Pleasantly surprised by @SteelCactusPgh

Pleasantly surprised by @SteelCactusPgh

By the time we get to Friday, my family is basically too exhausted to function. More often than not, we go out to dinner. And more often than night it is a place where Mr. Beez and I can have a beer, and Baby Beez can be a loud jerk without anyone noticing or caring. Not that we encourage jerk behavior. Sometimes it’s life. And we need food. And we are tired.

I’m running a half marathon next weekend. After an 11 mile group run last weekend, where I assumed there would be water stops, but there were no water stops, so I got no water, I decided it’s time for me to succumb to looking like a dork and plunk down the cash for a fuel belt. So last night I had to stop at the running store to get one. Oh right, and we needed to feed ourselves, and we have a 4 year old, and it was quickly approaching 8pm and we were all hungry and tired.

Steel Cactus to the rescue.

To be honest, I didn’t have expectations one way or another, and enchiladas sounded awesome. Because they ARE awesome. It was still fairly early for the Shadyside crowd, so we got a table right away. It was a generously-sized booth, which was a BIG plus when Baby Beez decided she was tired of destroying the table, and instead wanted to lay down on the seat and suck her thumb (DEAR GOD YES PLEASE BE QUIET CHILD.)

We started with chips and the basic salsa roja. It was nice and garlicky, and the chips were hot and salty. Not gourmet, but we were starving, and the three of us did some serious damage to them in about 5 minutes flat. Our food came out fast, which was also a big plus.


Baby Beez got a cheese quesadilla and a side of rice, because she is boring, 4, and can metabolize carbs way better than us old folks. She refused to eat the rice at first because it wasn’t white and boring, but then Mr. Beez put on his “dad” hat and ordered her to eat a few bites, and she decided she liked the rice enough to eat the whole thing. The quesadilla was exactly as you would expect, which for our purposes was just what we needed at the time, because tired 4 year olds do not do well with new or adventurous things.


I had the verde shredded chicken enchiladas. Usually shredded chicken doesn’t have much flavor, and you mostly taste the sauce or the cheese. Steel Cactus’ shredded chicken was a really nice surprise. Maybe it was rotisserie cooked? I don’t know, but it was very flavorful and had great texture. It was a very nice perk to the dish. The rice and beans were pretty standard for a Mexican restaurant. That shredded chicken, though, caught my attention and I’ll be sure to return for it.


Mr. Beez had some kind of large spicy burrito that also had the shredded chicken. He said it was “good” and he agreed with my thoughts on the shredded chicken. I pressed him for more thoughts on his dish, but he was hungry and tired and mostly wanted me to leave him the eff alone so he could eat in peace. In terms of comparable restaurants, I’d say it’s more like El Campesino or Gran Agave than Mad Mex, although the decor does suggest it’s trying for the Mad Mex attitude.

Final verdict: Steel Cactus is pretty standard for what you’d expect for a casual Mexican food place, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. The shredded chicken was high quality, the service was quick, and we made it through dinner with a tired 4 year old without the other diners hating us. Sounds good to me.
Steel Cactus Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on Urbanspoon


Various and Sundry

Various and Sundry

Welcome to Sunday.

Today we took Baby Beez to Sunday School, had a fab grown-ups breakfast at Habitat, and then I did laundry, did a little bit of work and cooked a bunch of food for the week. Not exciting, but much needed quiet time.

Habitat Sunday Breakfast Buffet, yes pls.

Habitat Sunday Breakfast Buffet, yes pls.

My restaurant review posts have slowed down lately. I’m still trying new places and eating way too much, but I haven’t had the review-writing bug lately. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I feel like the review bandwagon is too full and it’s not as entertaining for me right now. Maybe it’s because I spend all day thinking about things and then writing about them, that by the time I get home I’m tired of thinking about things and writing about them. Maybe it’s just because I’m enjoying spending more time doing things than writing about them (I’ve already got 6 races booked this year, in distances varying from 10-13.1 miles). This blog, in the first place, is supposed to be fun, so I’m not forcing myself to write if I’m not feeling it. I’m sure I’ll swing back into reviews eventually.

There are still plenty of other things on my mind, just enough to be the kernel of a post, but not really enough to draw out a whole post, so instead I’ll share them with you in list fashion:

1.   My daughter loves Scooby Doo. She gave us the peace of a THREE HOUR nap this afternoon and I decided to reward her by letting her watch the 2002 Scooby Doo movie. This movie is very likely the worst movie I have ever seen in my life.

2.   Orlando vacation is coming soon. I am so ready for this trip. I’ve been having almost nightly dreams about it. I’m not sure if that’s pathetic or really pathetic. Last night I dreamt (dreamed?) that it was the day we were going to Universal, but I couldn’t get folks moving to actually GO to the park. Like it was noon and I still couldn’t get my family out the door, then it was 1 and they were still not budging, and I was SO frustrated and angry. I don’t know how the dream ended because then Baby Beez climbed into our bed and woke us up.

3. Speaking of bed invasions, we got Baby Beez an OK to Wake clock, in an effort to end her habit of crawling into our bed at FOUR AM. It worked great…for two days. Well, not that bad, but it’s still not a failsafe solution. I’ve been getting up earlier because I need to get into work earlier because I need to work all the hours, and lately I’ve been getting up before she does, so the waking-me-up thing isn’t such a problem. But she’s still rolling in at 6am on a Sunday, which is less than cool.

4. I finally realized that all these training runs aren’t so much about pushing myself to make the distance, it’s more about the recovery. With a very moderate level of training, I could force myself through the 2.5 hours of a half marathon, but I’d be d-e-d at the end. Even though I’ve been getting more like 2 mid-length runs in during the week (instead of 3), I have been diligent about my long run each weekend. As a consequence, I did the 11 miles yesterday, and although I was stiff afterward and still a little stiff today, I’m feeling pretty good all around. This gives me confidence that I’m going to feel just fine after the Princess runs in two weeks.

5.  I’ve been listening to audiobooks on those long runs, which means I’m killin it with my audiobooks. In the last few weeks, some of my favorites have included: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, In the Woods by Tana French, The Secret Place by Tana French, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn and A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. There’s something lovely about listening to a book you’re really into that helps make miles and miles and miles of running seem so much easier.

6. Enough with the Sriracha already.


The Blessings of Age 4

The Blessings of Age 4

We are having a lazy weekend. We have not had a true lazy weekend in so long. It”s 10:15 am. Everyone is in jammies. Baby Beez woke up at 8am, climbed in bed with us, and I yelled at her to go back in her room and play. She did. When I felt ready to roll out of bed at 9, I did so. She followed me downstairs to watch a movie. I sipped coffee and read the internet. She got her own milk out of the fridge. She went potty and washed her hands herself. I sat here and didn’t have to do anything. Mr. Beez is still asleep in bed. The only thing I have to do today is do my long run for the week. I also promised Baby Beez a visit to the library sometime this weekend. She wants to get a cookbook (preferably a pirate cookbook). It is wonderful.

making wishes

Age 4 comes with LOTS of whining and singing and noise and questions. Many days go a lot like this.  Also, she goes bat&*^t crazy if she eats chocolate, which is why I instituted a “no chocolate in the house” rule as of Friday. But these are such minor things. In general, 4 is an awesome age. I wish I could keep her here forever.

She can’t read yet. Which makes secret keeping a BREEZE. For example, we are going on a super-secret (to her) Disney vacation in February. We keep getting stuff in the mail about it. She sees the Disney characters on the mail, and wants to look at it, and I’m like HERE YOU GO LOOK AT IT ALL YOU WANT! Because she CAN’T READ, so the secret’s safe. YES.

She is old enough to understand a lot of things, but still young enough to believe everything. The world is magical.

She is old enough to have interests and get excited about things and has the skill and coordination to actually try new things out. Monday she starts swim class again, and she starts basketball on Tuesday. I can’t describe how incredibly excited she is to play basketball. I’m excited to see her do it.

She is old enough for some independence. Play dates no longer need exacting supervision. We can send the kids in a room to play and keep an ear out. Grown-ups have fun AND kids have fun.

She is old enough to do things together. We played our first game of Chutes & Ladders on Friday night. It was fabulous.


Go North, Beez Family!!

Go North, Beez Family!!

Sometime in the Autumn, I hit a funk where it was clear that I NEEDED A VACATION. Not even a long vacation, just a little trip away, just to have some fun and (if all went according to plan) take a brief break from work. Smart people in Pittsburgh head south to where it is nice and warm. We are not smart, and we only had 4 days for this trip, so we went north, to see our friends in the land of moose and maple syrup. Mr. Beez had fond childhood memories of visiting Toronto around Christmas, and I had only visited Toronto once in my freshman year of college, and barely remember the place. Plus, hotel points=free lodging= yes pls. So Toronto, it was.

Our plan was to get on the road at 6am, but due to various work commitments for both Mr. Beez and I, we didn’t even get around to packing until 11pm the night before. We ended up waking up at a reasonable time and getting on the road by 7:30….so still early, just not as early as we hoped.We had our road “reading” all picked out. World War Z was a super fun book and was perfect pick, both Mr. Beez and I enjoyed it. (Note: We’ve got Serial all teed up to listen to on the drive back).  And then some idiot truck river got himself in a major accident on the highway causing a MAJOR traffic backup. It took us 2 hours to get to Wexford. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

truck accident

FINALLY we made it out of the Pittsburgh metro area. We did hit a couple more spots of traffic, but FINALLY Toronto was in sight!

CN Tower

Our plan for the first evening there was to visit Toronto’s famed Christmas Market in the Distillery District. It rivals the Christmas markets in Europe, and has been rated one of the World’s 10 Best Christmas Markets by Fodor’s Travel.

Toronto Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market

It really is a lovely and large Christmas Market, but everyone else in the Toronto Metro area apparently planned to go that night, too, and it was PACKED. Mr. Beez and I would rather sit and stare at a wall than be in a crowd, and crowded areas are even less navigable with a hungry 4 year old, so after about 20 minutes we called it a day and went searching for some food that did not involve standing in line.

I don’t know how people managed to travel or find anything before there was Yelp. I mean, I have vague memories of studying abroad in 2002 and lugging around a big ol’ travel book, but if I still had to do that today, I wouldn’t get to see anything cool, because I cannot get my act together to pre-plan our outings. We were leaving the Christmas Market, were hungry, and THANK YOU Yelp, found a well-rated Thai place nearby, Mengrai Thai.  Chef Sasi has won all kinds of awards and accolades, and we were very happy with the delicious and creative menu. The space is unique and comfy, the service quick and attentive. My favorite thing about the menu is that they have 4-course price fixe options, and they do not require everyone at the table to pick the price fixe. This meant I was able to get my price fixe, Mr. Beez picked out a couple of individual things on the menu he wanted, and Baby Beez ate steamed rice and deep-fried shrimp, as you do when you’re 4.

Mengrai Thai appetizer platter

Price fixe appetizer platter, ALL FOR ME.

Pumpkin Soup & Tempura Vegetables

Tofu with Cashews

Mr. Beez and I were both pleased to observe that our orders were chock full of fresh, delicious veggies. Lots of broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and all kinds of good things. After spending a day in the car, mostly eating carbs and salt, it’s nice to finish the day with a meal full of colors and flavors.

sticky rice and ice cream

My meal was completed with a dessert of mango sticky rice and green tea ice cream. While I’d describe most of the rest of the meal as a solid Thai option, the kind of place I’d have on speed dial for take-out if I lived nearby, this dessert stood out as awesome. There is something about rice based desserts that sounds disgusting to me, but this sticky rice was the perfect texture and flavor, and the green tea ice cream was fabulous. Loved it.

I’ll be sharing the remainder of our trip soon. We’re on our last night here, and plan to make a few stops in Niagara-on-the-Lake and make our way back to Pittsburgh. The time just zoomed by this weekend, and more than anything, I’ve noticed just how many zillions of things there are to do in Toronto. It genuinely has all the options and excitement of New York, with far fewer headaches and at a much better price point. We’re already talking about coming to visit again soon, because there are so many more things we still want to do.


A Fall Family Outing to @TheCastleBlood and Round Hill Park

A Fall Family Outing to @TheCastleBlood and Round Hill Park

Autumn is by far my favorite season. Even though my allergies do not like the color-changing trees and the falling leaves, my eyeballs do love them. My how pretty Pittsburgh is during autumn. This year Baby Beez got to visit two pumpkin patches (resulting in a bunch of pumpkins still sitting around our kitchen, that I haven’t decided what to do with yet). Her school goes a little overboard on all holidays, and with doing Halloween activities for every one of October’s thirty-one days, you can bet she was all “ERMAHGAWD I LOVE HALLOWEEN SO MUCH!!”

We didn’t do a speck of Halloween decorating, because we don’t do a speck of any holiday decorating, because holiday decorations  aren’t my thing. I did let Baby Beez get one of those stickygel jack-o-lantern things to put on the sliding glass door, but that was the extent of our Halloween cheer. What I lack in home decorating, I make up for in very enthusiastic activities and outings.

This year was our first visit to the “No Scare Matinee” at Castle Blood. I love the idea of haunted houses, but I do not like things jumping out at me, and when it comes to the fake chainsaw man that’s in every haunted house, I’m like OH HECK NO. So a no-scare matinee was the right option for both of us, and we had a lot of fun.

At 4, Baby Beez was just barely old enough for the outing. She was a little bit scared by the spooky decorations in the house, so I didn’t push her on being brave, and carried her through the whole thing (and let her bury her face in my shoulder when she needed to). Castle Blood has a kind of hokey storyline about how you have to help them by finding three things in the house. I mean, it’s hokey for someone in their 30s, but Baby Beez and the other kids in our group got into it, and enjoyed asking the various characters about the sapphire, brain and broken heart they had to find.

The actors struck a great balance of having a spooky vibe, but also joking with kids and being very friendly so they weren’t scared. Also, obviously, there wasn’t anyone jumping out and no chainsaw guys. At the end of our tour, Baby Beez and I grabbed a quick photo with the “Pumpkin Shepherd,” who was wearing a pretty fun Halloween print dress.

Even with the 50+ minute drive from the City, I give Castle Blood an A+ for a family Halloween activity. It’s probably most appropriate for kids aged 5-10, but frankly, is not so bad for grown ups like me, who want to like haunted houses, but are really big scaredy cats.

The Pumpkin Shepherd at #CastleBlood

The tour itself was only about an hour, so on the way home we stopped to check out Round Hill Park. Play Pittsburgh talked up this public working farm, and it was on my “to visit” list. Since the weather was fine and the park is free to visit, a stop was a lovely idea. There were a number of families having professional photos done while we were there. It’s an absolute perfect place for photos. There are so many trees, and the barn and farm structures are pretty and rustic. I’d love to go back there and have family portraits done sometime.

Round Hill Park

“Nature” was the big theme at Baby Beez’ school in October. Black walnut husks and acorns were scattered around the park, and she was excited to gather them to bring them in to show her classmates.

Round Hill Park

There are chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs and horses at Round Hill Park. Baby Beez enjoyed chatting with them and making all kinds of new animal friends.

Chickens at Round Hill Park

Round Hill Park