brunch with the birds

My first plate at the brunch buffet, featuring the smoked salmon benedict

On Sunday I went to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh for the first time, which presented something of a strange situation for me. Usually if I’m spending a lot of time thinking about or looking at birds, it’s Thanksgiving or something. (Give me a break, I’ve spent most of my life in the food industry!) That said, I had a good time seeing all the birds, especially the penguins. My daughters did not believe me, but yes, penguins are birds, too.

I promise I didn’t try to work any of these birds into a “wild” menu; I didn’t even joke about it. The aviary is amazing–it is a very unique experience to get up so close to wild birds. But let’s talk about the brunch. The food was provided by Atria’s. They’ve been at the Aviary for a while now. If you have an event there the catering is by Atria’s. And starting on this Father’s Day, Atria’s will be serving brunch at the Aviary once per month. I believe this first brunch is sold out!

Chef Josef Karst
Chef Josef Karst presents brunch at the National Aviary for Atria’s

I had the opportunity to come preview the brunch in the Aviary’s beautiful rose garden. And let me tell you, Chef Josef Karst didn’t disappoint.

Fresh coffee and juice were available, but we focused on the white wine sangria and mimosas. Hydration is important. The smoked salmon benedict on potato pancakes were a great start. Having a good poached egg from a buffet can be tricky—usually overcooked, but these were perfect.

Chef Karst prides himself on working with local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Organic eggs and buckwheat pancakes were great and tasty examples of this. The roasted vegetable frittata con queso and salsa verde was a favorite. The rhubarb compote was also an excellent seasonal touch.

Brunch at the National Aviary can be a wonderful tradition in the making. Try it and let me know what you think.

Buen provecho!


cider trees

pouring cider in Asturias, Spain
You always pour cider from a height in order to aerate it. The servers become quite expert at this maneuver!

Spain has a rich wine culture as we all know. But the region I’m from venerates cider (hard cider). Cider has its own culture, festivals and folklore. Cider is truly an art form in Asturias.

As an Asturian I learned to appreciate it very early on. The showmanship of the pour and the aroma permeating an afternoon of tapas are a defining part of the experience at a Chigre (Asturian pub). Many dishes with cider are part of everyday menus, like “chorizo a la sidra” (chorizo sausage cooked in cider) or “almejas a la sidra” (clams cooked in cider).

I’ve witnessed and partaken in the cider making process from a very early age. My uncle Zoilo has an apple orchard and every fall we would help pick the apples that he would later press into cider.

For a long time I have imagined having a few apple trees of my own for cider. This year I finally took the plunge and got a few trees. Regular eating apples don’t make good cider, just like good table grapes don’t make good wine.

After a lot of reseach I ordered from Trees of Antiquity. Everyone at Trees of Antiquity was incredibly helpful and knowledgable. I think I got some great advice to help me begin my front-yard orchard.

cider trees
With just five trees, my small front-yard orchard has five different varieties of heirloom trees. I can already taste the cider…!

I started with five very distinct cider apple varieties: Spitzenburg, Golden Russet, Black Twig, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Bramley’s Seedling. Every tree is special in its history and properties, and all of them have an story that’s part of American history. Like, the Spitzenburg apple has a recorded history in the States from before the 1800s and was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. This apple is sharp and sweet. With these heirloom trees and the help from local orchards I hope to make some tasty cider.

Until my own cider is ready–this could take a while–I’ll be buying cider. Angry Orchard has become a popular option and is widely available. If you are in the Pittsburgh area, you must try Arsenal’s ciders.

If you haven’t tried cider yet, please give it a try. It’s a refreshing beverage for a hot summer day, or any day.

Buen provecho!