Monthly Archives: July 2011

Flowers

By: Mary

It is probable that my love for floral design came with the extra incentive of money. This can be traced back to days in early childhood when Dad worked at the Diocesan Center in Lacrosse. There,  the office ladies were willing to pay me a few bucks to buy a bouquet of clumsily arranged flowers for their desks. It has been many years since those days of childhood, but since then my love (or obsession) for flowers and floral design had literally blossomed. From May through October, I do arrangements for Saint Peter’s Parish. Here are a few of my recent bouquets for the church, table, and those I love.

Snowstorm in July

by Kate

I have always thought that Pittsburgh would make a great Gotham City. In the dingy loft apartment where we lived just after being married, I used to love looking out the kitchen window over the rooftops toward the river. This abandoned flour factory was incredibly beautiful in the evening, silhouetted against the setting sun.

Pittsburgh is full of soot stained brick, and romantic post industrial abandoned warehouses. There is also a pretty good tax credit for moviemakers, so I wasn’t too surprised when it was recently announced that the next Batman installment would be shot in part in Pittsburgh.

Yesterday, a picturesque brick row house in my neighborhood became a wintry Gotham City judge’s residence for the day. Evidently Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard were right around the corner as I picked tomatoes and hung laundry on the line.

Here in Pittsburgh we are still riding out a sizzling summer heat wave. The temperature hovers just below 100 and the humidity is high enough to taste in the sodden air. Here is a shot of rush hour traffic crawling down the hill outside my home.

But just around the corner, a fleet of white trucks and a huge crew of sweating and bustling Hollywood people blew in with the force of a blizzard, transforming the Pittsburgh summer into a dull grey winter day in Gotham City.
 
I didn’t envy the actors at all. I can’t imagine spending any time wearing heavy coats and wool on a hundred degree day, but I have to admit I always feel a bit of a yearning to be in the crew somehow. It seems like it would be interesting to shovel snow in July.
The backstage people making a movie happen are fascinating to me. They are tanned and fit and moving very quickly and set apart from the world outside. There is a bit of a cowboy quality to the set of their jaw and long loping stride. Somehow the jobs reminds me of my time as a landscaper, and produce person with a knife at my belt, migrant fruit picker and theatre person all wrapped into one. The difference is, I hear making a movie (at least a major one) actually pays well. I suppose it is too late for me to run away and join the movies- but I am glad that now and then I can turn the corner and watch one being made right in my neighborhood.
 
Kate
 
Interested in reading more about my Pittsburgh adventures? Check out:
 

Colleen, La Cinéaste

And action!

Okay, no, I was not the director of a movie, but I was the director of a play this past week. Clare is an incoming freshman at Cashton high school this year and will be performing in the drama club’s play, “Murder in the House of Horrors”. Her director was going to be gone for a week, and so I jumped at the opportunity to be involved.

I was in drama every year of high school, and as I have just graduated, many of the people in the cast were my friends. Due to my age and the fact that I was screwing around on stage with them just last year, this made for some interesting practices.

There were random crowns popping up on the heads of cast members even before we got started on Day One.

Hats of every shape and size (and nationality?)

(I just couldn’t resist trying some of those on……and of course I unwillingly dragged Clare into it)

A particularly beloved prop was this severed hand.

And this cane, a cane which I forcibly wrenched out of the hands of the actor pictured below. Oh, how I love freshmen in high school!…..not.

The week was filled with me pleading with actors to not turn their backs on the audience EVER!, supressing my laughter when scenes would go off the deep end, and me pretending to be an adult-responsible and in charge.  My friends knew better and staged a little anarchy.

I loved being around an atmosphere of theater again.  Being the director really made me realize how much I love the acting part of drama.  I’d much rather be up on the polished wood floors of a stage then sitting in the director’s chair.  And I will be.  Dallas has a great drama program that I am determined to participate in.  This director is heading to the stage.

And cut!

Sheboygan Style Beer Brats

by Kate

My father grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan.  My grandfather was an Irishman from Chicago, stationed in Sheboygan during the Second World War. He fell in love with the order and beauty of the place.  He loved the pristine Germanic neatness of the town on the lake, the lawns clipped and swept and groomed and the houses bright and painted and trim, the children well behaved. Luckily for him he also fell in love with my Czech grandmother, who was able to help him live as much like a German as an Irishman ever could. This meant he was priveleged to consume the most incredible bratwurst known to man on a regular basis.

My grandmother is an amazing woman. She is bright, stylish, well read and informed regarding the issues of the day, and an impeccable hostess. Her home is immaculate and welcoming. She turned 92 last month.

Luckily, we were able to visit her and spend some time in Sheboygan back in June. The Sheboygan area was settled by German’s in the mid-1800’s, and retains a strong Germanic flavor to this day. Every summer, the town hosts a Bratwurst Festival and boasts the best brats in the land. Johnsonville brats are made in Sheboygan County, in a town just a few miles away. The best bratwurst in the world, however, is definitely made in my Grandmother’s backyard. On this visit, I felt that it was crucial that I learn how to make my Grandma Dorothy’s Sheboygan Style Brats. Luckily for me, she had just purchased a couple dozen Johnsonville brats on sale. That is the first step, she told me. Wait for a sale, and then load up on the Johnsonville brats.

We are going to grill these in a moment, but first we will prepare the crucial marinade. For 12 brats, you will need one large white onion and a stick and a half of butter. Slice the onion in half, and then slice lengthwise. Melt the butter in a deep saucepan, and then gently saute the onions on medium low. You just want to soften them up a bit. As soon as they have softened slightly, pour in 2 cans of beer. Yes, cans. You may be a sophisticated bottle beer drinker, but the beer we are looking for here is a light, Milwaukee style canned beer, not a deep dark bottled malty fancy shmancy beer of any sort. Remember that you are making Wisconsin beer brats. Try Miller, or Pabst.

Turn the buttery beer down as low as it can go and leave it on the burner while you head out to your hot grill- preferably your charcoal grill. Grandma recommends a classic Weber grill.

She has been grilling brats for about 70 years, so I tend to respect her opinion quite a bit.

You can throw some patties on the grill as well. Hamburgers love the buttery beer brat marinade as much as brats do.

My grandmother dusts her hamburger patties with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.  

As soon as the brats and burgers are done grilling, they are ready to meet their match. Pull them off the grill, bring them into the kitchen, and place them one by one into the (still bubbling) beer, butter, and onion mixture.

Turn off the heat entirely and let them luxuriate in all that beer and butter. And here’s the thing. You can pull the brats out, and put them on buns. It would be best if you had these incredible rolls from the German bakery down the street in Sheboygan, but if you don’t you can make do.

You can slice the rolls and butter them and place them on a tray and slide them into a hot oven for a little while, like my Grandma does, and pull them out when they have reached the point of perfection. This sounds like it is leading to a picture, but I don’t have one because at this point my documenting ceased and I ate a couple brats.

BUT

If you eat the brats now, they will not really be my Grandma Dorothy’s Best in the World Beer Brats. That is because she generally makes a massive batch to prepare for the future hordes of Slattery grandchildren, so she lets the batch of brats in the beer marinade cool, and then she gets out a few gallon sized freezer bags. She places four to six brats and a couple burgers in each one, and she pours a cup or two of the marinade over each of them.

Then she sends all these bags down to the freezer in the basement, lays them out carefully so they freeze evenly. She pulls them out when the grandchildren or great grandchildren come to town, or in the middle of the winter when it is important to taste a bit of summer. She sent a bag with me on my way back to Pittsburgh. I pulled it out of the freezer a couple days later and heated up the brats gently on low heat in a cast iron pan. The time the grilled brats spend marinading in the beer and butter mixture adds an amazing complexity and richness to their flavor. This is definitely Casey’s favorite summer lunch. I highly recommend the process. You’ll be glad you tried it. Butter and beer and bratwurst- you can’t go wrong. Try it, and let me know how it goes!

Grandma Dorothy’s Best Beer Brats

1-2 onions

1 1/2 stick butter

12 Johnsonville brats

2 cans Milwaukee style beer

Slice the onion in half, then continue to slice lengthwise. Heat butter slowly in deep skillet and saute onions gently till soft. Pour in two cans (or more if you’ve got more brats) beer and leave on lowest heat to barely simmer. Grill brats, and Burgers if you’d like. Drop brats into beer, and leave to marinade till cool. Bag up the brats in gallon size freezer bags, pouring 1-2 cups marinade over each batch. Freeze until you need them. Pull out brats and burgers and frozen marinade, and heat slowly. Serve with fresh onions and mustard on a sliced, buttered bun slightly browned in the oven. Enjoy.

Beginning Ballet

by Kate

Two weeks ago, on my 32nd birthday, I took my first ballet class. As I wrote in this post , I didn’t begin dancing until my mid 20’s. After my mother informed me that it was not too late to become a dancer at 23, I took the plunge and enrolled in an 8 week session… of salsarobics. It seemed like a non-threatening soft entry in the dance world, and it was. I convinced my friend Rebecca to join me. The first step was to tiptoe into an intimidating dance store full of tutus and buy leotards- entirely unnecessary, but deeply satisfying. Rebecca and I have always believed in the power of costuming. We put our hair in buns, applied eye liner, and strutted into salsarobics like we were seasoned professional dancers. We were not, but the power of our belief did convince our salsa instructor that we were former ballerinas.

The next class was a disastrous flirtation with tango. At six feet I towered over my partners and felt like a clumsy oaf. At one class, I insisted on wearing oversized scuffed cracked leather cowboy boots. The leather bottoms were worn smooth, and I slipped and fell, pulling my partner on top of me. I never returned.

A year or two later I stumbled into the world of bellydance, and never left. Bellydance is full of adult beginners- people who have never taken a dance class in their lives. The bellydance community tends to be warm, welcoming, and supportive. It is also a bit of a wild west situation, dancewise. American bellydance brings together a wide variety of dance forms from the Middle East, Africa, India, and Polynesia, as well as balletic influences via Russians who spent time in the Middle East. There are tribal dancers and cabaret dancers, spangles and sequins and feathers and leather, troupes and soloists and fusion artists incorporating hip hop, Asian, modern, vaudeville, and circus influences. There are incredible teachers steeped in history and knowledge, and there are people teaching who have taken less than six months of classes themselves. The bellydance world is vibrant, open, and rich, but it is very much in the process of becoming a codified dance form. In many ways, it is pretty much the opposite of ballet.

 Over the past several years, I have taken several bellydance classes a week whenever possible. I’ve dabbled in african dance, hip hop, afrocuban, and even lurched and rolled through a few unforgettable modern classes. After years of serious study, I teach bellydance classes and love doing it. I dance in a Turkish restaurant and recently performed a solo set on the main stage at a huge downtown benefit for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. What I hadn’t done was take a single ballet class.

In a strange sort of way, not having taken ballet made me feel like I wasn’t a “real” dancer. Often when I tell people I do bellydance, they think I am saying ballet dance. Their eyes light up and they nod, envisioning white tights and pointe shoes, and then I clarify and their eyebrows raise up and their head bobs and they sort of sputter a bit, at a loss for words. I have also meet a surprising number of people who have a hard time believing that you can be A Dancer if you didn’t start at the age of 4, in a tiny tutu. I think I even have a hard time believing it myself now and then.

And so, at the age of 32, I put on my leotard (yes, the one from the salsarobics class! It finally came in handy!) and headed to an Intro to Ballet class at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The PBT school is ten minutes from my house, located  in one of  the warehouses along the Strip District, near the yoga studio I wrote about in this post. According to their website, the PBT school is recognized as “one of the nation’s finest” for dance education and training. I don’t know whether to be grateful, amused, or embarrassed about that fact when I walk into the cavernous studios with acres of barre, walls of mirrors, and a harried piano player staggering in with 40 lbs of sheet music in her bag.

Intro to Ballet is a bit of a misleading title for the class that I took. I suppose that “Re-Introduction to Ballet for former ballet dancers who spent their entire childhood in tights and then went to college and got married and had children and now have enough time and money to take ballet classes again, as well as various student dancers who weren’t able to make it to the Advanced Class” wouldn’t have been as catchy. The class immediately assumed position at the barre and began piques, or something to that effect, and many other french terms for delineated movements as familiar as breathing to the former and current ballerinas behind me. I loved watching dancers of all ages, from young teens to women in their 60’s, gracefully and joyfully moving, borne aloft by the spirited accompanist- who actually seemed a bit furious about something, which added to the vim and vigor of her playing.

 In the corner of  the room, a dancer was lost in a world of her own. The quality of her movement was entirely different than anything I have ever seen. She looked exactly like a swan in the midst of a flock of chickens, gliding nobly through the water with her head held high as we squabbled in the dust. I found out later that she is a soloist for the Pittsburgh Ballet- the soloist I have seen for years on huge billboards advertising the ballet. It was obvious that this woman was completely at home in the studio, and completely immersed in the practice of constantly refining and perfecting her dancing. Although her carriage was the proudest I have ever seen, there was a humility in her approach to dancing- a willingness to completely commit herself to a basic combination, at a beginner class, over and over again.

This week I will attend the real beginner’s class, where they define movements and terms for those of us who missed that class when we were four. I hope that my years of dancing have taught me grace and humility. I know that they have taught me to let go and laugh while attempting to leap across the floor, to bend my body in a manner that is more supple and to let go of my pride so I can bend some more.  I have also learned that it is can be beneficial to begin at the beginning, over and over again.

My Cinderella Sundress

By: Mary

Due to picking up a book called “One Yard Wonders” at the library,the inspiration hit to throw myself into another sewing kick. I will truthfully confess that this makes pretty much no sense for a variety of reasons. Reason number one is that the communal Slattery girls’ closet doesn’t even have room for new clothes. This is the result of sister and friend swapping, and thrift store and TJ Maxx shopping. The other big reason I have for not trying out new projects right now is that I have no time.

But I was inspired, so I started buying fabric and designing. Feeling a bit defeated because of my lack of sewing machine abilities, I decided to get extra determined to make the project happen. So I set a deadline. I gave myself one week to make it happen. Often when faced with a challenge, I think up stories of people conquering difficult obstacles. This thought process is rather helpful. There are so many great role models in history. Racking my brain for some domestic goddess mentor was useless. All I could think of was Cinderella…So I searched for parallels between us. I mean she ended up with a great dress, and it was created with compromised resources and time. I am not quite sure we have that much in common. I can’t say that I really have evil, ugly and horrid step sisters. But I do have a fairy godmother (er, mom, I mean)!

The actual piecing together of this dress was completely credited to Mom. If previously, any of you readers were thinking, “Wow, Mary sews, what talent!” Please keep thinking that. However, I will share with you how this dress actually got stitched together. It goes something like this. Moms sits at my sewing machine, and I “sew” by talking to her for a solid 3 fun hours while she actually does the work. I pull up funny or introspective articles online. We laugh, we talk about serious things, Mom tsk tsks about modesty, or  lack of . Basically, I have the best of both worlds- a new sundress and  mom time.  Finally, the project got completed 4 whole days earlier than my deadline. Vwalah! No wand involved.

This dress has proved to be super comfortable. Yesterday, I wore it to two weddings. This morning I changed things up and turned it into a skirt for mass.

All credit for this dress goes to my MOM, and “One- Yard Wonders”. The book had 101 sewing project ideas and is authored by Rebecca Yanker and Patricia Hoskins. It is complete with patterns and tips. The only things excluded from it is a fairy godmother and extra time and closet space.

It’s the Thought that Counts

By: Clare

This summer has been warmer than usual. In these past weeks we’ve been getting pretty consistent 90+ weather, which has been hard for all of us to take. Especially for this guy:

Australian Shepherds have naturally long hair. That’s just the way they are. Once summer came,  our little Aussie started his very own collection of burs, twigs, and who knows what else in his hair, and began shedding clumps of dog hair everywhere. And since no one else was willing to groom him, Mary took on the job with determination. Before I go on, I think Mary would like you all to know that none of her previous home projects have failed. Until now. She started out by cutting off the clumps of hair with mysterious things matted into his hair. That part wasn’t so bad. He looked a little strange, but not too bad. But then she decided that she needed to shave him. I tried to stop her, I really did.

“Mary, Australian Shepherds are supposed to have long hair. That’s just how they were made.”

“But Clare, they always shave dogs for those fancy dog shows. He’s gonna look great!” She says, despite the fact that she’s never watched a dog show in her life.

Fully dedicated, Mary bought a special razor and got to work. She probably shaved off half of his body weight, not to mention his pride. And so, our precious little dog went from this:

(I know, he looks pretty scary here. He is not to be disturbed while eating. )

To a more groomed version which is not documented.

And suddenly-to this:

Needless to say we were a little, uh, surprised by the outcome. And  Mary was…I’ll just say disappointed. I still don’t know how to describe this new version of him. A trimmed rat with an oversized head? It’s not that bad is it? I’ll let you think of your own description. Be as creative as you like.

Well, it’s the thought that counts.