehicle for the rich, powdered-sugar-dusted cream. Too big for my hands, I ate my Paris-Brest with a spoon. It was like eating a cloud occasionally studded with toasted almonds.

This pastry was not just good enough to revive my hope in pastries in general, but also to reignite my belief in humanity. Who would have guessed that such a jewel of a pastry could sit in the case next to humble American favorites like key lime pie, and be served so cheerfully in the corner of this town?

Did I really not realize that French pastries can sell not just because they are French — but because they are good?

I will be back to Jean-Marc Chatellier’s — and be back and be back.

Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
213 North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 821-8533

Friday Photo: Backstage pastry pass, Gaby et Jules, Pittsburgh

Chef Dimitri

Chef Dimitri, December 2013

On Wednesday, December 4, 2013, Gaby et Jules — a Parisian-style patisserie in Pittsburgh — hosted my French 1 class for a kitchen tour and chocolate demo.

Here, Chef Dimitri constructs a white chocolate bow using white chocolate ribbons, melted chocolate, and condensed air for a instant freeze.

Gaby et Jules
5837 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 682-1966

Tuesday-Saturday: 8am-8pm
Sunday: 8am-5pm

Post Navigation