18 years ago it was the summer of 1995 and I was 8 years old. My parents believed whole heartedly in the importance of the family vacation so just like every year before, the four of us loaded up the minivan and set out to discover a new part of the country. Although family vacations were always packed with fun, my mom liked to roll some culture and history in there as well. In the summer of 1995, she decided it was high time that we explore our own state. Pennsylvania is geographically large and as odd as it may sound, the easterners and the westerners rarely cross sides. Western PA is proud of their blue-collar roots founded in manufacturing and coal mining. Eastern PA on the other hand prides themselves in being part of the fast paced east coast lifestyle.
A tour of Pennsylvania wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the birthplace of America and my very first visit to the east side. We stayed in a hotel by the mall in King of Prussia and my parents made plans for us to take one of the SEPTA commuter trains into downtown Philadelphia on a Sunday morning so they wouldn’t have to brave driving in the center city traffic. It takes about 45 minutes for the train to make it from the end of the line into the city and SEPTA is notorious (then and now) for being late. The ride gets a little long, especially when nature calls, and with no restrooms on the train, my family was forced to make a pitstop at one of the stations along the way.
Since it was the weekend, the train only ran once an hour. My parents, unfamiliar with Philadelphia neighborhoods, had no real idea how safe the area was where we waited. So instead of venturing off to explore, we remained huddled on the train platform, nervously awaiting the arrival of the next train. I remember looking over the edge of the platform at the neighborhood below. I spotted a little corner bar, that I couldn’t believe was already open. I recall watching a few passersby, wandering down the brick street, wondering where they were headed so early on a Sunday morning. What my 8 year old mind could not possibly fathom though, was that one day, years in the future, I would be that passerby.
Yes. That train platform where I waited with my family 18 years ago, the one where my father stood, concerned about the safety of his family, is now a stone’s throw from my current apartment. Who could have known that I would wait for that very same train another 100 times in my future. I would stand on that platform in a tiny dress and heels on new years eve. I’d wait in skinny jeans and high boots on my way to a first date. With a broken hand, I’d join the morning rush on the way to a doctor’s appointment to have my splint removed. I’d come dressed in Phillies gear, a cooler slung over my shoulder on my way to the stadiums. I’d wait on that platform alone plenty of times, but I’d also wait with some of my closest friends who I didn’t yet know existed.
It’s funny the way that life comes full circle, isn’t it?
4 1/2 years ago in winter of 2009, I was 21 years old and a senior in college. The economy had just crashed, so my chances of finding a “real job” after graduation were slim to none. I’d attended multiple career fairs and even gone on a few interviews, but most of what I heard was “sorry, we’re not hiring.” Not helping was the fact that I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wandered the floor of yet another job fair, feeling somewhat (ok, incredibly) discouraged, waiting for my friends to finish up so we could get out of there and head back to school. I had track practice that afternoon and my coach would be annoyed if I was late. As I meandered through the sea of students and tables, I fatefully stumbled upon one last booth. It was for a government job. And they were actually hiring. A man named Steve was manning the table, so I approached him, introduced myself, and listened as he described the job as well as the application and hiring process. I was intrigued, as the work sounded interesting and the pay scale looked appealing to a poor college student. Steve was kind and welcoming, leaving me feeling totally encouraged about applying for the position.
The only downside was that the job was in Philadelphia. You see, where I really wanted to move was Washington, DC. I’d only been to Philadelphia once, as an 8 year old child on a family vacation, and I hadn’t exactly been itching to go back. Our nation’s capitol, on the other hand… now that had appeal!
Regardless of location, I needed a job and this sounded like a good lead, so I took the stack of literature that Steve offered me and listened closely when he explained how to apply. He forewarned me that the HR process was slow, and that it might be a month or two before I heard anything back. I gave him a copy of my resume, thanked him for his time, and walked away.
As fate would have it, I was called to come in for an interview for that “government job” in Philadelphia. A month later I was given a job offer, which I gratefully accepted (the same week that I turned down another job offer in DC–go figure!). It was a bit of a gamble, but 4 years later, I’m still there.
And guess what? Steve, the man from the job fair, is my current supervisor. It makes me happy to report that he is just as kind, welcoming, and encouraging as he was the day we met, as complete strangers, 4 1/2 years ago.
It’s funny the way that life comes full circle, isn’t it?
4 years ago, it was August 2009. I had just completed my term of service with Americorps in Pittsburgh, and was now loading up my tiny car with my few belongings to make the 5 hour drive across the Pennsylvania turnpike to start my life in Philadelphia.
I had a job and an apartment, but nothing else. No friends and no real knowledge of my new city. But I was full of hope things would unfold in my favor and that the move to Philadelphia was part of The Plan.
Every year on the anniversary of my moving day I try to celebrate a little bit. I like take time to reflect on that fresh start and how it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I like to look back on how much has changed, and bask in the knowledge that life will continue to surprise me as I’m sure it will come full circle again and again.
And what better way is there to celebrate than with my city’s signature cuisine? Hot, fresh, pretzels for my coworkers in the morning. A cheesesteak for dinner in the evening. Water ice for dessert. And some drinks with friends over a round of pub quiz to top it all off. Yeah… I’ll take it.
Today I want to share a recipe of my own that I’ve been working on as I anticipated my fourth anniversary. It’s a simple play on Philadelphia’s famous sandwich and would make a perfect party appetizer.
Puffed pastry makes for a no-fuss dough and dried beef lends all the great flavor of a cheesesteak without the mess of preparing the steak yourself. Although not a traditional Philly flavor, I think the addition of horseradish give these just enough kick to make them memorable, but feel free to leave it out if you want to stay true to the roots of the famous sandwich. Puffed Cheesesteaks are a great party appetizer as well, because they can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator to be popped in the oven when guests arrive.
- 2 sheets of puffed pasty, thawed in the refrigerator
- 4 oz package of dried beef**
- 1/2 cup finely diced onion
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) shredded white cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs horseradish
- 1 egg white
- Parchment paper
**Dried beef is available in the refrigerated section of major grocery stores. It can be found either near deli meat or breakfast meat.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Dump the contents of the package of dried beef into a bowl and use your fingers to tear it into small pieces. Add the onion, mayo, shredded cheese, and horseradish to the bowl and mix until well combined.
Cut each sheet of puff pastry into 9 equal squares (18 squares total). Top each square with 1 tablespoon of the beef mixture. Brush the edges of the square with egg white and fold one corner of the puff pastry over the filling to the other corner and press the edges to seal. Now carefully use your fingers to roll the dough at the edges up over itself to create a better seal. (The first time I made these, I tried to seal the edges with fork, but it just wasn’t strong enough to keep the filling contained when I popped them in the oven). Poke the top of each pastry with a fork then brush them with some additional egg white. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
The City Of Brotherly Love
To 4 great years… and many(?) more!