Pittsburgh/Hollywood 2013 Award Winners

The Steeltown Entertainment Project was co-founded in 2003 by Hollywood heavy hitters with a soft spot for Pittsburgh and a vision to put us on the entertainment industry map.  The collaboration was inspired by an op-ed Carl Kurlander wrote called Pittsburgh’s Next Industrial Revolution: Entertainment that caught the attention of Ellen Weiss Kander and Maxine Lapiduss.  Their vision has confirmed the fact that Pittsburgh has what it takes to be a world-class player in the entertainment industry.  They are an incubator for innovative productions that invest in nurturing talent and creativity along with telling great stories.

As this exciting year winds down it is with great pride that I announce a string of awards for the  Steeltown team.   The documentary A Shot To Save The World  has won a prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award.  The film tells the story of how Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh developed the first polio vaccine.  It continues to play on the Smithsonian Channel reminding the world of what is possible when we all work together.

You will also want to tune in on January 20 for the premiere of PBS’s Independent Lens spotlight on Blood Brother  about Pittsburgher Rocky Braat who moved to India to make a difference in the lives of young orphans with HIV. The film is directed by Pittsburgher Steve Hoover and produced by Danny Yourd and longtime Steeltown Film Factory advisers Michael Killen and Kathy Dziubek of Animal.  It won the IDA Humanitas Award this month and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance last year.

Sundance had a few other Pittsburgh connections this year that include an intriguing new documentary about Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis who claimed to pitch a no-hitter on LSD  called No, No, A Dokumentary.  The film explores Dock’s story well beyond baseball to explore who he was while dealing with issues of civil rights and addiction. You can learn more about the film and contribute to its tax-deductible crowdfunding campaign here.  The crime drama Cold In July starring Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall will also make its premiere at Sundance and was edited by Pitt alumnus and longtime Steeltown friend John Paul Horstmann.  Carnegie Mellon will also be representing Pittsburgh at Sundance by hosting a New Frontier Party.

Steeltown Spotlight Series Lauren Morelli is nominated for the WGA Award for her Best Comedy Series and Best New Series for work on Orange Is The New Black.   CMU alumnus Sean Hiader is also nominated for her “Orange” script as well as longtime Steeltown friend Jenji Kohan who created and is the showrunner of the series.    On February 5 they will kick off the 2014 Spotlight Series by welcoming Saturday Night Live director Don Roy King who won his third Emmy this year for a career inspired by a trip he took from Monroeville to Broadway in eighth grade.

The list of Pittsburgh/Hollywood connections is long and impressive.  Look twice when you cross that next street corner since you may be inches away from a famous encounter.


Coffeehouse of the Month

Pittsburgh meetups are a great way to interact with new people while discovering great things to do.  There is a group for about every interest imaginable and I am guilty of lurking in quite a few categories I would like to try out.  Most of them have nominal dues just to keep things going but participation is initially free.   Since coffee is a consistent pleasure that fuels my day I was intrigued to come across the coffeehouse of the month meetup.


There has been a steadily growing influx of great coffee shops cropping up in and around our city over the past decade.  Most of them have intriguing names and local flavor.  I am most familiar with the ones in and around Shadyside so I was pleased to see the coffeehouse meetup was in Beechview at a place called Brew On Broadway.  The name alone conjures up an image of entertainment and intrigue.  My curiosity was suddenly piqued so I had to check it out online.  It turns out this place is a community run coffee shop that was opened to revitalize an area that once teemed with business.  It brings together a diverse set of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities to create an environment that has a life of its own.


Revenue from the shop is used to fund community-supported projects such as gardens and scholarships.  It is a great example of a neighborhood taking action to change it’s destiny.  People are what drive change and there is no reason for an economic demise when great minds come together.

If you want to check out this place out just show up on Saturday, January 4, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. and look for a happy crowd ready to embark on a stimulating event .  This is your chance to explore a part of the city you may not be familiar with and see a shining example of a collaborative project between RenewPittsburgh, Cannon Coffee in Brookline and CLUB (Community Leaders United for Beechview).  The address is 1557 Broadway Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15216.  They are open from 7:00 a.m – 7:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Saturday and 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sunday.

Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

One of the best things about living in Pittsburgh is being privy to the wealth of artistic exposure offered by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.  They are responsible for bringing high quality performing and visual arts to our city and are currently celebrating their 20th Anniversary of First Night downtown.  In case you are not familiar with this event, it is a  free family friendly New Year Eve’s party held downtown.  For a mere $10.00 you can purchase an all-access button that will give  you entry to all 150 art focused activities and events.  First Night 2013-0055It is a fantastic way to bring in the new year and a real memory maker for children.  You can check out their schedule of events on the website which includes a walk through an ice maze infused with colorful lights.

Over the past 20 years the trust has literally transformed a downtrodden section of our city near Liberty Avenue that now stands as a national model of urban revitalization.  They are the ones responsible for bringing that awesome rubber duck to town and made us the first city in the U.S. to host this floating art form.    We have the largest concentration of arts per capita of any other city and have performances that rival those seen on Broadway.  I will never forget the uplifting performance of John Davidson in Oaklahoma or the sight of Mary Poppins taking flight over the audience at the Benedum.  You can sign up for the trust e-mail newsletter online so you never miss an event and special ticket offers.  If you volunteer you get to work with a great group of people and see incredible shows for free.  They have an impressive lists of options that include ushering, marketing and public relations.  There are flexible options to accommodate personal preferences and there is an activity to fit any schedule.

Mark your calendar now for the upcoming Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater that kicks off the new year with a production of Stuck about a little boy with his kite caught in a tree.  It is perfect for ages 3-10.  To make it ultra convenient you can catch performances at the Byham Theater or several area high schools.  Stuck  Look for Teacher From The Black Lagoon in February and Junie B. Jones in March.

Your also don’t want to miss Mamma Mia! in February or Porgy and Bess in March.  Celebrating the arts is great way to reduce tension and enjoy life.  Kick off this new year with a focus on entertainment and treating  yourself well.





Pittsburgh Thai by Boris

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have a wide selection of excellent Thai food but you will not find it better anywhere than what is lovingly prepared by Boris in Verona.  He puts his personal touch on every dish and comes out of the kitchen to greet each guest.  He took over a former Thai restaurant about two years ago and has developed quite a faithful following.  It is definitely a word of mouth restaurant and I found out about it’s culinary wonders from my neighbor Michelle.  It should not be missed and is a great place for a quiet reprieve.

Verona is a quaint riverside borough about 13 miles northeast of downtown along the left bank of the Allegheny River.  If you follow Allegheny River Boulevard it will take you almost to the restaurants front door.  It is hard to miss if you are not looking for it and is located on a side street at 321 South Avenue.  The phone number is (412) 828-0339.  Pittsburgh Thai by Boris's profile photo

The decor is minimalistic and serene.  There is a clever wooden sculpture of a reclining Buddha that appears to be suspended in air.  The tom kha soup is so popular  that an artful poster of it hangs on the wall beckoning you to the quixotic experience it offers.  The pumpkin custard and crab fried rice are both examples of the unique fare that you can’t find just anywhere.

Pumpkin custard with sticky rice     Crab fried rice

Although it is still a fairly well kept secret, you may want to call for reservations on weekends.  The hours are Monday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.  Friday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  They do not serve alcohol but do have B.Y.O.B. with no corkage fee.  It is perfect for a book club meeting, sophisticated birthday party or small business gathering.  The food cannot help but put you in a good mood and the service is superb.

They have a Facebook page where you can view their menus and will be pleasantly surprised to find lunch priced between $4.50 and $7.50.  I think you will be hard pressed to find a more delectable bargain anywhere else in or out of town.  You will be instantly transported to the exotic cultural experience of Thailand and will feel you have been treated to a home cooked meal with this authentic menu.

The Schwan Man Cometh

We are back home mere hours from our road trip with a deluge of luggage to unpack and packages to unfurl.  There is nothing quite like returning back after a quest into the outer reaches of the world.  First and foremost is the acquisition of food which involves a lot of foraging through  shelves and cupboards.  We always return with various culinary delights picked up during our travels but there always seems to be a much needed item that has somehow been overlooked.

But what to my wandering eyes did appear but our regular Schwan man with food items near.  It was a complete surprise when he arrived although he was right on schedule with his alternating Friday stop.  Somehow the holidays make you forget what day of the week it actually is.  I first became acquainted with the Schwan home delivery truck years ago living in Charlotte, N.C.  I used to run out of my apartment to apprehend the truck to buy fresh cream for my coffee.  I had not thought about this company for years until moving to Shadyside and seeing a truck squeeze down the alley in front of my house.  Yes I did say in front instead of behind but that is another story.

They offer more than 350 high quality products frozen at the peak of flavor and freshness.  What more could you ask for.  You can order online and it will be delivered at your convenience.  You can even save $10.00 on your first order if you enter the code NEW at checkout.  I truly do swear by their  breaded haddock squares which make an excellent fish sandwich  and the biscuits are to die for.  It is a true luxury to have food delivered to your door and they have a point reward system that rivals Giant Eagle by far.  You get 5% back from every purchase to use on a future order.  And just to stay current they have added a mobile app.  Life could not be easier.

It all started back on Tuesday, March 18, 1952 when 23 year old Marvin Schwan packed up his beat up 1946 Dodge panel van with 14 gallons of his family’s signature ice cream to deliver to rural families.  He quickly sold all 14 gallons and that historic trip started his home delivery business.  It is still family owned and they are constantly finding ways to make buying food more convenient.  You can request regular visits to your home, freezer bag drop-off or mail delivery.

Their website  contains great nutritional advice, menu suggestions and healthy recipes.  The live smart selection contains items that are low in calories, sodium and fat with minimal additives or preservatives.  It helps simplify eating healthy with a hectic schedule.

ENTICINGS™ Strawberry Fruit BarsDark Sweet Cherries - Limited AvailabilityTilapia LoinsBreaded Blue HakeTriple Berry Blend "All Natural"

I have built up a great relationship with my personal deliveryman Bill.  I’ve watched him lose weight and get healthier.  He noticed my new Maine Coon cat and I was impressed that he immediately identified the breed.  Life is all about relationships and it nice to have people you can count on.  The Schwan man is one of my most consistent entities and my most reliable food source.  It is a small reprieve from the grocery conglomerate.  However, they no longer carry fresh cream.

Made In U.S.A.

Keeping stock of the various necessities of life can present quite a challenge.  I shop local as much as possible and get excited anytime I come across the Made in America label.  I recently needed to buy socks and was forced to shop in a big box conglomerate that I normally avoid.  But I happen to be visiting relatives in a rural area where it is about the only game in town.

My first rushed attempt to meet this need was met with less than stellar results.  I bought a package of three knee socks for roughly $5.00 that fit too tight around my calf and reeked of polyester.  It was something I could not abide by even in my desperate state.  I went back to the same store to pick up an ingredient for a cooking project and stumbled upon a whole display of Made in America socks.  I couldn’t believe it.  They were located no where near the regular sock aisle and I was thrilled to make this exciting discovery.

There was a great selection of colors and they reeked of exquisite quality. The merino wool blend contained just a tiny bit of acrylic and enough spandex to make to insure a good fit for calf comfort.  I am happy to now be acquainted with the Renfro Sierra Sock Company.  They put you in sock buying mood with illusions of warm feet for outdoor activities.  You see a picture of a snowy mountain range right on the package label which is sewn on with actual white thread instead of those annoying plastic connectors you have to cut off of most socks.

The Renfro Sierra Sock Company is headquartered in Mount Airy, N.C. which is close to where I grew up.   It has pioneered such efforts as the standardization of sock sizes and the use of copper technology to make anti-microbial socks that contain arch support and reinforced heel and toe.  They cost roughly $5.00 a pair which I was happy to pay for such quality.

But digging a little deeper on their website uncovered manufacturing and distribution facilities not only in the United States (Alabama, North and South Carolina) but also in India, China, Pakistan, Canada and Mexico.  But I like to think they are paying fair wages since they support communities where they operate by donating to local causes and disaster relief efforts.

They have a culture that embraces respect and concern for all their employees. This includes a comprehensive wellness program that promotes awareness of health and fitness while providing incentives to accomplish fitness goals.
They are continuously developing sustainability initiatives that demonstrate concern for precious earth resources with things like corporate tree-plantings, installation of energy-efficient roofing and development of  environmentally friendly consumer products made with materials like bamboo, organic cotton and recycled yarn.  So I still feel pretty good about buying this product even though it is not exclusively Made in the U.S.A.


Christmas Time Is Here

I’m hitting the road today for a holiday spree and a few hours in the car is always an adventure.  My best tips for rest stops along the way are truck stops and hotels.  They are both ALWAYS open.  If you are staying in town but want a reprieve from the holiday aftermath, check out the Terrace Room at the Omni William Penn Hotel.  I will always remember it as the Westin William Penn but that just shows how long I’ve been in Pittsburgh.  The atmosphere is elegant, the seafood is sustainable and the menu is diverse enough to please anyone in your party.  They also do an awesome tea that would make a great gift for a special person in your life.  Afterward you can stroll around the city and marvel at the magic of the Macy window displays.

The Terrace Room

If you have guests visiting from out of town you may want to show off our award winning Fairmont Hotel.  The breath taking view of PNC park is worth the trip alone.  It was named one of the worlds top 20 travel destinations by National Geographic Traveler and won a prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) Gold Award from the United States Green Building Council.  Their bar is a posh yet private place for cocktails and the lobby offers historical artifacts of the city that are fascinating to read about.

Rivers Casino is open from 10:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and has no end of restaurants and bars.  Their happy hour from 5:00 – 7:00 offers $2.00 drinks and lots of interesting interaction.  The perfect choice for over zealous holiday spenders.  It may not be for everyone but it is an eclectic outing to recover from too much shopping.

But if you want to feel the true spirit of the holidays you should head down to PPG Place Wintergarden to absorb the international flavor of Christmas.  You can marvel at the 32 foot Christmas tree surrounded by a snow-capped village with a train winding through it. It almost equals the grand display at the Carnegie Science Center but this one is actually open Christmas Day!  If the kids are bouncing off the walls this is the perfect place to take them after your cocktail at the casino.  While you’re there you can also stroll through the life sized Santas that make up the Spirits of Giving From Around the World display.  It is quite educational and a peaceful way to escape the excitement.

train ppgwintergarden Best Holiday Train Displays

Ease into the day and celebrate to the hilt.  The pressure is off and the deadline is done.  Have a peaceful end to this chaotic season.

Fun, Festive and Fast

We really are getting down to the wire on this whole gift thing.  I always try to keep the holidays simple but there always seems to be an eleventh hour task at hand.  My misanthropic approach to crowds makes me relish the opportunity to shop online but shipping is always a problem.  However, this is the year that I discovered the e-Gift card.  So pure, so simple and so effective.  The recipient may not even suspect that their gift was a swirling afterthought in a sea of chaos.

But not just any e-Card will do.  I seem to cavort with people who possess stellar taste and can be difficult to please.  However, I have never met a soul who is not impressed with Kiehl’s.  They’ve been around since 1851 so they must really know what they are doing. 

A Wonderland of Giving

They always have a limited edition for the holidays that also supports a worthy cause.  The grapefruit whipped body butter hydrates skin and supports Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.  It is definitely two gifts in one that will warm your heart with every purchase.

Creme de Corps "Grapefruit" Whipped Body Butter - Limited Edition, , large

The Ultimate Man body scrub soap-on-a-rope is a wonderful buy at only $15.00 and prevents any awkward slip ups in the gym shower.  You will never have to bend over to retrieve anything with this slipped over your wrist.  It has such a refreshing scent that women will be encouraged to co-bathe and play tug-of-war. 

"Ultimate Man" Body Scrub    Soap-On-A-Rope Limited Edition, , large

Their website is broken down into easy to find categories such as gifts for all, gifts under $40, $60, $100, gifts for baby and gifts for pets.  Your also receive three complimentary samples of your choice with every purchase to keep or give away. 

Kiehl’s can be a bit hard to find in Pittsburgh since Saks went away but my favorite stop has always been Toadflax on Walnut Street.  You can now find it at Nordstroms in Ross Park Mall too. 

They have always been ahead of the curve to outsmart aging and the thought of animal testing never even crossed their mind.  You can buy with peace of mind from this company and help a great cause along the way. 

Blue Dust Christmas

If you know anyone who is having a blue Christmas, send them to the Blue Dust Cafe in Homestead to drown their sorrows in comfort food and a stout brew.  My friend Rob introduced me to this place on his way out of town to a new beginning in Philadelphia.  It is steeped in atmosphere and just hard enough to find to keep the crowds at bay.

Located just over the train tracks at 601 Amity Street it is the perfect retreat after a day fighting the crowds at the water front.  The train plays such a huge role in this restaurant that I was transfixed when the first one went by.  It was so surreal that I felt I could reach out and touch it yet there was little noise or vibration.  The shrill whistle blast shook me out of my reverie and the allusion I had  time traveled to a scene in The Polar Express. 

I’m not a beer drinker but this place is known for its microbrews and boasts the kind of menu that would appeal to  Anthony Bourdain or Guy Ferrari.  Where else will you find pumpkin hummus or a bowl of doom.  They are both vegetarian and top drawer.  It is a family run business and Uncle Jerry oversees the entire operation.  You will always find one of his new and enticing creations on the menu.  He also picked the unusual time frame of Tuesday-Sunday from 11:37 a.m. – 1:07 a.m.  To say this place is a bit avant garde is an understatement.  It is not your average anything.

Even the name was taken from true Pittsburgh roots.  When iron ore is dominated by very fine and soft hematite the grains have a steely blue-grey color.   The soft powdery ore is nicknamed blue dust.  Steel workers often came home covered in this stuff and this pub stop is located at the former entrance to the Homestead Steel Works.

A gift certificate is an ideal choice for the person who has everything and the experience will linger long after the meal is consumed.


British and German Holiday Treats

Pittsburgh is a diverse city with a vast array of  international flavor.  There is an endless supply of exotic and hard to find items that you would be hard pressed to find in many other cities.  Growing up in a small southern town makes me truly appreciate the convenience of buying special ingredients for unique culinary concoctions locally.  You would never find marzipan cake, oblaten lebkuchen, Christmas berry preserves or sugar mice in any store within a 50 mile radius of where I grew up.

I became a tea afficionado after moving to Pittsburgh which led me to discover Maragret’s Fine Imports in Squirrel Hill.  You will often see a table set  up outside their store front with sale items and seasonal fresh produce.  Every trip to this store is a different and delightful experience.  You will find the most exquisite loose teas along with an extremely knowledgeable staff.  The holidays are a great time to introduce someone you care about to the unexpected joys in life that they may have overlooked.  There is nothing better than a perfectly brewed cup of Golden Pu-erh Five Year Old Rare tea.  There is such a huge selection that you are bound to find a blend to satisfy the most finicky of palettes and are sure to convert even the most die hard coffee drinkers to an occasional cuppa.

While the tea is the speciality, the German and British holiday sweets are a true treasure that should not be overlooked.  The christoeleen and wicklein nuernberger allerlei are great with any hot drink and the chocolate Santas make great stocking stuffers.  Wicklein Nuernberger Allerlei Christollen Christmas Assorted Chocolate with SantaIt would be a great surprise for anyone with a German background and a heartwarming treat for recent transplants.  We have to be one of the most transient cities in the world.  The Christmas berry preserve is great with scones and the Christmas Cracker Poppers from England will liven up any party!  But my all time favorites are the authentic Christmas pudding and sugar mice.  The latter are a must for anyone who has been extra nice.  Christmas Berry PreserveChristmas Pudding    Sugar Mice  Christmas Cracker Poppers, England 12pc

You can avoid last minute panic by sending an electronic gift certificate that can be redeemed in the Squirrel Hill location or on the huge online store.  There are lots of other delightful items  that really make the selection process fun and easyTea Infuser Fun Character such as the character tea infusers are great for kids and adults alike.  And the floating ducky tea infuser will be sure to make anyone smile.  Be sure and give one to the crabbiest person you know and watch the transformation.  Floating Ducky Tea Infuser