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Pittsburgh Bloggers: Part 2

Drew Nelson, 365 Days, 365 Beers and a blog

Drew Nelson's premise for his blog is really quite simple.

"I'm drinking one new beer every day for an entire year. Taking pictures of each one, and posting my thoughts on it," Nelson says of his blog, 365 Days…365 Beers. Nelson, a web designer by day, doesn't just consume beers, he photographs them, to better chronicle each beer's head retention, clarity and appearance. All are important, says Nelson. 

"I show it poured," he explains, adding that the beer pour, and the resulting head of foam, can tell you a lot about a beer's quality before you even take a sip.

Consider a recent post about the East End Smokestack Heritage Porter, brewed by Pittsburgh's own East End Brewing Company.

You smell the smoke as soon as you open it. The smoked taste isn't what I would call a campfire type smoke, but more a meaty smoke. Might sound gross but the taste is nice and not as overwhelming as some other Smoked Beers I have had in the past. There is also a hint of vanilla, and a little bit of coffee in the background. Little to no hop presence, a bit dry actually. Mouthfeel is medium; similar to your average porter. Overall this is a pretty solid beer.

Nelson was inspired to start a blog last year when he and his girlfriend came across the six-pack shop 3 Sons Dogs and Suds in Wexford. They bought a couple of mixed packs and started trying various beers and then researching them on the Beer Advocate website.
"It just kind of came to me," says Nelson, who buys most of his craft beers from Vintage Estate Wine and Beer in Boardman, Ohio.  "It is the number one rated store in the world according to RateBeer.com," Nelson explains. "He has 800 different beers out there. I make a trip once a month to stock up."

Now, more than halfway through his 365-day journey, Nelson has acquired quite a beer collection. The best beer he's had so far?
"I would have to say it's AleSmith Speedway Stout," Nelson explains. "It's a heavy strong beer, 12 percent alcohol. You can't tell its 12 percent. It is strong without tasting strong. Coffee beans are used to brew it. "

Nelson says followers of his blog—they number about 150 daily—also send him craft beers to sample.
"There's a guy that reads from Japan. He sent me Japanese craft beer. It's very surprising what people have sent me," he says. And while his following is not yet high enough to justify advertising, he has received several freelance jobs designing websites.

 "All my waking hours have been spent drinking beer, updating my blog, and designing websites," says Nelson, who works for Vision Creative Group of Sewickley. 

And what happens when his year is up? "I'm still definitely going to be drinking beer, probably not every day," Nelson says. "I might update it biweekly."

Michelle Norris and the Brown Eyed Baker Blog

 Michelle Norris could easily spend four hours a day perfecting a Fluted Polenta Ricottta cake or a batch of thick and chewy triple-chocolate cookies. And then, just as easily, she could order a pizza for dinner.

Her priorities shine through in her blog, Brown Eyed Baker, which Norris started in February 2007 as an outlet to fuel a creative writing need and a culinary diary of sorts to chronicle her attempts to become a better baker.

"I had enjoyed baking, but had never done anything other than typical chocolate chip cookies and brownies from a box," explains Norris, who lives in Russellton, just outside of Pittsburgh. Blogging allows her a style of writing that she doesn't get to use in her day job as marketing analyst and it also allows her to track her efforts to evolve as a baker.

She has succeeded. Chocolate chip cookies and box brownies have given way to Peanut Butter Fudge Cheesecake, Vanilla Bean Butter Cream icing, and Asiago bagels. Three years of regular posts later and her site now draws a considerable following. In March, Brown Eyed Baker logged 270,000 page views, 60,000 of which were unique visitors.

There are many of "how tos", for example her post on August 19 of last year, How to Make Pate a Choux & Fill Éclairs and Cream Puffs.

Prior to making Bostini Cream Pies, I was deathly afraid of pastry cream. I had heard horror stories about scrambled eggs, and to be honest I wanted nothing to do with it. However, after successfully making it, I have to say that I felt like an accomplished baker. Or maybe pastry chef?

Norris' most popular post, by far, has been her no bake cookies.

"You melt together chocolate, butter, sugar and peanut butter, and you mix in oats, and nuts. It firms up and you scoop it into mounds and they set as cookies," says Norris. "It's easy to do with kids. It's the recipe that gets the most traffic, hands down anytime."

Norris streams her RSS into FoodBuzz, a foodie's nirvana that highlights a "Top 9" posts each day from its community of more than 1,600 bloggers, hosts a food blog forum, and various contests to promote food bloggers.  

"It's a place for food bloggers to congregate and talk about best practices, photography, technical aspects of the website," explains Norris, who also has a Facebook Fan Page and more than 2,000 followers on Twitter.

One only has to look at Norris' About page, on her blog to understand the impetus for the name, but also that Norris does not consume everything she bakes.

"I do try to eat relatively healthy 85 percent of the time, aside from sweets," she says. "I have a huge sweet tooth. My basic thing is moderation."

Megan Mally Pearlman and the Table & Spoon blog

One might not guess from the posts on the Table&Spoon blog—a locavore's slice of heaven with posts ranging from the treasures to be found at a farmer's market to a recipe for Green Bean, Walnut, and Feta Salad— that Megan Mally Pearlman could ever be the type of person who could eat Cool Ranch Doritos or Hostess Cupcakes for lunch.

"I am a reformed junk food addict," says Pearlman, who started the blog late last summer as a way to chronicle her move away from junk food towards a life where she grows vegetables in her garden, considers the source of her food and eats a healthier diet. This brings us back to the recent Green, Bean, Walnut and Feta Salad post.  

If for no other reason out there, you should love this salad just because it's so pretty.  Steamed green beans create a vibrant bright green base that contrast nicely with purple onions, white feta and earthy walnuts, a similar spring color palette I see when I walk to the bus stop every morning. The contrast carries over in the taste as well. Feta cheese and purple onions are some of my favorite salad ingredients. And I rather like green beans, too especially with a simple white wine dressing.  This salad makes a great side or potluck addition but also makes for a healthy lunch.

While Pearlman began the blog as a means to chart her course into cooking, gardening and more conscientious food choices, Pearlman started to notice that readers seemed very interested in posts that promoted the local food movement in Pittsburgh and her blog expanded. "It's sort of a local-food, greening up-your-city website," says Pearlman, an art director at an advertising agency. "It's about the food I want to grow in my garden and all kind of different ideas in terms of making your house better, your city better."

Pearlman, who grew up near Chicago and lived in Los Angeles before moving to Pittsburgh three years ago, says she's been wonderfully surprised to learn about all the resources that Pittsburgh offers to local foodies.

"There's a great food community here, and tons of resources for people who want to learn how to cook," explains Pearlman, who says that while initial posts focused on gardening and learning how to cook, they quickly expanded into capturing Pittsburgh's local food scene. Sometimes it's a hybrid of both.

Pearlman recently took gardening classes at Phipps Conservatory and writes about how it helped her plan her own garden.  She's hoping for a three, possibly four-season garden in her five plots.

"There will be every thing that you can grow in Pittsburgh or southwestern Pennsylvania," says Pearlman, who grows her plants from Jonathan's Seeds in Maine. One plot will have tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and broccoli. Another plot will grow root vegetables: carrots, beets, onions, legumes, peas and lettuces. "Then there will be a whole herb garden somewhere."

And while she's excited about the new direction that her blog has taken, she hopes one message comes through in all her posts.

 "If I can do it, anyone can do it," she says.

Richard Citrin and Today on the Allegheny River blog


Not many people can call the Allegheny River their backyard, and, if they could, few would appreciate it as much as Richard Citrin.

'"That's my view everyday," says Citrin, who writes about his mood, the flow of the river, the birds he views through his camera lens, and anything else it inspires in his blog, Today On the Allegheny River.

There's a reason that Citrin uses the Allegheny River as the central theme of his blog. To him, Pittsburgh is defined, ate least in part, by its three rivers. "I just feel like the rivers are such a powerful force in Pittsburgh. We all know them, pay attention to them, and that's how it started," he says.  

But the River does change the light and brings forth magnificent colors which now seem to pale as the Spring brings forth its own bounty of colors. What is great about watching the River is that you see so much more than if you just sneak a peek…the bright red cardinal in the tree, the blue heron hiding behind last season's grasses and the beautiful flowering trees.

Citrin, a management consultant, had considered starting a blog for a while to chart the course of the river and his life. He thought it would also give him an outlet for one of his passions, photography. During a walk along the river late last year, he commented to his wife, Sheila, that when he retired from his work as a management consultant he would like to start a blog. Why wait, his wife countered, why not start now?  

"I say this, only half jokingly, that I'm recording the mood of the river, but maybe my mood also," says Citrin.

He has been blogging since January, posting his pictures alongside reflections about the water and the people it touches. Friends thought he would quickly tire of this venture. Instead, each day, he becomes a little more enthralled.

"The trees, the face of the trees, the ducks and barges. Everyday there was something new or different that I was seeing or learning or observing about the river," he explains. "Yesterday, there was a blue herron that plopped himself right in the middle of my view. What's the deal with that?"

His musings have started to generate feedback, from Pittsburghers, birders, and others. A recent St. Patrick's Day post about a bald eagle that returned for the second time to Citrin's patch of riverbank, generated numerous of emails from readers who had also seen the bird.
"Now I don't go outside without my camera. It's part of my daily ritual," he says.

Don't worry Pittsburgh bloggers. As long as you keep writing, so will we. If you know of a blog we should highlight, maybe even yours, drop us a line at info@popcitymedia.com. And to see author Heidi Brayer's original blogging article, click here.
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