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32 before 32– A Little Wonder in Troy Hill: St. Anthony’s Chapel

32 before 32– A Little Wonder in Troy Hill: St. Anthony’s Chapel

I bet you’d be surprised to know that the largest collection of Catholic relics outside the Vatican is housed in a small church in the quiet hilly neighborhood of Troy Hill in Pittsburgh. Well it is. it is in St. Anthony’s Chapel.

I can’t remember where I learned this, but it was probably on some Rick Sebak special, because that is where I learn a lot of this type of stuff. Anyway, when I learned that there was a massive collection of relics right in our own city, I just had to see it. Because with something so unique in our backyard, why wouldn’t I?

Relics inside St. Anthony's, as photographed by Roadside America

Relics inside St. Anthony’s, as photographed by Roadside America

Many of the relics are tiny pebble-sized fragments of bone or teeth or what have you. There are also some larger bones, skulls and a tooth of St. Anthony of Padua. The chapel is simply gorgeous inside, with ornate frescoes and life-size hand carved and painted sculptures of the Stations of the Cross. I am not Catholic, but I believe that religious art from all faiths is beautiful. It is amazing to see the beauty that people create, inspired by their faith.

The chapel offers guided tours on certain days, but also offers a handheld audio tour if a guide is not available. I did the audio tour and really enjoyed it. It’s about 30 minutes long, tells you the history of the chapel, including the story of its founder, Father Suitbert Mollinger, as well as an overview of the relics and art in the chapel. It’s amazing that the whole thing is sustained by volunteers and donations, so if you visit, be sure to leave a contribution. The Chapel is now on my short list of must-sees in the City. If you’re a resident and haven’t made your way over there, it’s absolutely worth a visit. It’s close, it’s quick, and it’s wonderful.

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Food and friendship at the Big Harvest Potluck .@TheBigPotluck

Food and friendship at the Big Harvest Potluck .@TheBigPotluck

So in the weeks leading up to this year’s Big Potluck, when I would excitedly tell people that I would be “GOING TO A CONFERENCE IN BUCKS COUNTY!!!” They would inevitably respond “Why on earth are you so excited about Bucks County?” Bucks County is nice and all, but it’s not a hotbed of tourism. Technically, we were staying in Bethlehem, PA which is either in Northampton County or Lehigh County (and I don’t feel like taking the time to sort that question out with specificity), but the conference itself was held at Fordhook Farm, which is the test farm for the Burpee Seed Company, in Doylestown, PA (which is in Bucks County.) Pennsylvania has a lot of counties. IN ANY EVENT, I am not here to write about counties. I’m here to write about a food writing & blogging conference, so here we go!

I went to the Big Summer Potluck last year and had a totally fabulous time. In many ways, this conference is out of my league. Many of the attendees make their careers out of food writing, either through writing cookbooks or food-specific journalism or sponsored/paid foodblogging. Maybe for a second I felt intimidated by this, but I quickly resolved that hey, conference tickets are open for sale to anyone who would like to attend, and the hosts and attendees are all extremely welcoming, no matter how long your food writing resume is. As a matter of fact, you can’t tell the professionals from us amateurs, unless you really start digging in conversation. And you know what, this ended up being really cool, getting to so casually meet people who have made such big careers out of a field I so casually dabble in. I have no plans to ditch legal practice for food writing, but I think it is invaluable to get out of my law bubble, and get to know people in all kinds of different walks of life and industries.

Our lodging was the Bethlehem Sands resort, which was actually pretty cool. Part of the Bethlehem Steel mill has been turned into a hotel, casino, and outlet mall. They have a couple Emeril’s restaurants in the resort, too. I drove into Bethlehem itself because I needed to make an emergency nail polish purchase, and the town looks really cute. I wouldn’t mind going back.

Bethlehem Steel

The remaining steel mill structure looked absolutely gorgeous against the autumn leaves.

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We started things off by picking up our swag bags. The Big Potluck has  the absolute best swag. Hands down. It’s a small conference (60ish attendees), with big sponsors like Gourmet Garden, Kerrygold, OXO, KitchenAid, Sabra, Terra Chips and many others. This isn’t a hard-sell kind of conference. The sponsors know that the attendees love cooking and love food, and these companies all make top-of-the-line products, so the sponsors use the opportunity to show off new and unexpected things that their products can do.

pizza time

The first night of the conference was a pizza party at an absolutely GORGEOUS home. I can’t even describe how amazing this place was. It had it’s own little garden alcove where you could sit and chat, just like a little secret garden. Absolutely amazing.

Pizza

Dinner the first night was grilled pizza. Last year, we did a make-your-own grilled pizza. For an indecisive glutton like me, that was a problematic approach, because I loaded up my pizza with every single topping available, and it was a hot mess. This time, they offered 5 or so pre-made gourmet options, all of which were just delicious. I liked this approach much more, because the chefs were much better at identifying delicious combinations, and exercising the appropriate level of topping restraint, than I would ever be.

Veggie appetizers

We also gorged ourselves on mountains of roasted and fresh veggies and amazing amazing Sabra dips. I usually just eat hummus plain, but there was this hummus with caramelized onions and pine nuts and other stuff that I just could NOT get enough of. #FancyHummusFTW


Burpee Farms

The next day we ventured to Fordhook Farms for the main conference. Autumn in Bucks County is simply gorgeous. The air was crisp, the leaves were beginning to turn, the sky was clear, everything was amazing.

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Canal House

The speakers including James Beard Award winning author, Barry Estabrook, who discussed the very real ethical issues of factory farming. I’ve for so long toyed with the idea that we need to, at a minimum, eliminate mainstream factory-farmed meats from our diet, and if we don’t eliminate animal products entirely, at least restrict purchases to ethically farmed meats. I keep beating myself up for not just jumping in and doing this, but it feels like such a huge effort, when it’s so easy to be willfully blind and opt for convenience.

Christopher and Melissa of Canal House (pictured above) shared the journey of opening their own food photography studio and publishing house, and their work to share the delicious, simple cooking, suitable for home cooks. I am eager to check out some of their cookbooks, and hopefully improve my seasoning/spice game in my home meals.

Karen Thornton shared her experiences researching her family’s history, and cooking history. I think her talk was the most meaningful to me on a personal level. She talked about feeling like her family did not have much in the way of “food culture,” but how you can make a food culture, from the things that are meaningful to you, your parents, your children, your siblings. I’ve often felt that our family’s food traditions were few, even though my cousins made an effort a few years back to make a Farina Family Cookbook. What I lacked wasn’t a family food culture, but perspective on that. Even if we did not create certain recipes themselves, they are recipes that are meaningful to us, and that we share with the ones we love. This is tradition, this is a food culture.

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Our lunch of grilled veggies, soup and salad, was delicious. I love being at a conference where everyone is snapping pics of their plates.

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We had an activity where everyone was given an apple and sent out to take a picture I took the one above, and just loved it. I showed it to Christopher (of Canal House) and she complimented me on it, and it made me extra-happy.

A new component of the conference was a writing exercise led by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I started the exercise somewhat unenthusiastic, but by the end of it, wound up with a quick piece of writing that I really enjoyed (and will share in a later post). For the “Open Mic” session in the later afternoon, adventurous writers shared what they had written. All the writing dealt with food, but in such incredibly different ways. One writer had the most amazing, emotional, stirring piece, that I think literally everyone in that room had tears in their eyes. The room was absolutely silent after she read, but reluctant to wrap up the Open Mic on such a serious note, I volunteered to read my piece, which was a funny one. It was a nice balance, and a lot of people came up to me afterward to tell me how much they liked my piece, and how they absolutely could relate to it.

We had a late afternoon ice cream break, because OMG YES WE NEED ICE CREAM. They had several different varieties, all of which I tried (oink oink), but the bleu cheese ice cream with candied pecans was absolutely divine. It sound so disgusting, but it was amazing. It was sweet and creamy, with just the tiniest hint of the pungent bleu cheese.

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We wound down the day with some delicious, fresh cocktails and, OMG, tethered hot air balloon rides!!!

cocktails

Taking a hot air balloon ride was one of the unfinished items on my 30 before 30 list. A tethered ride isn’t exactly the same as a real ride, but I was sure as heck not going to pass this opportunity up. I’m so glad we got to go up in the air!

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Hot Air Balloon

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I was really amazed at how smooth the hot air balloon rides was. I hardly noticed when the balloon lifted up into the air. We only went about 70 feet up, but it was a gorgeous view and we just loved it.

bubbly

We wrapped up the evening with plenty of wine– white, red and bubbly– and a simple but delicious meal of antipasti, spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread.

Mr. Beez and I end up going to a lot of conferences, but this is the first one that we went to together, with shared interest in the subject matter. We had such a nice time together, sharing a weekend of learning about something that is big in both of our interests. In the last three years, I’ve spent a lot of my (limited) free time on conferences and other structured activities. I’ve hit a point where I need a little more unscheduled time, if anything just to hang out with my family and teaching Baby Beez about all the cool things to explore in our city. I’m not sure if I’ll attend again next year. If I do not attend, it is absolutely not a reflection on the conference itself, but rather a refleciton on how I need to prioritize my time at the moment. The Big Harvest Potluck was amazing, fun and inspirational.

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Sweet & sassy .@QueenFarinaHny

Sweet &  sassy .@QueenFarinaHny

At an extended-family gathering last year, my cousins Gina and Aubs were handing out these lip balm things. Since I like free things, and my lips are forever chapped and I lose lip balm like it’s nobody’s business (at the frequency I lose these things, I really don’t understand why stray lip balms aren’t falling out of the couch cushions and corners of the closets. The answers: lip balm gnomes. But I digress)

Anyway, free lip balm, and I was like YES PLEASE.

Little did I know that their lip balm is TOTALLY RAD. And I’m using TOTALLY RAD in the non-ironic shared nostalgia sense of these are my cousins who used to have NKOTB sheet sets and my brother and I teamed up with them (my brother with Gina and I with Aubrey) and had singing contests to see who could sing the songs from The Little Mermaid better. Again, I digress. (Aubs & I were totally better.)

They were handing out lip balms because they had recently jumped into the wild and wonderful world of beekeeping, and were just getting things going. I selected the cappuccino flavor for myself, and the flavor was very nice and subtle. The lip balm was so incredibly smooth and non greasy, because it was completely natural beeswax. None of that petroleum-product, preservative laden nonsense. One word of advice- it does melt easily. So keep it in a relatively cool place so it does not melt (i.e. not in your car cup holder in a Pittsburgh summer. D’oh!)

Gina and Aubs have expanded their products to honey, creamed honey, honey comb, olivewood honey dippers, and beeswax. I’m excited to share their honey products with you with a giveaway contest. It’s simple to enter through the Rafflecopter below, and will run through November 3. The winner gets a $20 gift code to use in the Queen Farina store! Enter away, my lovelies!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Oh my god, Becky look at that clock… (with shoutouts to .@LeonasLLC and .@zekesPGH)

She’s got 2 and a half hours where the kid is supervised in Sunday School and she can do WHAT EVER SHE WANTS.

So what is she doing?

DRINKING COFFEE AND EATING ICE CREAM.

(Also planning to catch up on my blogging backlog, but that isn’t really something to get allcaps about.)

Leona's Ice Cream

Because 10am is just as good a time as any for EATING ICE CREAM. Not just any ice cream, but Leona’s Ice Cream, which has gathered a cult following as of late. The Pgh foodblogosphere has been all over Leona’s, which is distributed locally in a handful of coffee shops and stores, but I hadn’t made my way over to get one yet. This was beginning to reach an EMERGENCY EMERGENCY level of urgency. Leona’s options sound just heavenly: Pear/Sugar Cookie; Speculoos; Plum/Ginger Molasses; Cinnamon/Oatmeal Lace. They change frequently based on the availability of the super-local ingredients.

I went for the Cinnamon/Oatmeal Lace. There’s a special place in my heart for any ice cream that involves an oatmeal cookie. As a kid I went to summer camp at Camp Swig in the California Redwoods (Sadly, the camp was closed in 2004). I also returned for a summer in college as a camp counselor. One of our absolute favorite treats at camp were It’s It Ice Cream Sandwiches (which I didn’t realize until I googled them JUST NOW that you can just BUY them in San Francisco, and I stupidly missed out on this when I was in San Francisco in July. Oh well, I’ll just have to go back. For ice cream. Because obviously.) It’s Its are ice cream sandwiched in oatmeal cookies and covered in chocolate and are amazing. And for me, also forever associated with heartwarming summer camp memories. So yes, Oatmeal Cookies and Ice Cream together, forever, amen.

Back to THIS ice cream sandwich: YUM. The cookie is oatmeal lace, meaning it is sticky and chewy. The ice cream and cookie are sweet, but not overpoweringly so, which is welcome, given how ridiculously over-sweet treats seem to sometimes be. The ice cream sandwich was very, very cold, meaning there was a lot of chewing. This doesn’t bother me, but I know some people are adamantly against chewing ice cream. If you are one such ridiculous person, maybe you’ll want to snuggle your sandwich a bit before eating to warm it up. All in all, A++++

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And now a word on my venue. I’m currently camped out at Zeke’s Coffee in East Liberty. I’ve had Zeke’s delicious coffee before, as they regularly sponsor and provide coffee for us sleepyhead attendees at Creative Mornings Pittsburgh. I didn’t realize that Zeke’s is not just a coffee shop, but also a roaster, so that makes it extra-cool in my book. The coffee shop is fairly small, but not cramped. I considered taking a picture of the place, but I always feel like a creeper being like “don’t mind me, I’m just taking a picture of your store!” So you will survive with the picture above, containing the small corner of my table and my coffee cup.) The barista here is super crazy friendly, the music is great, the coffee eeeexcellent, and yes, free WIFI. Definitely a gem of a coffee shop. Also A++++

So enjoy your Sunday, yinz! Imma spend the rest of my free time catch up on writing some back posts, which should trickle out over the next couple weeks. After my free time is up, I’m picking up Baby Beez from learning all about G-d and morals and love, and we’re heading over to Monessen for a dose of hell at the Castle Blood no-scare matinee for kids. Because why the heck not?

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Races, races and more races

Races, races and more races

The funny thing about running is that if you don’t run consistently, it sounds (and is) really hard…but once you make a point to be out there several times a week, it gets easier and you can run further, and eventually you stop feeling like you are going to die and instead really like it. 10 Mile races seem to be the sweet spot for me. A 10 mile race certainly is not easy for me, but with a regular but not exhausting running schedule, I can tackle a 10 miler (and usually only be sore that day, and feeling better by the next).

I went in to the Army 10 Miler expecting it to be ugly. I knew I’d finish, but actually brought a Ziplok bag and towel with me, because I knew that I’d need to sit on a bag of ice on the drive home (darn you, achy SI Joint!). I wanted to do the race for 2 reasons- (1) My brother is in the army and was just deployed to Qatar, and I wanted to run this race in honor of him, (2) the race starts and ends at the Pentagon, and I’ve never seen the Pentagon before, so I thought that would be pretty cool. One of my co-workers told me that the Pentagon is a big squat office building and a parking lot, which it really is, but the run also went in and around DC, so it was a pretty cool sightseeing experience.

The race was on Sunday, so I got to DC on Saturday. I went to packet pickup, which was, in expected military fashion, remarkably efficient. The whole thing took maybe 30 minutes, and that includes me weaving through all the shopping stalls at the expo. Afterward, I had a whole afternoon by myself. I could have gone exploring in DC, but I didn’t want to tire out my legs with a big run on the horizon, so instead I treated myself to some QT at Nordstrom Rack (tragically, there is no Rack in Pittsburgh, so this is a real treat), and to a manicure and body polish at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa. Back at my hotel, I carbo-loaded on some take out See Ew Noodles from a local Thai restaurant, enjoyed some television time with the remote ALL TO MYSELF, and went to bed at an early, sensible hour. #WildWoman

before running ATM

I got up pretty early to head down to the starting line. I stayed at the official race hotel, and let me tell you, I am SO glad I did. It was maybe a 10 minute walk to the start and finish lines, which made for nice warm up/cool downs. I would have loved to take race selfies of all the neat things I ran by in DC, but the race packet said that mobile phones and cameras were FORBIDDEN. And also that earbuds were FORBIDDEN. And that we were going to be going through a security checkpoint. Since this is the Army’s show, I thought it would be all SERIOUS BUSINESS, and I didn’t want to have to walk back to the hotel to put my phone away, so I just didn’t bring it with me. And you know what, out of 35,000 runners, I’d say that 34,999 had their phones, were snapping selfies and were rockin’ out to their own music. I started the morning bitter about it, but then I told myself that it was a beautiful morning, I was in for a beautiful run, and I’m going to focus on the scenery and not tether myself to all the little reminders that I usually use on my phone to pace myself.

You know what, it turned out really well! It was a crowded and enthusiastic course, so I wouldn’t really need to rely on music to keep me energized anyway. And because I wasn’t getting constant mileage reminders in my ears (and a few times wasn’t paying clear attention when I ran by the time boards), I just kept running and didn’t focus on how far I had come or how much further I had to go. This worked especially well at the 9th Mile, where I played a ridiculous mental game with myself, saying “Oh, I just woke up this lovely morning, and I’m a little sore and tired, but I’m just going on a 1 mile run” and as completely stupid as it is, it WORKED. I felt good about every mile of that race, and especially good in that last mile.

Now, after I stopped running is when it didn’t feel so good. I knew from the beginning I was not ideally hydrated, and my usual practice isn’t to drink water until after the race, if I’m running a distance that is 10 miles or less. I did drink water a couple times in the last half of the race, but I really should have been drinking more the days before and in the earlier part of the race. So when the race was over, I had a brief while of feeling very much bad, until I got myself appropriately rehydrated.

This HOOAH goes out to my brother, who deploys to Qatar in a few days. Stay safe, soldier! #ArmyTenMiler

The only downside of the race is that, because it is so big, there are a lot of waves and they take a LOT of time to get through. The first wave went out at 8, but mine didn’t start until 8:48. Of course I got to the corral at like 7:15. That is a lot of waiting time before going out on a long run.

I absolutely would love to do this race again. For the next time, I would either like to work on my speed and try to get placed in an earlier corral (no, I will not sneak into a different corral than the one I am assigned, that makes me NUTS), or maybe since I now have an idea of the lay of the land, I might just leisurely drink my coffee and show up a little later to the starting line.

My next big race is the EQT 10 Miler on November 9. I’ve barely run since the Army 10 Miler, but my bronchitis is really on the upswing, and absent any further complications in my life, I plan to be pounding the pavement again on Tuesday.