pittsburgh: the pearl of pennsylvania

Like an oyster with a grain of sand, Pittsburgh is fast emerging as The Pearl of Pennsylvania. Long considered the tough and gritty anchor of the state’s western edge, a youthful artistic movement is rapidly re-gentrifying this unique metropolis. Last week I had the opportunity to check out Pittsburgh for myself, and I have to say, the rumors are true.  I found a rapidly growing artisan community that was as optimistic as it was unpretentious. Locals were friendly and genuine, the art was vibrant, and the food delicious. Our aimless wanderings quickly turned into an international gastro-tour of Lawrenceville and The Strip, two little gems that really deserve some fanfare.

Lawrenceville is an area northeast of downtown that is blossoming into a trendy and fresh neighborhood grown from industrial roots.  Along its main drag sprout coffeeshops, art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and more. Near by, accessible by foot, bike, or car, The Strip District is a historic area now home to nightclubs, bars, and oodles of specialty shops and import grocers.

While we couldn’t hit every store on our tour (our wallets and waistlines just wouldn’t allow it) I am sure you will find just as many gems on your adventure as we did on ours.  But if you’re looking for some recommendations, follow along as I recount our recent gastro-tour.

We started out in Lawrenceville at Gryphon’s Tea, 4127 Butler St., with orders of Cold Earl Grey with agave nectar, and Matcha- a powdered green tea drink.  Both were brewed fresh while we waited, and the barista was friendly and filled with recommendations of sights and eats in Lawrenceville.

After a leisurely stroll up Butler St., into a few art galleries, and down to the waters edge, past design studios and consulting firms, we wandered past La Gourmandine Bakery and Pastry Shop, 4605 Butler St., and were betrayed by our noses.  It would take someone with a stronger will than I to walk past that shop and not be lured in with the scents of fresh french bread, buttery croissants, and delicate pastries.  The smell was exactly as a French Bakery should be.  It brought back memories of living in Lyon, rushing past bakeries just taking out their fresh baked goods as I caught the bus to class in the morning, and then picking up fresh baguettes in the afternoons on my way home.  The treats were as delicious as they smelled, with flaky layers that melted in your mouth and left you completely satisfied.

Wandering back down the other side of Butler Street, we took the barista up on her recommendation to eat at Smoke BBQ Taqueria, 4115 Butler St.  Smoke is an unassuming restaurant next to a refurbished movie theater that specializes in bar-be-qua and tacos.  It was while deciding what to order here that we committed to our day of foodie exploration.  So rather than order full meals we each ordered a taco snack. I had a taco with black beans, roasted corn, poblano relish, fried potatoes, and topped with ribs pork. It was an astounding blend of flavors and textures and every bite was a delight.

From there we hopped back in our car and drove the few blocks down to The Strip. I’d like to take a moment here to applaud the geniuses at the Pittsburgh Parking Authority. Their new parking meters are brilliant in their simplicity. Rather than print out tags that one must leave on their vehicle’s front dash, at these meters you simply key in your license plate and you’re done.  Why is this so brilliant? Because it is possible to refill your meter from ANYWHERE in the city. Simply visit one of these parking pay stations, key in your license plate number and viola your meter has been refreshed.

Anyway, back to food.  Our first stop in The Strip was a visit into one of the many Asian Markets along Penn Ave. There we found all our standard favorite spices, deserts, and drinks.  I left with bags of mochi, Tom Kha soup mix, wasabi snacks, and dried seaweed.

Back outside, not two doors down, we found a Polish Deli, S&D Polish Deli, 2204 Penn Ave. Here we ordered a selection of Polish Cheeses, some spinach and cheese pierogis, and a stuffed cabbage.  The cheese was sharp, the pierogis fresh, and the stuffed cabbage just the way babula makes it.

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Pierogis and stuffed cabbage from S&D Polish Deli

Surely they must be getting full, you might think. Maybe a bit. From here we transitioned to some grocery shopping and exploring more of the specialty shops along Penn Ave.

There are Italian Markets, Middle Eastern spice shops, Mediterranean grocers, fresh butchers, outdoor produce markets, and more. The cultural cacophony is deafening, and inspiring.  “If we lived here we could make this and that and more!” we found ourselves saying over and over again.  “I can’t believe they have this!” I exclaimed more than once over rare cuts of meat, exotic vegetables, and hard to find spices.

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An outdoor produce market on Penn Ave in The Strip 

After stocking up on some Italian cheeses from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and some fresh biscotti from The Enrico Biscotti Co. we were ready for a break.  Rather than head home, we wandered into The Beerhive for a seat and a drink.  After a couple of refreshing pints of Octoberfest we were ready for round two of our gastro-tour.

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So many specialty shops all in a row!

We ended the day with Vietnamese sandwiches from Pho Van Vietnamese Noodles & Grill.  A Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich, as I soon learned, is a mouthwatering combination of tender pork, chili sauce, onion, cilantro, and cucumber on top of a french baguette.  Pho Van does Bahn Mi right.

With that, we concluded our delightful gastro-tour of Lawrenceville and The Strip District. Everything was delicious, reasonably priced, and worth every calorie.  By the end of the day we were ready to collapse into a satiated food coma back at our hotel, and we did just that.

Pittsburgh, you hidden pearl, never again will I think of you as a city of steel mills and silly football players.  You are now forever in my heart as one of the most delicious, artistic, friendly and inviting cities in the Northeast.

Until next time, Buon Appetito and Salute!!

Aeri

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the art of the exotic palate, FLiP W November 2014

This article is being re-posted from FLiP Magazine November 2014.  FLiP Magazine is a great publication with insight into pop-culture for both men and women! Aeri Rose is a regular contributor to FLiP W, the female focused half of the magazine.  You should definitely check it out, and subscribe for the free digital editions! Even if I’m quiet here…I’ll always find something to say there!

FLiP W Cover November 2014
FLiP W Cover November 2014

 

The Art of the Exotic Palate: Trying and Declining New Foods

By Aeri Rose

flip w article nov 2014

Being polite can be very similar to knowing an intricate dance. When you don’t know what you’re doing, it is easy to step on some toes. And when traveling abroad, it is easy to feel like you’ve packed two left feet. Just like a ballroom dance, research and practice will help you avoid a misstep, but sometimes you just have to jump in and do the twist. So, to help with those impromptu moments, this month’s travel article is called “The Art of the Exotic Palate: Trying and Declining New Foods”, and we will talk about a particular situation when a polite and graceful demeanor is the most important: during meals. So, enjoy our stories, and our universal tips to help keep you fed and happy on your next vacation.

Tip # 1: Be Inquisitive and open minded! Taste and try everything.

Remember you are on an adventure, you are open minded, curious, and hoping to turn strangers into friends all around the world. If someone has invited you into their home, invited you to share a meal, or even just made a recommendation after seeing you hem and haw over the lunch menu, accept their advice! Even if it ends up being the worst thing you’ve ever tasted…at least you will have a new story to Like the time I was encouraged to try silk worms in a Korean marketplace. They were served in a clear plastic cup with some broth and a toothpick. High in protein I was told. I was able to crunch a few down before they got cold, and they really weren’t even that bad. OK so maybe they were really gross. But I ate them and lived to tell the tale! And you can too!

Tip # 2: Taste but don’t waste!

Some dishes are recognizable, others strange. Some smell amazing, others…strange. When trying new things, take small portions so you will still be able to finish a dish even if it is not to your liking. Please do try to finish what has been served. Your host might have been using your visit as a chance to prepare some specialty dishes with expensive or hard to find ingredients that would be a shame to throw away if the crazy American took too much and couldn’t finish it. Remember, if you like something you can always follow the tiny first helping with a second larger helping, provided everyone else has already served themselves as well.

It is important to note that while food should never be wasted, often leaving one or two bites on a plate is the unspoken signal that your appetite has been satisfied.

Tip #3: Don’t be childish or immature if you encounter unexpected, unappetizing, or visually shocking

My Sicilian grandmother came to America when she was 17, and shortly after arriving in Maryland she was invited to a crab feast. Anyone who has ever shelled crabs knows they are odd, ugly little things that are cooked alive. She screamed when she saw them, and thought she was being made to eat a giant spider. My point is…everyone eats weird things in weird ways. It’s only weird if you aren’t used to it. So contain your gag reflex, control your urge to dissect your meal like a 7th grade biology lab, and keep your screams to a minimum when exploring exotic meals.

Tip # 4: Follow your host’s lead.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Preparing and eating foods and drinks like the locals will give you a chance to taste and learn about a new thing, or a new way to enjoy an old thing. Take tea for example. Everyone has a way they like to drink their tea: with lemon, honey, sugar, milk, hot, cold, etc. When you’re traveling don’t drink tea the way YOU like to drink it, drink it the way the locals do. When you’re in England, take tea with milk and sugar and a piece of shortbread. When you’re in Turkey take it strong in a tiny clear glass with too much sugar. In China? Dump some leaves in a cup, swirl them around, and spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how they drink the tea so gracefully without getting mouthfuls of tea leaves. And then call me and tell me what you’ve learned, because I still haven’t figured it out!

Tip # 5: If you absolutely cannot attend or cannot eat a dish served, say “No” as soon as possible, politely, firmly, and perhaps up to three times.

Being a picky eater, or having something else sort of planned that night are not really acceptable reasons to decline. But, if you know that fried crickets and blood pudding will be on the menu and you just will NOT be able to navigate a graceful decline at the diner table, than perhaps declining the initial invitation is your best choice. If you do have to decline, do it as soon as possible. As in, DO NOT accept and later change your mind, and definitely DO NOT accept and then stand them up.

Some acceptable reasons to decline might be because of known allergies or strict dietary restrictions, or because non-negotiable travel plans have already been booked. Like, for example, if you are a vegetarian hiking through the Gobi Desert and a Mongolian nomadic family invites you into their Ger to share their evening meal, you can be certain it will be 99% comprised of various cuts of goat meat, organs, and cheese products with perhaps one onion diced and boiled in your honor. As a vegetarian, you might find it easier to offer them some sweet mint tea and continue on your way.

So to recap, the dinner dance can be intricate, but there are always some general guidelines to keep in mind to help navigate any meal without stepping on too many toes. And when in doubt…say please and thank you and make your mamma proud.

Good luck and enjoy! Buon Appetite!

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Have you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Five years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose can be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as an artist and entrepreneur. To follow Aeri Rose on all her adventures, check her out online at aerirose.com or travelingwithaeri.com; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose.”

a very coleman thanksgiving

I know it’s a little late, but I had such a wonderful Thanksgiving this year that I just have to share it!

What's on the burner now?
What’s on the burner now?

I spent Thanksgiving in Todd Mission, Texas with my good friends Noelle and Al.  Noelle is another wonderful traveler who is touring the country with the most delightful little vardo in tow. To find out more about her story, you should really visit her blog- A Life Fantastic.

This was our first Thanksgiving as “adults;” and by that I mean, we weren’t with family, watching the game with the men, wrestling with cousins or dogs, and waiting for our grandma/aunt/mother to ring the dinner bell.  We were the chefs! Well, Al and Noelle were the chefs. I brought a case of beer, some carrots, and an eager appetite.

When I arrived I was first greeted by Tiny Puppy.  Cooper, a seven week old Australian Shepherd, is a tiny grey ball of cute.  A few more steps and I was in the living room: a tarped over space between their amazing vardo and their kitchen tent, complete with fat white Christmas lights,  an outdoor carpet and a camping couch.  There, I was greeted by Noelle and Al and given a culinary tour.  The warm scent of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the air around us.  “That would be the pies.” Noelle said.

Pies?

This thing can heat like a convection oven! See the tiny pies inside? Yum!
This thing can heat like a convection oven! See the tiny pies inside? Yum!

Pies.

With only a Coleman two burner propane camping stove, and a toaster oven they put together a complete Thanksgiving dinner.  I’m talking turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, carrots, cranberry jelly, rolls, mashed potatoes, AND home-made pumpkin pies.

All of the Things!
All of the Things!

I have a feeling that these two are amazing cooks anywhere, but they really proved that those little stoves are good for more than reheating Spaghetti-O’s and re-hydrating space food.  While the pies continued to bake in the toaster, Al prepared the turkey with fresh herbs and spices.  Then, while the turkey cooked we used the stove to make creamy mashed potatoes, buttery corn, fluffy stuffing, brown sugar glazed carrots, and gravy. Sorry gravy, ran out of adjectives. The scents shifted tantalizingly through the spectrum until finally the turkey was ready.  The rolls were thrown into the oven for a moment while the turkey basked in it’s own juices.  And then, only then, did Al deem Things Ready.

Cutting the roast like a pro.
Cutting the roast like a pro.

And boy was it good! It was amazing!

It was the best way to spend an evening with friends.

It drove home once again how thankful I am for the opportunity to live the life I do, with all its travelling. And it gave me a new chance to be thankful for good friends and warm homes, whatever the home may look like.

 

And thank you, to everyone who reads this blog. I hope you continue to get as much joy out of reading it as I get out of writing it.

 

Thank you!!

 

~Aeri

Buon Appetite!
Buon appetite!

i found a chicken toe in my dinner

China is cold. It is cold outside and most buildings do not have central heating so it is cold inside too. We wear our coats at dinner. There is heat in the classroom but if you sit by the door it doesn’t make much difference. I’m going to start bringing a blanket to class I think.

For the internet alone I now love American efficiency. Only the hard work of our Chinese classmates and the administrators, and their efforts to try to make us comfortable keep me from being angry at the poor planning of this whole program.  That and the reminder that by the end of France we had worked out most of the kinks. Though I am stressed now I know peace comes to the patient. And if all else fails I can always go out for a $10 massage. I had my first massage last night, and at 68 RMB for an hour it is definitely going to be a weekly occurrence.

This semester is going to be much harder than the last one was. We have class morning and afternoon, in addition to our project and homework assignments. I feel we will learn a lot though and really buckle down to the work. They are just trying to show us how Chinese students study.

The food is good but it will be rough of four months straight Chinese food. They cook a lot with pig oil so everything is greasy and heavy. And veggies are much harder to find than I thought they would be. And fresh fruit. But what I have had is delicious.  Even the dish with the chicken toe. Up until that point it was lovely, but there is something about fishing around for breast meat and coming up with a claw that kills your appetite. Not to say I won’t try chicken feet- I just need the proper preparation time!

One class I am very interested in is the Family Business class. I am glad we are touching on that side of entrepreneurship as well- a reminder that entrepreneurs and small businesses are a respectable job and necessary part of society and economy. It isn’t all about the massive corporation!