Thursday, December 27, 2012

Least Stressful Holidays Ever

We didn't travel anywhere for the holidays this year, and so far it has been really relaxing. I was wondering why people make the holidays into such a crazy thing, but then I thought of my favorite holiday things in the past.

In 1990, my grandmother gave me a dollhouse she had made that had real electricity, actual newspapers and magazines, bacon and eggs cooking on the stove and a whole family complete with a dog and a pet turtle.

It was awesome, and I am sure it was probably stressful for her to make that whole thing herself in addition to all that she did for all the other people in her life. The fact that I remember this fabulous dollhouse and that Christmas in general 22 years later must point to the fact that it is all worth the stress - at least maybe for relatives of small children. But for me now, let's hear it for the least stressful holidays ever. Brought to you by:

  • French press coffee (so, so delicious). I got the Bodum 8 cup Brazil French Press for Christmas, and it works great.

  •  Jacques Pepin's soda bread made into breakfast sandwiches with eggs given as a Christmas gift from my new boss courtesy of her husband's chickens. 
  •  Pajamas from Ann Taylor Loft, and a book I am reading I bought a long time ago called Sometimes Madness is Wisdom about the marriage of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. They drink too much, throw wild parties, jump in fountains, and hang out with Ernest Hemingway - fun all around!
  • Rounding the bases to the finish on the last season of "Alias". I wrote about some thoughts about the show at the end of this post. Besides being influenced by Sydney Bristow's fashion sense lately, and those previously stated comments about the whole show possibly being about the role of work in modern life, what is also interesting is in my own life having watched the entire show in college. At that time, I worked 40 hours a week, took four classes at a time, and had no idea how I would end up. To watch a show again years later is like hearing a song from another time in your life, or reading Jane Eyre again - it takes you back like nothing else. I think mostly it makes me remember how anxious I was then about the future, and how little I knew about adulthood or the professional working world. This all makes me think of the words of a very wise woman - "If you live only in the past you are angry, if you live only for the future you are anxious, but if you live in the present you are at peace". Great words to live by when thinking about the new year approaching. Sydney Bristow is a great character. She's strong (obviously), sincerely kind, ridiculously smart, and ethically solid. She was probably a good character for my college self to have spent some time with (in retrospect I can't really say the same for the "Sex and the City" crew, although I know they were a big part of the reason I moved to New York City), but as an older person now I feel bad for her sometimes. She accomplished a lot in the world, sure, and my college self was fascinated by all of that, but at what cost? Now, getting to the end of the series a second time I can't wait for it to end because I know it leaves her on a beach with her husband. Years later, I've come to appreciate the idea of balance in life a lot more than I did in college. On that note, its really nice to have some time to relax. Just like this time last year I made a recipe for challah bread that started with 9 cups of flour (what?). Check it out at the end of this post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Staples: Mediterranean Pasta

We sometimes like to go to the Troy farmer's market without a preconceived notion of what we'd like to prepare for dinner, because sometimes the available ingredients will suggest a meal themselves.   A couple weeks ago, we got some lemon pepper fettuccine from Flour City Pasta, thinking it would come in handy later that week.   But when we sampled and were then compelled to purchase some remarkably good feta from Danascara Cheese, a meal immediately suggested itself: a Mediterranean pasta dish. I've been making variations of this since learning a basic recipe from my mother.

Since we had a frozen chicken breast we started with that, although it works very well as a vegetarian recipe as well. After putting the pasta water on, saute the chicken breast, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a little olive oil. Add some red pepper flakes. After the chicken is browned, add some minced garlic, shallot, or if you're me both. Saute for 30 seconds to a minute, then add a small can of Italian tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes if they're in season.) Let the sauce simmer. About two minutes before the pasta is ready, put in a can of unmarinated artichoke hearts and the juice of 1-2 lemons. Add the pasta when it's ready, and crumble feta cheese over the top. Serve it with a green salad and you've got a terrific meal that can be done on a weeknight.

And definitely try the feta from Danascara Cheese next time you're at the Troy farmer's market, it's terrific.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mrs. London's Bakery and Cafe

Dear Mrs. London's,

I love you so much.

I love your baguette (pictured above) - so crispy and flaky on the outside and yet chewy and moist on the inside. It is a marvel of baking perfection that I can't accomplish since I spend my days running around a museum, but payng you $4 is well worth the price.

I love croissants too (I haven't tried them, but Daniel has).

I love the look of all of your pastries, and simply just being in your store.

I love that stopping for anything, not only gives me something that tastes great and vastly improves the sophistication level of whatever I am having for dinner, but makes me feel vaguely glamorous - like I should be carrying a hat box and going to pick up my poodles from the groomer (yes, I will take a pistachio macaron, thank you!).

I love you like I love a sparking rosé wine on a hot and humid day.

I love you like I love Valentine's Day.

I love you like I love meeting a girl who loves watching "13 going on 30", vintage clothes shopping, reading interesting books, planning ridiculous theme parties, fantasizing about making Baked Alaska, and plotting extensive European vacations that won't actually happen any time in the foreseeable future.

I love you like I love Forever 21 - a little fluffy, not totally great for me, a little indulgent, fun all around? Exactly.

I love you like I love an episode of the "Real Housewives of Every City" where no drinks are thrown in anyone's faces, and no one storms out in a fit of anger.

I love you so much I can barely describe.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Preparations and "Alias"

Holidays can be stressful, but I am determined not to feel that way this year. Instead of traveling, going broke, and feeling overwhelmed, how about we remake the holiday season into being all about cookies, television, and pajamas?

There is no reason to get worked up about the commercials with the big bow on the Lexus in the driveway. What I like best about the holidays is someone walking up to me and handing me a jar of homemade granola - simple, thoughtful, not expensive. Check out my post about homemade Christmas gifts last year. I also like cookies - lots of cookies. Check out my Edward Hopper cookies I made last year (am I the only person who Googles "art history inspired holiday cookies"? the search results are not impressive). Also, check out my post about the cookie exchange I organized last year at my former workplace. But - enough about last year!

We received a Miro sculpture on loan at my new job, and there is something about it I really love. I could stare at it all day. So for the staff holiday party, I wanted to make a way for that the sculpture to come to the party! You'll notice I failed at some key elements - like, the pitchfork. I made meringue pitchforks, but they were breaking very easily. Then, I bought some Twizzlers right before the party and thought I could drill them in, but then the heads started breaking off. So no pitchforks for most of my cakepops. You'll also notice the white sticks. I wanted to cover the sticks in black duct tape, but I couldn't find any at Michael's. Check it out:

There are many small, thoughtful things you can do for all kinds of people in your life. Some ideas for this can be a jar of chocolate covered espresso beans (which I wrote about on From Scratch Club) or a bag of homemade mini pies (check out my post about those here):

I'm going to a cookie swap tomorrow, so tonight I am making cinnamon bun cookies. Check out the recipe here. I still need to make the icing, but they are looking pretty good I think:

And on that note of the holidays being more about television, let me tell you some ideas I have about the show "Alias". You may want to sit in your pajamas over the holidays and watch it all on Netflix. I am up the the last episode of Season 4 (it is nice to accomplish things in your life). The show brings up some interesting questions, like is Sydney Bristow a feminist figure? But, I think what it makes me think of most is the role of work in modern life. Of course, she is unique in that her job involves lots of exotic international travel and the craziest, most varied wardrobe known to man, but I think many aspects of Sydney Bristow's life can be considered universal. Look at how much she gives up for her career over the course of the show - her friends, her academic dreams, her fiancé. Sure, she dates Michael Vaughn, who the college version of me thought was a real heartthrob, but she seems to end up suspicious of him at various points in the show, and he got married after only nine months of her being missing. In season one, she has a normal life and the contrasts between her spy life and her regular life are played up and make for interesting drama and comedy. But for most of the show, her entire life is her career. After season one, she has no outside friends. Sure, she has the weird coincidence of working with her father, sister, and alternating rescuing and chasing down her mother, but she never has relationships again like she did with Will and Francie. She gets to fight for what she thinks is right in the world, wear very sharp looking suits, and work in a chic office - but I have to say it seems to suck to be Sydney Bristow. Or perhaps it makes you think that your work relationships are very important - that they aren't just extra relationships you are forced to have, but in fact some of the most central relationships in your waking hours. That is depressing I know, but that starts to be the message the show sends. You better like what you do for a living, because you might not get to do much else. I think the show also plays into a fantasy of living vicariously through her - who wouldn't want to know every language in the world, beat up bad guys on a regular basis, be that beautiful without seeming to care about your looks much, and feel like you are really making a difference in the world? Nevermind that you could die at any moment, you don't have any outside interests, and you don't really trust anyone in your life. What a fun show to watch!

Anyways, here is to taking it easy this holiday season and not letting society, Martha Stewart, or anyone else make you feel like you should be doing anything different.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chaos and Buttercream

My friend Sandy is a total cake-making genius. What I mean by this is that she does awesome things like putting a drop of cheesecake oil in her frosting and creating cupcakes that are unbelievably light and fluffy. I've gone to parties where I end up taking 4 cupcakes home, and they don't make it through the night. She has recently branched out on her own and created "Chaos and Buttercream", and she has a website! Check out her amazing and beautiful cakes here!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

From Scratch Club Holidays

Check out I'm featured in the From Scratch Club podcast this week. Also, I wrote a post about chocolate covered espresso beans.

Dream Puffs S'more

This morning I was successful in getting off the couch from my watching Alias on Netflix, and we made our way to the Troy Farmer's Market. We got some great items, and saw a lot of cool people.

I'm a huge s'more fan, and when I saw these at the DreamPuff Marshmallows booth I could not resist. I took it home and put in a 350 degrees oven for about 5 minutes. This is a ridiculously delicious item!

 I really enjoy making marshmallows (last year I mailed them out to half the people I know). But I will admit that they make a big mess in the kitchen, so I am happy to buy the DreamPuff ones (usually at the Book House). I also made some graham crackers for the food swap last month, using this recipe. Homemade marshmallows are way, way better than the commercially made ones. The texture is fluffier, and they just taste way better. Homemade graham crackers have a more nuanced flavor and a softer texture. Therefore, homemade s'mores are a brilliant idea. What is also fun is that the chocolate on these is a light layer spread on both sides of the crackers. Fabulous!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery, Valatie, NY

We had my husband's friend from grad school in from Ohio for Thanksgiving last week, and we really showed him a tour of the area. We took him to Bennington, Cooperstown, and down to the Poughkeepsie train station - all in a three day period. On our way down the the train station, we passed the Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery, and I was so excited to see where that was I actually did a U turn.

The Harvest Farm Distillery seems most famous in this area for making applejack. The applejack is very tasty, and for a dollar per taste you can try that or any of their other products: grappa, rare pear brandy, peach applejack (which we liked a lot more than we thought we would), or Core vodka. If you return your empty bottle from any of their products to them you receive a free shot glass. If you return two empty bottles, you receive a very cool looking brandy glass. If you return three empty bottles you get a surprise (I think you get nothing). Here's a look at inside their tasting room:

We bought some of the vodka, which you can tell I like by this picture:

I find the vodka to be really unique. It is made from apples, and I really think the flavor comes through in the finished product. I think that it would be totally delicious mixed with the Maplejack liqueur from Finger Lakes Distilling (check out my write up of our visit there on the From Scratch Club). I haven't actually had those two products in my house at the same time to give that theory a try, but I think they'd be a great match. I really like to support local businesses where I can, and I said as we were leaving "vodka has no taste anyway, so you might as well buy the local one and help out the local economy right?". Scott said "As long as it is properly distilled". Funny enough though, after I got home and tried the vodka some more I realized that it is actually very, very nice and not in the way that it lacks flavor (it is vodka after all), but in that it is really a crisp and refreshing product.

We had a great time visiting the distillery and would love to go back again. As a side note, you can also purchase doughnuts, maple syrup, apples, and other local varieties of produce in the adjoining farm store.  Doughnuts and vodka you say? Yeah, go check it out!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving at Our House

Our Thanksgiving festivities really started on Tuesday night when I drove up to Oscar's Adirondack Smokehouse in Warrensburg to pick up our boneless half ham. It easily fed five adults and two kids with plenty leftover. It was an easy drive from Saratoga where I am now working, and the shop was very cool to visit. They have all kinds of cured meats, cheeses, and sauces. I also picked up some summer sausage that we added to our charcuterie plate (filled with other goodies from The Cheese Traveler). My new coworkers seemed to find my ham errand very funny and referred to me as a courier (as one is to valuable paintings that travel from an art museum). They also asked me if I put a seat belt around the ham, which wouldn't have been that crazy considering how great their products are. It was a really delicious ham, and totally worth the trip up there (you can also purchase Oscar's products at Roma Foods and Cardona's). Rounding out our Thanksgiving table (what no turkey?) was maple glazed carrots, cauliflower braised in white whine with anchovies, a white loaf I made ( I made it previously too), some delicious mustard with tarragon for the ham, and trifle that my friend brought (consisting of layers of lemon pound cake, berries, and whipped cream). We also enjoyed some Ravines Riesling.

Check it out:

We were thankful for lots of things including the Tigers beating the Yankees in the baseball playoffs, and the results of the election. Most of all, I am thankful for friends who feel like relatives, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Revolution Hall Wedding Reception, Troy

A couple years ago Revolution Hall stopped being a venue for concerts and became a private events space. Now you can have your wedding there!

We went to a wedding reception there last night. There was a totally awesome photo booth the groom and his friend built. Here was the result.

We had such a great time! They are such an amazing couple! Also, I still love weddings. I'm the type of girl who wishes there was a Valentine's Day every month. At this moment, I am checking out a "Bridezillas" marathon. I have to admit to still checking out Ruffled and Style Me Pretty when I'm totally bored or stressed. I will also admit to having the impulse to buy a Martha Stewart Weddings magazine once in a while, but resisting the urge. Perhaps I'm meant to be a crafty, low-key, totally personalized wedding planner. I do seem to have kicked the David Tutera habit completely, so that is something. I don't think weddings should be about materialism, weight loss, or conformity. I loved the book "One Perfect Day" by Rebecca Mead, but I still melt when I read this post on WeddingBee and I really loved the book Altared edited by Colleen Curran. I know many people feel overwhelmed by weddings (brides usually), but in the end it all seems worth it every time (as a guest). Last night included: whisky, Brown's beer, cake, animal print dresses, ridiculous multicolor suede heels, a dapper man in a kilt, conversations about bridesmaid dresses, kisses on the dance floor, the groom dancing with his mother, chatting with people I met at the bridal shower, silliness, goofiness, the bad Albany cab system (me declaring my plans to run for office and fix it), one amazing funk band (Jocamo), and one beaming, lovely, tattooed bride. More proof weddings don't have to be completely traditional to feel incredibly romantic.

The hors d'oeuvres were really nice too. There was: lots of cheese, baked brie, beef and chicken spiedies (apparently a specialty of the Binghampton area), spanakopita, portobella pieces coated in panko crumbs and fried, and fried calamari. It is a great layout for an event because guests can talk in the lobby, sit up in the balcony area or downstairs, hang out at the bar, or make their way to the dance floor. It also has a cool, hip vibe. It is definitely a great space to have a wedding reception, and we had a fabulous time!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saratoga Spice and Salsa Company

I have been a huge fan of Saratoga Spice and Salsa Company for years (or as we call it, the hot sauce store in Saratoga). Recently I mentioned it to Deanna of Silly Goose Farm, and it was a shame that she didn't know what I was talking about. It is an awesome little store in the middle of town with more kinds of hot sauce than you might even know existed. They have a tasting booth set up, and in the past when we weren't able to decide which one to get, we were able to try all of the hot sauces and get a sense of it before making a commitment (as a sly marketing move they also sell bottles of water now).

Here are some things we've tried and really enjoyed from there:

  •  Marie Sharp's Hot Habanero sauce because it has carrots in it, which sweetly complement the heat just a bit. 
  • Their own salsas are very good including the Tequila Lime, and regular medium level heat salsa. I am pretty sure we once tried a red wine salsa they made, but I don't see it listed on their website. They are all really well balanced in terms of taste and texture (not too chunky or too watery).
  • We tried their own Bloody Mary mix once, and it was spicy and flavorful. If you are not sure about it, they sell mini bottles so you can try it. We don't really drink Bloody Marys, but I like to put Bloody Mary mix instead of tomato juice in my French Laundry cookbook's gazpacho recipe.
  • They sell these jalapeno chips that are like fried jalapeno pieces that my sister's boyfriend loved (again - it is useful they sell bottles of water).
  • The front of the store has recently become more of a spice area. They have all these really interesting salts. We bought espresso salt which is fabulous on a burnt caramel pudding recipe I make. It would also be great on brownies. All it consists of is espresso ground up and mixed with kosher salt, so if you were hard up I could imagine it as a great food swap item. We also got Merlot Salt, which we think will be amazing on most beef dishes.
  • We also got a bottle of peppers from the Amazon soaking in vinegar. You can use the vinegar in salad dressings, and then replace it with more vinegar for a spicy kick. I made the mistake of putting three habaneros on my salad because I didn't even try how hot they were first, which pretty much burned my face off. The only thing that made it feel better was eating cream cheese, so don't do that.
You can really spend quite a bit of time poking around this little shop since there are so many great products to choose from (just try not to burn your face off)!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fancy Brunch Party

I've long wanted to have a fancy brunch party. We've got a lot of cookbooks, and I read about things that sounds fabulous and laborious like stratas, frittatas, and quiches. Are you really going to wake up on the weekend and start rolling out a pie crust? No, no you are not. I have made in the past mushroom ricotta crepes, cinnamon buns with buttermilk icing, and the first thing I ever cooked on my own from scratch was a goat cheese and leek quiche. Well, we all know the best thing to motivate you to cook fancy things is to invite other people over, and what is more fun than a fancy brunch? Here's someone who likes the idea as much as I do. Martha Stewart also has some ideas, and I love them all.

My friend Katie and her boyfriend came over, and I set up a spread of things that could easily be made ahead of time. I don't think having people over for brunch would work as well if you were off flipping pancakes and folding omelets while your friend is talking about their schoolwork or you're trying to tell some long, convoluted story about your week.

We started out with a yogurt parfait. I layered Brown Cow yogurt (which is completely amazing), and pomegranate seeds, and drizzled on some honey I bought at the Berry Patch farm store.

I put out some dilly green beans I helped my friend Jessica can from her garden awhile ago because her arm was broken. She took the class through From Scratch Club and got the recipe from the book Food in Jars. The green beans turned out to be really delicious, and were improved I think by the garlic and cayenne pepper in the recipe.

I made cinnamon buns, which came out better the first time I made them but no one noticed. The yeast was a little old I think. The thing about baking is that you can cover most mistakes in icing.

I also made an apple cheddar quiche from the Gardner Museum Cafe Cookbook, which I totally love. I wrote about that cookbook before. Everyone loved the quiche, and my friends commented that it was really pretty. I thought the apple cheddar combination was a nice choice for autumn in the Northeast.

My friends bought apple cider and mulling spices, which made the house smell amazing. I started out with lavender Earl Grey from the Whistling Kettle, and moved on to a cafe au lait.

I like going out for brunch, but there is also something really fun about making a fancy brunch at home!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sad Desk Lunches

I'm here to say that real life is not as beautiful as Tastespotting. How does that make us all feel? Inferior? Pathetic? Like we don't plan out our meals well enough or make them look beautiful enough? I didn't really want to write a "How Emily Really Eats" post for the From Scratch Club series. Why not, you ask? Because it might be like "I had a hard boiled egg, a Special K Protein shake, and then my husband prepared a beautiful roast chicken dinner, and we had a fabulous Pinot Gris from the Finger Lakes". There are things to be embarrassed about, like eating lunch at your desk. There is even a chick lit novel called "Sad Desk Salad".

This is why I love so much the tumblr Sad Desk Lunch. The reason it is so much fun is because it is honest. I love it. It makes me feel great in a way that Pinterest can make me feel bad (if you haven't read it, check out this great New York Times article on the topic).

Monday, November 5, 2012

This Weekend was great because...

This Weekend was great because:

  • It started out with a gathering at Brown's, where we had some tasty beer, some ridiculous nachos, saw some old friends, and met some interesting new people (including a romance novel writer and her daughter who has an interest in liberal arts colleges).
  • The movie "The Master" at the Spectrum 8 (very interesting) and delicious fish and some great tempura at Sake Cafe in Slingerlands. Scott was so impressed this time that he thought it beat out his favorite sushi place in Queens.
  • Fabulous autumn arugula salad at New World Bistro, a place for us that always seems to be filled with goodwill. When the food runner we don't normally see says "Hey guys, I remember when you got engaged!" (2 years ago), that is community love right there. Of course the food there is great, but its the people who really put it over the top.
  • From Scratch Club food swap! Which is of course great because I scored some of my friend Sandy's cupcakes and delicious lime cordial among other equally as great items, but what was really cool was half the people in a filled up room congratulating me on my new job. I've started to think about when I was a teenager and the internet held such a lesser role in people's lives. Back then, people called each other when they wanted to hangout instead of creating a Facebook event, but the larger sense of community the internet helps to create can sometimes be really unique. Listening to someone gush about Dream Puff marshmallows, and being able to immediately introduce her to the nice lady who makes them? That is cool. Leaving when it was dark on a street I heard someone yelling racial slurs and accusations of narcotic addiction on my way in, and the same nice lady yelling out to me "Where are you parked?" and slowly driving to make sure I safely got in my car? That is heartwarming.
Here's to a great weekend, and the last five days going to a job I've done for 3 years. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mark Bittman's Quick Braised Carrots

Check out my post on From Scratch Club!

Club Helsinki, Hudson

 The week before last week, we went to the Magnetic Fields show at Club Helsinki in Hudson. I hadn't really been to Hudson before outside of an Amtrak car, and I'd always heard great things about it. You can just get tickets to see the music, but it is way classier to get a table and eat dinner while you watch the show. Also, the menu is great. It is Southern inspired and makes use of local, seasonal ingredients.

I got their first and ordered a glass of Pinor Noir which was very tasty, and some of the fried okra with a Cajun remoulade to start. I happen to love okra done right, and this dish had a nice corn meal crust which wasn't greasy at all. I took in the surroundings, like what I imagine the Copacabana to have been like in some far off past decade.

Scott showed up and we got some of the delicious beers from nearby Chatham Brewing. For dinner, I got the Helsinki burger, which was really juicy and "topped with applewood smoked bacon,  roasted portobello, carmelized onion, NY cheddar" with housecut fries. It was fabulous. Scott the "Great Aunt Theo's Fried Chicken", which comes with "mashed yukon, gravy, and collard greens". It was the most flavorful fried chicken I had ever tasted. Yes, it is hard to screw that up, I am sure, but it was legitimately outstanding fried chicken. The spot is filled with moody ambiance, and it really has a way of taking you out of the mental space of your work week. We are so lucky to have such a unique, creative, classy, and fun venue so close to home. As a bonus, the food is also great. I cannot wait to go back, see an interesting musical act, drink a local beer, and probably order that pot pie they have with an aged New York cheddar crust. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Reflections on Williamstown

It is an exciting time for me. Detroit Tigers are in the World Series (though playing terribly), the election is coming up, and I'm changing jobs (hooray!). I've been really liking the John Mayer song "The Age of Worry". Here's some of the lyrics:

"Don't be scared to walk alone/ Don't be scared to like it
 No, your fight is not within/Yours is with your timing
Dream your dreams but don't pretend/ Make friends with what you are
Give your heart then change your mind/ You're allowed to do it
Cause God knows it's been done to you / And somehow you got through it"

 This all makes me reflect on the town I've spent the past three years working in.

Of course, I was lucky to get a job when the economy was terrible in 2009 in my chosen field - even one that was temporary, grant-funded, and in a different state around a steep and sometimes snowy mountain. It wasn't always easy though, and I am now even luckier to find a permanent job closer to home.  There's research to suggest people who commute long distances are less socially integrated in their communities. The time commuting was realistically 2 hours to 2 and half hours per day that I could have spent exercising, reading, or out for coffee with friends. I actually found New Englanders to be incredibly reserved, and sometimes even suspicious of outsiders. There are also some really unique aspects of the town itself as an elite enclave. People in Williamstown don't see their peers as Pittsfield, Hancock, or Bennington, and definitely not North Adams. They see as their peers pockets of groups in NYC (Upper East Side), Boston (Cambridge), New Haven, or Princeton. I found the stark divisions between small towns that are very close to each other in desolate surroundings very interesting, and difficult to understand in the beginning. It was even harder to explain to my friends when they came to visit me out there. I first encountered these attitudes when I had to gallery sit for an artist who had set out to portray the differences between North Adams and Williamstown. People came in already upset and ready to tell me about all the ways they felt slighted in their daily lives by people who lived in Williamstown because they lived in North Adams. It was unreal, and it sounded like high school cliquishness.

That all being said - it has got what is often considered the best liberal arts school in the country. Its the best of everything taken for granted. Of course your intern took the train down to go to Per Se last weekend. Of course you know heirs to chicken fortunes, offspring of fashion royalty, and kids who say things like "I'm from the kind of family where I'll never have to worry about money". I once saw someone take a limo from NYC to Williamstown. Its a random Tuesday and you might get to see Barbara Ehrenreich or Lawrence Summers speak, and is that Leonardo DiCaprio in the coffee shop? No big deal.

So, for you, I'd thought I'd run down a list of the businesses in town and give my opinion of them.

  • Mezze - Widely regarded as the best restaurant in town. The ingredients are all top quality and from farms so close you probably passed them on your way there. Everything is well executed, and its a beautiful spot. With any luck, I'll be back here in the future .
  • Saigon Spring Vietnamese Restaurant - I like the Vietnamese restaurant. It is fairly new. I like the Pho and the stir-fry tofu. I really like the Papaya Salad with peanuts and shrimp in it. I think the food is not greasy, not prohibitively expensive, and uses fresh ingredients. Order by the number listed next to the dish on the menu - that'll just make it easier.
  • Sushi Thai Garden - I am not a fan of this place. I think it is greasy. I think that the balance of Thai food in sweet and salty is more difficult to do than you would think. I feel like they just cook up a large batch of noodles, leave them in the water all day, and scoop them out when people want them. I do not know if this is true, but I feel that way based on how it tastes. I only went here when other people wanted to. I never went because it was my choice.
  • Water Street Grill - This is greasy pub food, which you want sometimes. My coworkers took me here on my birthday for lunch once. I love the onion rings and waffle fries. I love the portobello sandwich and a bourbon chicken grilled sandwich I had once. The fish and chips are legitimately outstanding. The baked scrod lunch special is healthy and tasty.
  • Amy's Cottage - Pretty much if you got a gift from me in the last few years it was probably from here. Some visitors don't go in here because they assume it is for old ladies, but I've got some great items from here. I love their scarves, cards, clothing, bath items, and decorative kitchen items. I've been less into the jewelry in about the last year. Sometimes they get items in I think are really great, like the tunic pictured in this post. The staff are super nice, and sometimes they have pretty good sidewalk sales.
  • Spice Root Indian Restaurant - I really like the Indian restaurant. It is legitimately spicy. Once in a while when meeting people, I went to the lunch buffet and found it to be a great time. I thought some items were actually impressive. I remember the first time I went three years ago - I was starving on a cold and rainy day. I was treating myself, and I thought it tasted like the best Indian food I've ever had. It never really lived up to that feeling after that, but I think I'll miss this place. Some people are less keen on it, I think because there isn't another Indian choice, but I always liked it. 
  • Pappa Charlie's Deli - Sandwiches named after celebrities who hang around town for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I love the egg sandwiches. I'd occasionally treat myself to a Lauren Graham (hot turkey, roasted peppers, and alfafa spouts) or a Mary Tyler Moore (BLT with avocado), and they were high quality sandwiches.
  • Hot Tomatoes Pizza - Some people don't like this style of pizza with the big chunks of tomatoes in the sauce, but I always liked it. I liked the veggie which had a good variety of toppings (including spinach and olives), and I always liked their mushroom pizza. They also sell gelato, and they just added crepes and paninis to their menu.
  • Wild Oats Coop - It isn't cheap, but it offers some of the best food items you could ever hope for. Muir Glen tomatoes, Cricket Creek Farm cheese, beef from Ioka Valley Farm, Vermont Smoked Pepperoni, Maplebrook Farm Mozzarella, great bulk items, and local produce. It is a dream if you just ignore what all that is costing you. I go here and then make the best pizza ever.
  • Tunnel City Coffee - Some people don't like the coffee. I know students who hated it so much they stopped drinking coffee altogether. I like the pecan turtles, pistachio French macarons, iced coffee, and espresso. I also have a coworker whose toddler goes crazy for the decorated sugar cookies. Most important though: What kind of coffee shop closes at 6pm when it is the only one in a college town? Really? It is a problem.
Obviously, I am excited for my future, but I'm trying to do all my favorite things one last time. I also can't help feeling like I am going to miss my coworkers. You announce you are leaving and all of a sudden you have a parade of people in your office telling you how much they love you and how great you are at your job. It is hard. I'm trying really hard not to feel guilty, and I really hope my replacement is going to be amazing. I am reminded of this quote from "The Office":

“The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day.” –Tim (Martin Freeman), the UK The Office finale

It's true, they aren't your friends or your family, and yet it is a totally different bond that seems real in its own way. Looking forward now, I'm totally open to Saratoga lunch suggestions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Apology to McGriddles

I always thought Mcgriddles at McDonald's sounded totally disgusting - sort of like Paula Deen's Krispy Kreme sandwiches. But today we stopped in at McDonald's for breakfast, and Scott got one. I was very skeptical at first, and I found the first bite interesting. I took another bite, and then I realized something - it isn't supposed to be like a weird mix of sweet and savory, it is supposed to be like a portable version of pancakes that is not as messy and does not take as much time to eat. Actually it wasn't half bad - certainly not the most disgusting thing in the world. Who knew?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

NYC Weekend

This weekend we headed down to NYC for a quick trip. Our friend Jacqui, co-owner of a wine bar we loved when we lived there Rest-au-Rant, is moving back to Berlin forever, and there was a farewell party for her. We felt that Jacqui herself and that particular establishment at a certain point in time was really important in our lives, so it seemed right to say good-bye. We had the Spanish sausage for an appetizer that was oven-roasted in red wine sauce and spices. It was fabulous. See full menu here. We had a couple paninis for old time sake too, because we always used to get them years ago.

It was great being able to say good-bye to our friend, and another friend of ours, Megan, showed up. She's from Scotia, and of course in a Smallbany moment knows my friend Elizabeth who I met in a totally different way. A couple other people there were from the Capital Region. One talked about how much cheaper it would be to raise her kid if she moved back here near her parents, and another former Capital Region resident went on and on about how much the Tech jobs around here are going to boost the economy in the future. Small, small world.

 Then we embarked on a part of the evening where we felt like we were Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the movie "Date Night". We got on an F train that became a D train in the middle of the Lower East Side where everyone knows it is difficult to get anywhere from late at night on the weekend. We tried to hail cabs who would just refuse to take us to Brooklyn (I think that is illegal). They'd just shake their heads and drive off. Really nice. We finally found another F train, and got where we were staying - but the point remains that to take a train from Queens to Brooklyn on a Saturday night takes almost as long as it does to take a train from Albany to NYC. There was a girl on the train who said "What is the point of paying if it never runs properly?" And at that point along with a discussion of how much better our grocery stores are up here, we took a moment to appreciate what we have now.

This morning we went to Char No. 4 with our friend Lindsay. Can I just say they have bourbon Bloody Marys - enough said there? They make their own sausage, pickles, biscuits, and it is all delicious. We always seem to go there for brunch when we are in Brooklyn, and it is hard to beat. We also like One Girl Cookies. I got an assortment of cookies, my favorite probably being the chocolate shortbread with a mocha filling. Scott got some chocolate and pumpkin whoopie pies. They are fabulous with their delicious cream cheese filling.

On our way out we met some more people at Floyd in Brooklyn Heights. It has an indoor bocce court and big comfy chairs. I had Bluepoint Pumpkin Ale and really enjoyed it.They always seem to have a rockin- party around the Kentucky Derby.

We had a fun trip! It was nice to pop in and see the sites (and by that I mostly mean friends, beer, and cookies).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Frozen Yogurt at Crossgates Mall

As part of my Treat Yo'Self this afternoon I checked out Yeh! Yogurt in Crossgates Mall. This may be the first time in the history of this blog that I have genuinely disliked something. Ugh! It was like ice milk - grainy with a viscous texture and cloying flavors. I tried the cheesecake and vanilla flavored yogurt. Toppings were alright, but there is no getting around the yogurt tastes bad. I don't say Yeh! I say Nay! Yogurt. Check out Kristi ranks the area's frozen yogurt shops! About Yeh! Yogurt Kristi says: "It tastes similar to ice milk with little flavor and even less creaminess."

Much better I think is the Yo D. Sert near the movie theatre. I am pretty sure that one seemed way more reasonably priced, but you'd have to compare directly to know for sure. Tour de Crossgates Yogurt - Daniel!

Whistling Kettle - Again

You know I love the Whistling Kettle. I once wrote about the tea and another time about the whole experience. Well, I checked it out again today, and it was a lovely lovely lunch. It was quite possibly a little celebratory lunch, so I decided to treat my self.

You know how I love the Berkshires, but if all goes well there could be a lot more buckets of fried chicken in my future. So I say, treat yo self!

I got a pot of the lavender Earl Grey because I absolutely love it.

This tea is just so elegant. The subtlety of the lavender and the Bergamot oil mix so beautifully with the high quality tea. It is the kind of delicious food item that makes you stop and think. It slows you down, and forces you to just live in the moment.

Also, they have reconfigured their seating since last time I was there. Look at these cool, tall, comfortable booths:

I ordered a curry chicken salad sandwich with pecans and a side salad.

I got the ginger dressing which was amazing. They cut the crusts off the sandwich bread for an extra touch of class. It was totally fresh and delicious. The spice was perfectly balanced, and I think it even had grapes in it. I am a sucker for a good chicken salad. The waiter was so friendly coming by like "How is your possibly celebratory lunch?", to which I said "Delicious!!"

Very lovely. TREAT YO SELF!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finger Lakes Distilling

Check out my post on From Scratch Club about Finger Lakes Distilling.

As an update, I saw yesterday at Exit 9 in Halfmoon that they sell a whole range of their liqueurs including the Maplejack one I described.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Early Fall Activities

Hello Internet.

I have not typed at you in a while. What have I been up to, you ask? My coworkers and I were in a craft fair. We were proud of our display:

My in-laws came to visit, and we checked out Yono's. I thought the food was fabulous, and liked that it felt light in my stomach even though clearly a lot of thought and skill had gone into the preparation.
See my amazing lamb with coconut rice:

 Husband's red snapper with flageolet beans:

We had a great time at the Fresh Grass bluegrass festival at MassMoca where we also really enjoyed the "Oh, Canada" exhibit. We checked out Mezze in Williamstown too, which everyone loved.

 I've made use of my bear cake pan I bought at the Confectionery House with my friend Sandy. I made this one for my friend Elizabeth.

I went to my cousin's wedding in Michigan, where my sister put the bridesmaid dress she wore for my wedding on me.

There was cake we didn't get to eat, and a whole assortment of pastries the waitstaff seemed to think we were eating too much of.

My sister with the pastries:

I hung out with my sisters and my mom. I am reading the book "Maine" by J. Courtney Sullivan which really makes me appreciate the differences in perspectives of various women in a family.  My grandpa danced with my mom.

To top it all off, there was a "Legally Blonde" musical with my favorite friend ever, which has a great message about being who you really are. I also feel it has a message about how it is hard for some professions to take young women seriously, and how even if you want to be professional and serious, you do want a friend at lunch time who you can talk about Bradley Cooper sitings around town, wedding planning or Real Housewives. My favorite part was when Alissa said "Emily is brilliant, but thinks it is perfectly normal to spend an entire day watching Beverly Hills, 90210 and then totally over-analyze it." Hilarious.

So, Internet, now you are all caught up, and now I can tell you about the Circus Cafe we went to today. I'll also be having to think of a Thanksgiving menu, and I'll probably have my now annual bad attitude about Christmas. I also might put together a fancy brunch party.

I'll be glad to have things slow down for a bit here. Happy autumn!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Food Swap, September in Troy

I've wanted to make Thomas Keller's oreo recipe for a long while now, ever since I read the recipe back in 2010 on Tracey's Culinary Adventures blog. Yesterday my friend Jessica and I were at J & A's Prep Kitchen talking about what to make for the From Scratch Club food swap (derryX went there last year). I was like "Bagels? Pasta? Hmmm..." We talked about low fat foods while eating fattening appetizers, and I said I thought about making oreos one day. Her reaction was like "Ohhhh.." and that made me think it was a good idea to just go ahead and make them. High brow/low brow, fancy from scratch junk food - best of all worlds.

First, I chopped up the butter. I got this awesome knife when my coworker went to Alaska as thanks for dogsitting. It is an ulu knife. People in the arctic in the past used it for everything including cutting hair. It is a really nice knife and perfect for cubing up butter.

Then you combine all the dry ingredients and mix in the butter one small cube at a time. This takes a while, but it will all eventually get a sandy texture.

You wrap that up in two sections, kind of pressing it together and chill it for half an hour. I then rolled out the sections between pieces of parchment paper. This takes a little elbow grease. Then I cut them with a biscuit cutter, although you could really make them any shape you wanted.

The filling is essentially a white chocolate ganache, but after I made the first two bags for the food swap I went a little rogue. I beat in cream cheese, vanilla extract and a bit of confectioners sugar (the recipe only calls for white chocolate and heavy cream). I handed them to my husband, and he said "Even better!"

What did I get for my oreos you ask?

Well, a good time was had by all! There were a lot of delicious items!

 That is: Chicken Pho (we are having it for dinner), tzatziki sauce, bread and butter pickles with a little spice to them, corn salsa, maple bacon marshmallows, and jalapeno poppers (here those are cooked).

Hooray, I did well. I wonder if one thing we can learn from this is that it is cool to bring things people can actually just heat up and eat. I wouldn't normally think about making an appetizer people just have to pop in the oven, but I think that is nice for a Sunday evening first course (well played, Jessica!). They were delicious. I really enjoyed sampling the onion jam and fava beans, and I like how people sometimes bring household items like coasters (even though I didn't get any of them). 

I guess I am a little bit running out of ideas of what to make for the food swap, and googling "What to bring to food swap" brings back results I find a little clichéd. Does anyone have future food swap ideas?

I'm glad people liked my oreos!