‘The Birthday of the Century’ – and – ‘Learning from Failure’

This week we are taking the unprecedented step of publishing two posts at the same time.  This is due to the wonderful 5 days we spent with Mere and Howard in Naples.  I did not have my computer, without which this blog cannot occur – or, rather, perhaps it can, but I struggle with my cell-phone, am confused by a string of text messages that involves more than one person, and am intimidated by our ‘smart’ tv.  Tapping into my computer files long-distance was as far beyond my capacities as not obeying SWMBO.*

To confuse matters further, we’re going to tell you about last week first and about the week before, last.  If you’re not good at mental arithmetic, I suggest that you skip the previous sentence.

*For those of you new to the blog, SWMBO is acronymic for She Who Must Be Obeyed – an epithet borrowed from John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey, who, in turn, borrowed it from Rider Haggard’s novel Ayesha.  Rumpole used the phrase to refer to his terrifying and hideous wife, Hilda.  I use it to refer to Beez who is neither hideous nor terrifying but, on occasion, daunting.

February 9 – February 16, 2020

Sunday:                     Howard, Jr’s 100th Birthday Party Luncheon – Oakmont

Country Club

Friday:                       Cookout at The Enclave in Naples:                                        Hamburgers, Helen’s Cole Slaw, Mere’s Baked Beans and Deviled Eggs, Dorrie’s Lemon Pie, Ann’s Shrimp and Chris’s Wine

Sunday:                     Drinks with Rick, Dinner with Billy and Emily, Vegetarian

Chili with Black Beans, Onions and Tomatoes

Howard on Jife Jar

The Birthday Party of the Century

Last week kicked off with the birthday party of the century, quite literally.  Howard, Jr., the founder of one of Pittsburgh’s iconic and most successful businesses, turned 100 on Monday.  His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (who call him “Bop-Bop) gave him a wonderful party on Sunday, which included a fascinating and humorous review of those 100 years and featured the single most unique menu in the history of Oakmont.

The picture of Howard on that Jiffy peanut butter jar (see above) is a tip off to the menu.  Howard is a good cook – a man who has won several chili cook-offs – but also a man with unique tastes.  The menu below will give you some idea:

Oakmont menu for Bop

The day after Howard’s birthday we headed to our week in Naples.  Why is Naples so much fun?

First Snow

Well, it’s not Pittsburgh in February – took the picture of the ‘hood, above, before we left.

Beez in Archway (2)

And, the people, the houses, condos and landscaping are breathtakingly beautiful.

The flowers are beautiful – on the bottom right is one of Mere’s breathtaking orchids, above that is a fairly sexy hibiscus and on the left is the strange, beautiful flower of a small palm.

Szeuss Tree

The “Dr. Seuss Tree we noticed on our first trip is still there.

The restaurants are superb.  The golf is great.  The University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy is enlightening:  Some of the brightest scientific minds in the world make presentations on recent breakthroughs or cutting-edge research going on in their laboratories and clinics.  But, above all . . .

Family and Friends:  Mere and Howard III are just fun to be with and we had the added pleasure of hanging with Kelly and Patrick and their sweet and bright boy, Liam and his friends.  Beez and I and Kelly and Patrick laugh a lot when we’re together, we discovered.  And then, on Friday, Mere was gracious enough to host Chris and Ann, Dorrie and Dick, Helen and Steve, and Dennis and Annie.  Leaving for the airport on Saturday felt like going into exile.

And now, let’s turn to the week before last

February 3 – February 9, 2020

Torta Espagnol

Monday:                   Leftover Chicken Chili with Tortilla Espagnol (Briwa)

Tuesday:                   Ricotta Gnocchi with Pan-Roasted Zucchini and Sauce Vierge (Briwa)

Wednesday:            Calabrian Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Toasts (Briwa)

Chicken with Horta

Thursday:                 Roasted Chicken with Horta and Orzo Salad (Briwa)

The unsuccessful omelet

Saturday:                  Thomas Keller’s Omelet

Parmesan Chicken

Sunday:                     Parmesan Chicken Cutlets with Arugula

Learning from Failure

We spent this week trying to recreate some great-looking recipes we had learned from watching Thomas Keller and Bill Briwa as they cooked, online.  The attempt was less than successful, partly because we can’t cook like professionals, and partly because both of them leave out the helpful hints (timing – occasionally, even quantities – and other suggestions) that make this blog such a paragon of culinary education.  Thank you.

The Torta Espagnol was close to very good – but I had sliced the potatoes too thin and they got just a bit overcooked and the eggs didn’t permeate the torta and . . . well, I’m learning.  The gnocchi was fun to make, but Briwa needs to give people a better description of how the dough should feel.  My dough, I now know, was far too wet, and few of the gnocchi held together while they were cooked, and the resulting dish was delicious, but a sort of gnocchi mush.  Keller’s omelet recipe cannot be doubled – it would have been nice to know this – and when I tried, in order to cook the omelet through we had to overcook it and create one of those inflated things you get at brunch in mid-level hotels on Sundays.

So – we’re not so smart, after all or perhaps not even before all.  But we’re learning.

Now we did nail Briwa’s Chicken with Horta and Orzo Salad, and I would call that a ‘keeper’.  But to write the recipes for all of that would take me until next week, at which point most of you would have forgotten altogether about this blog, and one or two more thoughtful souls might have sent the police over to Casa Stuarti to see if anyone is still alive.

And, in any event, the best food we had in the last two weeks were the baked beans that Mere cooked for her party last Friday.  So that’s what we’re going to share with you.  But first, a word about the provenance of this recipe.  Dana, Duffy’s wife, put together a massive cookbook of great dishes from family and friends in Fox Chapel and Sea Isle City as well as her own creations.  Some of these have, over time, become the common property of people living in the borough.  And Mere is a genius at remembering which ones are the best.

*Dana’s cookbook is It’s All Good, 2008 – I’m waiting for the sequel

Jane’s Fancy Baked Beans

(Dana’s note: “This is Jane Flannery’s recipe and a favorite of Fox Chapel moms going back to the seventies.”)

Timing:                                              1 hour and 20 minutes


1 16 oz. can of kidney beans, drained
1 16 oz. can of lima beans, drained
1 16 oz. can of cut green beans, drained
1 16 oz. can of cut wax beans, drained
1 small can of baked beans
1 can of tomato soup
1 pound of bacon
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1 small can tomato paste


Slice ½ of the bacon in small pieces and sauté with celery and onions until soft.  Mix in the beans, soup, sugar and mustard.  Pour into a large casserole dish and frost with tomato paste.  Dot the top with remaining bacon, sliced into small pieces.


Bake for one hour at 350 F.  Keep an eye on the dish and cover with foil if it begins to get too crusty or burnt – though even that would taste good with this recipe.  Thanks Mere, and Dana, and Jane.

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