The Long Way Home

Warm Water and a Kind Soul = Near-completed Mural
October 19, 2009, 8:13 PM
Filed under: Art Gallery, Pennsylvania, United States | Tags: , ,

Someone in the Morningside community was kind enough to wash the mural with gentle dabs of warm water. It’s looking much better.  Thank you, whoever did this. Now with the warm weather tomorrow, it may return  to its original state.


gnome detail - warm water may do the trick

gnome detail - warm water may do the trick

crossing our fingers: the white-wash is disappearing

crossing our fingers: the white-wash is disappearing


More Adventures from the Morningside Mural Project
October 18, 2009, 5:55 PM
Filed under: Art Gallery, Pennsylvania, United States | Tags: , , ,

I wish we could say it’s finished. But we’re not sure yet.

Jeff on his 40th birthday

Jeff on his 40th birthday



This entry was supposed to be the grand-finale blog entry documenting the completion of the Morningside mural. Jeff’s been working on this project since May – from submitting the proposal, to the preliminary designs — meetings with the Morningside community, the final design, and then the painting – two and a half months of painting (with the amazing help of Sarah W.). Finally, he rolled the last coat of clear finish to protect the mural on October 11th, his 40th birthday. It was a little chilly that afternoon, but sunny and we couldn’t have been happier. 


the 'final' design

the 'final' design


mural detail, houses

mural detail, houses


the final step: clear coat

the final step: clear coat

We were both pretty shocked this past Friday when someone from the Morningside community emailed Jeff, telling him that the clear coat on the mural had dripped down the length of it, causing white streaks. Who knew it would be 30 degrees and snow mixed with rain in the middle of October?  The low temperature and rain caused the streaking. Jeff was in such shock that he  had no reaction at all, which really worried me. My stomach dropped and my heart ached for him, thinking of all the hard work he put into that work. His hands were still flecked with mural paint, the greenish-blue embedded under his nails and staining his shoes. This mural had become a big part of him these past few months and to think that he might have to paint it again pretty much makes me want to puke and scream at the same time. 


damaged mural detail

damaged mural detail

oh deer: the clear coat didn't have enough time to dry in crap weather

oh deer: the clear coat didn't have enough time to dry in crap weather

We still had a good weekend, despite this setback (flea marketing is always good therapy for us). There is a chance that if the clear coat has a chance to fully dry on Tuesday and Wednesday when it’s sunny and in the 60s, then Jeff won’t have anything to worry about. But if it is damaged, then we start figuring out how to fix this little bitch. Here is a sneak peek of what is beneath the cloudy version:


gnome detail

gnome detail

Dividing the Goose and the Art of Leisure

wojojlizcardslargeJeff and I are co-curators of “Dividing the Goose,” a multi-media fairy tales exhibition at Future Tenant in downtown Pittsburgh. The opening is September 18 and the show runs through October 17 featuring artwork by: Stephen Boyle, Alexandra Etschmaier, Kyle Ethan Fischer, T. Foley, Linnea Glick, Roya Hamadani, Ben Hernstrom, Michael Lotenero, Jody Perigo, Laura Vincent and Michael Vincent. Working with Kate, the FT director has been awesome  and I’m so excited to see all the pieces in one room, finally! 

The title of the show is from a Russian fairy tale — a peasant man must find a clever way to divide a goose among many people when there is only one to go around. After reading through all the artist statements, I can pretty much sum up in one sentence how fairy tales affected the artists’ works: Fairy tales scared the shit out of us as children. 

We haven’t been able to travel much all summer because Jeff received a Sprout Fund grant to paint a city mural in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Morningside (I’m so proud of him!).  And while my hubby is busy away working on various freelance projects, I’ve been sitting on the couch watching deliciously terrible films, not feeling inspired much to do anything. It’s summer, right? I’m allowed a creative vacation.

But this past Monday I finally picked up my lazy self and started working on the fairy tale photos I took at the beginning of the summer. It’s amazing how distance makes you see your artwork in a whole new way. I remember taking the photos in June and thinking a lot of them weren’t what I intended. After flipping through them the other night, a whole world opened to me, much like it does when I write stories and let them sit, then go back to them months – years sometimes – later. I should learn to apply what I know from writing to photography, but I still have a hard time making them connect. 

I want to thank Erica Stratton for finding my photo “morning ritual” on flickr and including it on The site has really beautiful, inspiring photography, so I felt honored to have one of my pieces on there. And thank you S. for encouraging me to submit my photo to the Silver Eye self-portrait exhibition – that helped get me back into photo stuffs again.

You can also find some of my other photos along with the secret Toboz-family stuffed cabbage recipe in issue #’s 8 and 9 of

Now that I’ve completed my shameless self-promotion, I’m going to watch more crappy movies this afternoon. I need a break from all of this typing.



Chopped Haggis Omelet and Other Things We Love to Eat When We’re Alone

300px-Making_eggs_in_basketduckle-duckleHannah Bantry,

In the pantry,

Gnawing at a mutton bone;

How she gnawed it,

How she clawed it,

When she found herself alone.


I confess: When Jeff is at band practice and I’m left to my own culinary devices, I fall back on my single-girl habits: ramen noodles doused in Sriracha eaten right out of the pot (it has to be out of the pot). I like cold mushroom soup from a can, and when I’m dining at a restaurant, I spear pats of butter with the tines of a fork and eat them.  It’s the salty-creaminess that I can’t resist, conjuring my grape jelly and buttered toast obsession from childhood.

I eat pasta for breakfast and scrambled eggs for dinner. I love chocolate chip cookies first thing in the morning. One of my more recent favorite meals was a few months ago with Roya. We spent the afternoon talking for hours while eating cold beets with ham and cheese slices. It’s amazing to have  a partner-in-food-crime who will eat strange combinations, no matter the time of day.

When I’m not at home, Jeff will work on projects for hours in the studio, forgetting to eat at all. But sometimes I’ll catch him drinking pickle juice straight from the jar. It was recently that my sister reminded me of what we used to do as kids to make our mac and cheese a little tastier: add Italian dressing. She still eats mac and cheese this way when she cooks up a box for my niece and nephews. 

What do you eat when you’re alone? The guilty pleasures surrounding freaky food combinations fascinates me. Nobody talks about them, and when it is mentioned, it’s always with embarrassment.  Not only did people confess some strange-ass food dishes, they also revealed their own bizarre food rituals (like Derek, the inspiration for this blog, who is so addicted to Sour Patch Kids, he saves the leftover tart-sugar mix at the bottom of the bag so he can roll gummy worms in it). Some dishes did not sound strange or gross to me, like my friend Ralphie’s affinity for eggs in a basket, but his girlfriend pokes fun at his favorite way to eat breakfast.

It made me think about how people assign food rules — what you can and cannot eat — and how, if we break those rules (often through putting condiments on anything other than hot dogs or hamburgers), our eating habits are judged as gross. What one person may call ‘comfort food’ isn’t necessarily universal. 

The following meals are not from your grandmothers’ kitchens. 09_35_5---Haggis_web

Dan, recovering MFA graduate missing his adopted homeland, Scotland:

Last year, Alyssa was in the states for about a month and half, around the same time my dissertation was due. Suffice to say, things got weird (and fattening).

Bacon and chopped haggis omelet.

Thick cut chips, slathered in mashed potatoes and gravy, topped with ketchup and malt vinegar (the place I got this dish, across the
street, was called ‘Monster Mash’).

Panini sandwich made with tomato, goat cheese and two pieces of store-bought nan.

Nan ‘pizza’ (though in this case the nan has to be fresh, from the curry shop).

By the end of August, my dissertation was in, Alyssa was home with me, and I had gained about five pounds.Sometimes, when the mood strikes, I will roast a large head of garlic until soft and caramelized, cut the top off, squeeze out the soft garlic, and eat like pudding. Oh, and in Japan, I would buy a fresh baguette, slather it with Nutella, eat half for dinner and eat the other half for breakfast.

Stasia: images

I eat yellow mustard on my plain Lays potato chips – tastes like a pickle.

Mayo is good on everything — hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, sausage. 

I love plain cooked ground beef as a meal. images-1

I heat pepperoni slices in the microwave for a minute.  Makes them crispy like when they are on pizza.

I love vodka with Kool Aid.  Yummy. 

Becky, mother of four:

Some of my single girl recipes:

Dinty Moore stew (looks like dog food) with sauerkraut or sour cream on top.

Slab of iceberg lettuce, Frank’s red hot, and tuna fish straight from the can, then rolled up.

Cheap tomato soup with ramen noodles crumbled on top.

Ramen noodle beef or chicken flavor packets dissolved in hot water, then throw raw and scrambled eggs on top so it cooks in broth.

Cheap white bread, toasted dark, with Isaly’s chipped ham and Heinz ketchup (my favorite).  Variation: add horseradish from the jar.

Poor man’s lasagna: slice of iceberg lettuce, crumbled cooked ground beef, ketchup, slice of lettuce, and repeat.  The hot beef wilts the lettuce.

Cheap white bread slice, peanut butter, banana slices, honey, then top off with uncooked oatmeal and another slice of bread. Yum!

Sarah, who is as obsessed about weird-ass food – or anything weird — as much as I am:

Some crap I eat:frozen_peas460

Oranges dipped in yellow mustard. 

Spaghetti-o’s right out of the can.

Frozen, clumped-together peas.

Spoonful of cream cheese with sugar sprinked on it.

Cold coffee in the evening (been sitting on my counter- or worse, in a cup- since the morning).

Alex, gifted cook who dines out frequently:I eat enough weird stuff alone at restaurants. A couple months ago at Eleven I was dipping bacon and fries into chocolate sauce. Or the time recently when I went to 21st, bought a pint of chocolate milk, had them steam it and add it to my macchiato.  Then I put ice cream into it. On a related note, due to someone telling me this, some day soon I am going to go to DQ, get an ice cream cone, put ketchup on top and stick fries into it. 


My only confession is that when I’m home alone I eat constantly.  I actually try not to have snacks around because it makes this easier.  But I guess the weird thing is that I only eat things a bite at a time.  I’ll go into the kitchen and eat a cracker.  Then I’ll leave and do something else.  I’ll go back to the kitchen and have a bite of something left over.  Then I’ll leave and do something else. I’ll go back to the kitchen and cut a tiny slice off the end of a piece of cake or banana bread or something.  Then I’ll leave and do something else. I’ll go back to the kitchen and eat a teaspoon of peanut butter.  Then I’ll leave and do something else.  I’ll go back to the kitchen and eat a handful of dry cereal. Then I’ll leave and do something else.  I’ll go back to the kitchen and ransack jars in the fridge: beets, baby corn, pickles, maraschino cherries. . . Then I’ll leave and do something else.

 Over and over all day until someone comes home.


Snow White and Rose Red

Sarah, Liz and I spent the afternoon in Harmony, continuing my fairy tale photo project with a reinterpretation of the tale “Snow White and Rose Red.” In the original Grimm Brothers story, Snow White and Rose Red are kind-hearted sisters who have run-ins with an ungrateful dwarf. They are frequently visited by a bear, who ends up being a prince (did I give it away?). I wasn’t sure where we’d get an angry dwarf, or a bear for that matter, but in this series of photos I concentrated on the closeness between the two sisters. You can find the ‘final’ versions at flickr.


Postcards from the Lincoln Highway

sunlight2Last month, I traveled down Route 30 from Pittsburgh to Bedford  with my husband Jeff, and our friends Bill, Dan and Beth. The Pennsylvania part of the old Lincoln Highway actually starts somewhere near our home in Pittsburgh, and slides into commercial highway near Philadelphia. Here are some stops we made along the way to Hokee Gee’s, a giant flea market in Bedford, our final destination (Jeff is totally addicted to trash. We have to buy a house soon – we’re running out of room to store all the scary taxidermy and post-mortem photos we collect in these places), before coming full circle home.

Gravity Hill  bill and beth testing gravity hill

If you google “gravity hill” you will find that there are others like this in America – a road that defies the laws of physics. Cars roll backwards despite them moving forward and water runs in the opposite direction (or something like this — this site  can explain it so much better). The one in New Paris, PA is on a beautiful winding back country road dotted with farms and a bubbling creek running alongside of it. Not one of us in the group is science-minded, so it took us a few tries to figure out how to drive the car but lo and behold, Beth and Bill got it figured out – they looked as if they were rolling uphill, when they were really rolling downhill. Pretty impressive.

Ed’s Steakhouse what a beautiful sign: Ed's at dusk

a word from Beth:

“By the end of the day, we were all hungry and feeling very picky about what we were going to eat.  It had to be diner-like, it had to serve tons of awesome food, and it had to have spaghetti and meatballs for Lisa.  

 So we asked a local where to go.  “The Colonial Inn,” he said.  We asked again “the Colonial Inn.”  But on the way to the Colonial Inn, we saw the sign for Ed’s Steakhouse, and decided that any restaurant with a sign that cool had to have delicious food.

And we weren’t disappointed!  Ed’s even provided more than we had hoped – chairs with wheels!  Geriatric diners! Van-sized families!  Postcards and five-cent mints by the register!  Spaghetti & meatballs!   It was the kind of dining experience we’d been missing since the last Pappan’s closed. 

Unfortunately, we soon found out that although our souls were craving family restaurant food, our bodies would have been perfectly happy to never eat fried chicken and chocolate mousse ever again.   We spent the ride home clutching our tummies and looking for gas station bathrooms.” (and thank god we found one; we were still two hours from home. — editor’s note)

The Coffee Pot  the coffeepot

My friend Jason told me recently that he grew up a few blocks away from this crazy-giant structure that once served as a stop for weary travelers bumping along the Lincoln Highway. I always wonder what it’s like to live in a tourist town such as Bedford. It is beautiful and haunted and far from everything – being a city girl, that’s how it would feel to me since I have lived in the city most of my life. While I took artsy pictures of it (me, lying on my back in the grass to get the full view of it with my limited 35 mm lens), the other four, bored as kids, had found someone’s geo-caching stash buried underneath the Coffee Pot historical plaque. Before Jeff could take out all the tiny toys and put them in his pocket, I knew it  was time to keep rolling.

Joe’s Bar

“One of the most amazing taxidermy collections outside of a museum.” – Jeff a taxidermy lover's dream

But Joe’s is way more incredible and disturbing. The owner has a seal head, a deer’s ass, and a polar bear, not to mention a kangaroo with gigantic nads, all housed in glass cases in the back of his establishment, as well as filling a whole second floor. Walk up the winding staircase and marvel at the elephant head suspended from the ceiling by wing-like cables — its feet are now bar stools (with stiff black hairs still in tact). Chimpanzee skulls, gazelles, a tiger, a hippo and the standard wild boar. And despite Joe’s exotic attractions, it’s still off the beaten path.  The bar is pretty ‘local.’ If you don’t mind being ignored by the surly long-haired bartender, then just go for the amazing animal display.

Big Mac Museum

The Lincoln Highway Drive-In radio station 88.3 provided the soundtrack for our ride home – Monsters vs. Aliens was the movie that night. I could see the light flickering from the giant screen, and it reminded me of when my parents took my sister and me to the drive-in for a double feature of Rocky and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We weren’t allowed to watch the movies, but we got to sleep in the back of the car with the hatchback down. (this is what my young parents had to do back in the recession of the 1970s. Who had money for a babysitter?). As the sun set, the boys were getting hungry again, and I was curious about the Big Mac Museum. The Big Mac was actually created in Uniontown, PA, about an hour away from North Huntingdon, but it was never made clear in the museum display how North Huntingdon ended up with the Museum Honors. We ate apple pies and french fries surrounded by blaring TVs airing retro McDonald’s commercials. “I like Big Macs here,” Dan said, “They have a different measure of quality than other McDonalds’ Big Macs.” 

And if you are ever in the Irwin area looking for good thrifting, Beth gave us this tip: “We’ve been to [the Irwin] Goodwill. It’s filled with juggalos.”

We’re totally heading there on our next trash-hunting trip.

better measure of quality: the Big Mac Museum

Hurka and Other Food Discoveries

I read fancy cookbooks with complicated recipes while I eat simple foods such as ramen noodles (doused in Sriracha sauce), or buttered egg noodles with pepper. My friend Roya calls it ‘food pornography’ because it is fantasizing  about and longing for the dish on the page while eating something comforting and familiar. It is the best of both worlds. And when I can’t have either, I think about the foods that have shaped my eclectic palate.

1. hurka (pronounced ‘who’r-kuh’)

This is a Hungarian water-cooked sausage filled with various pork offal, rice, and onions. It was a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen, although I don’t remember the taste of it or even what it looks like too much. My mother said I loved it though, and would split open the casing and dig out all the rice and piggy products, drowning them in ketchup. Years later in my 20s, I met another Lisa of Hungarian descent who not only remembered eating hurka, but also dowsing it with ketchup. Ketchup may be the only way to make hurka palatable to a kid.

2. pickles and cheese sandwiches (worst sandwich)

When the food cupboard was bare, my mother would whip up this little number for a lunchbox treat: sliced dill pickles, Kraft American cheese slices, and white bread. I tried trading these with other kids in the lunchroom, but nobody wanted to eat them.

3. Prekmurje ham sandwich (best sandwich)

In 2003, Bill Fulmer and I did a cross-country trip to the Prekmurje region of Slovenia with our friend Tamara. We stayed at the Flisar family farm. Our rooms overlooked vineyards dotted with thatch-roofed sheds. The mailman only stopped once a week on his bicycle to pick up mail. We didn’t have time to eat breakfast the next morning because we were headed to Lake Balaton in Hungary, so the owner packed us a lunch: fresh baked bread, ham made straight from the pigs on her own farm, and a poppyseed gibanica, a seven-layer strudel popular in that region. We didn’t find all these goodies until later, when the three of us sat by the shallow water of Lake Balaton eating what she had given us: bread, ham, butter, and tomato. A really simple meal that I still crave.

4. lima beans and milk

Not necessarily together (although that would be my nightmare). I don’t like lima beans because of their texture – squooshy, like I imagine beetles would be if they were crushed between my teeth. I will pick them out of my meal if I spot them in there, which I know is childish, but they really gross me out. I will cook with milk, and drink chocolate milk, but regular white milk is disgusting. I declared my war on this foul juice when I was five years old, and it continues to this day.

5. egg noodles with butter and black pepper

Simply the best comfort food ever. My mother would make this often when were kids, when she was too tired to cook after working all day. It also tastes good sprinkled with poppy seeds, making it Hungarian comfort food.

6. McCountries and mini hamburgers

I know McDonalds is widely disputed and considered evil, but I really grew fond of this Eastern European pork patty version of the Quarter Pounder. When I desperately needed something “American,” I’d get this “Menu’ item (Croatia’s equivalent to “Value”). Pecs, Hungary has a bakery near the old pharmacy that sells mini-hamburgers, which are tiny versions of the McCountry: pork patty, lettuce and mustard on a freshly baked lilliputian bun, 2 for $1 USD. Perfect for wrapping in a napkin and eating on the go.

7. my sister’s chocolate chip cookies

She could win a bake-off with these babies. She has been baking them since she was 10 years old, so she has a lot of practice. The secret to her cookie is just the right balance of salt and sweet, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The perfect cookie.

8. muttar paneer

My favorite North Indian meal of  peas and cubes of tofu-like cheese. I used to eat this dish for many a dinner when I was a sophomore in college (sometimes 3 or 4 days in a row) since I worked at Delhi Grill. I love the sweetness and slight bite to the peas with the chewy paneer following right after. I could eat a whole shit-load of this stuff right now.

9. mussels

These made me a more adventurous eater. When I was first introduced to them, I swallowed them whole because I was afraid to bite into the little suckers. But now I can’t imagine them without plain garlic butter on a warm summer night (sorry, Jeff, I know this is killing you to read this part, ever since you ate a bad one and spent the one night wondering whether you should puke or sit on the pot all night. One bad mussel is dangerous indeed).

10. Jeff’s fried chicken

He has made the recipe his own: something with panko crumbs, cornmeal, buttermilk and fried in canola oil. I don’t know the exact recipe and if I did I wouldn’t tell anyone, but then he puts a few shakes of buffalo sauce on top and it’s amazing. It reminds me of why I married him in the first place.

%d bloggers like this: