Tag Archives: wheeling

A plate of spaghetti on a winter day

Our Sunday was all about running some errands, doing stuff around the house, a movie and making a big pot of spaghetti.

spaghetti 1

I make a decent spaghetti sauce, at least Mrs. P thinks so. When we were growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia, there was a neighborhood Italian restaurant, Figarettis. It was a classic Italian family restaurant. (I believe they are still in business but in a new location.) The family’s children went to school with us. Their sauce was so good, my mother was always trying to duplicate it. Her recipe is the basis for mine. The one unusual ingredient in the Figaretti sauce was anise. That’s the spice with a little liquorice taste you usually encounter in Italian sausage. I’m not a big liquorice fan, but just a hint of underlying flavor in the sauce makes a tremendous difference.

I start with Ragu, Prego or whatever other pre-made sauce is on sale and then go from there. I add a ton of garlic, and additional spices. The “secret ingredient” is sugar. It takes a little of the bite from the tomato sauce. Here is the basic recipe for a beginner.

BASIC SPAGHETTI

Brown a pound of ground beef and a pound of some Italian sausage together.  (Slice open the sausages and brown it along with the ground beef.)

Drain the fat

Add one jar of Ragu or Prego meatless spaghetti sauce, and a good handful of chopped onions and sliced mushrooms, as you will.

The key is in the spices.  Add…

  • At least two garlic cloves, either sliced thin or minced. Feel free to add more.
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Crushed hot pepper, as you wish.
  • A small amount of Anise, if you have it.
  • Salt to taste.

Simmer for about an hour (Or longer. The longer the better.).  When it is almost done, taste. If it is bitter, add a little sugar.  It will take the tang off the tomatoes and bring out the other flavors.

Enjoy!

A Friday evening flashback

Life has been both busy and slow at the same time. How can that happen?

This past weekend started out busy but then coasted to through to a quiet couple of days. On Friday evening, I helped out serving at the Knights of Columbus fish fry. Our daughter’s best friend, Norma, invited us to go over to her house afterwards for a small get-together and to eat some of those fish dinners. We’ve known Norma and her family since the girls were all middle-school age. Early on, our families had discovered an amazing coincidence. Both of our families had five children; we all grew up in the same town (Wheeling, West Virginia) at the same time; and we all attended the same parochial school, St. Vincent de Paul, in Elm Grove.

On Friday evening, I sat down with Norma’s mother and aunt and played “Do you remember…?” It was incredible what we both recalled. In addition to sharing the same school, we played in the same parks, went to the same movie theaters and swimming pools, attended the same church and shopped at the same stores. We even shared the same family physicians. It’s amazing that none of us can remember knowing one another back in the mid-60s when we were all at the same school together. The best we can figure out is that we must have alternated grades. Despite each family having five children, spread across roughly the same time frame, none of us were in the same class. As the evening wore down, I remembered one last detail of those years.

“Did your mom ever cook city chicken?”

“Oh my God! I haven’t thought about that in years! We had it all the time.”

City Chicken

City chicken is a dish apparently indigenous to western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. It is simply cubed pork and veal, arranged on a wooden skewer and cooked like chicken. My recollection is my mom browned it in butter, made gravy and then finished the cooking by simmering the pieces in gravy. It was served with noodles. What a flashback! Now Mrs. Poolman is hot to trot to cook some city chicken and have the other families over for a 1960s dinner. Should be fun.

An interesting flashback

I had an interesting telephone conversation with my brother earlier this week. He had driven from his home to Mechanicsburg, Pa., to spend a couple of days visiting my father in Pittsburgh. Somehow, they got the idea to drive another hour west to visit the town were we grew up — Wheeling, W. Va.

Some background here. While I usually claim the ‘burgh as my hometown, the truth of the matter is that my brother and I  grew up mostly in the Wheeling suburbs of Bethlehem and Elm Grove.  My earliest memories, at maybe four or five years old, are of Wheeling. My parents moved the family back to their hometown of Pittsburgh between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

My brother described how they drove around our old neighborhood in Bethlehem — Mt. Lebanon Drive. I was able to follow him perfectly as he described what he saw and how it had changed, at least from his childhood memories.

“Do remember at the bottom of the “steep hill” there was a house on the left.”

“Yes. David Morris lived there.”

“Right!”

It was really quite a flashback.  We moved away from that neighborhood in 1967, when my brother and I were 12 and 13 respectively. Yet, we were both able to visualize and share a tour, as if we had lived there yesterday.

Part of that probably has to do with the nature of the neighborhood and the way we grew up.

This neighborhood was actually fairly isolated. It was located top of one of the many “mountains” southeast of central Wheeling. A single road originated off of a highway and wound its way up the “mountain” and along the hill-top ridge. It eventually split in two near the end. It was one long cul d’ sac.  There were maybe 45 homes in the entire neighborhood and most of them had school-aged kids.

Every direction out of the neighborhood was downhill. We and our friends used to roam all through the surrounding woods and old farm fields for hours at a time. As far as we were concerned, we “owned” the area and walked or rode our bikes everywhere. We would leave the house in the morning and not return until dinner time. We didn’t have swimming pools, carefully groomed ball fields or parks. We didn’t need them.

We also had no need of maps or street signs. We gave the various features our own names. Death Valley, Echo Valley, The Old Tank Road, The Moon, Mount Help, The Steep Hill, The Empty Lot, Old Softy, and so on.

On one side of the neighborhood, there was what appeared by be an aborted effort to start a new development. For whatever reason, after the developers had bulldozed and cleared lanes for streets, they abandoned the project. This left interconnecting strips of raw dirt, rocks, weeds and gullies where we used to hike, play “Army,” build forts and anything else that sounded like a good idea. Eventually, those areas were developed. What we called Death Valley, the Old Tank Road and Echo Valley is now “Baytree Drive.” Maybe I’m a little prejudiced, but I like the original names better.

My brother and I are both in our late 50s now, but when he described “Do you remember when we used to go down the Old Cement Road and passed by Mount Help…?” it made perfect sense.

At the time, we probably didn’t think our childhoods were as idyllic as they seem through the prism of 40-50 years. However, my brother and I both agreed that as adults, our memories of growing up there are pretty good.

We’re on a roll this week

One of my brother’s and my fun summer activities when we were growing up was picking black rasberries or blackberries.  Actually, what we really liked was eating the pies and sundaes that were the result of our harvest.

During most of our childhood, our family lived in a hill-top neighborhood, in suburban Wheeling, West Virginia.  The area was called Bethlehem.  Our neighborhood consisted of a single road that winded up a wooded hillside from the main highway and then threaded itself along the ridge of a series of tall hills. We called them “mountains” but I’m not sure that was totally accurate. While some of the surrounding countryside was steep and heavily wooded, there were large areas of grassy fields, probably land cleared for old farms. Many of those fields were full of raspberry and blackberry bushes.

We would set out with our bowls and pitchers in search of the ripe berries. The black rasberries ripened in June. The larger-kernel blackberries didn’t sweeten until mid-July.

On a good day we would return home with a gallon or more of berries, more than my mother could ever hope to use.

All of that is just background to explain my impulse-purchase of a quart of blackberries at the produce stand last week. On Sunday, we had some friends over to swim, so I tried my hand a pie. It didn’t turn out too bad although I seriously under estimated the amount of corn starch needed. Even cool, it was still fairly “runny.” So I served it in bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I didn’t hear any complaints.

I’ll hold off posting a recipe until I try it again and get a better handle on the amount of thickener needed. Stay tuned.

Our Sunday guests included our friends Sam and Lynn and their now 11-month old twin daughters, Helen and Brittany. The girls are very even tempered, playful and, as you can see from the pictures, extremely cute.

Brittany

Helen

We had a great time.

The ‘burgh!

With the “Stillers” in the Super Bowl, I am being deluged with emails full of Pittsburgh nostalgia and trivia.

While I claim Pittsburgh as my home town, and cheer for the Steelers, I actually only lived there full-time for four years, and that ended 40 years ago. My parents were deep-rooted Pittsburghers. (I’d call them “yinzers”, except my father would never forgive me and my mother would come back from the grave and haunt me.) However, my life from earliest memory until high school was spent in Wheeling, W.Va.  — about an hour’s drive down the road. We moved to the South Hills the summer before my 10th grade. I left Pittsburgh for the University of Florida after my freshman year in college and never moved back except for two college-summers and visits.

A beautiful photo of "The Point" by Jennifer Yang.

All the same, I can still relate to many of these “You know you are from Pittsburgh if…” statements that my sister sent me.

Yunz is from the Picksburgh area or maybe you grew up there if:

1. You didn’t have a spring break in high school.

2. You walk carefully when it is “slippy” outside.

3. You often go down to the “crick.” (Lots of “cricks” in West Virginia too.)

4. You’ve told your children to “red up” their rooms. (I actually caught myself using this term the other day.)

5. You can remember telling your little brother/sister to stop being so “nebby.”

6. You’ve gotten hurt by falling into a “jaggerbush.”

7. Your mother or grandmother has been seen wearing a “babushka” on her head. (I don’t think so. Wrong ethnic group.)

8. You’ve “worshed” the clothes. (Never. My mother would have killed me.)

9. I ask you to hand me one of those “Gum-Bands” an’ you actually know what I’m talking about.

10. You know you can’t drive too fast on the back roads, because of the deer.

11. You know Beaver Valley, Turtle Crick, Mars, Slippery Rock, Greentree and New Castle are names of towns. And you’ve been to most, if not all, of them.

12. A girl walks up to three of her girl friends and says, “HEY,YENZ GUYS!”

13. You hear “you guyses” and don’t think twice. Example: “you guyses hause is nice.”

14. You know the three rivers by name and under stand that “The Point” isn’t just on a writing instrument.

15. Someone refers to “The Mon” or “The Yough” and you know exactly what they’re talking about.

16. You remember the blizzard of 1993 (or 1976, or 1950, or 1939, or…) and remember not being able to go outside because the snow was over your head and you would have suffocated.

17. Someone starts the chant, “Here we go Still-ers!” and you join in — in the proper cadence, waving the appropriately colored towel.

18. Bob Prince and “There’s a bug loose on the rug.” hold special meaning for you. (And you remember exactly where you were when Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off homer to win the 1960 World Series.)

19. You’ve either eaten a Farkleberry Tart or know someone who has. (???)

20. You drink pop, eat hoagies, love perogies and one of your favorite sandwiches actually has coleslaw and French fries ON it. (I remember using the term “pop” when I went to Florida and no one knew what I was talking about. They called it “Coke or something.”)

21. You know what a “still mill” is.

22. You expect temps in the winter to be record-breaking cold and temps in the summer to be record-breaking hot.

23. You know what Eat ‘N Park is and frequently ate breakfast there at 2:00 AM after the bar closed and made fun of people.

24. You order “dippy eggs” in a restaurant and get exactly what you wanted.

25. You spent your summers, or a school picnic at Luna Park, Kennywood, Westview, Sand Castle or Idlewild.

26. You’ve been to the Braun’s Bread Plant or Story Book Forest for a school field trip. We went to the Heinz plant and the Isaly’s plant for Cub Scouts.

27. “Chipped ham” was always in your refrigerator when you was growin’ up. (Didn’t everyone have it?)

28. You refuse to buy any condiments besides Heinz unless a Pittsburgh athlete’s picture is on the side of the container.

29. When you call the dog or the kids you shout, “Kum-mere” and they come. (I’m afraid I’m guilty of this one.)

30. Franco, Roberto, and Mario don’t need last names and you can recite their exploits by heart.

31. Food at a wedding reception consists of rigatoni, stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut and polska kielbasa.