Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Requiem For The Brown Derby

Ms. Garlic and I were sad to see the news that The Brown Derby was closing.  Sometimes, even a restaurant you were once a fan of closes after it's seen its best days.  The Brown Derby, though, after an uneven opening was really hitting its stride, with cuisine that matched what was widely acknowledged as a beautiful redesign of the space.

 We still had a gift card to redeem (Ms. Garlic was impressed enough by our earlier visit to get it as an anniversary gift), and we had an excellent meal this week.    Most impressive was the marinated pork chop Ms. Garlic ordered.   I'm a dissenter in the foodie rush to embrace pork -- unless it's smoked, cured, or (sometimes) barbequed, I generally find it bland.    But the pork, served with an flavorful chutney and the too-little seen Utica Greens as a side, was good enough that even I would have ordered it again.    My veal with potatoes, lobster, and asparagus was also a winner.    They had finally put together a high-quality, reasonably priced menu, and poignantly it seemed like the word was getting out -- every table was filled by 7 on a Wednesday.    I only wish it had happened earlier, and I hope somebody else will try to make the space work.

I was happy to see that the Mallozzi Group is opening a new restaurant in Schenectady; after our increasingly successful Brown Derby experiences we'll definitely give it a shot. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Outer Troy Tour

Today I got a real tour of outer Troy from my lovely new friend and professional cake decorator, Sandy. When I first found out she was a professional cake baker I am pretty sure I mumbled something like "livin' the dream!" even though I worked really hard for and am really lucky to have the job I have. Hoping to learn a thing or two from her, I suggested we check out the Confectionery House in Brunswick. It was way cool. You could make any kind of candy or decorate any kind of cake with the supplies from here. I had fantasies of buying all the candy bar making supplies and coming up with a cool combination called "The Emily Bar" to show up to the food swap with and give as Christmas presents, but I couldn't think of what that bar would be so I gave up on the idea. I bought a cool angled frosting spreader type of tool, brioche molds. and this awesome bear pan. Watch out, everyone I know, I am going to start showing up everywhere with bear shaped cakes!

Then we check out an Armenian market on the border of Latham and Watervliet. Former Albany resident Jess once wrote a story on All Over Albany about their delicious grape leaves, which the owner let us sample along with several other items. I bought a sort of Armenian pizza, which was a flatbread with beef mixed with tomatoes and spices to eat later. I also bought some great looking yogurt, crushed red pepper, and a falafel mix. They had some great looking items there (especially the pita and dates), and I will be sure to be back in the future.

I didn't even realize where Cohoes was before (north of Troy, east of Latham), but she took me on quite the tour. Including Cohoes Falls:

This is where the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers meet. Troy is off in this direction:

The mastodon from the New York State Museum was found near the viewing platform for the falls:

She suggested the Park Pub next to Frear Park in Troy. I had a lovely Mexican pizza which was made on a thin tortilla and had jalapenos, black olives, beef, cheese, salsa and sour cream. She had crab cakes. I tried them and thought they were really moist and flavorful. We talked about weddings, 90s music, and her working with Rachel Ray in the past. Great fun was had by all!

I only wish that I will one day be able to teach anyone as much about the area I live in as Sandy taught me today! Great fun, and any day that includes a bear shaped cake pan is pretty hard to beat!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wynantskill, I kinda love you

Where does summer go? When you are a kid, it stretches on with no end in sight.

 Below is a photo from my teenage lifeguarding days. Is that Sun-in? You mean like the disgusting comb-in hair lightener/fryer? Why, yes it is! Just awful!

But as an adult with brunches, BBQs, business trips, and countless hours spent working in an office in front of a computer screen (not sunbathing while reading a book), it seems like you eat a few amazing tomatoes and it is gone. Its hot. It can be sticky. You can forget why you are doing what you are doing, and why you were so enthusiastic about it in the first place. (As a side note - if you lose your faith in food blogging, this post alone can restore it almost completely.) A day can end with a coworker calling you, you both recalling something so frustrating that you both just end up laughing until you are almost crying out of crazy satire. Then, when you think of it later while walking down the street, you crack up laughing again because out of frustration comes the best humor. That is the point you need to take a step back. Why are you doing what you are doing? How did summers that meant bonfires, lazy weeks on end, and underwater handstands become meetings, sweaty Brooks Brothers pencil skirts, and such a blur of social activity that October flies in with one big sigh of relief? (I so loved this brown bathing suit:)

Well, it will be gone before we know it, and we'll want something to look back on in a snowstorm. I'm sure I said that last year. So I have long had the fantasy of getting a season pass at somewhere like Grafton Lakes and swimming every day after work all summer. I've thought this for two summers. When I finally looked into it I saw Grafton Lakes closes at 6, and I normally drive by there at 5:30. I spent most of this summer wishing I could leave early and go swimming. Then, the last couple weeks I started to notice the sign would say they were open until 6:30 or 8:30, and I got really excited. I even packed my bathing suit today, but then saw on their website that there is no swimming Wednesday and Thursday. Then I went on a long internet search trying to find another place to swim on my way home. Crooked Lake seemed great, but I wasn't able to locate where a public beach might be. I finally came upon Snyder's Lake. Something sad happened to a coworker of mine earlier this summer, and I delivered some sourdough bread to her (sugar for celebratory, carbs for sadness - isn't that how life works?). I was driving to the Hungry Fish Cafe for take out that day and saw all the beauty that was Snyder's Lake. I went into a meeting the next day and said to her "We need to make a friend on Snyder's Lake so we can swim there every day!". She laughed, but in the end I do have a friend on Snyder's Lake and that is the town of North Greenbush (for five dollars per time or $75 for the whole summer). I don't know why all this information was so hard to find, except that these towns don't have cutting edge websites and a lot of important information is hid in PDFs. Well, the beach on Snyder's Lake is open until 8pm, for three more days granted, but I am all prepared for next year.

 It felt like being on vacation on a random Thursday where my biggest plans for the night are eating my husband's puttanesca sauce and working on a freelance web project. All that feeling sweaty, bogged down, and generally exhausted turned into a crisp, fresh, reinvigorated feeling after about 40 minutes. Kids were making sandcastles, a guy that looked identical to my dad paddled next to me, and the lifeguards looked cool, competent and relaxed. My parents live on a lake and my mom always talks about a "golden moment" once a day. By that she means a moment when all of the houses on the lake are completely lit up by the sunset. Well, today on my way from point A (desk) to point B (couch) I saw that moment, just as the guy that looked like my dad sprayed golden droplets of summer sun with his casual backstroke. That's summer, and all that and the tomatoes (ok, cucumbers too) are what we can all remember in the dirty gray slush of February.

Other nice things about the Wynantskill area:
  • The Route 43 Hannaford has seen quite a bit of renovations. In fact, Saturday is their Grand Opening. They have a wing bar that just lets hot onion rings sit there at my most hungry point in the day (when I really just need to buy an onion for the pasta sauce). Well, I gave in a bought a few today, and they were actually amazing so that is not a good thing. They seem to have expanded their organics, bakery and meat areas. They have also added a local produce section and the olive bar is looking good (we had some garlic and olive oil marinated green ones and black Moroccan ones tonight, and they were great). I can say I knew you when, Little Hannaford,
  • We tried The Towne Tavern a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. We ordered a four cut white pizza as a appetizer, and the crust was delicious and homemade. Scott had half a BBQ chicken that was really moist and came with some delicious sauces (I think we liked the Jack Daniels one best). They were also really great about his nut allergy, and the waitress went and got him some sauce from the walk-in refrigerator since the tops of the bottles are all washed together. We really appreciated her not sending him to the emergency room. I had a turkey pot pie and really enjoyed the flavorful sauce, flaky topping, and fresh vegetables. Scott was less enthused about the beer selection, although I had one from Lake George that I really enjoyed. As a warning: if you are vegetarian you may not enjoy all the animal heads hung from the rafters, but I thought it was interesting to walk up close to say a stuffed bear that looks very scary and look him straight in the face. Fascinating. All around, nice people, food all better than it needs to be, and we'd love to go back.
In general, I'll be exploring that area more, and I am happy I don't actually need a friend on Snyder Lake to enjoy all that the Wynantskill area has to offer!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Party of One

I am having a party of one tonight (thanks to Wild Oats Market) and it looks like this:

Why is that you ask? Because after two weeks of dogsitting in North Adams I get to go home tomorrow. Hooray! What did I do in two weeks you ask? Some highlights:

 They played the Darien, CT team and were losing pretty bad in the first 6 innings. There were some really sloppy errors. One catcher even hit the batter in the face when he was trying to throw the ball to the pitcher. I had a great time though. They served Lickety Split ice cream. My husband is allergic to nuts, so I ate as many as I wanted while I was out here. I had butter pecan at the game.

The mascot, Slider, kissed me on the hand at one point.

 When they were losing I called my sister and talked about a Clue themed party she had. The more I talked to her the better they did, and they ended up coming back to win 4-2. So thanks to my sister for helping them win!

  • I thought a lot about solitude. I read this page that had some good quotes on the subject.  I think even if you are married, in a relationship or have a lot of friends that it is important to spend time by yourself sometimes and try to remember what that felt like. "What would I like for dinner?" "What would I like to do tonight?" I think that is important once in a while. 
  • I liked the garden. I feel bad about having made fun of my coworker's affection for cooking with mixes when I was here in the winter time, and I admit that it is a lot easier for New Englanders to eat locally in the summer.

  • I went out to lunch two separate times with some lovely lady coworkers. It reminds me of an interesting article I read that said every 10 miles you commute to work equals one less social connection that you have. Just being out here made me more likely to consider socializing with coworkers. 
  • I went to the Goodwill in Adams, MA and bought this beauty.

Yes, that actually says to raid your wastebasket for crafting supplies! Ah, my fav - crochet a hat using beer cans!

  • I went on a long search for something to make for the August 19 From Scratch Club Food Swap and ended up reading this girl's long biography on a blog called Undressed Skeleton. It is quite the story. Basically, mean girls replaced her contact solution with perfume because she was supposedly fat (I thought she looked cute in the 'before' pictures), and she became totally obsessed with being skinny. Ironically, I found her blog through a phyllo dough pop tart post she wrote that was featured on Tastespotting. I encourage you to go read her really honest biography - for some reason it sort of stuck with me. (For the food swap I decided on zucchini quinoa burgers.)

So there it is. Of course I miss my husband, but I also really miss my house. The kitchen here is really under equipped so I basically cleaned out my freezer for all my meals. I miss cooking, and I feel that it can really make you feel centered in your home. For more on this subject you can read this cool post on Apartment Therapy. I had a coworker once who I was explaining a watermelon feta salad recipe to, and she said "That sounds like it would take 20 minutes, who has the time?!" Well, I just think that if you are spending that 20 minutes watching the Kardashians or "What Not To Wear" then you do have the time, and in fact cooking is a more relaxing activity than some other activities like sitting in front of the TV. I'm not saying all I did out here was watch shows about weddings and airheads in southern California (but really who can resist doing some ridiculous things when they are alone?), I'm just saying I'm really happy to be going home. As usual, Albany I miss you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Truth in Food Blogging

It took me a long to get to a place where I have a balanced relationship with food. I previously wrote about the pressures on brides to lose weight. I also wrote about thinspiration on Pinterest. I've read quotes by the singer Adele where she says she has seen where obsessions with weight go, and she doesn't want to do that to herself mentally. So I'm against that - I'm against obsession, diet pills, girls I knew who would lick Doritos and throw them away on the side of the couch so their boyfriends would think they were actually eating chips. I'm in favor of vegetables and making some effort to get some form of exercise. Of course you want to feel good about yourself and fit in your clothes, but other than that I think worrying too much about weight can ruin your life pretty easily. If you won't even eat butter on Christmas or let your kids put white flour in a Father's Day cake, I don't think you are living life to the fullest. Life is too short for self-hatred and celery sticks.

 That all being said, when I went to a food blogger's conference a couple weeks ago I came back with a slightly different perspective. Let's pretend there is a really popular blogger who whips out layer cakes and weighs about 115 pounds. "What do you do with all the baked goods?" People ask. "Oh, give them to the neighbors, fill up the freezer, hand them out to people." So really, why are you making them if you don't eat them yourself, and really if people made all the things you wrote about, they wouldn't weigh anywhere near 115 pounds (they'd probably get pretty high up there pretty quickly). Wouldn't it be more useful if you wrote about what you were actually eating? When I first became interested in food blogging I read about the term "cheese sandwich blog". A cheese sandwich blog is supposedly a blog where the person talks about boring things like what they ate for lunch. Well, if the alternative is a person baking a gorgeous and ornate colorful layer cake and then throwing it out (I met someone who did this), then I would actually rather hear about what the person ate for lunch. I said "Isn't it sort of dishonest? You don't want to get fat, but you are trying to inspire other people to eat that. Why not blog about a salad?" The blogger who threw away the cake said "I'd only blog about a salad if I had really great photography." She then went on to say that desserts get great blog traffic. It is all a bit gratuitous. Tastespotting is a bit of an offender in terms of just letting you spy on very beautiful and idealized images of food (at least it isn't all desserts though I guess). This week I actually saw Food & Wine magazine at the drug store and thought it was tedious, and I didn't think that before the conference. Yes, we get it. Great food stylists and photographers can get amazing pictures of food, but in real life it looks silly and obsessive. Food bloggers can write long posts about how much they love their grandmother and give you a super idealized picture of a pie. But is the pie just there as an excuse for them to have people listen to them talk about their grandmother? Did they actually eat the pie? Did their family think it was annoying that they insisted on taking pictures of the food every minute instead of sitting down to talk to them? Is the format of the person showing supposed 'vulnerability' (like oversharing in a way that would make it uncomfortable if you met them in real life) and giving you idealized and staged photos, actually better than you just reading the recipe in a cookbook, making it and moving on with your life? Would you make the pie if you hadn't read it on the blog? Is it that healthy to always have baked goods around the house instead of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains? Of course, the blogger wouldn't get much traffic talking about instant oatmeal and steamed spinach so they aren't going to write about that. Is their quest for blog traffic making you cook unhealthy things?

I guess all that I am saying is that maybe its just food. Its nourishment, and cooking is fun, but food bloggers can actually be kind of annoying. Sometimes baked goods don't stand in for hospitality, love, or some larger grand sentiment. All that butter you see looking fabulous on the internet is not actually that good for you, and when you think that the blogger who made it didn't even eat it herself and is skinnier than all your friends - it is sort of irritating.

Monday, August 6, 2012

River Tavern and Sol LeWitt House, Chester, CT

Every year at the museum where I work we take the interns on a field trip. Last year we went to Boston. This year we went down to Chester, CT to see Sol LeWitt's house, studio, and warehouse. We also had a fabulous lunch.

LeWitt is great. I loved an exhibit of his work I saw on the roof garden at the Met in NYC in 2005. I loved the one at the Wadsworth Atheneum. I even made LeWitt cookies which depicted the one we have at my work. And I am sure we all love the installation that we be at MassMoca through 2033. He has a way of cheering up dreary spaces and making you think about the ways lines and shapes connect. His pieces make me feel inspired, like a deep breath of cold, fresh air.  It was really a great experience. We arrived at his house, and saw that he has a variety of very interesting outdoor sculpture around the grounds of a regular looking colonial style house in a normal looking neighborhood. Then we went inside. Every room was painted a different bright color on the wall. There were all kinds of very interesting works of art from all kinds of different artists. Every time LeWitt sold a piece to a gallery he bought a piece from that same gallery. He even swapped pieces with other artists. He was also very supportive of women artists as early as the 1960s. All these practices make me think that he was incredibly democratic. He makes art fun, and accessible to all. He also once said that he would exhibit anywhere that asked him, and so ended up showing his work even at libraries and nursing homes. I think that is incredibly inspirational. My favorite work inside the house was a Kiki Smith piece made out of plaster and beeswax. It was a woman's head upside down with her hair extending about 6 feet down to the floor. It was actually plastered into the wall. It was amazing. I loved the variety of art objects and amazing Josef Hoffmann furniture he bought in Vienna. There's something about seeing art displayed in a person's home, arranged the way they actually lived with it (reminded me of Monet's house I visited as a teenager), that feels way more intimate than any museum gallery could ever feel.

Then we walked out to his studio behind the house. He apparently blasted classical music while he worked on his large, colorful wall drawings. He had a bulletin board where he posted ephemera people sent him and things he found interesting. It really gave us a sense of his process. 6 or 7 days a week LeWitt woke up early, got a lot of drawing done, talked on the phone to his assistants, and then had someone drive him to Middletown, CT to go swimming. It was so great to actually be in his studio where it all happened.

Then we went to lunch at the River Tavern. First of all, this town is really adorable. It is totally worth the visit, especially if you go on a trip to Mystic (about half an hour away). Second, this restaurant is a real gem. It was appropriate for us to go to after spending the morning at Sol LeWitt's house because they have LeWitt prints displayed all over the walls. All the food looked amazing (there were 15 of us). They serve locally grown foods made from scratch. I had a BLT, but it was on a baguette with a great crust and had a basil aioli. It was so delicious, and we had a great view of the charming town behind us. Then, one of my coworkers ordered a round of their specialty - "baked to order date pudding with dark rum caramel sauce & whipped cream". Everyone went crazy for it. I read the guest book on the way out and almost every commenter gushed about this particular dessert. All my coworkers agreed it was amazing, even some who don't like dates.

Then we visited the warehouse that houses the rest of the 11,000 objects LeWitt owned that aren't on display at the house. This included a lot of works by him and lots of underrepresented works he collected. They had all kinds of interesting ephemera too, like his childhood drawings.

On the way back, the sun was setting in New Lebanon, NY and Hancock, MA, and people just kept saying "It is so beautiful!" "Look at the beautiful Berkshires!". The director of the art history graduate program, his wife, the education intern, and I all agreed we felt like we had gone on a family road trip. We had some laughs, exchanged some gossip, and me and the education intern even pretended to complain about each other ("Mom!!! She's breathing my air!" "Tell her to stop singing!"). 

Take home points:

  • You have got to love Sol LeWitt - with his colors, his democratic spirit, his work ethic, and his crazy grid obsession. He proves contemporary art can be infused with humanity and personality. Being in his house and studio made me want to work hard and enjoy life (he was also a huge wine connoisseur).
  • If you go to Chester, CT go to the River Tavern. Be sure to order the house specialty the date pudding. You won't regret it.
  • As I probably mentioned in my intern trip post last year, you can work with people for years and not know very much about them. You can even feel intimidated by them when you see them around town. Then, you can share a road trip with someone, have them offer you half their oatmeal raisin cookie over coffee, share a satisfying lunch, easily find out things you never knew, and all of a sudden you feel like friends.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dogsitting and Cucumber Salad

I'm still out dogsitting in North Adams, MA. My coworker went to Alaska, and I'm here with Chance and Dakota, Chesapeake Retrievers.

Usually I make fun of mixes, cookbooks, and a whole philosophy of food that is different than mine. This time I am doing more exploring, maybe since it is summer. I basically cleaned out my freezer and brought a whole bunch of veggie burgers and zucchini pancakes I made a while ago so that makes up for the fact that the kitchen is under equipped. There's also a garden. I picked a bunch of stuff from the garden like my coworker told me to do.

Everything just keeps coming and coming. I bought some white distilled vinegar, and then tried to make a cucumber salad based on the seasonings they have around here. You may remember my previous experimenting with cucumber salads.

They don't have a lot of basic seasonings here, but they do have grilling seasonings. The Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick seems pretty versatile and tasty. It has garlic, pepper, salt, and onion, and in my week here I have tried it on a variety of foods. I threw on some of that, crushed red pepper, kosher salt, and a whole lot of vinegar. It turned out tasty!

It seems that if you start with cucumber and vinegar, you can adjust the seasonings however you want based on what you have available and it can turn out really good.