Arts, Entertainment, Living

Udon Noodles with Beef

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 10:20 AM Written by

Udon-Noodles-with-BeefHappy Tuesday!!!

Make it a "Test Kitchen Tuesday" and try something new ... something to expand your family's palate. The recipe for tonight will do just that. Udon Noodles and Beef is a favorite in our house. This was once a Test Kitchen Tuesday item for us. On "Test Kitchen Tuesday" my kiddos will make up judge badges for themselves and then rate the recipe - usually by thumbs up or down. If the recipe is a thumbs up, they will then shout out - "Put this on the menu!!!"

My kids will pick around the spinach but seem to gobble everything else up ...  of course that depends on which way the wind is blowing! Some nights they are more adventurous than others. Yours too?

If you want to tame the spice a bit, just reduce the amount of red pepper flakes. I hope you enjoy this simple and tasty dish!

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Syfy gets cooking with 'Marcel's Quantum Kitchen'

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 01:00 AM Written by

MarcelWith its ridiculously spelled name and a desire to appeal to a broader audience, Syfy is branching out to cooking shows with "Marcel's Quantum Kitchen" (10 p.m. Tuesday), a cooking series with a twist that's more chemistry than science fiction.

The series stars Marcel Vigneron, who introduces himself as "that [expletive deleted-hole] from 'Top Chef.'" I don't watch "Top Chef"(or his appearance in the recent "Top Chef All-Stars") so I'll have to take his word for it (and that of many fans). But then he goes on to say, "I'm not like that at all." Six words and he thinks his image is rehabbed and ready for a return to prime time? Wait until episode two when the profanity flies and one of his employees accuses him of playing dirty.

With his high, tight, product-infused hair, Vigneron resembles a bearded Robert Pattinson or a more blotchy-skinned Wolverine from "The X-Men" movies. Maybe that's why Syfy gave him a series?

Read more after the jump. ...


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Blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins dies at 97

Tuesday, 22 March 2011 12:00 AM Written by
Pinetop Perkins at the Wheeling blues festival last August. (Jim White photo)

Blues piano player Joseph William Perkins, better known as "Pinetop," one of the truly legendary figures of the blues, and one of the last living links to the beginnings of the music, died yesterday (3.21.11) at his home in Austin, Texas, at the age of 97. (Here's a New York Times obituary)

He had just won a blues Grammy in February for Best Traditional Blues Album for "Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins & Willie "Big Eyes" Smith." It made him the oldest ever Grammy winner.

Pinetop was the grand old man of the blues, and it seemed like he would just go on forever. But all good things have to end sometime, and Pinetop has given us more good things in the form of blues than we could have ever hoped for.

I had the pleasure of photographing him up close last August at the Wheeling blues festival, where, as always, he was dressed in one of his trademark outfits, complete with a fine fedora. This time, he was decked out in red for a great blues evening. I was close enough to hear him grumbling about his keyboard -- "This thing's out of tune."

I saw him several times in recent years -- a Pittsburgh show at the Carnegie Music Hall a few years ago, at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2008, and last year at Wheeling. No, his vocals weren't what they used to be, and his fingers had slowed a little. But watching blues history is always a pleasure. And Pinetop, bless his bluesy soul, just kept bringing it. 

His work spanned almost a century of blues history, and you can start reading about him with the links above. The description "legendary" gets tossed around too easily these days, but it fit Pinetop as smoothly as his hands fit the keyboard.

Meanwhile, here's a video from a few years ago. I'm sure there are many more that capture his music and his spirit as well:

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Rift - Review

Monday, 21 March 2011 12:53 PM Written by

Guest Game Guy Nick Tylwalk put in the (many) hours to bring you a full review of Trion World's new MMO, Rift.  Enjoy!


Rift - Review
       By Nick Tylwalk


When you call out the industry leader with a big advertising campaign, it's obvious you aren't afraid of the inevitable comparisons that will follow in its wake.

The ads in question are the “We're not in Azeroth anymore” print and internet spots for Rift, the new fantasy MMORPG from developer Trion Worlds. And Azeroth? That would be the setting for World of Warcraft, a little game that you may have heard about at some point.

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Who was your first Jean Valjean?

Monday, 21 March 2011 10:08 AM Written by

Last night, WQED reran the "Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert" celebrating the show's West End debut, with the marvelous Alfie Poe as Jean Valjean, Lea Salonga as Fantine and a cast of about 500, including choirs and musicians. The conclusion presented four other performers who have played the role, including the original, Colm Wilkinson.

GaryMorrisValjeanAmong the missing was the Jean Valjean of my Broadway experience with "Les Mis," Gary Morris (left), who came in as a replacement for Wilkinson about six months into the show.

I was there on Morris' second night in the show. His background was mostly country music, and those fans were there in abundance. I just wanted him to make me forget that I had missed Colm Wilkinson, and I have to say, "Bring Him Home" still sounded incredibly sweet to me. The cast seemed to be beyond excited during the encore, mostly congratulating their new Valjean and forgetting all of the people on their feet in the audience.

For his run in "Les Mis," Morris received a Drama Desk Best Actor nomination and his rendition of "Bring Him Home" is on the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning international cast album, as well as on his CD, "Gospel Classics, Volume 2 — Rock of Ages." His recording of "Wind Beneath My Wings" won both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music Song of the Year Awards and he played opposite Linda Ronstadt in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of "La Boheme."

So, watching the concert last night, I was left wondering what happened to my Jean Valjean, According to Gary Morris' Web site:

"Still keeping an active touring and producing schedule, Morris presently divides his time between Nashville, Tennessee, and a second home at Mountain Spirit, his spectacular hunting and fly-fishing executive resort in Southern Colorado." His next gig is titled "Call of the Wild Turkey," April 9-May 22, at Mountain Spirit Lodge.

Fred Inkley, who played the role for Pittsburgh CLO in 2009, also was a Broadway replacement. That was the last time I saw the show. The concert, part of the WQED fund-raising drive, is now out on DVD.

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John Steinbeck & Me -- Mile 1

Monday, 21 March 2011 04:48 AM Written by


On the Roof of Steinbeck Country


Fremont Peak, Calif.

Elevation 3,169.

Population 1.

My trip chasing John Steinbeck's ghost isn't over yet, but I know exactly when it started -- six months before my wheels started turning.

It was March 11, 2010,  Day 4 of my extreme West Coast Steinbeck research tour. I was sitting and shivering on top of John Steinbeck’s favorite mountain. I couldn’t see his grave or his ghost, but they were both out there somewhere under the glare of the dying California sun as it slipped toward Monterey Bay 25 miles from my knees.ca_476_copy

 Everything Steinbeck was down there somewhere – the house he grew up in, the statues and libraries that glorify him and preserve his works, the places and characters he made famous for eternity in  “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Cannery Row” and “East of Eden.” It’s why they call it “Steinbeck Country.”

 Except for the pushy wind and the drone of a private plane, I had had the top of Fremont Peak to myself for two hours. 

No tourists.  No lovers. No pot smokers. No park rangers. No other ex-journalists without dogs doing books about “Travels With Charley.” 

Just lucky me, my official Reporter’s Notebook, my cameras and a head full of thoughts about my new pal John Steinbeck and the long journey I was going to take with him.

I had flown, driven and hiked 2,737 miles from Pittsburgh to reach my dizzying perch. The raw spike of weathered gray marble boulders, 100 million years old and blessedly unregulated and unimproved by lawyers or the Nanny State, is now my favorite mountain, too.DSC_0371_copy_copy

 The peak is the star attraction of Fremont Peak State Park’s collection of grassy round mountains and steep wooded canyons. It’s only 3,169 feet high. But its distinctive little tooth is visible from almost anywhere in the Salinas Valley and vice versa.












No wonder young Johnny Steinbeck hoped he could be buried there someday. It’s the closest a human being can get to a heavenly view of Steinbeck Country without putting on wings.

 I didn’t scale the last hundred feet of Fremont Peak like a mountain goat to enjoy the 360-degree view of the Monterey Peninsula or the sunset, spectacular as both were. I was up there only because Steinbeck said he climbed to that exact spot while he was on his “Travels With Charley” trek in the fall of 1960.

In six and a half months I was going to go everywhere Steinbeck went on his famous road trip – from the timeless fishing village of Stonington, Maine, to the former copper boomtown of Butte to the soggy Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I wasn’t going to follow Steinbeck for any of the usual TV-docudrama reasons. John Steinbeck wasn’t my real father. I wasn’t hoping to find myself or anyone else. My old dog and I didn’t each have prostate cancer and six months to live. I didn’t even own a dog.

The boring truth was, I thought it would make a good book if I took Steinbeck’s route around the USA and compared the country I found in the Tea Party Fall of 2010 with the simpler, poorer, less equitable Cold War/Jim Crow America Steinbeck toured in 1960.

It’d be an easy way to show how much the country has -- and has not -- changed along the Steinbeck Highway since Ike was president, Elvis was king and everything worth buying was still Made in America.ca_427










Lonely, peaceful, rugged, a little dangerous and scary, Fremont Peak is a perfect platform for viewing Steinbeck Country.  Though it was the end of a hazy day and the sun was losing wattage by the second, I could see more than 20 miles in every direction. 

Behind and below me the valleys and rounded hills and mountain ranges stretched eastward to the Sierra Nevada. The San Andreas Fault was down there too -- which explains why Fremont Peak, Steinbeck Country and the rest of the Pacific Plate have moved 8.33 feet closer to San Francisco since Steinbeck’s 1960 visit.

 Twenty-five miles southwest across the Salinas Valley, hugging chilly Monterey Bay, was the historic city of Monterey.

To be honest, I couldn’t see it, even with the zoom of my camcorder. I only knew it was out there somewhere in the shadows, hidden by a strip of low coastal mountains, because that morning I had gone to Cannery Row to watch the sun rise over Monterey Bay.












Seeking inspiration or just a few free telepathic writing tips, I stared deeply into the frozen eyes of the Steinbeck bust in Steinbeck Plaza. I heard only the squeaky chatter of fat seagulls hang-gliding on the cold ocean wind and the banging of garbage trucks as they flipped dumpsters over their heads and into their hungry bellies.

 Cannery Row is nothing like it was when Steinbeck was a struggling writer there in the 1930s, and it’s nothing like it was in 1960, when he checked it out on his “Charley” trip.

With nearly 20 sardine canneries operating 24/7, the street in the 1930s and during World War II truly was “The Sardine Capital of the World.”

By 1960, however, Cannery Row had devolved into a hollowed out slum-by-the-sea. The lovable lowlifes, rough bars and tender cathouses of the mid-1930s Steinbeck immortalized in “Cannery Row” (1945) were long gone.

So was the sardine industry -- dead from overfishing and natural causes. All but one of the street’s canneries had closed by 1960. Except for a piano bar or a Bridgett Bardot movie at the newly christened Steinbeck Theatre, arson provided the chief form of entertainment.

 As every travel writer and parachuting journalist must mention because it is so obvious, Cannery Row is now a PG-rated theme park of its former colorful, sinful self.

A street that once stunk of dead fish and buzzed with flies has been spiffed up with wine-tasting rooms, pricy restaurants and snazzy seaside hotels with awful corporate names like “Intercontinental: The Clement Monterey.” DSC_0090

Entrepreneurs and enlightened local government have transformed it into a safe place for nice families from Iowa heading for the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the candy stores and souvenir shops of Steinbeck Plaza, where the Steinbeck brand-name and mug shot are used to sell refrigerator magnets and wax museum tickets.

At my feet, sprawled on the valley floor, was the city of Salinas, Steinbeck’s hometown and the barely fictionalized setting for “East of Eden.” 

The city’s population of 160,000 is twice what it was when Steinbeck last looked down on it from Fremont Peak in 1960. Salinas is now wracked by Latino gang violence and, like so many California governments, is in serious financial trouble.

But it’s still surrounded by a shallow sea of strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and other crops -- the “green gold” that made the city rich 100 years ago and earned it the nickname “The Salad Bowl of the World.” The valley’s fertile black soil and climate produces 80 percent of the lettuce Americans eat per year.

 In Salinas’ old downtown I visited the Victorian middle-class house Steinbeck grew up in and the National Steinbeck Center, the city’s official shrine to Steinbeck. pics_of_golf_canada_steinbeck_fest_305_copy

One of few reasons tourists have to visit the scorched windy flats of Salinas, the center, which also puts on Steinbeck Fests each summer, is smartly designed and visitor friendly. Steinbeck’s life story and his books co-star in a dozen well-staged exhibits and clips of movies like “Cannery Row” or “East of Eden” are shown in loops in small themed theaters.

 The center’s holiest relic is “Rocinante,” the fully restored dark green 1960 GMC pickup-camper shell combo Steinbeck used for his “Charley” trip. You can’t get inside the cab or the camper, or even touch them, because Rocinante is corralled behind a tall fence of Plexiglas. ca_250

Steinbeck set up the camper like the cabin of a small boat. Squared-off and hard and clunky, the cab’s Spartan interior is uncomfortable just to look at. It’s a reminder of how luxuriously we all travel today and what Steinbeck had to endure for 10,000 miles – with only a French dog, an AM radio and his imagination for company.

 While I was in Salinas, I also drove across town to visit Steinbeck’s gravesite in Garden of Memories Memorial Park.

Despite a colorful “Steinbeck” sign with a helpful hand pointing the way, his small flat stone is hard to find among the weathered grey slabs and old spiky stone monuments. DSC_0274_copy_copy_copy

 Seeking anonymity, privacy and simplicity even in death, Steinbeck is buried with his parents, third wife Elaine and sister Mary in the Hamilton plot, the plot of his mother’s family.

A pot of bright yellow mums, wilted and knocked on its side by the unrelenting wind, gave away Steinbeck’s final whereabouts.

Standing guard over his modest marker was a 2-inch white ceramic poodle with a pink heart for its collar. Maybe I was overreaching, but I took that replica of Charley as a sign from Steinbeck’s ghost – a symbol. Whether it was a good sign or a bad sign, I had no clue.

 In March of 2010 I had no idea where else my trip with John Steinbeck was going to take me. I certainly never dreamed that I  would end up on NPR’s “On the Media” explaining why “Travels With Charley” is a 50-year-old fraud. Or get a write up in the New York Times Book section.

But last March, while Pittsburgh waited for spring and two feet of snow to melt, chasing Steinbeck’s ghost across America had become my destiny, my mission, my mad obsession, my extreme act of entrepreneurial journalism, my big waste of money and time – I wasn’t sure which.

Alone, chilled to the bone and sitting on the roof of Steinbeck Country waiting for the cold sun to go down, the only thing I knew for sure was it was too late to turn back.


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Bye-bye 'Big Love'

Monday, 21 March 2011 01:06 AM Written by


I was critical of the previous "Big Love" season and even at the start of the current, final season, I was not convinced producers had successfully returned to the show's core -- the Henrickson family. But in recent weeks it's definitely felt like the old "Big Love" is back. Sadly, now it has to end with the series finale that aired last night on HBO.

This season the show's focus returned to the central characters, particularly the merry wives of Bill Henrikson, and the notion of family returned to the forefront for both the series and its characters.

In addition, the characters have shown growth. Even selfish, critical Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) had a breakdown when she realized she had perpetrated the same terrible parenting on daughter Cara Lynn (Cassi Thomson) as her parents had on her.

In last night's finale, Nicki's self-awareness took another leap forward when she said, "I don't have one ounce of the milk of human kindness in me. I'm spiteful and jealous and mean." Truer words...

Read my thoughts on the finale (spoilers included) after the jump along with a Q&A with the "Big Love" showrunners. ...

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This Saturday, March 26, 2010, fashion guru, Tim Gunn, will show Pittsburghers how to "make it work" at the Nordstrom Court in Ross Park Mall. Can you believe it?!?!?!

Starting at 1:00 pm, Tim will share his fashion expertise by hosting a live runway show highlighting the new Spring 2011 collections from Juicy Couture, Kate Spade New York and Lucky Brand Jeans. He will also be speaking to the audience about the importance of style, proportion and fit.

If you do not know who Tim is, he began his career about 28 years ago when he was the Assistant Director of Admissions at Parsons: The New School for Design. He then became the Associate Dean and repositioned the school to be an indisputable leader in fashion design in the United States. Currently, Tim serves as Honorary Chair of Fashion at Parsons, co-host of the Lifetime reality television show, Project Runway, Chief Creative Officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., and author of two books and a variety of fashion articles for Marie Claire, Elle, Seventeen, People and US Weekly.

I'm so excited to see Tim I have already begun planning my outfit. Hope to see you there!

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for another Clutch post!

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