Tag Archives: Scott M.

Greek Food Festival Season

realgreekHello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize.  I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder.  But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation.  I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals.  I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.  

The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between.  Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.

I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening.  My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.  

I don’t have much experience making Greek food.  I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.

My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind.  I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more.  We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food.  I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.  

Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:    

ikariaIkaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.  

The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables.  The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.    

The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.  



By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:

The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book.  One is that it is divided into seasons.  I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes.  One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too).  Other than that, this is a great cookbook.  

Unrelated note:  While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies.  Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!  

Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!

-Scott M.

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Popular Philosophy

Popular and philosophy: these are two words that don’t go together very often.  Anybody who has had to take philosophy courses knows that it is a subject that can be weighed down by overanalysis, and–probably more so than any other subject–by academic jargon and writing that is less-than-thrilling to read.  There are some titles, however, that make philosophy not just more accessible but downright enjoyable.  I love learning about philosophy, for its own merits, but also because philosophy has historically been so intertwined with art, science, mathematics, and religion.  

This is a collection of titles that bring philosophy out of the ivory tower and into the living room.     

The Consolations of PhilosophyAlain de Botton – Famous for his TED talks, de Botton goes into the lives and teachings of 6 philosophers, from Socrates to Montaigne and beyond.  This book breaks these philosophies down to their essentials, gives backgrounds and examples, visual aides, and much more.  While insightful, this book is also light and humerous.   

Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder– A 14 year old girl begins to receive a correspondence course in philosophy through letters.  The history of philosophy is revealed as events surrounding Sophie and the mysterious philosophy teacher Alberto Knox bring their entire reality and existence into question.  

A Brief History of ThoughtA Philosophical Guide to LivingLuc Ferry –  Influential philosophers and theories are introduced and deconstructed.  The author boils these philosophies down to the essential that can be directly applied by the individual. The author also examines Christianity in the same method he examines philosophical doctrine, and the resulting analysis and comparison is fascinating. Excellent read.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your LifeWayne Dyer –  Made popular by his appearances on Oprah and PBS, Wayne Dyer is a widely known self-help guru (confession, I also love the self-help genre).  In this work, Dyer goes through the Tao Te Ching (or Dao De Jing) verse by verse, to see what spiritual insight can be gained by the classic work by Lao Tsu.  Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life is valuable as a window into eastern philosophy, a spiritual work, a self-help guide, and an all-around inspiring read.  I highly recommend it.     

I’d love to hear about some other popular philosophy titles that are out there!  What titles have you all found to be both un-daunting and enlightening?      

–Scott M.


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African American Media Outlets


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

The Media’s the most powerful entity on Earth.  They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent, and that’s power.  Because they control the minds of the masses. If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.

Malcolm X

Often history is written with a narrative that certain individuals or groups are trying to persuade you to believe.  As we’ve seen in the news media this year, even our trusty textbooks in school can be written to hide the truth (calling slaves “workers”).  During Black History Month, I thought it would be a great idea to post some non-fiction sources about African American history and current events that are African American sources.      

Henry Louis Gates Harvard Professor of PBS fame, also founder of theroot.com, an African American news media site that provides headlines and opinions that may not be prevalent in the mainstream media. Mr. Gates’ work includes a variety of documentaries, books and more.  One book that for me exemplifies Mr. Gates’ work is Life Upon These Shores – Looking at African American History 1513 -2008; informative with graphic illustrations, photographs and historical texts.  A comprehensive work that touches on many significant topics of Black history.   

New Pittsburgh Courier: I feel very lucky that we get the paper copy of this weekly newspaper in our office, and before it goes on the shelf every week I’m able to read through it.  Originally the Pittsburgh Courier, this newspaper has been providing the community with news from an African American perspective since 1907.  Excellent journalism and in-depth  coverage of issues most media only glance over such as affordable housing, gentrification, diversity and gun violence. Read it online or stop by your local Library.

1839mag.com: Blog/online magazine of primarily writers of color on a variety of topics like race and gender equality, social justice and many other topics.  Very creative writers that address issues local and national.  

Very Smart Brothas: Blog co-founded by Pittsburgh native, author and Ebony contributor Damon Young, VSB’s writers are enlightening, entertaining, serious and often funny too.  If you follow VSB on social media, you’ll find at least one awesome thing to read every day!

I know this list is very far from extensive.  What would you recommend as great media to learn more about the African American experience, both locally and nationally?  I’d love to read/watch/view your selections.  


-Scott M.

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It’s interesting how where you grow up and the education you receive shapes your world view.  I grew up here in Pittsburgh, but married someone from Latin America.  We do everything we can to keep our children connected with Latin American culture, as I’ve written about before.  In one of the Latin American events we were at, someone mentioned “the five continents of the world.”  Five continents?  Don’t they mean seven?  After some investigation I learned the difference.  First, they don’t consider Antarctica a continent.  Second, America is one continent, which kind of makes sense since it is one continuous landmass. I like it too, as it brings us all closer together.  We do share one vast and diverse continent.  Here is a small sampling of materials that are from/about life in the diverse places on our continent.

blackinlatinamBlack in Latin America – Henry Louis Gates Jr.  This title is available in book and on dvd. I’d advise reading the book first and then watching the documentary, which is essential viewing.  Henry Louis Gates travels to several nations that share our great continent and examines the Afro descendant experience.  He interviews scholars and locals, reviews history, visits museums and brings to light their plight in well-researched yet very accessible terms.  The countries he visits are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Mexico.  Although these are about very serious issues of inequality and ethnic relations, Gates also manages to capture the beauty of these countries and cultures and even some great cultural expressions, such as merengue dancing in the Dominican Republic.

Even the Rain  Easily one of my favorite movies of all time.  A Spanish film crew shows up to make a movie about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia, while at the same time the political situation in the country turns sour after the government privatizes the water supply.  While the story is fiction, the historical backdrop is not.  This story has elements that are present in every country on our great continent:  inequality, exploitation and the lack of recognition of the indigenous peoples.  The movie also has many powerful story lines like the value of friendship, the ability to change someone’s heart, standing up for what’s right, courage and love.

elnorteEl Norte–  Two war orphans in Guatemala make the daunting journey through Mexico to enter the United States illegally.  What awaits them in the USA is less than the American dream.   

Brazil, Bahia –   Bahia Brazil is the Brazilian state with the most Afro descendants, and African heritage is present in many aspects of the culture, such as religion, dancing and music.  This collection of music gives you a great feel for the rich cultural heritage of Bahia and Brazil.

bookofunknownamThe Book of Unknown Americans –  Stories of immigrant life in the United States.  A powerful human and family story.  Great characters that demonstrate the diversity of Latin American immigrants in the United States.

Made in America:  An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson – Brison gives us the biography of the English language and how it evolved in our country.  An in depth study of the various forces that shaped the way we speak.  The book even mentions the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania region several times for our contributions to our nation’s shared tongue.  Bryson also brings his characteristic wit and charm to this work, I laughed out loud several times while enjoying this book.

-Scott M.

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I’ve always been a bit of a Francophile, although I’ve never been to France.  It’s definitely on my to do list.  French culture, from philosophy to food to fashion to art have always excited me.  I’ve been learning the language using library resources for a few years now. Although my progress has been slow, I have been learning.  What I really need is more live practice; maybe I should get to one of the library’s French Conversation Club sessions.

Anyway, I’ve always thought that France and French are awesome, and here’s some stuff available from the library that either is French or pertains to France.

storyoffrenchThe Story of French by Jean Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow – The complete history of the French language, from Roman times through the present.  The authors visit the entire francophone world and delve into the histories, events, and other languages that have helped French evolve into the major international language that it is today.  This book reads more like a biography than a book on linguistics.

The Intouchables – The heartwarming story of a truly unlikely friendship:  A quadriplegic bourgeois and an ex-con hired to help him results in an amazing bond.  This film is touching, inspirational, funny and entertaining.

Carla Bruni – Now I must say, here in the United States we have a pretty awesome first lady.  I love Michelle Obama’s style, grace  and commitment to healthy living and to our veterans. In contrast, this former first lady is a pop star, and that’s pretty darn cool too.  Her music is nice and relaxing, and for me a good way to practice my French.  

French Cooking – One of the things that I learned from the The Story of French is that both the word restaurant and the institution began in France.  Prior to the revolution, chefs worked in the homes of the nobility.  When the revolution began, many of these nobles were sent to the guillotine or headed into exile, and the result was food professionals who had to come up with another outlet for their craft.  Their product is now celebrated throughout the world, just as the French methods of cooking are.  This link isn’t to any one particular French cooking book, but all of them in our catalog, as there are too many good choices to stick with just one. 

lifeinfranceMy Life in France by Julia Child –  Capturing the time frame from when Julia fell in love with French cooking up through her culinary education in France.  Julia was really an amazing person. She didn’t find her passion for cooking until she was already in her 40s, after serving in the US military and following her husband, a diplomat, all around the world.  Celebrate both a great country and a great personality with this vivid memoir.

What about you all, are there any other Francophiles around?  What French books/movies/cultural things do you love?

-Scott M.


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That Dreaded Time of Year…

When someone tells me “you’re from Pittsburgh, you should be used to the winter by now” I cringe.  I hate cold weather.  I hate snow.  I hate short days, little sunshine, trees with no leaves, tough morning commutes, long sleeves, coats, and being cooped up.  I always have.  I always will, there’s no getting used to it.  I’ve never been a fan of fall either, it just means things are dying and the winter is coming.  Although self-diagnosed, I’d venture to say that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  This year I’m going to try to embrace the season, or at least the season’s cooking, indoor activities, and maybe even some outdoor activities too.

Not that it’s all I like about summer, but summer food certainly has helped sway my preference towards that season.  Fresh tomatoes, bbq, watermelon, salads, plums, peaches, apricots, basil, cilantro, and ice cream all have very special places in my heart.  Fall and winter flavors, although I certainly enjoy them, to me, don’t equal summer. I’m not one of those people who can’t wait for pumpkin spice to come back.  This year, though, I’m going to give it a go and embrace the fall and winters, and the flavors they bring.  I’ve already made pumpkin pancakes, although this hardly counts as using seasonal ingredients because the pumpkin I used came from a can.  This is just the beginning though.

My garden does have fall veggies that I planted in August (many of the seeds I got from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Main’s First Floor seed bank).  I didn’t plant pumpkin or squash, but I have beans, leeks, green onions, lettuce, celery, and several herbs.  I also have a rosemary plant that I brought inside for the winter, as rosemary has the same climate preferences as me.  I’ll also need to buy many of the fall flavors and ingredients from the grocery store (or farm, as we’ll be visiting local farms this fall, more on that later).   But where do I start with putting fall and winter ingredients together in a fall and winter kind of way?  Where do I start with anything I want to do, with books from the library of course!

My selections to start with:

Autumn nights, winter mornings : a collection of cold weather comfort foods – Barbara Scott-Goodman

Winter food : seasonal recipes for the colder months   Jill Norman

The Winter Harvest Cookbook by Lane Morgan

Of course part of embracing the fall and winter will be enjoying the traditional celebration foods of those months, and the celebrations themselves.  Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, cookies, and all of the casseroles that various family members prepare this time of year are excellent, not to mention the celebrations that they’re served at.  That’s another element of embracing the season, to focus on all of the festivities and traditions that happen this time of year.  I love any excuse to spend time with my family, which luckily for me live nearby.  Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, and New Years are all holidays that we celebrate together.  My oldest daughter’s birthday is in November too.  There are plenty of reasons to be around friends and family.  But what about going to the dreaded outdoors in the cold, the rain, the snow, the wind?

Again, I’m going to try to be at one with even that aspect of these seasons.  Luckily, here in Pittsburgh there are lots of great farms with fall festivals.  There are 2 that are within a 15 minute drive of our house.  We’ll be doing the pumpkin patch, hayrides, and buying apples and apple cider (fresh apples are an excellent part of the fall). Here is a list of local fall festivals to enjoy!

Now, being outdoors in the fall is one thing, but in the winter is quite another.  But, then again, I do have 2 daughters who will be happy to get out and play in the snow.  My goal is to take them out to play in the snow a bit more this year than last year.  I’m going to be realistic, it will be cold and uncomfortable, but seeing their faces as they make snowmen or throw snowballs should make up for the temperature.  Plus we’ll get to enjoy hot soup, tea, chocolate, and coffee when we come inside.  Well, okay, the coffee is for me, not the kids, but you get the idea.  We’ll be building some fun family traditions and memories.

While I read all year round, winter is a great time to settle in with your preferred warm beverage and enjoy a good book.  I already have one holiday favorite, I’d love to learn about some new ones,seeing that I’m trying to change my attitude about this time of year.  Please share some of your favorite seasonal or holiday books, and I’ll be sure to check them out!

I’m also choosing seasonal and holiday books for my children, in an effort to help them better enjoy the festive season.  Making seasonal and holiday reading a part of their holiday tradition will certainly make this time of year more special for them!  Please visit your local Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location where the children’s staff will be more than happy to recommend some great seasonal, age appropriate books for your kids!

You know what, with all this stuff, the fall and winter actually seem like something to look forward to.  Spending time with loved ones, different flavors and ingredients, and some great activities and traditions!  I don’t know, it might actually be downright tolerable.  Cheers!

-Scott M.


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Fire and Rice

I don’t know about you, but I love food.  I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!

Now, I’m not a natural cook.  When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult.  I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes.  When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles.  Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use.  These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:

The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week.  This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too.  Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials:  ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.

How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking.  The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen.  This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.

How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome!  Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to.  This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!

The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg –   This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs.  These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen.  Excellent resources!

Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him!  He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes.  He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!

How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling.  You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!

My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice.  Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it.  That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice.  I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.


Obtained via Google Image search.

Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid.  Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.”  Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.

I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it.  Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice.  This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish.    To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:

The Amazing World of Rice : with 150 recipes for pilafs, paellas, puddings and more – Marie Simmons

The Rice Book – Sri Owen

Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson

Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation.  Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook?  I’d love to hear about them!

–Scott M.



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