Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Goodbye Pittsburgh, Goodbye Pennsylvania

During this time that I've not posted, I more-or-less relocated to my sister's apartment in The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.  It was a crazy process.  I sold almost everything I owned for well below market value on Craigslist and flew out.  I'm actually returning back in a few days to put most of my cooking items into the car and then drive across the country.

This has been a time of relatively reduced cooking.  Staying at my sister's place, she lacks what to me seem like the basics of a kitchen, so it's hard for me to cook.  Soon, though, I'll be bringing things I need, including a box of spices and true kitchen rags and an apple corer and a zester and mixing bowls and forks and stuff.

Before I left, I thought I ought to try to eat at some of the places with vegan options in Pittsburgh where I'd never been and cover it on my blog.  I did only a so-so job at getting this done, but I did hit up a few places.

First, Spak Brothers in the Friendship/Garfield neighborhood.  This place is famous amongst 'burgh vegans, yet I'd never actually bought food there.  No time to waste, though; my friend Sara and I went one night to pick up a 12" buffalo-style seitan melt to split.
We chose this because it's our friend Kate's menu item of choice, and it's true that this is delicious.  I know I'm always one of these "Who needs Daiya, you can make your own vegan cheese if you need it but really you don't need it" vegans, but when I get it all melted in a sandwich like this I must admit that it's pretty amazing (far better melted) and that it tastes the way I remember cheese tasting.  Actually the seitan tastes more classically vegetarian to me, like the wheat meats of the past before people got really fancy with their recipes.  But I thought it was delicious, and I ate it in about 4 seconds, and then I felt guilty and had a salad.  I wish I had time to try all the great-sounding stuff on this menu!

I also took a trip to Pittsburgh's South Side to meet up with an old high school acquaintance who was just giving me a suitcase set because I needed one and she had extra (sooo nice).  We went to the Double Wide Grill.  That place is damn cool.  It's a vintage gas station and is decorated as such.  It looks far better in there than I managed to capture in my pictures, but here we go.
It's empty because it was really early, around noon.  Oooh, ooh, and check out these old gas pumps they have in the front.  Remember when gas had lead in it?  I read this article in Mother Jones recently about how lead in gas seems to be linked with violent crime.  That's unrelated, I just thought I'd turn you on to it because it's actually pretty amazing.
The coolest thing about the Double Wide is not their décor, though, but their abiding respect for vegetarians and vegans, with multiple menu options available and also, apparently, this tofu-eating contest (how did I miss out on that?)
After all the gushing I've done about the place, you'd think I had a really amazing meal or something.  I actually didn't, though. I picked a fairly boring menu item because this thing happens to me when my blood sugar is dropping and I'm totally ready to eat where choices just overwhelm me, and I tend to pick the first thing I notice.  I could have gotten pulled pork seitan or an avocado club or the famous seitan wings or some chimichurri tofu, but I didn't.  I got basically a veggie wrap that had tofu in it, although you cannot see the tofu in the picture.  It was good, but nothing special, really.

I also went to this place in Squirrel Hill called Zaw's because my friend Jen who used to live in Pittsburgh bemoaned her inability to make a curry as good as Zaw's coconut curry tofu.  I promised I'd eat there and see if I could figure it out.

It's such a weird place.  Take-out only, and it's incredibly dirty inside.  But it's always hopping and the owner seems to know most everyone who comes in, and you can see the food being prepared right next to you and it's really inexpensive.  Still, the dirtiness of the place is a bit much.  I hate to be like this, but, you know, CLEAN UP?  Maybe hire someone to really clean, then have them return once a week or month to do it again.  I know it's just take out, but ewww.  I couldn't take a picture of the floor without throwing up in my mouth a little, but this picture of the register almost demonstrates the general grunge.
In the end, though, I got the Coconut Curry Tofu and I ate it and I thought it was pretty good.  I had eaten my own curry fairly recently that was pretty similar, so the timing wasn't perfect, but that's OK.  It had a nice spiciness going and it came with rice, too.
I don't think that Zaw's uses a curry paste, although it's possible they do, but I thought it would be the easiest and tastiest to tell my friend Jen to pick up some red Maesri Curry Paste.  I said to sauté just a very little bit of onion in a tiny bit of oil, then add at least a tablespoon of minced fresh ginger, then add about a half a can of red Maesri Curry Paste, a can of full-fat coconut milk, then enough water to make it the texture she remembered from Zaw's along with chopped extra-firm tofu.  Let it simmer, adding more curry paste to taste.

She hadn't known the Maesri secret, but she immediately procured some and made it exactly as I suggested and she said it was almost perfect.  She ended up adding 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to make it the sweetness she recalled, and now she's addicted once again.  Success!

That's all I managed to get to in Pittsburgh before I left, but that doesn't mean I'm ending the post there -- oh no!  I mean, I'm not just leaving Pittsburgh for San Francisco, I'm also leaving Pennsylvania for California.  And over the holidays, I did get some good food from the other side of the state where I'm originally from.

In Phoenixville, my little sister and I were thrift store shopping for some new duds for her and we both had a hankering for Pad Thai, so we stopped at Phoenixville's Thai Place where I got the vegan vegetable Pad Thai and she got the chicken one.  Now, normally I wouldn't blog about this, but I decided to take pictures because what I got looked about 300x better than what she got.  Check mine out:
Colorful, varied, fresh -- delightful looking, am I right?  Well, let me show you her chicken version, which also cost more, I think.  If you cannot stand to look at meat even though the whole point is that hers looks gross and mine looks amazing, I'm at least making this picture less-large than normal for you, but you still may have to squint as you scroll.
Isn't it great to be vegan?  And, speaking of it being great to be vegan, check out the motha-effing cake that my friend Bill brought me back from his trip to Vegan Treats bakery in Bethlehem, PA.
Stop it, Vegan Treats.  You're killing me.  If you ever want to put murder into your heart, I recommend doing a Google image search for "Vegan Treats Bethlehem."  You'll see so many things you want to stuff into your mouth all at the same time that it will make you angry, and it's possible you won't stop being mad until someone brings you a vegan cannoli. 
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