Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Foodie Fiction Finds

I love food. There, I said it. I enjoy the whole process: planning what to eat, shopping for ingredients, cooking and baking dishes and, most of all, eating the labors of my work, as well as the works of others. I also enjoy reading about food. I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before my penchant for reading cookbooks the same way others read novels.

Then there are those books that actually are cookbooks disguised as novels.  Most of them tend to fall into the cozy mystery category, which has everyone from coffeehouse owners to bakers, tea shop ladies to caterers and food writers to food truck operators solving crimes, while cooking great food in the process. Most of these even have recipes at the end of the book, so you can continue your relationship with the story and author after the dastardly perpetrator has been caught.

Recently, I’ve found myself enjoying more of the foodie fiction books that are not specifically mysteries.  Here are just a few:

Chef’s Table by Lynn Charles – Chef Evan Stanford runs a successful New York restaurant, but his passion for his work is gone. And then he meets Patrick, the cook at his neighborhood diner. Patrick’s companionship, in the kitchen and the bedroom, reawaken Evan’s lust for cooking, and for life.

Aftertaste by Meredith Mileti – As if I needed another reason to read this book besides the food, it’s mostly set in Pittsburgh! There are specific references to the Strip District and the Pennsylvania Macaroni Factory and allusions to Enrico Biscotti Company. Follow along as Mira’s career and personal life is completely destroyed, and she builds it back up by returning to her roots.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert – Chef Lou Johnson is about to get an unwelcome surprise. Her fiancé is sleeping with his law firm’s intern, but he never understood why Lou wanted to be a chef anyway. Then she, literally, bumps into a man who could be “the one.” But Al has a secret that threatens to ruin any chance he has of a future with Lou. Can the chef whose restaurant fails forgive the man who wrote the scathing review that shut it down?

Delicious by Ruth Reichl – We’re used to reading Reichl’s books on her foodie upbringing, and her stint as editor in chief of Gourmet confirms that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to cuisine. But now she’s written a novel? Could it be any good? The answer lies in this tale that’s part chick lit, part foodie fiction, with a dash of romance and a hint of a puzzle to solve. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the demise of an iconic food magazine and the interesting people it employed. The backdrop of New York City rings true, as only a book written by a New Yorker who loves its food scene could do.

If you’d like to explore these and similar titles, stop by the Main Library and browse the Food Fiction display I put up this week…

Foodie Fiction 1

Happy Reading & Eating!
-Melissa M.

P.S. Ruth Reichl is coming to Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Literary Evenings, Monday Night Lecture Series on October 26th. Get your tickets here. I’ve already got mine!


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Pickling Pittsburghers

Pickle-loving Pittsburghers came in droves to the Rachel Carson Bridge this past July to celebrate all things pickle, pickled and soon-to-be pickled. Produced by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Picklesburgh included demonstrations on how to pickle various veggies, pickle-juice drinking competitions, and live music to boot! Favorites included Quick Pickled Dilly Green Tomatoes with Ryan from Whole Foods and the Vietnamese Pickled Veggies.

The only downside was that some of the demos ran out of their pickled delights before I could get my pickled mitts on them. To find out more about our own Pickled Piper (John Heinz-who gave over 1 million pickle pins out at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) and all things pickle, make sure to pick up some of these library resources: Just try not to drink too much pickle juice while you do….

"Untitled," by Nancy Merkel. All rights reserved. Click through for artist's webpage.

“Untitled,” by Nancy Merkle. All rights reserved. Click through for artist’s webpage.

H. J. Heinz : A BiographyQuentin R. Skrabec. A great intro to H.J. Heinz and his Heinzenormous success as a businessman. This book is a quick read, but goes to great lengths to distinguish a man who has been over overshadowed by his contemporaries (Mellon, Fritz, and Carnegie). Unlike his contemporaries, Heinz was known to be a considerate employer, treating both his employees and suppliers with respect. A good introduction to a Pittsburgh’s famous son.

Pickled: From Curing Lemons to Fermenting Cabbage, the Gourmand’s Ultimate Guide to the World of Pickling, Kelly Carrolata. There are four parts to this book: Part I covers “How to Pickle”, Part II gets into the nitty gritty by giving the reader “Recipes for Pickling.” In the carrolattasecond half of the book, Part III covers “Meals with Pickles,” while Part IV deals not with food, but “Drinks with Pickles.” This book is an excellent how-go guide with a dash of pickling history . Lots of great pickle recipes if you’re the DIY type who wants a beginner’s guide to this process.

The Pickled Pantry, Andrea Chesman. Chesman is the author of over 20 cookbooks on Chesmanvarious topics. This book provides a pickle primer, with various pickling methods and techniques discussed. Examples include fermented, hot pack canned pickles, and refrigerator pickles. These are further examined with recipes and a quick history of pickles. Excellent for those of that love a challenge.

The Art of Fermentation : an In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World, Sandor Ellix Katz. Winner of the 2013 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Reference and Scholarship, this is a slightly more comprehensive and in-Katzdepth guide to fermentation. The author covers every imaginable food and beverage and gives the beginner and the foodie something both can appreciate: an extensive explanation of the concepts behind fermentation and how it applies to everything from agriculture to art (well, one more than the other). This book remains firmly entrenched in practicalities though and has information on effective preservation and safety techniques.

What’s your position on pickles? Let us know in the comments section!

–Whitney Z.



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In Divine Nothingness, Pittsburgh’s Gerald Stern Proves He’s Still Around

One of my very favorite poems is “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern, born and raised in Pittsburgh and now living in Lambertville, New Jersey.  It is somewhat embarrassing for me to have discovered this well-known poem only two years ago – I mean, it was published in 1977 – but discover it I did, last year, while spending some time down at my beloved Jersey shore. It found me at exactly the most perfect time, as if he was writing directly to me. I thought about it during our vacation this year and I’ve thought about it again, several times over the course of what has been a rather challenging month, personally-speaking.

It’s one of those poems that describes exactly what fellow treasured Pittsburgh poet Toi Derricote means when she says, “Gerald Stern has made an immense contribution to American poetry. His poems are not only great poems, memorable ones, but ones that get into your heart and stay there. ”

How could they not, with lines like these?

“Dear waves, what will you do for me this year?
Will you drown out my scream?
Will you let me rise through the fog?
Will you fill me with that old salt feeling?
Will you let me take my long steps in the cold sand?
Will you let me lie on the white bedspread and study
the black clouds with the blue holes in them?
Will you let me see the rusty trees and the old monoplanes one more year?
Will you still let me draw my sacred figures
and move the kites and the birds around with my dark mind?

Lucky life is like this. Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that. Lucky life. Oh lucky life.
Oh lucky lucky life. Lucky life.”
~ from “Lucky Life” by Gerald Stern

Love that. And words like these are what made me pick up Divine Nothingness, Gerald Stern’s latest collection of poetry, published last November.

Divine NothingnessAt 90, this is Gerald Stern’s seventeenth poetry collection and there is a definite sense of the passage of time. Divided into three simple parts (perhaps to symbolize childhood, adulthood, and the final years of life? Or a nod to Pittsburgh’s renaissance and rebirth, as one might interpret “Three Stages in My Hometown”) Divine Nothingness  contains the reflections of a life.

There are the places (‘so let me take you back to the meadow/ where the sidewalks suddenly become a river …”) and the people (“There was a way I could find out if Ruth/ were still alive but it said nothing about/ her ’46 Mercury nor how the gear shift ruined/ our making love ….”) of particular moments experienced during a time gone by. These poems segue into an acceptance of life’s finality and the self that is left behind.

“…and, like him – like everybody – I scribble words
on the back of envelopes and for that reason
and for two others which I’m too considerate to mention 
I’ll be around when you’re gone.”
(from “I’ll Be Around”) 

~ Melissa F.


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Authors Hate Him! Local Blogger Discovers Amazing List Of Things To Do Besides Reading. Number 12 Will Blow Your Mind!

Recently we had a behind-the-scenes discussion about pacing in books, the merits of a slower pace versus a faster pace and all that fun stuff. At the time I was reading The Train from Pittsburgh by Julian Farren and didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I’ve mentioned before that I have issues with reading during the summer months so pacing is almost a non-issue. But that’s the great thing about books; they never go away.

The Train from Pittsburgh is one book that I wish would have gone away.

I came upon it on an unremarkable day. I was browsing Facebook, as I am wont to do, when it showed up in a post from The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh, a great page that definitely lives up to its name. Anyway, I thought, “Oh, it’s got Pittsburgh in the title. I must read it!”

“His wife liked his friends… too much!”
The Train From Pittsburgh from 1952

Posted by The Odd, Mysterious & Fascinating History of Pittsburgh on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Looking at that cover, I was hoping for a cheesy, pulpy, noir-y book set in 1950s Pittsburgh. What I got was a book originally published in 1948 about white people drinking in excess and whining about their problems with a sometimes not-so-subtle undercurrent of antisemitism and anticommunism. Like if Archie Bunker had been on Cheers and if it wasn’t hilarious.

The main character, Tom Bridges, is an alcoholic who is cheating on his wife, Ellen, but that’s all right because she’s cheating on him, too. Tom is trying to get a man named Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers) a job, but Tom’s boss doesn’t want to hire him because Mike is Jewish. Poor Mike is bringing his entire family on the eponymous train from Pittsburgh to New York because Tom practically guaranteed him a job.

Tom gets lit the same night Ellen throws a big party in their New York home and—sixty-seven-year-spoiler-alert—after all the guests leave, Tom decides he’s going to kill Ellen and then himself. His plan is thwarted when Ellen decides she wants to try to get pregnant again.

In the morning he wakes up with a massive hangover and realizes he’s missed the titular train’s arrival. We’re left with no murder-suicide and the presumption that Mike and his family are wandering the streets of New York City.

Pictured: Tom, or me trying to trudge through this book.

Pictured: Tom, or me trudging through this book.

Sometimes unlikable characters can be endearing, as Irene pointed out, but these characters were a waste. Their awfulness compounded with the protracted chapters (I’m sorry, but no chapter ever needs to be sixty pages) filled me with dread each time I picked the book up.

It was so awful that I came up with a list of things that I could have been doing instead of reading:

  1. Finally watch Pink Flamingos
  2. Watch someone Whip and/or Nae Nae
  3. Set the time on a VCR
  4. Find a VCR
  5. Convince myself I like sports
  6. Shop for some sweet Affliction deep V-neck shirts
  7. Finally start a quinoa blog
  8. Have a conversation online using only Tom Hiddleston .gifs
  9. Fill myself with delight reading the Common Misconceptions page on Wikipedia
  10. Picture the actor Mike Myers as Wayne from Wayne’s World as the Mike Myers in the book
  11. Wonder what it would take for our Port Authority to make a cat its stationmaster
  12. Come up with an inane list of activities and publish it on a blog with a readership of about one metric ton [citation needed]

I didn’t do any of those things. I stuck it out because I knew that by reading I was at least engaging my brain. When I finished this book, I didn’t feel like I needed a moment of silence; I felt like I needed to excise the book from me. The next time I get a hankering to read about Pittsburgh in the early part of the last century, I’ll just reread Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

So, dear readers, I now ask you, how does the pacing of a book affect your desire to read it? Do you prefer a quick pace or a pace where things take their time to unfold? Have you ever wanted to throw a book across the room in frustration of its banality? Let us know in the comments below!



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Catching Fire

No, this is not a review of the second book in the Hunger Games series. This is something much closer to home. The place is Pittsburgh. The time is April 10, 1845. Yes. 1845. That was 170 years ago.

Do you know what happened in the Burgh 170 years ago? From the title of this piece you can probably guess. On this date, a fire, hot and horrible, marched through the city. In April, 1845, the city’s population of about 20,000 had seen no rain for several weeks. Black dust and soot from hundreds of coal fires, plus the addition of flour dust and cotton fibers from local industries created an incendiary mix. Add to that a warm wind which gusted out of the west and the stage was set for a disaster.

On April 10th, about noon, a lone fire left unattended sparked and set nearby structures ablaze. The wind carried the flames from one wooden structure to the next and most of the buildings in the city were constructed of wood. Pittsburgh’s ten fire companies were no match for the inferno. Because of the lack of rain, the rivers were low as was the one existing reservoir. The firemen’s leather hoses disintegrated in the heat of the blaze. The wind carried flaming debris up and over the city.

Church bells sounded the alarm as families snatched their valuables and fled to the shoreline of the Monongahela River. But the fire had consumed any boats still moored nearby and escape across the river by that means was now impossible. The only bridge across the water was the covered wooden Monongahela Bridge at Smithfield Street. This served as a conduit to safety until it also caught fire. It burned in fifteen minutes. The residents of Birmingham (now the South Side) fought desperately to keep the flames at bay on their side of the river.

The Monongahela River and what remained of the wooden covered Monongahela Bridge - photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (all rights reserved).

The Monongahela River and what remained of the wooden covered Monongahela Bridge – photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (all rights reserved).

The huge warehouses along the shore, filled with bales of cotton, barrels of gun powder, and casks of molasses and coffee, caught fire and exploded. People abandoned their property and fled north toward the Allegheny River and safety. Help arrived from Allegheny City (now our North Side) as many volunteers rowed across the Allegheny River to help. One of those volunteers was Stephen Foster.

The fire crawled east along the streets from Ferry (now Stanwix) to just beyond Ross Street and spread from Fourth Avenue to the Mon River, devouring everything in its path. For over nine hours (from noon until 9 PM) the fire feasted as wood burned, glass melted, and brick and stone cracked under the intense heat.

This sketch shows part of the city and the Monongahela Bridge ablaze. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

This sketch shows part of the city and the Monongahela Bridge ablaze. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Homes, businesses, banks, churches and the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh) succumbed to the inferno. The flames destroyed about one third of the city and displaced about 12,000 residents. Surprisingly, only two persons died. Afterwards, the mood of the city was one of shock followed by despair. The desolation was overwhelming as buildings continued to smoke and burn and collapse for days.

Painting by William Coventry Wall entitled "View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh."  Original in color is held by the Carnegie Museum of Art. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Painting by William Coventry Wall entitled “View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh.” Original in color is held by the Carnegie Museum of Art. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

But rebuilding began soon after. Once the ashes cooled, debris was cleared away and new homes and buildings were erected with better materials. The city renewed itself. Life continued at the confluence of the three rivers. For decades, the city remembered the Great Fire annually by the tolling of a bell on April 10th.

Much has happened since then to erase the memory of this event. But take a moment this year, the 170th anniversary, to remember what was once viewed as Pittsburgh’s greatest catastrophe.

Local author, Gary Link, used the great fire as the setting for his compelling novel, The Burnt District (2003).

To learn more about the Great Fire, visit the Pennsylvania Department where you will find books, articles, and photographs related to this and other significant local events. The staff on the third floor of the Main Library in Oakland looks forward to assisting you.

Looking Toward the Point After the Fire,  from a painting by William Coventry Wall. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Looking toward the Point after the fire from a painting by William Coventry Wall. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

~ Audrey ~


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Another Trip Through Another Kind of Monday

As per my reading resolutions, I’ve been revisiting books I read in my childhood. My latest trip down memory lane took me back to Another Kind of Monday by William E. Coles, Jr.

anotherkindofmondayThe Pittsburgh-set young adult novel opens at the fictional Moorland High School library.  Our protagonist, Mark, finds three crisp hundred dollar bills in the library’s copy of Great Expectations. Along with the money is a note from a mysterious benefactor inviting Mark on a scavenger hunt that takes him all over the city—a steel mill in Braddock, the observatory on the North Side, an abandoned church in East Liberty.  As the clues become more difficult to solve, the amount of money that Mark is rewarded increases.  Eventually, the clues request that he enlist the help of a “co-quester,” someone of the opposite sex and with whom he is not already friends. I remember the ending confused me when I was a high schooler reading it.  I won’t spoil it, but it still confused me, almost ten years later.

Just the dreamy quality of the title has stuck with me ever since I read it in high school.  It’s possible that part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I know every location mentioned, from Highland Park to Morningside.  I instantly wanted to go to each place and dig for buried treasure.  Maybe I’ll reread it with a pen and paper handy to map out each site go on my own scavenger hunt. It’s almost like if John Green’s Paper Towns had been set in Pittsburgh.

Reading it now, however, gives me another added delight as CLP – Main is featured heavily as a place Mark goes to research and decipher the clues left behind by the benefactor. The Pennsylvania Department and CLP – South Side make appearances as well.

Aside from the mystery aspect of the book, it also serves as a mini-history lesson; it touches on all aspects of Pittsburgh’s past, from the Homestead Steel Strike to the life of John Brashear to the story of Katherine Soffel and Ed and Jack Biddle, which was popularized in the 1984 movie Mrs. Soffel.

Published in 1996, some of the book is dated (there’s a Michael Jordan reference). If it were published today, Mark could just search Google—or any of our fine databases—to solve the clues.  But I liked the fact that he had to do physical research. He is assisted by a friendly librarian—is there really any other kind?—cleverly named Mrs. Harbinger.

As far as young adult novels set in Pittsburgh, I’d rank it behind The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  Still, it’s a quick read and it’s the perfect book to elevate a boring Monday to another kind of Monday.

Have you read the book or do you have a favorite Pittsburgh-set young adult novel? Let us know in the comments!



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Au Revoir, Allentown!


Today is the last day that the LYNCS outreach staff of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be providing library services at 1206 Arlington Avenue. This is a bittersweet transition for our department and our organization, after spending 2.5 years in this location, bringing library programming and services, and forming partnerships in this Hilltop neighborhood.


In what began as the Pop-up Library in Allentown, our initially scheduled eighteen months in this space ended up becoming a year longer, thanks in a large part to a grant from the Birmingham Foundation and our partners at the Brashear Association. The Brashear Association is a non-profit providing services to families and children out of their offices on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  Our relationship with the Brashear Association began with some simple after school programming at the pop-up library on a monthly basis through which we discovered shared goals, especially where children are involved. Their continued partnering and presence in the space soon highlighted the fact that a need on the Hilltop was being met through the activities and programming in this neighborhood storefront by the library staff, and thus encouraged them to continue to do the same through their afterschool program and summer camp.


We had some great moments over the 2.5 years – lots of fun programs, and we met so many great people. We’re so happy that the children and adults will continue to be served by the Brashear Association in their new space just around the corner on Warrington Avenue, and where we will continue to partner with them through occasional children and adult programming. You can follow their wonderful work at their Brashear Kids blog: http://www.brashearkids.com/

In the words of one of our pop-up library users:


Maria J.

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