a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, September 30, 2013

Smile, these rubber duckies could be yours someday

A family-type reunion photograph of rubber ducks that keep arriving at my house and desk at work. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

People keep asking me why I'm obsessed with the overabundance of rubber duckies that keep piling up around my house and desk at work.

The simple answer is, I'm not any more of a fan of this bathtub toy than anyone else with a fondness for silliness.

I'm just blessed with great friends who like to give me things that make us smile.

And, the duck does that with little or no effort of its own.

This duck thing in my life started after I purchased three of my newsroom colleagues at the Observer-Reporter little rubber ducks dressed as Santa Claus about six years ago just because the gifts were cute and cheap.

Later, I added a few more of the rubber waterbirds to my personal collection and parked them, appropriately, atop the tank to the toilet in my bathroom and posted a photo of the display on Facebook.
The Brett Favre duck

Somewhere along the line a friend, Amanda Gillooly of Pittsburgh, began to purchase me miniature duckies from bubblegum-type machines, including one pretending to be former NFL quarterback Brett Lorenzo Favre and bearing his jersey No. 4 on its breast.

She gave it to me over beers with other friends. Fellow journalist Mike Jones drowned the quacky little Favre in one of several beers on our table and he snapped a photo of it, which ended up on Facebook, too, and probably on Twitter, as well.

The lesson learned here is, be careful of what one shares on social media because those two photos soon unleashed an avalanche of rubber duckies in my direction.

For my birthday this year, I returned home to find my house had been rubber-ducked in my absence by other great friends, Susan Meadway and her sister, Marilyn Bradley. They had been stocking up every rubber duck they could find over the past year at thrift shops to carry out the hilarious prank.

By then, I learned the rubber duck is sold in more shapes and forms than I had ever imagined, ranging from sheep to psychedelic peace-loving hippies.

So there you have it.

It's not about the duck, but everything about the great fortune of havin friendships with those who don't mind behaving once in awhile like kids with big fat smiles on their faces.

And, just so you know, my hefty bag of these things is one day going to be regifted when it's least expected.    

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeking baking chaperone to make an apple pie

“But then fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.” 
― Stephen King

By Amanda Gillooly

It's officially the second full day of fall, and I already have one item crossed off my seasonal bucket list.

Yes, I have a seasonal bucket list.

It's like, a smaller bucket.

Like so many others, I have the Big Bucket List (visit Ireland, win a Pulitzer, earn a law degree). But sometimes that list can get a little lofty.

Yes, it's prudent to work toward accomplishing big goals. “Go big or go home”-- I get it.

But I also have found that when I'm chasing something big, I hurry through a lot of the details.

And that's where the really good stuff is.

They say 'tis the season for a reason, friends.

Fall is a season of apple cider, zombie movies (or AMC television shows, whatev) and all things pumpkin. It's a season brightened by a tapestry of wildly colored leaves and copious amounts of football (and this year, baseball. Go Bucs!).

There's so much to dig, I made my own Little Bucket List: Fall Edition.

Among the items on the list? Bake an apple pie from scratch, visit this interactive zombie hayride thing my friend told me about the other day, and do stuff with pumpkin.

Gillooly's jack-o'-lantern
On the first full day of autumn, I created stuff with a pumpkin.

After purchasing a nifty carving set from Target, I went to work on the pumpkin, saving the pulp and the seeds (the large gourd I bought—between 14 and 16 pounds-- yielded about a cup).

Since, to me, fall is also the season of cinnamon, I looked for a sweet recipe for roasting pumpkin seeds instead of a savory one.

I found what I wanted at allrecipes.com—and part of its charm was its simplicity (hey, I don't even PRETEND to be handy in the kitchen).

Here's what I did:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse off the pumpkin seeds, dry, and set them aside in a little bowl.
  3. Get ¼ cup sugar (I used Splenda, though, and it turned out perfect) and ½ tablespoon of cinnamon and mix in a small bow.
  4. Melt one tablespoon of butter
  5. Pour the butter into the bowl with your seeds
  6. Pour the seeds onto a baking sheet (you can use parchment paper to line it, if you have it. I didn't and they turned out fine). Make sure they are single-file style: Just one thin layer.
  7. Sprinkle the sugar mix over the seeds and mix them around on the pan so they get an even-ish coating. Bake for 5 minutes.
  8. When the time chimes, take those bad boys out and sprinkle again (and give them a little stir) and return to the over for five more minutes.
  9. And then you repeat step 8.
  10. And then you repeat step 9.
  11. And then you repeat step 10.
  12. Then you take them out, put the remaining amount of sugar mix and returning to the over for 10 more minutes.
  13. Take out. Let cool.
The roasted pumpkin seeds

While I know that there are myriad recipes for delectable pumpkin cookies and cakes, it is well known among those who are my friends that it's not really advisable to allow me to do much serious baking unsupervised (looking for an Apple Pie Baking Chaperone).

So after a little research, I discovered that raw pumpkin is an awesome beauty aid.

Pumpkin facial mask
Instead of doing a mud mask (with the tube of stuff I bought for like, $15), I did one with pumpkin as the base.

This recipe for a DYI facial went like this:

  1. Take your pumpkin and puree it. Put ¼ cup of it in a little bowl. Refrigerate the rest.
  2. Add an egg to your bowl of pumpkin, and whisk.
  3. Add a splash of milk (supposedly the lactic acid in the milk helps with exfoliation), and whisk again.
  4. If your skin tends to be dry, add a little honey to the mix. If your skin tends to be oily, add a splash of cranberry juice. Whisk.
  5. Slather the mixture on your face, avoiding the eyes (obvi). Let is stand for 20 minutes. Rinse.
  6. Feel gorgeous.

Next on my list to conquer? That apple pie. And I wasn't kidding about needing a chaperone.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writer passes down her grandmother's love of printed words

John Irving's "The World According to Garp" was a life-changer for this Pittsburgh-area journalist.

Books are uniquely portable magic.” - Stephen King

By Amanda Gillooly

My grandmother was particularly proud of her vocabulary.

She often said that while her Depression-era childhood didn't afford her an opportunity to even finish grade school, those circumstances never stopped her from getting an education.
Peg Crowe cuddles Amanda Gillooly

No, Peg Crowe was a lifelong learner – and her teacher of choice was literature.

Gram was the type of woman who kept a Woman's Day magazine on the dining room table and a Louis L'Amour book on her bed stand.

She was never, it seemed, without a book.

“There's always something to learn,” she would tell me. “Read. Read anything.”

Although she never forgot a birthday or holiday, the best gift she ever gave me was a love for reading.

I received the gift of sorts when she found out that my second-grade teacher had placed me in a remedial reading course.

After that, it was on.

Trips to the grocery store became scavenger hunts for words on labels.

I will always remember the Kmart in Moon Township as the first book store I came to know – every weekend she would pick up a L'Amour book and allow me to pick out one to read as well.

And for an hour each night before bed on the weekends we would read.

By the second half of the year, I was no longer a sub-par reader and had been placed in a class with other kids with “normal” skills.

By the time I was in third grade, I was in the advanced reading class.

I eventually grew out of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike novels and moved my way into more adult books.

“The Long Walk” by Richard Bauchman and “The World According to Garp” by John Irving were life-changing experiences for me – and were a form of solace during pre-teen years living with a troubled parent in rundown, roach-infested apartments.

To this day I pack too many books on vacation, I have too many piled on my coffee table and I admit I push especially good reads on anyone who isn't familiar with them.

There are several books (think “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and “Different Seasons”) that I seek out in used book stores just so I can give them away to friends who have never read them.

Alas: I've become a book pusher, just like my grandmother.

Just ask my nephew, Nicholas.

At almost 10, he likes to describe himself as a “gamer.”

Hopefully, by the time I'm done with him, he'll change that to “reader.”

Nicholas is in third grade—and much smarter than I ever hoped to be at that age.

His reading and comprehension are just fine (there's nothing remedial about Nicholas), but it bugs the hell out of me that he thinks of reading as a chore, as something you do when you CAN'T play video games.

I want him to seek books out. I want him to have the experience of waiting in anticipation for his favorite author's new book release, and know how it feels to finally check out the cover art on the way home from the store.

At 33, I still do that (In fact, tomorrow marks the release date for Stephen King's new novel, “Dr. Sleep” (a sequel of sorts to “The Shining”).

I am happy to say that Nicholas is getting there.

A few weeks ago, I needed to stop at the venerable Kmart to see if the book section had the second installment of a popular new series I am pretty much addicted to.

While I scanned the titles, I noticed Nicholas pick up a book nearby and read the blurb on the back.

Within a few minutes, he walked up to me and said, “Aunt Mandy, look, they have that book you were telling me about, 'The Lightening Thief.'”

I know a chance when I see one, and I know better than to let one pass me by.

So I said:

“Cool! Here, I'll buy it for you. After you're done reading it, you can give it to me and I will read it, too. Then I will buy you the second one.”

When I visited yesterday, he told me he was more than halfway done with the books.

And he likes it.

Peg Crowe would be proud.

Amanda Gillooly is a Pittsburgh-area freelance writer. The former editor of the Canon-McMillan Patch, Gillooly has also worked as a reporter with the Observer-Reporter, the Beaver County Times, the Valley Independent and the Innocence Institute of Point Park University. Her work has also been seen in the Tribune Review and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Come in, grab a beer and go home with a growler

As many as 11 beers are featured on the taps at Full Pint Brewing near Pittsburgh. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. – With Halloween approaching, fans of a Pittsburgh-area brewery are “getting stoked” about its label featuring a zombie whose skin is turning blue while clutching a brown bottle of beer.

Preorders were already huge in late August for Full Pint Brewing Co.’s Night of the Living Stout, a label inspired by the classic 1968 horror movie of a similar name filmed in and around Pittsburgh.

“It’s crunch time,” said Jake Kristophel, head brewer at the business along Route 30 in Westmoreland County near North Versailles Township.

The brew pub opened in 2009 as a collaborative effort of four men who worked in the beer business and decided to partner their skills at Full Pint, which has grown since its founding to produce nearly 8,000 barrels a year.

“We all worked in little brew pubs and decided to come together,” Kristophel said.

In a marketing move some are calling brilliant, the brewery launched a new label in August named “Pittsburgh Dad,” whose online sitcom featuring a blue-collar father with a heavy “yinzer” accent has made him a local celebrity.

“He actually came to us and asked,” Kristophel said, adding the actor otherwise known as Curt Wootton now has his photo on the label of a Full Pint Kolsch, a German-style golden stout.

“He wanted something on the lighter side,” Kristophel said.---- This business with a barroom and production house is tucked away off a short alley at 1963 Lincoln Highway.

On an afternoon in mid-August, Kristophel is “mashing out” the spent grain from a stainless-steel brew tank to separate the wort, which becomes beer during fermentation.

Three employees are nearby, bottling and casing brew for the market on the company’s one production line. It takes them an hour to fill a palate and three hours to cap 15 barrels, said Desiree Siroisi, who also handles the restaurant’s food preparation.

Small independent craft beer brewers are known for giving their beers offensive names, and that extends to the menu at Full Pint. For example, a ham and provolone panini is named the “Hot Dago,” a term some Italians consider derogatory.

Kristophel said he learned the art of making beer while working under a head brewer at a different pub.

“I brewed one batch of home brew and really enjoyed it, so I begged the head brewer to teach me, and that was it.”

Another popular beer brewed here is Chinookie, made from hops of the same name grown in the Pacific Northwest, which give the brew a hint of a grapefruit taste.

“It’s just the character of the hop,” Kristophel said.---- The Wet Hop variety of Chinookie sees an infusion of fresh hops after fermentation to bump up its rich, heavy flavor.

“I think people want something that tastes good. It’s hard to stay loyal to one thing because there are so many choices out there,” Kristophel said.

Full Pint can be purchased across Pennsylvania, in Ohio and Florida, a state with many Pittsburgh transplants and Steelers bars. The company hopes to expand and relocate to a larger building closer to Pittsburgh.

The pub, which offers as many as 11 different taps, is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 11 Saturday. The hours are subject to change if the bar is empty after 9 p.m.

“Come in, get a beer, some food and a tour and go home with a growler or six pack,” Kristophel said.

Jake Kristophel, head brewer at Full Pint Brewing Co. near Pittsburgh, mashes out a tank while visitors enjoys beer in the adjoining brewpub. (Scott Beveridge photo)

(This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter's Living Washington County magazine)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Camping in-style in South Jersey

The rustic cabin where I spent four nights vacationing this summer outside of my comfort zone. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, NJ – A party of at least nine people and their yapping dog moved in next door into an identically-small wooden cabin designed to sleep four where I spent the first week of September just north of Cape May, NJ.

Thankfully, this large group arrived about the same time I would check out of the otherwise quiet Ponderosa Campground in Cape May Court House, wondering how they would all fit in that pine box smaller than your average motel room.

I couldn't help but notice the bumper sticker on their vehicle, either, which read, "Worry about your own damned family."

"They must get a lot of dirty looks," a friend replied via text message after I mentioned this discovery that Friday on my smartphone.

Yes. I stepped outside of my comfort zone for this summer vacation by choosing to bed down in a campground. I mean you're reading about a guy who prefers a clean hotel room, crisp sheets and a great view when he travels.

However, at $40 a night during the off-season along the South Jersey Shore, a cabin here with a bathroom with a shower, a small refrigerator and air-conditioning called my penny-pinching name.

And, other than it having an air-conditioner that made a racket and occasionally spit pellets of frozen condensation, the place was comfortable. It was especially quiet, too, that Monday through Friday after most tourists and beachcombers here had already headed north for the approaching winter.

This campground also was less than a 15-minute drive to my destination of Cape May, NJ, America's oldest resort town discovered by Henry Hudson in 1609, and later explored by Cornelius Jacobsen Mey for the Dutch West India Co.

Cape May is a gorgeous town boasting many rows of pretty, meticulously-restored Victorian-era houses, whose gingerbread adornments provide a great opportunity for a good house painter to never go without work.

But, this place is a tourist trap that appears to draw mostly white people with deep pockets who like to purchase over-priced merchandise in shops by the sea. 

I also found the locals in the towns up and down these beaches to be a bit snobby, similar to old-school Bostonians.

Yet, the area is worthy of a visit for the relaxation and beaches it offers, and, if, for no other reason, than to sample the Centennial India Pale Ale brewed by the 2-year-old Cape May Brewing Co.

An elegant painted lady along Stockton Avenue, one of the most-beautiful streets to be found in Cape May, NJ. (Scott Beveridge photo)