Thursday, December 17, 2009
1. Kards Unlimited - 5522 Walnut Street
Warning - you will spend hours in this store. Don't let the name deter you, there is much more than cards and stationary behind these doors. Creative gifts, games, books, candles, t-shirts.....there is so much to see, and guaranteed you will find the perfect gift for the hardest person to buy for on your list. Even the naughty ones, if you know what I mean.......
2. Eons - 5850 Ellsworth Avenue
We all have a Diva to buy for. With very little digging in this vintage clothing store, you are likely to find that one of a kind piece that will make you the envy of all other gift-givers this season (along with a few signature pieces for yourself). If nothing else though, stop by their storefront to check out the legendary window displays!
3. Smileys Pet Pad - 215 South Highland
I love walking my pups to this local shop, and always find the perfect gifts for the furry ones on my list. Plus, they get to harass the cats that live at Smileys, which is why they really love it here. Sorry Smileys.........
4. Trader Joes - 6343 Penn Avenue
When all else fails - I turn to food. During any other time of year this is a problem, but during the holidays it is sound shopping. Trader Joes always comes through with a unique selection of holiday yummies that make me the hit of the party. One of my faves, the Candy Cane Joe Joe's (Trader Joe's version of Oreos), crushed and mixed in with melted white chocolate, then cooled and broken up. Voila! Candy Cane Cookie Bark!!
5. Giant Eagle GetGo - 4924 Baum Boulevard
What?!?! A gas station on my list of last minute gift ideas? I know, but Giant Eagle (who yes, I love), offers their full selection of gift cards at this brand new location, and you can multitask when you are filling up the sleigh. Plus, you get $.20 towards your fuel perks when you purchase gift cards and who doesn't love a little help at the pump!
Here's hoping that I helped at least a few of you with the last minute rush! The 'Burgh Living Blog will be taking a little hiatus over the holidays so yours truly can enjoy with family and friends. I will be back with a bang in the New Year, but in the meantime I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy Holiday!!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!"
There is a pioneering spirit in Pittsburgh. It permeates everything from the way we construct our buildings to the way we use technology. We don't shy away from innovations, or wait until another city tries it first. Here in the 'Burgh, we embrace our progressive thinkers, and use their discoveries to forge our city's future. The research done at our hospitals and universities makes us an incubator for new ideas, and in the last decade, these ideas are beginning to flower. Perhaps this is why the spotlight currently shines so brightly on the 'Burgh.
One of the leaders of this pioneering pack of Pittsburghers is none other than my very own councilman, Bill Peduto. I suspected my councilman was fairly progressive when he friended me on Facebook. Suspicions were confirmed when he spoke at this years Pod Camp Pittsburgh 4.
When I reached out to Bill (via Facebook naturally), to request an interview for the 'Burgh Living Blog, I knew he would respond because of how approachable he is to his constituents, but was blown away when a not only a response, but an answer of "Yes!", appeared in my inbox within 5 minutes. You see, Bill also reciprocated my follow on Twitter, and it seems we formed a bit of a virtual bond over our mutual love of Kelly's Mac and Cheese.
We met at Bill's office in the City County Building, which in itself is a testament to his love for the 'Burgh. There is a table piled high with media Bill has collected from meetings with some other forward-thinking pioneers here in Pittsburgh, and if you were to dig through that pile, I suspect you would get a glimpse into the future of the 'Burgh. Bill just doesn't meet with his constituents, he takes action. His enthusiasm for his District and the city as a whole is pretty awe-inspiring. I could barely write fast enough to keep up!
This enthusiasm also reveals that Councilman Peduto is pretty well suited to his career choice, and I wanted to find out what led him down this path. Although my interview was more with Bill Peduto the Pittsburgher, I wanted to first uncover what created Bill Peduto the politician. Throughout the course of my interview, I realized it is fairly impossible to separate the two, since he pretty much stays synced-up with the heartbeat of his constituents 100% of the time. It turns out that unlike many other politicians, his family was not a particularly political one. So, he didn't take over the "family business", so to speak. He forged his own path, which began as a strong interest in History in the second grade, and evolved into a passion for Government and Politics at by the time he reached college at Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State. Says Bill, "I created my own jobs". He owned and operated a consulting business from 1991 - 2000, and helped other politicians with their images and campaigns. Ironically, he mentions how now, as a political figure himself, he does not heed much of the advice he formerly gave. This experience led him to a position as Chief of Staff to former District 8 councilman Dan Cohen. Since 2002, Bill has been the crusader at the helm of this large district, which encompasses the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Bloomfield, Friendship, North and West Oakland, Point Breeze, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.
ENGAGING TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE "E-DEMOCRACY"The consulting business that Bill operated was crucial in forming the councilman he is today. He is a pioneer, in that he was the first to use a computer in a political campaign in western Pennsylvania. His 2005 campaign was the first to use a podcast in Pennsylvania to reach the public. This should come as no surprise, as Bill is the instigator of many firsts here in the 'Burgh. iBurgh (which is an app that all of Pittsburgh iphone users should have), is one of his greatest accomplishments. In fact, it’s the first mobile app for local government in the United States. In conjunction with the creators of YinzCam (which is another must-have app that revolutionized hockey games for you oh-so-lucky iphone users!), Bill developed iBurgh as a tool to streamline how people in Pittsburgh can report issues. Potholes, broken streetlights, you name it, iBurgh users can snap a photo and send it along to be tracked and resolved. With the inclusion of GPS, iBurgh can also be used to target problem areas where issues are consistently being reported, and more intensive corrective action can be taken.
Bill is also the driving force behind the Reform Pittsburgh Now website, which he describes as a "Website that lobbies for policy, not a political website". The tenants of the Reform Pittbsurgh movement were posted on City Council doors at the website launch a la Martin Luther, a move that put the exclamation point on Bill's proclamation of making local government more accessible to the locals. The next step? Beginning January 4th, 2010, City council meetings will now be available for viewing online. Want to know where your councilman stands on a particular issue? These broadcasts will be searchable, not only by subject, but by councilmember name as well! You can go right to the portion of the broadcast where your councilmember speaks directly on matters dear to your heart. Bill points out that to obtain this information only a few years ago would have required days of research at the City County Building, and likely some dollars out of your pocket. Now you can research away, free of charge, in your jammies.
Bill also utilizes social media better than any local politician. This was how he reached out to me, and I am sure many others. Bill says that, although he avoids the "too personal" realm of updates, that social media allows him to be himself. His Facebook and Twitter statuses will often be about hockey, or an important social engagement. Frequently however, they will give us insight into how Bill Peduto the Pittsburgher feels about the issues. Ultimately, this makes him feel like the most accessible guy in town, and that seems to be one of his goals. It plays into what Bill calls a system of "eDemocracy", an answer to how you can make people feel that they have "more of a stake" in their local government by directly engaging them online.
WHY PITTSBURGH? CULTIVATING THE CHARACTER OF OUR NEIGHBORHOODS
If ever a council member had a mission statement, this would be Bill Peduto's. As a Real Estate Agent, I find that people relocating are frequently first confused (working out where one neighborhood ends and another begins takes some practice for a newbie), and then charmed by the many neighborhoods contained within our city limits.
Each of these neighborhoods, no matter how small, offer their own special flavor. What is Bill's hope for the Pittsburgh of the future? That each locality continue to cultivate that uniqueness. What is Bill's personal answer for my favorite question, "Why Pittsburgh"? Because of this focus on locality, "Pittsburgh has everything, but on a scalable size. I knew this was where I could live my life. It's home"
ONE PERSON/GLOBAL IMPACT
In the course of our interview, I asked Bill what his proudest accomplishment as a council member was. His story surprised me, but given the kind of person he is, upon reflection I realize it shouldn't have. His proudest accomplishment has nothing to do with the path he has forged in opening local government to the people, nor his role as a leader in our city's green movement. Instead, he shared a touching personal story with me. One where he used his reach as a local politician to make an important impact on one person's life.
Cailu Xu was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2003, his wife, back home in China, was arrested for passing out flyers for the "Falun Gong" movement. Also called Falun Dafa, the movement began in China in 1992, and raised the ire of the communist government as it frequently produced tremendously large gatherings of people. Viewed as a threat, practitioners of the movement were frequently imprisoned.
Taking on the Peoples Republic of China is no small feat. Bill took it upon himself to draft a proclamation, sent to Tianjin, our sister city in China, in support of the Falun Gong movement, and demanding the release of Xu's wife. Other letters followed, as Bill used his political clout to garner additional support from council members.
After 18 months of not hearing his wife's voice, Cailu Xu received the phone call he had probably almost given up hope he would ever have. The Chinese government released his wife. Thanks to a pioneering local politician in the City of Pittsburgh.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Things I missed:
The little sis. Also smiling.
Pierogi Ruskie a la Staszewski
Our family pierogies are done in a style called Pierogi Ruskie, made with a white cheese and onions. Potatoes can also be added, if you are into carb-loading. We prefer to make them a little lighter, as they are served as a side dish to our main Christmas Eve dinner.
Roll out dough to a thickness of approximately 1/8 inch. Rolling the dough too thick will result in some bland, doughy pierogies. Using a biscuit cutter (or a wide-mouth glass, which is what I did), cut as many circles as possible from your first roll of dough (we do not roll out the dough more than 2 times, as it can result in a tough pierogi). place a 1/2 tbsp of the mixture in the center of each circle, fold in half, and firmly pinch around the outside to seal mixture within the pocket. It is important that you make a good seal, so they do not pop open when you are boiling. Your pockets should look something like this:
Drop appx. 6 pierogies at a time in a large pot of boiling water. They are done when they float. Remove with a slatted spoon and set aside to cool if freezing. If you are freezing your pierogies, I recommend separating with layers of wax paper so they do not stick together.
To prepare: Cook pierogies on stove top in a large pan with a lot (I mean a lot - c'mon it's the holidays!) of butter. They should be lightly browned on each side, and your house should smell like Christmas Eve.
PS: There is much talk about the 'Burgh going "green". I love this aspect of our city, and write about it often because it is an integral part of our economic growth. An added plus to the Shadyside Giant Eagle Market District, is that it has LEED Silver Certification. A pioneer in the "greening " of Pittsburgh is none other than District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto, who I had the tremendous honor of interviewing to get his perspective on the 'Burgh. To hear how Bill answers the question "Why Pittsburgh?", tune in for a very special edition of my weekly series this Wednesday!
Friday, December 11, 2009
In addition to the Step Trek, The South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association is a tight knit group, that truly cares for the place they call home. Holding events throughout the year, the Association also has a website, which is an invaluable resource for "Slopers" who are interested in information about their neighborhood, or who want to get involved!
Characteristic of most Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the Slopes holds on tight to its Green Space! South Side Park, thanks to a joint effort between the Slopes Association and the South Side Local Development Company, has recently seen some improvements. Located off of Quarry Street, the park now boasts a newer baseball field and orchard, and like all things Slopes, has an impressive view of the city skyline. Additionally, the Association has also beautified the curve of 18th street, a main route into the slopes, with the addition of a garden.
I am happy to report that I can satisfy what is sure to be your growing interest in the Slopes! I have officially dubbed tomorrow South Side Slopes Saturday. Please stop by and visit 66 Pius Street, Unit L101 and 80 Barry Street between noon and 3:00pm. You can enjoy some refreshments ('tis the season for some gingerbread!), and I will show you in person what all of the fuss is about!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
If you crave a little more variety, there are some locally owned places here in the 'Burgh that have some specialities of their own. In some instances, it is the atmosphere and experience of the location as much as the food you are eating. These are the places that make you say, "You know, I could really go for......"
1. Kelly's Mac and Cheese. My most frequently and obsessively craved and tweeted about item. Perhaps it is that Kelly's is within walking distance from my house or, maybe it is the fact that they serve it along with a bottle of hot sauce, so I can douse to my hearts content. All I know is that this creamy Mac and Cheese is the closest thing to heaven in the East Side. Along with a side of Leffe Blonde (*sigh*), it is guaranteed to put a contented little carb-loaded smile on my face!
2. Oh Yeah Ice Cream. I am biased on this one, because the unofficial mascot of Oh Yeah is Coop, a completely gorgeous rescue dog. Plus the owner of Oh Yeah is a huge supporter of rescue organizations. So, basically they had me at Dog. But luckily, the ice cream is pretty darn awesome as well. Give yourself some time to choose a good mixin', as Oh Yeah offers close to 200 choices, and some of them, such as coffee grounds or chocolate covered ants (I kid!), may surprise your palate. My go-to here is Party People, a delicious marshmellowy/lucky charms/birthday cake combination that is the perfect desert to the above mentioned Mac and Cheese.
3. Hot Dogs from Franktuary. Perhaps we meat eaters are redeemed for consumption while on sacred ground? This trippy concept, a hot-doggerie in a church, may baffle the mind, but Franktuary runs with it and produces some pretty clever ads. Oh, and the hot dogs are tasty too!
4. Chicago Style Hot Dogs from D's SixPax & Dogz. Another biased selection, however I used to make these back in the day, when D's was nothing but a little strip of a bar (with a monstrous and breathtaking "Beer Cave") tucked into a building on Braddock Avenue, and I was the official beer girl. Well, I can say "I was there then", because a recent visit to D's knocked my socks off! Owner Dino DeFlavio has taken over the world (or at least Regent Square) with the addition of a full bar up in the "Loft", and the menu has gone all big-restaurant on me! Of course, I returned to the staple Chicago Dog, because it is still the best darn thing on the menu. I hate to admit, but I couldn't have made it any better!
5. Prantl's Almond Torte, I have spoken of thee before. This is a dish best served icy cold so you can properly enjoy the fluffy/frostingy/sugary/almondliciousness that is truly a little slice of heaven.
6. Wings from Buffalo Blues. Again, the "walking distance" factor is a plus (but if you have to drive it is worth it)! A good variety that will satisfy almost every palate is super. Plopping down at the bar and watching hockey on the big screen while consuming delicious wings and beer is extra-super. Add-in the open front in the summer for prime South Highland people watching and you have a winner! Dear Buffalo Blues, please bring back "Big Mamas"! They were horseradish heaven and I heart them!
7. Cupcakes from Dozen. Arguably, Dozen is the one of the most successful local business in the last decade. They now own and operate bake shops/restaurants in four locations, but like all good things, I recommend a trip to the original in Lawrenceville, which offers a varied menu. Dozen's frosting is amazing, and I consider myself a frosting connoisseur. Really, I do. Also, the variety of choices are fun. I can speak from experience that is very hard to look professional while picking Coco-Puffs off of the top of your cupcake, but I think it is a skill I am slowly mastering. Besides, the Astro cupcake is a work of art and should be appreciated by your associates as such. Also, in lieu of a little blue box, a little blue bag (Dozen's trademark color) can certainly make a gloomy day brighter.
8. Penn Dark, from Penn Brewery. Ah, like a phoenix, Penn Brewery has risen from the flames! Thought to be doomed to closure, the Penn Brewery is re-opening it's doors, and I for one am looking forward to imbibing this top-notch malty beer in its home.
9. Pamela's Pancakes. Yep, up there in famous fabulosity with Primanti's, Pamela's Pancakes are the favorite of none other than POTUS himself. Pamela's was recently charted by the Obama family to whip up a Memorial Day breakfast at the White House. Why the hype? Because they are that good. Worth a wait in line during Sunday brunch for your fair share.
Speaking of Pierogies, I will have the yummy details of my first-ever Pierogi making adventure, set to occur this weekend. If I get the family's permission and blessing, perhaps I will share the legacy that is the Staszewski pierogi recipe with you, so be nice, and there could be a little Holiday giftie for you in next week's posts!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
There seemed to be a misconception that the slow and steady growth we experienced as a city was somehow more of an explosion, and the overall reaction by most seemed to be.....Surprise . Clearly, these writers and newscasters had never spent any quality time with a born and bred 'Burgher, and therefore, they had not seen the commitment and drive that we have as a community when presented with a challenge. No need for the surprise, that's just how we roll!
There are many aspects to our growth, and although each is significant in its own way, there are three in particular that make me reflect upon these last few years with a healthy amount of Pittsburgh Pride. Really, the "City of Champions" moniker that we were lucky enough to claim this year doesn't just refer to our winning sports teams, but also the people who worked so diligently to put our home in the spotlight.
I have lived in Pittsburgh now for fifteen years, and can honestly say I have never seen a Steel Mill live and in person. Granted, I haven't been seeking one out, but I think that when people hear the word "Pittsburgh", that is still the association. Hence, the surprise people express after their first visit to the city and finding it to be not only quite "Handsome" (as President Obama commented), but also downright picturesque. I did not experience the Steel Industry in its heyday, nor did I suffer as so many did during it's decline. Instead of wallowing in our misery though, we pulled up our proverbial bootstraps and got down to fixing our problems.
Now, we can boast the 5th lowest unemployment rate in the country, with available jobs in Education, Healthcare (the brand new Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville includes a state of the art Research Center) and (thanks to some massive Downtown redevelopment), construction. According to an article in Forbes last year, we ranked 6th in the nation for job growth.
The Greening of the 'Burgh
Healthy living spaces are also not always first thought some have when the word "Pittsburgh" comes up. So, it will most likely be a surprise to many that we have over 33 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings in the 'Burgh and counting. The David L Lawrence Convention Center is the largest "green" convention center in the world, and has the honor of Gold LEED Certification. 3PNC, now being constructed adjacent to Market Square, is going to be the largest, mixed use, "green" building in the world, and is also intending to complete the LEED certification process. These are only two of the buildings in a city where new construction is more likely to be "green" than not. Both PNC and Carnegie Mellon University make it standard practice to build green. Enhancing the quality of life for those of us who enjoy these spaces is just one aspect of what continues to make us better as a city.
Climbing Property Values
The Real Estate Industry has taken quite a hit country-wide as of late. Pittsburgh is the rockstar here as well. While some areas of the country have seen property values decline as much as 50%, we are one of the few who have seen an increase. In Allegheny county, average sale price increased 5.3% between October 2008 and October 2009 (Source: Trendgraphics). Even with this increase, Pittsburgh can still boast some of the most affordable housing in the country as well. I often ask my friends who have moved away what they miss the most about the city, and inevitably affordable housing is the first on their list.
This 1-2-3 punch of success seems to have put us on the map for now and as the upcoming year unfolds, I anticipate adding the list! Who knows what good fortune 2010 will bring to the 'Burgh!