Slow Food Nation Program Highlights


The first annual Slow Food Nation conference is coming up on Labor Day Weekend in San Francisco, and I hope to be there. (Let’s hope my recent stretch of bad luck ends and I can actually manage to go!) Tentative program highlights were just published, and if this isn’t my ideal vacation, I don’t know what is. Check it out below the jump: Read the rest of this entry »


Loaves and Fishes: The Friday Fish Fry

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The Christian season of Lent started yesterday– it’s early this year, thanks to a quirk of the calendar. Catholics around the world have a tradition of fasting and/or food restrictions– they’re different everywhere. I’m from western Pennsylvania, where people eat fish on Friday during Lent. Specifically, they eat beer-battered fish sandwiches.

Fish sandwiches are a big deal in the Pittsburgh area. They always involve a soft bun, a thin but flavorful batter, no toppings other than maybe some tartar sauce, and WAY more fish than bun. The fish is usually sole. There are sandwich shops where you can get them year round, but the real place to go is the basement of the local Catholic church on a Friday afternoon during Lent. Churches (often the women’s auxiliary– yes, those still exist– or another fundraising group) all around the area make homemade fish sandwiches and sell them for eat-in and takeout. They’re crispy, juicy and utterly delicious.

They’re not just for Catholics, either. When I was growing up, we Presbyterians were regulars at the fish fry at St. Alphonsus in Springdale, and it was common to walk into the church basement and see a table full of Presbyterians and another of Lutherans, drinking Cokes and maneuvering massive fried sole filets into their mouths. I can’t speak for Lutherans, but Presbyterians are under no obligation to eat fish on Friday– it’s just that the fish is sooo good.

St. Al’s no longer makes their divine sandwiches, but if you’re in the Pittsburgh area, here’s a list of parish fish fries. Don’t be shy if you’re not a Catholic– if you like fish, you’ll be welcome.

Hey Philadelphians– has the fish fry caught on in eastern PA? If so, where should I go for my Lenten fish sandwich tomorrow?

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Love Your Body Day




Note: This page is a bit outdated.  To see what’s currently happening with Love Your Body Day, click on the ‘Love Your Body Day’ link above, or just click here.




Love Your Body Day Philadelphia!

Sick of fashion magazines telling you you’re too fat? Tired of the endless pressure to diet? Come to Love Your Body Day and celebrate your own real beauty! We’ll be making pages for a zine about our experiences learning to live with and love our bodies. No artistic talent required! Come out, have fun, get creative and celebrate on Sunday, October 21, 2007 from 11 am to 2:30 pm.

The A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA

I’m part of organizing this workshop, and I hope any of you all (male, female and/or otherwise identified) will consider coming out to be a part of it!

Love Your Body Day was originally conceived by the National Organization for Women, about ten years ago, with a focus on protesting sexism and unrealistic beauty standards in advertising. It’s since grown well beyond the buttoned-down confines of NOW, and feminist groups on campuses and in neighborhood around the country participate with various activities.

How does this relate to a blog about real food? Glad you asked, my friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Ida Mae’s Bruncherie: Not just for brunch anymore.

Ida Mae's

I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.

So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?

I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.

The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.

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Restaurant Week at Django

It’s Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, and Joe invited me out to dinner for a Date Night (which is something we old married folks like to do every so often). Django has a great reputation as one of the best BYOBs in the city– and in Philly, the BYOB capital of the east coast, that’s saying something. They’re part of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local alliance as well, so we headed to 4th and South, bottle of cabernet sauvignon in hand, to give them a try.

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Coffee Shop Roundup, Fishtown/Northern Liberties

I’m a sucker for a good coffee shop. I like nothing better on a Saturday afternoon than claiming a table, nursing an iced double espresso and a pastry, and reading a book or doing some writing. In Philly, we’re blessed with a great coffee shop scene. We’re one of the few cities yet to be overrun by Starbucks; instead, we have a generous scattering of locally owned java joints. Vital stats on some of my favorites:

The Rocket Cat

Frankford and Norris, Fishtown

The Rocket Cat is around the corner from us. Joe and I stopped in the day we came to check out the house, and it was a factor in our decision to move here. Having a good coffee shop down the street is a major selling point for me! The Rocket Cat is airy and large, with lots of old, worn-out furniture and funky art. It shares the building with artists’ studios (a sign of further gentrification in Fishtown, no doubt) so there are rotating art exhibits on the walls. There’s a toybox for kids and board games for adults. The back garden can be nice when it’s cleaned out, though it’s often filled with junk. They serve Old City coffee and handle it expertly; the drink menu is well thought out and well executed. I particularly like the Thai iced coffee they serve in the summer. The pastries are good, if nothing to write home about, and there’s a growing selection of breakfast foods and sandwiches that are always fresh and locally sourced. The baristas are young female hipsters, always friendly, if somewhat slow to actually serve you. There’s music but it’s never loud or intrusive. Wi-Fi is available.

The Coffee House

Girard Ave. between Front and 2nd St., Fishtown

The Coffee House is a brand-new addition to the Girard Avenue corridor. I stumbled across it unexpectedly one day during its soft opening, while buying couscous next door at Jerusalem Market. They’re actually holding a Grand Opening event today. It’s a small, newly renovated spot with just a few tables. The real attraction is the back garden, which has a pebble garden, lots of plants and a lovely tent with cushioned bench seating, beaded curtains and a funky little chandelier. The coffee is also locally roasted, from La Colombe. The owners are new to the coffee business– when I stopped in, the friendly owner told me that he’s new to food service altogether, and his partner is experienced in food service but not coffee. They seem to still be working the kinks out– the drinks are inexpertly prepared, but tasty. High-quality desserts are imported from Italy, which is great, but they’re treated unevenly. We were served an imported cannoli that was beautifully presented with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and a ripe strawberry, but on tasting it we realized that the cannoli shell tasted a bit like refrigerator, and the sauce was Hershey’s. If they are willing to go all the way and treat their high-quality ingredients with high-quality preparations, the Coffee House will evolve into a wonderful spot. Also, I’m told there’s free Wi-Fi, though I haven’t tried it out myself.

Higher Grounds

North 3rd St. and Spring Garden, Northern Liberties

Higher Grounds is tucked away in a quiet, expensive corner of hipster paradise Northern Liberties. It’s long and narrow but airy, with eclectic furnishings and a laid-back, quiet atmosphere. It’s easy to read and relax here, and Joe seems to fall asleep with his headphones on every time we chill here. Coffee and desserts are good– there’s a big muffin selection– but the real attraction here is a wide selection of teas and tea-based drinks, including rotating drinks with medicinal properties (tea blends for allergies, energy, whatever). I haven’t tried the food menu, but there’s a rotating selection of soups and sandwiches.

Soy Café

630 North 2nd St. (near Fairmount), Northern Liberties

This crowded but pleasant coffee shop on the main Northern Liberties drag specializes in vegetarian-friendly foods. There are vegan options for just about everything, and lots of tasty little morsels sold inexpensively (if you don’t feel like spending five bucks just for a little nosh with your coffee). There’s an Asian bent to the menu– you can munch on a bowl of edamame for three dollars, or order a full meal. Seaweed cucumber salad, spicy tuna wraps or a variety of creative sandwiches are available, and just about everything is relatively healthy. This is a great option for gluten-free food. It tends to get packed on the weekends, but you can usually snag a table in the pleasant backyard or sit at the bar and watch Northern Liberties go by. Smoothies are fantastic; coffee drinks tend to the creative (i.e. espresso milkshakes) and are very high in quality. Free Wi-Fi.


944 N. Second St., Northern Liberties

This is a relatively new coffee shop with a Greek flavor. We stopped in for the first time today and were the only customers. It’s large and spacious, with ultra-modern glass tables and leather couches and a long bar. The music is loud, poppy and Greek. The coffee menu doesn’t deviate much from the norm; there’s Egyptian mint tea and a wide range of smoothies. We were too full to try any food, but the house specialty is its selection of crèpes, both sweet and savory.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a start; if I’m missing anyplace particularly good, I hope you’ll let me know!

[where: 19125]

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Books ‘n’ at

I used a gift certificate from work to pick up two food-related books this weekend: The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz, and The Indian Grocery Store Demystified by Linda Bladholm. Haven’t cooked anything from the Mexican book yet, but it seems, in my limited understanding, like a reasonably comprehensive guide to Mexico City cooking. Should be fun. The Bladholm book…

OK, here’s the thing about the Bladholm book. The introductory material is fairly Orientalist.
Here’s an example of what I mean:

You pull open the door and a string of brass bells jangle, ushering you into
another land. The heady aromas of cardamom, black pepper, perfumed
incense, and rose-scented sweets fill the air. You are surrounded by
exotic provisions with colorful wrappers and labels. The strains of a
sitar resonate from a far corner. There is the rustle of a saree…

And so on and so forth. This is worthless at best and racist at worst. However, the explanations of various spices, their origins, uses and alternate names, are incredibly useful, as are the sections on cooking instruments and produce that are hard to find in the US. I’ll at least stop confusing kalonji with black cumin!

If you’re going to be in Philadelphia this weekend (and I am not), the White Dog Foundation is sponsoring a local food event at Yard’s Brewery:

Yards Kick Off Event:
All Local Ingredient Cheese Steaks
(Pastured Beef and Veg.) * Hand Crafted Ales * Live Music * Dunk Local Food
Leaders in Dunk Tank
Sunday, July 15th 2:00pm – 6:30pm2439 Amber Street, Philadelphia, PA. Located in the
Kensington neighborhood of Philly. The brewery entrance is on Martha Street
close to Hagert St.
There will be a dunk tank at the event in which Local Food
Leaders (including Judy Wicks) from Fair Food, Farm to City, Reading Terminal
Market, The Book & The Cook and The Food Trust will be submerged — that is,
provided you can hit the target.