Thursday, August 14, 2014

Working and Eating around Hoosick Falls, NY

Yesterday I asked my intern if we are yuppies, and he looked up from his laptop and the poetry book he was working with, glanced out at the hay bales in the field and said "No, we're yrppies, young rural upwardly mobile professionals." To which I stuck my hand in the air and said, "What? I live in the capital of New York state!" 

For the last six months now I've been working out in Hoosick Falls, NY. At its peak in 1900 it had around 7,000 people, and according to the 2010 census its now at half that and continues to decline. Its quite the experience being out there - not like Williamstown, MA which felt like a slice of the Upper West Side of Manhattan magically transplanted to bucolic New England - but rather authentically rural. People raise chickens not because its trendy, and they want to make some sort of fetish out of it, but because thats what their families have always done. Similar to my mother-in-law who grew up with homemade bread not because someone in her family watched a segment on the Food Network once and thought it was this special thing, but because making homemade bread was normal (and store bought was too expensive). Hoosick Falls is a real small town, not a small town built up like a movie set where people from Boston and New York can go "summering" and feel like they are getting a taste of the country.  

In case you're ever driving through to go to Bennington or points east, I'll tell you about food options:

  • Have you seen the crazy moose deli? You can't miss it if you drive east on Route 7 from Albany. Its quite a sight, and we always admire their ability to have turned it into a tourist attraction by continuously adding more crazy and offering a few VT brochures. The pies are good, and the assortment of kitschy hot sauces is amusing. I feel most things are generally too expensive for the area though (although I know they are trying to cater mostly to VT tourists).
  • My art handler and I went to the Bagel & Brew two times. Its really small, reasonably priced, with tasty simple food and extra friendly service. You really get the small-town feeling in this downtown Hoosick establishment as everyone knows each other and seems to already know the back story on every yarn of a tale. I like how they vary it up with specials, and one day I had a chicken salad on rosemary olive oil foccaccia which was delicious. 
  •  Brown Cow in Bennington is probably the spot we've been to the most. I had my job interview for this job there, and we've all liked it ever since. You get some tasty local products included in your sandwich like Maplebrook mozzarella. Tasty things we've tried: quiche, gazpacho, curry chicken salad, Brown Cow club (you get a really nice chipotle mayo on it). The chai and ice coffee are good too. We've never been disappointed, and every time we are happy we made the trip out there.
  • Last week we checked out the Round House Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge and it was much better than it needed to be. I got a salad with grilled tofu, mixed greens, assorted vegetables, sesame-ginger dressing and chopped tamari roasted almonds. The tofu was really nicely marinated with a lot of flavor. I also had a cup of cold cucumber soup which was strongly galicky and refreshing and had some pecans sprinkled on top. I was really impressed. Also, everyone here knew each other too, but its a different kind of town - artsier, more bohemian, and closer to Saratoga.
 So the adventure continues. I was showing one of my coworkers who has never left Hoosick Falls the Google street view of my first Brooklyn apartment I shared with 5 people all from different countries in the liveliest and most colorful of neighborhoods, and she said "And now you've ended up here!" Life is funny that way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Heirloom Tomato Salad With Tarragon Dijon Vinaigrette

Since a friend requested the recipe for the dressing of the above salad, I thought I would share it with this blog's tens of readers. We serve this salad as a main course at least once a week and often more during the all-too-brief tomato season. And the tomatoes themselves are the secret!

  • Slice the tomatoes, add some salt, and place them in a collander over a bowl.  Wait at least 15 minutes. 
  • As a result, not only will the tomatoes give of less moisture when they're in the salad, the juice serves as the base of the dressing.
  • To the juice, whisk in two parts olive oil and one part each of good wine or sherry vinegar.  (If you don't have lemons handy all vinegar is fine.)  
  • Add a teaspoon plus of good Dijon, which not only contributes good flavor but serves as an emulsifier.  Whisk aggresively.
  • Add tarragon; a little fresh if you have it, but for this herb dried works fairly well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
It's a great dressing.  This particular salad had wild greens, tomatoes from the Berry Patch, hearts of palm, croutons, mozzarella (from Maplebrook, and terrific) and black olives.  But it works very well with any tomato salad. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer Moments

I was going to write a whole post about all the stuff I bought at the flea market at the Washington County fairgrounds last weekend, but taking the advice of the above sign I bought at Francesca's in Crossgates (ironic I know), maybe I'll tell you what I've been up to this summer instead (by the way, I love that store and I want to cover my body and walls with everything in it - but why so talkative, staff members? I'll tell you what I want in a clothing store - everything costs $20, no one talks to me, and Rihanna is playing in the background. That's it, when you try to be my best friend or make me into your career counselor for your Arts Administration degree I'm doing that instead of deciding on necklaces).

This summer I:
  • Went swimming. We did all kinds of wine tasting in the Finger Lakes. I wanted to go swimming at the Seneca Lake State Park and the lifeguard never showed up. We went all over, including antiquing in Hammondsport (America's Coolest Small Town, don't you know), and it had to be over a hundred degrees. Then, we were taking off to go to our hotel in Ithaca, and there like a gleaming glacial sliver was a patch of beach on the southern most tip of Keuka Lake. In a totally spontaneous way, I jumped out of the car and into the coolest, most refreshing lake imaginable. It was perfect. The next day we visited Lively Run Goat Dairy and sampled their delicious cheese from an adorable French girl, and Myers Farm Distillery where they age gin in oak barrels (mmm.).
  • Had Buffalo wings in Buffalo. We went to Duff's. I ordered hot, and they totally burned my face off. It was great fun.
  • We went back to the Tailored Tea. I still love it. Its so classy with the tea cups and linens, and their lunch items are always exactly what I'm hoping for. The scones benedict is way fabulous.
  • I had a salad bar party for the third year in a row (see 2012). I don't know what we ever did to deserve such fabulous friends - people who are effortlessly so smart, cool and funny. The concept totally still holds up too. The variety of ingredients is so fun, and the combinations are endless. 
  • We had our 5 year study abroad reunion. I can't believe that, it makes me feel a million years old. Here we were at Claridge's in London, 2009 (40 pounds for tea, scones, and cucumber sandwiches), fancy as all hell, all uncertain futures and mad paper writing skills:

And here we are Alice's Tea Cup, Upper East Side, Manhattan, filled with career advice and strategies on dealing with people in the workplace - maybe having traded in some optimism for some wisdom. Maybe with age you learn to deal better. You learn what you have to accept and what you don't. Things get both easier and harder, but we're still cool ladies:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Another Fork in the Road, Dutchess County

We used to take the Amtrak or drive to Poughkeepsie to take the Metro-North to visit NYC. In more recent times though, we've discovered the charm of driving. Insane Manhattan traffic you say? Take the BQE. Expensive parking you say? My mother-in-law spotted a place in Brooklyn that costs $7 a day. And there are benefits too - flexibility of timing, being able to buy stuff there and cart it back (no one wants to crush their pretty Paper Source loot or One Girl whoopie pies in a backpack), and in the case of my job being able to move artwork around. The Taconic State Parkway is also beautiful and incredibly civilized to drive on. You feel a bit like Don Draper dropping Sally off at boarding school. You can imagine all the old timey road trips taken on that very strip of asphalt. I drove down for work a little while ago, fought through traffic in the Bronx, got to a spot near Hudson on the Taconic and experienced the most beautiful view. It was all fresh air, arm-stretching space, and a real reminder of how happy I am to have left the city (5 years ago now!) and made upstate NY my home.

The Taconic is great. Another benefit is when you drive on the Thruway you feel like you just popped out of The Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens", or at least we do when we can't stop saying "Shoulda stopped at Roy Rogers". The Taconic turns out to have much better food options, and since there's no toll, there's no hassle in getting off and on.

We stopped in Dutchess county to look for a lunch place. We drove a very short distance down the road and stopped in at Another Fork in the Road. What a great find! It was completely adorable and decorated exactly the way I strive for in my own house: a bit of farm-yard chic mixed in with Etsy humor and retro charm.

The food was fabulous, and much better than anything you could reasonably expect stumbling along off the highway. Its a diner if one served locally sourced seasonal dishes in a new American style. Scott had the banh mi sandwich with watercress on it which boasted amazingly flavorful meat and a crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside roll. I had the smoked salmon club, which had some great thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes, really tasty local greens and crispy bacon. The portions were not huge either, which is a good thing for a traveler who wants to save room for their fancy NYC dinner reservations.

I can't wait to head back here next time I'm driving to the city (or if you were doing a Hudson Valley day and were head to the FDR Museum or something it'd be right on the way to that too). Its really great to have some good eating when you least expect it.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Anniversary Dinner At Angelo's 677 Prime

Ms. Garlic and I haven't been to what is frequently cited as Albany's best restaurant in a long time, so for our anniversary we decided to go. It still has many pleasures to recommend, but at least one main course was crucially flawed. To start with the high points, the service was friendly, efficient and polished. Our "lobster cocktail" appetizer (served with roasted corn pico, cilantro, crisp rice pearls, smoked maize, and a chili crema) was superb. The by-the-glass wine list is unparalleled in my experience in the city -- I had an excellent 2005 Barolo for under $15. The atmosphere is nicely romantic. I'll let Ms. Garlic tell you about her salmon, but it was very good. But -- apart from this, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play -- there was my steak. Not that it was bad, not by any means -- it was a high-quality, generous piece of meat that came with a pleasingly charred exterior. But given a very high price for steak that isn't advertised as and doesn't taste dry-aged, the execution has to be perfect. Rather than the requested medium rare, it was cooked to medium or a bit beyond, a temperature that would have been acceptable (if not optimal) for a rib eye, but for my leaner New York strip it rendered the meat a little tough. (I had a $23 shell steak at our surprisingly good hotel restaurant in Rochester that was tastier at half the price because it was properly cooked.) Readers may ask why I didn't send it back, a fair question. The server first asked before I had had a chance to taste, and in the extremely dim lighting distinguishing medium rare from medium would have been impossible. By the time she came back, I had eaten too much to be comfortable sending it back. I should have thought to use the flash on my phone right off the bat:
The salmon, also requested medium rare, came out even further past medium, although for a that dish it wasn't fatal. I'll turn things over to Ms. Garlic...
The highlight of the salmon was the delicious brown sugar tomato glaze, and I also really liked the tasty tomato salad accompaniment. The portion size was perfect. I really enjoyed the flaky texture, and it was a great anniversary entree. When we went a couple years ago I ordered the ridiculous sounding burger served on a croissant, and this time I was secretly disappointed I couldn't order that again (but maybe that's the type of thing one shouldn't make a habit of ordering, so that's alright).
Comparing 677 Prime to The Bear's, I would give Aneglo's the nod in terms of the appetizers, the accompaniments, and the drink options. But in terms of steak, I would say that The Bear's offered steak of similar quality, better prepared, at a substantially lower price point (especially when you consider that The Bear's includes vegetables and starch with the main course, whereas at Prime entrees are a la carte.) I would go back to Angelos for drinks and apps, or to sample other parts of the menu, but on the rare occasion when I want a steakhouse experience we're likely to head for Duanesburg.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

We Shall Return, And the Surprisingly Good Dining Options at the Price Chopper Plaza

As Ms. Garlic's recent post indicates, we promise to be back imminently with some discussions of dining here (home and out) and downstate. In the meantime, allow me to endorse the positive TU review of Tomo Asian Bistro. The lunch specials, in particular, are among the better dining deals in Albany. (Another one, incidentally, is against all odds in the same Slingerlands strip mall -- if you're able to make it on a weekday, the salad-and-small pizza lunch at Bellini's is excellent.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

My husband went out of town last week, and I decided to make all the things he doesn't really like. I had a whole bunch of eggs from a lady at my great new job who raises these kinds of chickens that produce different colored eggs. Aren't they beautiful?

I was browsing at Penzey's at Crossgates where I spotted some spearmint and thought making some mint chocolate chip ice cream was a great idea (both of our sets of parents can't get enough of it, and he's always saying how he doesn't get why people love the flavor so much). I have to say that I really really love Penzey's, and I love that they came to our area. I really want to support them. I love that you can go and stick your nose on into all their spices. I love their cocoa powder for making cakes. I love their green goddess salad dressing base. Their staff is always really friendly, knowledgeable, and often inspirational ("Hey, you like tacos? I will tell you what to try!"). Also, their catalog is good reading. I have actually made recipes from their catalog that turned out great - like a carrot cookie recipe that was moist and healthy. In their current catalog they have a west Texas theme which includes chili served on top of a savory waffle. You can always count on some weird sounding recipe in their catalog offered up by a real live home cook that just might be delicious if you give it a try. You may not think that spices matter that much (or the freshness of your spices - try to tell me you don't have something in your cupboard you brought from the city you lived in before this one, or unfortunately for us, things my husband had from the city he lived in 2 before this one - "Your sister just made ice cream out of chai powder I bought when I lived in Seattle?!!"). But once you start getting really tasty and fresher spices there is no going back. I love the cinnamon - they have like four kinds, but I like the Vietnamese the best. The dried peppers are great, and this time I also bought some "Sandwich Sprinkle" which has garlic, oregano, and many other things which I am sure will really knock a sub from Roma Foods out of the park. Anyways, I love it, and I think we are lucky to have a Penzey's in our area. They do a great job.

So I came home to mix on up a custard to make the ice cream. My recipe was from Ad Hoc at Home. You've got 2 cups of milk and cream that you simmer over a medium heat which you throw 1/2 cup of mint leaves into. You let it sit off the heat for 20 minutes. You strain the milk into a fine mesh strainer, add 2/3 cup sugar and whisk over medium high heat to dissolve the sugar.

You whisk 2/3 cup sugar and 10 egg yolks (I know its insane, but really delicious - also egg yolks stabilize the ice cream lessening the chance of developing ice crystals), until slightly thickened. Slowly, while whisking, add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture to the yolks, then whisk in the remaining milk mixture. Strain the whole mixture in a fine mesh strainer again into a saucepan. Prepare an ice bath. Put the mixture over medium heat, scraping it with a wooden spoon constantly until steam rises, and the custard thickens enough to coat the spoon. Strain the mixture, place the bowl in the ice bath, and let it cool completely stirring it occasionally. Refrigerate the mixture until totally cold, then put it in your ice cream maker for half an hour adding the chocolate chips in the last five minutes. I deviated a little from the recipe in that I added green food coloring cause I am sure that made it taste better than it would have if it stayed a weird light colored seaweed color. I also added in some white chocolate chunks, which I think were a nice touch. In my experience, it is really important that your mixture be really cold and the middle part of your ice cream machine be rock hard frozen in order to get a great final texture.

It turned out I didn't get around to actually putting it in the ice cream machine until Scott came back, and he had some and said it was delicious. That was a surprise. If only I can get him to say the same thing about pineapple on pizza.