Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I Ate: An Irregular Feature of What We Eat When We're Not Cooking

Janet here:

I just got back from an 1800-mile trip taking S back to college. (See sad post here.) In other words, I haven't been in the kitchen much so I can't really hold up my side of the blogging bargain until next weekend when I hope to spend some time there (in particular get very excited and start salivating for a KILLER brownie recipe).

Anyway, I decided I would start a new feature without even consulting Rachel because, you know, I'm the mother and I can do that. (I KNOW Rachel is a mother too but in this blog, I'm top mother dog. When Maxine starts to join us, Rachel can pull mother rank then. I'll probably be senile at that point and won't even know what's going on.) The feature is going to be about stuff we eat when we're not cooking. It could be something at a restaurant or it could just be at someone else's house or who knows? You'll just have to stay tuned.

To some extent, I was the third wheel in the recent road trip back to college. S and his father, Peter, are both, um, map-obsessives. I knew better than to weigh in on what route we might take. I just got in the back seat and knit, played Angry Birds, read and played more games of Words with Friends than is probably healthy. It was totally the way to go.

I'm not sure which one of them had the brilliant idea to head west rather than south but, thanks to Irene — you did hear about the hurricane, right? — it turned out to be a brilliant move. We completely avoided a single raindrop much less the monsoon. It was wonderful.

The first night we spent in Pittsburgh, which, if you haven't been, is a completely ignored city that is really fabulous and worthy of visits. I first discovered it while attending an Association of Alternative Newspapers annual conference and fell in love (from what I remember of my sober moments; these conferences were the stuff of legend, but that's another story). We arrived late and decided to walk over to the original Primanti Brothers' "almost famous" sandwich shop.

This chain was made more famous by Adam Richman of Man vs. Food (which is a fav of three members of our family; I'll let you guess which one is not a fan.). Anyway the claim to fame of these sandwiches is that they make all their sandwiches with the fries and their homemade cole slaw in the sandwiches. It's all one big bite and while it wasn't the most amazing sandwich I've ever had, it was tasty. I definitely recommend heading to one of their many locations if you're ever in Pittsburgh.

The Iron City is also where I discovered Penzey's Spices. There is an irony here: Apparently there is a Penzey's Spice store about 12 miles from me in West Hartford. At any rate, let me just say that going there made me want to throw out ALL of the spices in my spice rack

It's located on The Strip in Pittsburgh, which is basically a street, from what I can tell, completely devoted to fabulous food. Wholey's is there — a Mecca of wonderfulness in food, which also has vendors outside with great food as these photos show — and so is Penzey's and a ton of other great food stores. Just go there, all right?

But I digress....Back to Penzey's, which is known for its fresh, fabulous, creative spices and spice mixes. Maybe you all knew that cinnamon comes in a variety of types (I know as the food blogger here I'm supposed to be the "authority" but I'm going to 'fess up; I did not know this). Or that there is such a thing as Damask chili pepper or Guajillo pepper or Tien Tsin chili peppers...or that shallot salt exists or that there are European peppercorns, as well as Minton white, Tellicherry black, Malabar black, Sarawak white and Szechuan. I felt inadequate.

We also visited the Heinz History Center, which is a treasure trove of fascinating info and definitely will have you looking at Pittsburgh and western PA with a new appreciation. The Heinz Company exhibit alone is worth the visit, including Heinz catsup commercials from around the world featuring, among many other nuggets, one of Joey from Friends before he was famous. It's amazing.

We then headed to West Virginia, where we visited the world's largest radio wave telescope (I told you I did not plan this trip) and saw a lot of rural West Virginia. You will not be surprised to learn I do not have any great food moments to share from this part of the trip.

We dropped S off, after eating at Macado's in Radford, VA (and other locations). It was a fun college town sandwich spot. Again nothing amazing, but fun decor as this photo shows.

On the way back, we stopped in New Market, VA, where we did not have time to actually enjoy looking at the Civil War stuff (another visit is in order). We did, however, have an amazing Mexican meal at a place called Jalisco's, which apparently is a popular Mexican restaurant name because when I tried to find the link to the one we ate at, I found about a dozen all over the country. Oh well. I had a shrimp something or other and it was terrific...so was the jumbo margarita.

It was a whirlwind five days and reminded me how much I love traveling in this country. Between the people watching, the history and the food, really what more could you ask for?

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