Family, Ingredients, Lawrenceville, Meta, Neighborhoods, North Side, Techniques and tools

Amateur status.

I am not a professional. Don’t pretend to be one, no real aspirations to be one.

Those who cook for a living impress me. The hours, the conditions, the repetition — and the hazards.

About a year ago I came across this piece on nasty injuries in pro kitchens. Yikes.

I’ve nicked myself with knives, sliced off a wafer of finger here and there, gotten the occasional blister from popping oil or a light burn now and again from a hot oven rack. Some even left scars. Cool, right?

But nothing like those folks. I have health insurance, should the need arise. And perhaps more importantly, if I hurt myself, I can simply stop cooking.

Or so I thought.

I got up on Saturday a couple weeks ago determined at first to do nothing more adventurous than drive into Lawrenceville to pick up some pastries for breakfast. Joint was closed, so no dice.

I got home, looked around my kitchen and had a grand idea. Diced red peppers and Asian long peppers, onion, potatoes seared in duck fat, cheddar cheese, eggs. One big-ass pile o’ breakfast.

Something like this:

My folks had gotten me some new knives for Christmas. It was a solid if not world-changing set of Wusthofs. Which means, like everything else in my life, I can blame them for this. (Kidding.)

I started dicing the peppers and got lazy with my left thumb. I know where it was supposed to be to stay safe. Wasn’t.


I felt the pinch of the knife and it took a second for the blood to start rushing where some of my fingernail and tip of my thumb had been.

First stop: sink. Cold running water, make sure no bits of food or anything else were in the wound. Then: pressure. Paper towels were close. Grabbed a few and squeezed. The throbbing moved all the way up my arm. And damn if those paper towels didn’t saturate quickly. That can’t be good. I secured some new paper towels with band-aids for a little extra absorbency.

My wife was a couple blocks away getting coffee. I texted her something like, “I just sliced of a hunk of my thumb. How you doin’?”

I tweeted something about it, too — I had to distract myself a little bit — which brought back notes of sympathy and advice and my friend Hart, who works in the business, calling me “cupcake” and telling me to suck it up.

My wife came home and checked on me, asked if I wanted to go to the hospital.

No, not really. Nothing for them to do. Clean cut, but broad, not deep, so stitches or even butterfly bandages wouldn’t do anything. The bleeding wouldn’t stop, but that was more a matter of pressure and time than anything else.

She went to a pharmacy nearby. Gauze, Neosporin, sterile pads, the whole nine.

While she was gone I looked around the kitchen. I found the bit of my thumb on the cutting board but it hadn’t gotten into the peppers. There was no blood there either.

And, man, was I still hungry.

Back to dicing. Which is really hard when you can’t use your thumb at all.

She got home and walked in the kitchen and just stared at me. A combination of No! and What the hell? and How stupid are you? and But doesn’t that hurt, baby?

I smiled and shrugged and asked her if she wanted to see the chunk of thumb I sliced off, because I kept it. No idea why, but I did. Not like I was proud of it. (She didn’t. It got thrown away.)

We wrapped up my thumb more appropriately. Something like this:

And I went back into the kitchen. She helped me peel the potatoes and I did the rest.

It didn’t make me feel like a pro. Please. I’m just an idiot who still wanted breakfast and figured continuing to cook it was the quickest way to make that happen. How do you think I got that first picture?

But it did make me think about those who feel like they cannot stop cooking when such a thing happens. There’s work to do, a shift to finish.

I respect the hell out of those people.

Ambience, Family, Meta, Nontraditional, Traditional

Yinz privileges.

Almost seven months in Pittsburgh now. I’m still new. It’s my city but it’s not my city.

As much as I have embraced this city and it me, I am not of this place. I still have something to earn, something to prove.

I don’t yet have yinz privileges.

Some of that’s about language. Pittsburghese. The dropped infinitives, the flat vowels, downbeat instead of an upbeat at the ends of questions, the n’ats and gum bands and yinz-guyses. Maybe I know how to get from the South Side to Bloomfield without a map, but those aren’t words I get to use yet — mockingly or otherwise. Even if I wanted to, I could never out-Greg & Donny the actual Greg & Donny.

Living in Philly a decade ago, I inadvertently started occasionally dropping my Rs in words like “yesterday.” I did — to my mother’s heartbreak — say “wudder” for “water.” What I never did pick up was the “yous” — the Philly version of yinz or y’all. Not out of a feeling of respect or otherness, it just never felt like it fit in my mouth.

I do find myself saying y’all. And I did spend more than three years in the South. That’s when it came back to me. I had a high school teacher in Oregon who came from northern Louisiana — he said y’all. A lot. And I started saying it to poke fun.

Said it enough that it kind of stuck for a while. And there I was, Oregon kid from Southern California, saying y’all for no reason except I liked to be an idiot and make fun. That went away until I’d been in Arkansas a couple years and then it just seemed expedient. Saying “you guys” or some such just took too damn long. Always a chance I was going to need those syllables later for something more important.

There are different ways of getting to know a place. I’ve read plenty about Pittsburgh. The H, the Hump, the flood in 1936, the Hill District and jazz, Carnegie and Frick, Andy Warhol, Gene Kelly, that — holy crap — the Pirates used to be good.

But that’s not the same as experience. I’ve walked around where Forbes Field used to be. Been down to the Block House to touch it for myself. Seen shows at the O’Reilly and the Benedum. Spent time in the Heinz History Center archives for research. Happened across little things that tell something about this city.

A friend even got me in to see the CMU steam tunnels. Which was beyond cool.

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And I’ve done a lot of learning with my tongue. The traditional. The new. The people trying to make something special. Those who have taken the time to help me, show me around, teach me something, give of themselves.

They share their food, their beer, their insights, their lives. With me.

Before I moved here, I heard a lot from other transplants about how hard a city Pittsburgh was to get inside. That it could be difficult to win acceptance or find the right guide. Natives would look at me skeptically, they told me. Connecting with people would be hard.

Utter crap.

Maybe I just found the right people faster than I should have. Luck. Fluke.

I don’t think so.

My brother came through Pittsburgh a little while ago to play a gig in Polish Hill. We got to talking about Portland. That place can be a true closed society. Hard to meet people. Hard to know who your friends are. Hard to break into whatever club everyone else is a part of, the insouciant but vicious coolness of already living there.

I told him about Pittsburgh. The people I’ve met here. Jennie and Rob and Mike and Kelly and Abby and A.J. and Derrick and Gwen and Andrea and Andrea (two people) and Beth and Emily and Kim and Claire and Arthur and (another) Mike and Perry and Chris and James and Mindy and Hart and Adam and Cara and Dana and Amy and Tim. Yeah, not every one of them would get on a plane to post bail for me in another state, but they and a bunch of others have made this feel like home for me. And in not that much time.

I like it here. Think I’ll stay a while. Might even pick up those yinz privileges somewhere along the way.

Cheap eats, Ingredients, Meta, Neighborhoods, Nontraditional, Presentation, Regent Square

The deed.

Not too long after I moved to Pittsburgh, I started going to D’s Six Pax & Dogz in Regent Square. Good beer, something new on tap with tremendous consistency, solid, flavorful hotdogs and exceptional fries. I’m probably there more often than I should be.

But there was always a line I wouldn’t cross. They have a macaroni and cheese dog.

This is a problem. I love macaroni and cheese. I also like hotdogs. Together, they create a weird double-starch problem in my head. Conceptual. Like a spaghetti sandwich or something. It also isn’t a place I would have guessed made a sublime and sinful macaroni and cheese, which I’d think would be mandatory to pull something like that off.

A deep-fried crispy hotdog with brown mustard and cole slaw — absolutely, yes. But not this.

Then the heckling began. People I know and like, saying such kind and supportive things like (and I paraphrase for comic effect, though not by as much as you might think):

Eat it, bitch.

What are you, some kind of dilettante nancyboy?

Wuss on a stick.

Put that meat in your mouth. Now.

Punk jackalope.

It was a public shaming.

Maybe half the people I heard from told me how deeply awesome it is. The other half questioned my sanity at even considering putting such a thing in my mouth.

I’m not without my guilty pleasures. And I haven’t come across anything I wouldn’t at least try if someone told me is was good. I’m not adventurous for the sake of it, necessarily, but this involved a dare. And apparently my manhood.

So you see my dilemma. Or maybe you don’t. Which is also fine. But I knew I was going to eat the damn thing.

I also knew I couldn’t do it alone.

The main instigators and a couple other friends — along with my shaking-her-head wife — decided to join me in my moment of whatever it was my moment of. Triumph? Humiliation? Ignominy? Centered inner peace? Hell, maybe they were just there for the beer.

Thanks for preserving this moment, Gwen. I look so ... thrilled, don't I?

The thing arrived. Not quite what I was expecting. Someone told me D’s made its own macaroni and cheese, which perhaps it does — of a sort gooey, Velveeta-ish, viscous. Less than my thing.

I took a huge, absurd Guy Fieri bite, enough of one that I’m not sure I tasted much. Another bite — and yeah. Less than my thing.

So. I can say I ate it. And I can say happily that I’ll be back soon — for something else.