A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

The Famous Bope Ham

IMG_1633 Sometimes people like me can be self serving. I wonder when I am going to get my next ride in, can I schedule a trail run, how many ski days do I have so far? It seems like life sometimes is a series of athletic events blended in with work, family, and obligations. Enter the Famous Bope Ham.

You are probably wondering,” What on earth is the Famous Bope Ham?” Well simply put, it is absolutely the most tasty baked ham you will ever enjoy if you are fortunate enough to have a slice someday. It is the creation of my mother-in-law and the recipe has been passed down to my wife Janet who prepares it flawlessly. The picture above is Janet and our good friend Mike Dunlay with the ham. Janet brought it over to feed Mike and his family during the time when they were celebrating the life of their father who had passed away. The ham is comforting. When people see it for the first time at a funeral or if someone is ill, a smile lights up their face when they cut into the baked outer crust and dip a piece into the sweet sticky juice at the bottom of the pan. Suddenly, all the sadness, discomfort of an illness, or other maladies disappear at least for the moment as one savors a bite of this tasty comforting food. The ham appears courtesy of my loving and thoughtful wife who bakes the semi-boneless delectible meat all day or all night in the oven at low heat. The ham is scored and cloves are placed at the intersections of the scores,and finally according to the recipe, brown sugar and orange marmalade are placed on top of the cooked ham to melt and blend with the ham juice to form a most wonderful sweet, gravy. When the ham appears at an event, things come to a screeching halt as the host graciously acknowledges the gesture of my wife Janet and like a magnet, the guests in the home march like Zombies towards the treat. It is mesmerizng to be sure and when the first people slice the ham, dip the slices into the sweet gravy and eat, their eyes close with unbelief. They are hooked under the power of the Famous Bope Ham.

Holidays at my mother and father in law’s house always include the ham and when I am particularly famished after a great day on skis, a great run or ride, I am always delighted when my plate is filled with slices of this most delicious and filling meal. But here I go again with the self serving. It is not about me and my hunger, it is all about the ham. The Famous Bope Ham is more than a tasty treat delivered to a grateful home. It represents love, caring, understanding, giving spirit, all wrapped up in a sticky, sweet, tender goodness that binds families and friends together.

Perhaps no illustration could be better than when we take the ham to serve the families at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh. We bake the ham all day and get all the side dishes, drinks and desserts together and make our way to the House and get the meal to the penthouse where the families reside. If you ever feel like you want to serve people, look no further than the families who reside at RMHC. Oftentimes, they are there for weeks, months, and longer waiting for a liver transplant for their child. Perhaps their child has a debilitating illness that the good doctors at UPMC-Children’s Hospital treat over time. Oftentimes, these scenarios are life threatening and the families are not sure of the outcome. They only know that their children are in the best of care at Children’s Hospital and have a wonderful place to stay courtesy of the volunteers and staff at the Ronald McDonald Houses. There is no greater feeling than seeing a young person who is battling illness, walk into the dining room and partake of the ham. When they eat that first bite, the smile on their faces and their bright eyes looking at us brings out the bladder behind my eyeballs for sure. It is a most hearwarming moment and if only for a short while, we feel like we have made their life a little easier and their families are most grateful for the appearance of …….the Famous Bope Ham. It is more than a meal. It represents all that is good with not being self serving if only for a short while. Janet and I love those families and pray for them every day. And the ham……….once again,appears out of the oven to serve and delight the most grateful recipients. My mother always said that happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself. When Janet serves the ham, and people enjoy, that perfume of happiness definitely is in the air. Thanks for reading and please support RMHC Charities.

Vermont Fancy Grade

maple_syrup_LRGbreakfast_72dpi1-280x260centerfold_web One of the more delectible treats that I have enjoyed over the years has been Vermont “fancy grade” maple syrup. My fascination with syrup began in my wandering days in the Northeast when I first tasted good syrup in the Keene Valley on my way through the Adirondacks. A lot of the restaurants on the way to the ski areas served locally produced maple syrup with their breakfast. Once you taste this treat, you will never go back to Aunt Jemima again. Working up at Sugarloaf,Maine on the ski school, I was introduced to the Maine version in the little diner in Stratton, Maine. I had the experience of comparing the Maine produced syrup to the Canadian version and was fast becoming a connoisseur of all things maple.

This fascination continued with my introduction to truly quality syrup through my friends the Durfees when they lived in Bethel, Vermont. I had the pleasure of tasting Vermont “fancy grade” and its light color and texture was really something on a stack of buttermilk pancakes. The Durfees use it on oatmeal, and ice cream as a topping and Eric showed me his grandfather’s method of soaking original bricks of shredded wheat in water, draining them, and drizzling fancy grade on the cereal, including the obligatory banana, and pouring on the milk. I met Eric’s neighbor who made syrup and the process is truly fascinating. There is a lot of manual labor involved especially if the producer is old school. Galvanized collection buckets are used and the sap is removed when they are full and deposited into a central collection tank for transportation to the sugar shack. The long and the short of it is once the sap is collected, it is boiled in the shack over a log fire and the water evaporates and what is left is the syrup. Eric’s neighbor had a maze of galvanized channel which allowed the introduction of the sap into the top of the maze, and as it made its way down the maze that was heated by the fire, it became more viscous and eventually at the bottom of the maze it was collected as syrup. The fancy grade is the lightly cooked product which has not become carmelized as the process develops in the boiling procedure.

I became a syrup snob. I would take my syrup from Vermont and pour it into a small jar to be used at Len and Peg’s on Rt. 149 in New York state when I visited my friend Mike Smith in Lake George. He laughed at me and said I was nuts but let me tell you, Len and Peg’s pancakes never tasted better than with the fancy grade.

Working in Pennsylvania in later life, I made friends with a guy in Guys Mills, Pa. who made his own syrup. I started to buy his syrup and enjoyed it. My ski buddies and I would go to Meyersdale and eat the local fire hall out of house and home when they had their springtime pancake breakfasts. I can remember the old guys serving us and how they turned up their eyebrows when we ordered another stack. Somerset county supposedly produces more maple syrup than any other region in the country which is an open, festering, maple syrup wound that my friend Eric contests every time I bring it up. But his wife Helen backs me up being a Somerset native and the heated discussion continues every time I bring up the sore subject. I am not sure if it is correct or not but it sure makes for some fun with my pal Eric.

My local grange serves a really good buckwheat pancake breakfast in the spring and I always bring my own jar of fancy grade to the breakfast on my way to the ski slopes. Those old farmers and their wives love it when I bring it and share it with them. I kid them and call it Vermont cocaine. They laugh rather reservedly as farmers do, but when they dig in, they smile at me and tell me to come back for more. That breakfast is a great start to another ski day in the Laurel Highlands.

I have made a habit out of ordering fancy grade from Pauline Couture in Vermont. Her family produces really good syrup and I found them on the internet. http://www.maplesyrupvermont.com She has a great website and her family’s bed and breakfast is very appealing if you happen to be in the North Country of Vermont. All in all, get some of that good Vermont cocaine er ah syrup and enjoy the fancy grade. You will never eat that Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima corn syrup based swill again. Also, check out a maple syrup producer some time. It is interesting to see the different methods of collection and production. Recently, I saw a network of pvc tubing used to interconnect maple trees to a central collection area. This eliminated the use of the collection buckets. But in my mind, I always picture the galvanized buckets and the horse drawn sleigh taking the sap to the sugar shack.

Eric and Helen still get their syrup from Vermont and whenever I visit them in Nevada, their current residence, they always have the good stuff on hand for me to enjoy. Yes, I am a snob but I earned my stripes with Adirondack, Pennsylvania, Canadian and finally Vermont’s finest in my gastronomical experience. Go order some syrup from Pauline. Tell her the 59 year old kid from Pa sent you. Thanks for reading and think snow.