Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: Homeward Bound

I have just finished reading Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar. I thought it was a really interesting book, and during the time I was reading it I would talk about it to anyone who would listen. Basically, it explores trends and attitudes as far back as the 1880s regarding homemaking, and she interviews a lot of individuals currently involved in urban homesteading, attachment parenting, blogging about cupcakes, and selling scarves on Etsy. I definitely find myself very low on the spectrum of DIY compared to most of these people, and I have to say right now that I think reusable toilet paper is gross. A big part of the desire to return to the home as the author lays it out, is that the workplace hasn't really been that great for women, especially mothers. When you're unsatisfied with your job, it is a lot easier to glorify ways of doing things that were left behind decades ago for good reasons.

I don't really fantasize about living on a farm. We were at Millbrook Winery a couple weeks ago, and a girl behind us said she wanted to work in a vineyard. Her boyfriend was like "You know it is like bending down in a field don't you? Its not what you think it is." And I thought that was pretty funny. If you were actually raised on a farm, most likely you would think it was hard work and be really excited to be able to buy bread at the store, and have your life not be filled with back breaking labor at some point. But the book doesn't just feature wannabe farmers, it features wannabe full-time homemakers too. I guess if I am going to sound totally retrograde for a moment, maybe we can talk about Porsha Stewart from the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Last season, she would sleep in, walk around her beautiful house, do her hair, go out to lunch with a bunch of her friends, sit in the hot tub with her husband for a bit, and organize a charity event for civil rights. She was nurturing her friendships and her passions while having the time and money to make herself look totally fabulous. If that was similar to the life of a 1950s housewife, who wouldn't want that? Well, fast forward to this season, and Kordell Stewart divorced her out of the blue, and she found out about it on Twitter! Now she is living with her mom, and that right there friends is the real problem. Technically Porsha was working at her civil rights charity, and I am sure she makes money from Bravo, but for most people filling your days with whatever you want at any given moment often means you aren't contributing to your long-term stability in any way. Even if you are making your own proscuitto in your basement or have your backyard filled with a vegetable garden, I'm not sure what happened to Porsha Stewart couldn't happen to you. If you are at home full-time, you aren't contributing to retirement savings or out in the world making connections that could turn out to be important mentors or friends. So while I don't fantasize about living on a farm, when I saw the movie The Help with their bright floral dresses, big hair, and cat eye glasses, and their playing bridge with their girlfriends in the middle of the day, I did weirdly think there was something nice about that lifestyle, but anyone who read the Feminine Mystique knows the cost was financial independence, and that cost is too high.

As far as farm-fresh, from scratch food, of course that is what many of us aspire to be eating. This summer, I was making smoothies for breakfast and gazpacho for lunch with ingredients mostly from the Troy Farmers Market and usually from The Berry Patch of Stephentown. It was all delicious, healthy and local. But you know what? For breakfast this morning I had one of these poptarts that have holiday images printed on them. Whatever. We like Stewart's Eggwiches, which I mentioned to some coworkers who looked at me like I had just said I ate from dumpsters. Even if you want to eat healthy, local food, it is unrealistic to expect that all of the time, especially in upstate New York in winter. The author points out that eating from scratch food made completely from ingredients from the farmer's market is the new upper middle class status symbol. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort. Sure, I'm a girl who makes my own English Muffins, pasta, and things like that, and who once wanted to make homemade candy corn (to which my former boss said "Why would you do that when you can buy it for a dollar?"), but I am an amateur compared to a lot of the people in this book.  And whatever, am I an expert at everything? No. Maybe we should put more pressure on people who's jobs it is to prepare our food to follow our values more? The author mentions a woman who grew up with a lot of canning in her family who thinks the current mania for canning is hilarious. She says: "I remember my aunts' summer canning days, boiling all those tomatoes in the kitchen with the windows closed. It was so hot, and so much work!" And yet somehow, I think there seems a lot of competition among people I know to DIY the most. I felt this way with wedding crafts too. I won't name names, but when my friend was making hundreds of tissue pom-pom peacock feathered napkin rings, and I said to my husband "I need to make tissue pom poms!" he said "No, you don't!". People thought I made my own dress, and I didn't. It was madness. If you had to pay someone for the hours I spend working on my wedding, it wouldn't have been affordable for anyone. And yet, think of all the books I wasn't reading, all the time I wasn't exercising, or talking on the phone to people. Why do we feel like we need to do it all ourselves? I think it was because I really wanted a homemade aesthetic, but why does it feel like a competition? And, also how funny since in some circles homemade aesthetic would just mean you couldn't afford store-bought things. I actually really like making chicken stock, but I'm here to tell you a Stewart's Eggwich won't kill you. All these things are only actually fun if you are choosing to do them, and doing them to keep up with whoever is its own form of oppression.

There's also a chapter called "Knit your own job". Making a living off your crafts isn't really promising. Say you spend even a low amount on craft supplies from Michael's and you had a coupon - maybe $10 per piece, you spend $25 to rent a booth at a craft fair, you drive $10 worth of gas, you spent a lot of time on your crafts and driving there and sitting there. You have to charge a good amount to make it worth it, and you have to end up finding the right person for each piece (maybe you won't). Even if you sell a few things, you could have probably gone to work at McDonald's for the day and made more in the end. You have the satisfaction of knowing those people will look at your artwork in the houses and enjoy it, and that's nice, but its not as easy as you think. It isn't like you whip up something cute and stylish and all of a sudden don't have to go into the office anymore. That chapter was good, especially pointing out that the internet makes it so someone who is selling their crafts in New York has a much higher cost of living than someone in rural Nebraska, and yet they are competing for the same customers. Also, someone who is trying to make a business out of it is also going to be charging for their time, whereas someone who is doing it for a hobby might not. Are you going to buy the $60 scarf or the $20 one? The Etsy business is an attractive dream, but just a dream for most.

I think lastly I'll address the anti-consumerist attitudes by people interviewed in the book. This is tied in with the anti-corporate feelings, and  downsizing their lives to focus on people more than things and time more than money. The author points out how in the 1980s and 1990s women were encouraged to go into the workplace and serve grocery store rotisserie chicken to their children and try their hardest to climb the corporate ladder, and how young women of today are thinking there may be other ways of doing things. In my own family history, my maternal grandmother stayed home and baked and raised six kids, my mother was around a lot (even though she has said that she remembered encountering some people who thought that was weird in the 80s and 90s), and my childhood had a strong emphasis on work and productivity. I always thought I would be someone who would be really focused on their career. When you have a childhood filled to the brim with piano lessons, soccer, French club, AP classes, summer jobs, and the strong expectation to be great at everything, you are raised to be a person who wants external validation. The author makes the argument in the book that one way New Domesticity is different from Old Domesticity is that highly educated, modern, and creative young women aren't content to sit and wait for the kids to be done with school and bake a cake from a mix. They are making cheese and laundry detergent because they left their unsatisfying jobs, and yet they don't know how to stop being overachievers. As a person working in a really competitive field where advancement opportunities are few and far between, and some museum directors only make $40,000 a year (!), I get this. But I have to admit to something awful: I tend to like consumerism. Sure, I love thrift stores and repurposing objects from the flea market, but its because the vintage charm reminds me of my grandmother. My coworkers were making fun of me for having gone to a restaurant at the mall for my 30th birthday. My coworker said "Your husband is a hip, happening professor, and he took you to the mall?!" and I said "Uh, I am secretly the girl from Clueless, and I secretly love the mall". When I lived in New York City and something was bothering me, I went and walked around Queens Center Mall (sure, I moved to NYC because it had things other than malls, but when I was upset that was what I wanted). I was a teenager in the Midwestern suburbs in the 90s. I go to the Burberry store at Woodbury Commons and see trenchcoats marked down from $1600 to $800, and I think "Oh, maybe one day!". I definitely don't think "I should quit my job so I have more time to sew a trenchcoat myself."  I love Instyle Magazine - the slickness, the fun, and the optimism consumerism sells you. When I watch The Real Housewives, what percentage of it is hate-watching and what percentage is a tiny bit aspirational? I don't actually know, but what I do know is that I totally copied a hairstyle the bridesmaids wore at a wedding on The Real Housewives of Miami when I went to work the next day.

To say, "Go back to the home! Raise Chickens! Downsize! Real feminism is being empowered to do everything yourself!" goes against my entire upbringing. It goes against the materialism of the Michigan suburbs in the 1990s, it goes against the strong competition I felt for grades in high school AP classes and college, it goes against wanting all the things that millions of dollars in advertising have kind of made me want, it goes against everything I felt when I read The Feminine Mystique when I was 16, and it goes against the satisfaction I feel when I open my TIAA-CREF statement and think that despite what a hard field museums are and the fact that I don't make much, I might be ok in the end. The New Domesticity, despite representing so much my friends and I are interested in - blogging, baking, aprons, from scratch everything, creativity and self-reliance - also goes against almost everything I've been raised to do, and everything I've ever really wanted.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Judy Rogers's Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower

Judy Rogers, the chef at the Zuni Cafe in San Fransisco, has passed away at the far too young age of 57.  I've been using The Zuni Cafe Cookbook for more than a decade now, and love it so much that Ms. Garlic and I ate at Zuni on our honeymoon.  I now make sure to get there every time I'm in the Bay Area; it's fantastic. 

This seems like a good time to share a slight adaptation of my favorite recipe from the cookbook, a wonderful one-pot pasta dish:

1)Saute cauliflower and broccoli florets in olive oil over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, with a generous portion of red pepper flakes. (Start salted water for the pasta in the meantime.)

2)Roughly when the pasta's ready to go in (assuming it's dried, which you definitely want with this sauce), make a little hole in the center of the veggies, add a little more olive oil, and then a healthy portion of mixed garlic and finely minced anchovies. 

3)After you've put in the pasta and the garlic is fragrant, mix it all together and add roughly a cup of white wine and some thyme and oregano to the sauce. The liquid should be at a good, bubbling simmer.

4)About a minute before the pasta will be ready, add rinsed capers to taste (salted better but not crucial.) Black or green olives are also nice here, and definitely use them if you're omitting the anchovies. 

5)Drain the pasta, and then add to the sauce and mix. Add some Parmesan if you have it.  Optional but good:  add a cup or so of toasted bread crumbs.

Trust me -- it's fantastic.  We'll definitely be eating it this week, and then do her chicken with bread salad (sans pine nuts) this weekend.  R.I.P.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Astonishing Quasi-Return of Mahar's

This is exciting news for local craft beer aficionados.   The Allen Street Pub near St. Peters is essentially becoming the new home of Mahar's, including the beer tour.  Here's the note on their website:


Particularly since it's walking distance from us, this is excellent news.  I'm sure we'll see some of you there!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dancing Ewe Cooking Class

My in-laws bought me a gift certificate to the Arts Center of the Capital Region for Christmas last year, and last week I used the certificate on a cooking class. It was so fun. Have you seen the Dancing Ewe Farm at the Troy Farmer's Market? They usually have a line of admiring onlookers and really attractive looking charcuterie. Dancing Ewe Farm is a farm in Washington County ran by Louisa and Jody Somers. They have 150 sheep , spend part of the year in Italy harvesting olives to make olive oil, and are all around really impressive, laid-back people. The class that I took was about how to make things with ricotta. I personally love ricotta, but I don't ever really know what to do with it.

First, Jody explained to us the whole history of making ricotta in Italy and what it is used for over there (hint: its not globbed into lasagna the way it is here, its more likely to be served with an appetizer plate and some bread slices).

Then, we made a dessert. It was a really delicious ricotta mousse.  Luisa said that she believes the secret to good cooking is using quality ingredients and simple recipes. She said most of the recipes she makes are from her mother in Italy, and that she doesn't change things up too much. The ricotta mousse was so much better than I was expecting, and she topped it with some of the fabulous fig marmalade they sell at the Troy Farmer's Market which had some lemon zest in it. Basically, she just whipped up some Battenkill Creamery heavy cream with some powdered sugar and rum and whipped in a pound of ricotta. So amazing. They also supplied us with wine pairings, which was very thoughtful. You can read the mousse recipe on their website.

Then, we learned how to make gnudi. I watched a Martha Stewart special on it once, but a lot of people didn't know what it was. Gnudi is basically the filling of ravioli made a little firmer, and then made without the pasta on the outside (nude in Italian). We made ours with swiss chard from the Troy Farmer's Market blanched and then chopped up, mixed up with ricotta, an egg, salt and pepper, and flour. You basically want it to be firm but still a little moist and light. Then we all rolled them up into balls that looked like cookies and rolled them in flour. We threw them into a pot that had a drizzle of olive oil in it and salt and you know they are done when they start to float. Then, we made a sauce with butter, salt and pepper, and sage. It was pure heaven. I couldn't believe how easy it was and how impressive it seemed after we made them. All of us in the class stood around with a real sense of accomplishment at the end, staring at our big bowl of gnudi. I said "Can we add basil or garlic?" and Luisa said "No, the flavors are too delicate, keep it exactly the way it is in the recipe." You can read the gnudi recipe on their website. Check them out:

Taking a cooking class is a fun thing to do - you meet new people, you learn new things, and you find that some things are really easy in practice that may seem difficult when you read about them in a cookbook. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Squash and Squash and Squash

A couple weeks ago I was at The Berry Patch in Stephentown looking at produce. They had 18 different kinds of delicious looking squash, and the nice farmer lady, Dale, told me I should try them all and blog about my comparisons between all the different types. Well, that was a great idea, but I have to say I'm not sure I can eat enough to keep up. I bought this beautiful Blue Hubbard from them at the farm store and then went on to buy an acorn and a butternut from them at the Troy Farmer's Market a couple weeks later, and just this first one alone created 10 portions of soup. Isn't it a beautiful squash? I had never really heard of a Blue Hubbard before, and it is so delicious. It has a really unique flavor - not too sweet like some other ones. It took me like an entire Saturday night to carve it on up.

I was talking on the phone to my mom for a very long time and at the end she said "That must be a whole lot of squash!" It was. I measured it - 6 pounds worth! Do you think its funny I spent a Saturday night talking on the phone to my mother? Yeah, just like this girl

The soup I made it all into turned out great. Want the recipe? It is from the New York Times Essential Cookbook with some changes I've made.

Squash Cider Soup

Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add one sliced shallot, one minced clove garlic, and 1/4 cup water and cook until the shallot and garlic are softened. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Add three cups peeled, seeded and cubed squash and enough chicken broth to cover the squash. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the squash is soft probably like 20-40 minutes.

I use the immersion blender to puree it, and that works great. Puree it all and then add 3/4 cup apple cider 1/4 cup sour cream, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and blend until well combined. Top with more salt and pepper, and if it seems bland, maybe a splash of champagne vinegar.

Delicious! And very healthy.

This weekend we also visited the oldest winery in the country, Brotherhood Winery. Their wines are all very solid, and the space is beautiful. We brought home a bottle of their Dry Reisling and a bottle of Blanc de Blanc for our friends who were hosting a Halloween party. Fall fun all around!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bonefish Grill, Colonie

Ms. Garlic and I were fortunate to be invited to the new Bonefish Grill on Wolf Road.  Obviously, there are certain limitations to this kind of event.  It's not really possible to evaluate the service an ordinary diner will receive, and presumably the kitchen is likely to be on its best behavior.  On the other hand, we were able to sample a much wider range of food than would otherwise be possible for one or two visits, and everything we sampled was available to all diners and prepared as stated on the menu, so in that way it would be representative of a typical visit.

With however many grains of salt you would like to add, what did we think?  Well, overall I would have to say that it exceeded my expectations substantially.  Two of the dishes we tried were outstanding.  And by this I don't mean "better than I would expect from a chain" but just flat-out good, something I would be pleased to be served anywhere.  The first knockout was the Ahi Tuna Sashimi:

This was a good dish to evaluate the kitchen because it's going to rise or fall on the quality of the ingredients, and it was superb -- the tuna was indeed sashmi grade, beautifully rich, and the sesame and pepper crust nicely complemented the fish without overwhelming it.

Almost as good were the crab cakes. They were dominated by an unusual taste so rarely found with any strength in crab cakes served in restaurants: crab.  These weren't the typical "fried bread with some flecks of crab that might as well have come from a can if they didn't" discs that typically pass for crab cakes.  These were mostly high-quality crab prepared correctly with a nice remoulade, and I'm looking forward to having them again.

The third appetizer -- the Indoesian calamari -- we can't really evaluate properly. By the time we were seated, the other diners at our table had already sampled the platter, so most of the hot peppers were gone and the remaining calamari -- which were perfectly good -- were no longer hot.  A couple people at our table were raving about the fresh version but we can't really say one way or the other ourselves.

None of our samples of main courses stood out quite like the tuna and crab cakes,  but everything was at least decent.   We tried a variety of fishes with a sampling of five sauces -- mango salsa, Asian glaze chimichurri, lemon butter, and Newburg.  The salmon Newburg (prepared with spinach blue cheese) was the class of the group, and I very much liked the Trout Chimchurri.

I'll leave it to Ms. Garlic to evaluate the sampled cocktails, which were well done for what they were but since I'm a cranky traditionalist not really my thing.  (If we go for a drink before a movie I'll make sure to report back on the quality of the Manhattan.)  My favorite of the drink samples was the Sokol Blosser Evolution, a lovely white Oregon blend paired with the appetizers.  The dinner pairing was Menage A Trois, a familar California blend of Zinfandel, Cab. Sav. and Merlot which is quite good for the price but wasn't an ideal pairing with the generally citrus-accented dishes I was trying.  As is generally the case with chains, the wine list consists mostly of wines available in virtually any wine shop, although within that limitation it was quite well-selected.  (Bonus points for having Louis Martini, the very good California cab we chose to serve at our wedding.) 

Emily says: The cocktails we sampled were: "The Bee's Knees Martini", which according to the menu is a "1920s Prohibition era throwback. Made with honey + lemon" and gin.

I think Scott liked it ok, but thought it was much sweeter than anything he'd normally want to drink. I say that gin is delicious enough on its own, don't try to cover the flavors up too much. I had a "Fresh Apple Martini", which I thought was pretty good. It was very appropriate for fall and I really liked the spice sprinkle. It consists of vodka that has had apples soaking in it for three days and is finished with an apple garnish and some cinnamon and sugar.

With dessert they brought out a drink called "Espresso Martini". I think everyone at our table liked it, but didn't really want any more to drink at that point. They smelled great, they looked great, and they were very tasty. I guess the thing is that I am usually not going to order a sweet drink with a dessert. It is pretty much either/or type of situation, but if you were in the mood for this type of thing I think it'd be great to have again. This drink consists of vanilla vodka, kahlua, creme de cacao and espresso. It comes with a raw sugar and cocoa dusted rim which was very tasty. I think everyone at our table especially liked the rim garnish. I think overall its a cool space too. I like the classy outdoor furniture, all square, lounge-like and comfortable - straight out of your Pottery Barn catalog. The space is neither loud nor pretentious, so that's cool.

Scott continues: Because of my allergy limitations (which they accommodated in a very friendly manner) I skipped most of the deserts, but the creme brule I was able to sample was very good.

Overall, based on our visit we would have to say that it's a valuable addition to the area; it's certainly one of the best dining options if you're on a trip to TJ's or the Colonie Center.  Given the quality of the appetizers and the large comfortable bar area, it seems like an especially good place for a drink and apps before or after a movie.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Towne Tavern, Averill Park

I've been out dogsitting quite a bit lately in North Adams on the weekends. I've been watching these dogs for almost four years, which seems crazy. This has meant marathons of David Tutera and Bridezillas and the sort (last night was the last episode of Bridezillas ever, how is that even possible? End of an era!). It has also caused me to feel incredibly nostalgic for my old job. What is nostalgia really? How are you nostalgic for things you chose to leave behind? Are you nostalgic for parts of yourself you seem to have lost, or some rosier version of life that never really existed? An important ingredient for nostalgia to exist is time - enough time gone by to forget negative aspects of things. One thing I know is that the more ambitious you are, the more difficult it is to feel grateful for what you have, so there's that.

Anyways, so I've been meeting my husband at The Towne Tavern in Averill Park because it is a good halfway point. We've been exploring different aspects of the menu over multiple visits now. Sometimes when a menu has a lot of different things on it, you wonder what the place does well or what you are supposed to order. Like the Cheesecake Factory menu that is bigger than the Bible, too big of a menu seems to communicate something negative about the place. But at the The Towne Tavern, the menu has a lot of variety and everything we've tried has actually been really good. The BBQ dishes are very tasty. They have a variety of sauces (my sister liked the maple bourbon one the best and I liked the Jack Daniels one when we asked to sample them all), and you can just tell the BBQ is going to be great from the strong smoky scent that fills up the parking lot. We've now also tried the pizza bianco (a small one makes a delicious appetizer), and the pretty brilliant picante onion soup (like a southwest inspired French onion with pepper jack cheese on top). I also really like the jalapeno appetizer where the peppers are stuffed with cheese and sausage and baked (insider tip though, the raspberry sauce competes with the other flavors too much, and pairing the dish with marinara sauce is way better).

Today I had the Averill Park Warrior burger (which has carmelized onions and mushrooms), and it was very delicious. The burger had a great char and the bun was really fresh with a light texture. Check it out:

Scott had the BLT which is simple but fresh and satisfying. They make the chips there themselves.

Oh and they have some nice local beers, and some other good ones like the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, which I enjoyed very much.

We never know what to order when we sit down here, and I think it is because everything we've tried has been really good. It is hard to even decide what genre to have because they do it all well - pizza, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers.The food is all quite a bit better than it needs to be.  The staff is all really friendly, there's some crazy taxidermy all over, and today we were noticing some other cool decor objects such as vintage license plates and a collection of vintage bottle openers.

I'll be happy to go home, but its nice to explore things out this way too. The fall foliage is definitely breathtaking.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Let's talk about breakfast again

Years ago I wrote a post about breakfast. What I think is funny is my tone that I actually knew anything (calling it a guide, for example) and then not really seeming to like any of the options I could think of except for carbs. What I also think is funny is that I was mentioning the very recipe I just sat down to type out right now because I was telling my mom about it on the phone today. If you are still thinking about a recipe three years later, you were pretty much meant to make it.

I still agree with that first paragraph in that post about not really knowing what to eat for breakfast. But I have also tried a few new approaches lately that I can elaborate on.
  • For a long time I was going with the idea that protein for breakfast would make me feel full longer than carbs would. I got really into cooking hard boiled eggs and tried many different recipes to find the perfect way of doing it. The best way of doing it turned out to be Jacques Pepin's, and here it is: "Put the eggs straight from the refrigerator, in a saucepan large enough to accommodate them without crowding. Add enough warm tap water to cover the eggs by at least a generous inch and set the pan, uncovered, over high heat. Once the water begins to show signs of reaching a rolling boil (212 degrees on a thermometer), keep it as close to this temperature for 8 minutes. Then plunge the eggs into cold water at once to stop the cooking." 8 minutes at 212 made perfect hard boiled eggs every time. You can make a whole bunch on a Sunday, peel them, and store them separately by how many you plan on eating each day. They also go great on salads, and as a breakfast option they are cheap, nutritious and low in calories. The problem is, let's face it, hard boiled eggs are not exciting. If I was a ballerina, sure, and then my lunch would consist of a grapefruit ok. But despite the obvious benefits of this as a breakfast option, and despite having done this for a good 7 months straight, I seem to be just past this phase in my life. I tried to carry on the protein for breakfast option for a while afterwards by eating roasted turkey slices from Trader Joe's, but somehow that got boring too.
  • As with my current enjoyment of Melrose Place (not even the newish one, the one from 1992-1999), I've continued the trend of getting on the bandwagon of 1990s trends many years too late by getting seriously into smoothies. Smoothies are brilliant, I thought to myself over the summer, you get so many nutrients, you can customize them to no end, and you will never get bored. I was going to the Troy Farmer's Market and buying peaches, and going to Trader Joe's and buying super cheap frozen pineapple. I was adding honey, vanilla beans (expensive but such a lovely luxury in the morning - and also pretty reasonably priced if you buy them at the Christmas Tree Shop in Colonie Center), ginger, cinnamon and making them so delicious. I was filling up 5 mason jars at the beginning of the week and I was all set. There is also something really great about yogurt in the morning - it soaks up any acid that might be in your stomach from too much Mexican food or whatever the night before. Why did I stop making them? I don't know, maybe partially because of the reason I've barely eaten any fruit at all for most of my adult life - fruit and fancy Greek yogurt are actually kind of expensive. And just with the seemingly brilliant breakfast ideas that came before it, maybe familiarity breeds contempt. 
  • Sometimes when I drop my husband off at work we go to the McDonald's on Hackett near New Scotland. We used to go to the Panera Bread there, but they were so so slow and would actually forget the egg in the egg sandwich. The egg is the whole point - without the egg it is just toast. So we've been going to the McDonald's there for a while, and it has gotten kind of weird. First of all, the price is different almost every time, and we order the same thing. Second, no matter how busy it is there is only one person on the cash register. The manager will walk in and barely look at the enormous line and ask the cash register person if they filled up the ice cream machine for later and do they know there is a huge order at 11:00? Meanwhile, you are thinking you are going to be late for work if your order isn't ready soon and that you could have driven to the grocery store, bought eggs, and come home and made it in the time it takes for them to put a piece of ham, cheese, and egg between two pieces of English muffin. We may not continue this little breakfast ritual of ours. It seems especially silly because we have a whole bookshelf filled with cookbooks. Which leads me to my last point.

  • I was totally obsessed with this recipe this tomato season. Americans just don't eat many vegetables for breakfast and why don't they? The Silver Spoon cookbook has a lot of recipes that involve vegetables and eggs, including asparagus and eggs as well as this great tomatoes and eggs recipe.  Tomatoes from the farmer's market are seriously one of the best parts of late summer in upstate New York, and you really don't want to waste them by not using them up before they start to go bad. This is a delicious way to use them. Also, this recipe requires so little labor you can be putting together your outfit between steps: "Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds and some of the flesh. Sprinkle the insides with a little salt and place upside down on paper towels to drain for 10 minutes. Season the insides of the tomatoes with oregano and pepper and divide 2 teaspoons olive oil among them. Place the tomatoes in the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, break an egg into each tomato, return the dish to the over and bake for a further 5 minutes (in my experience a lot more, but just until your egg appears as much cooked as you want it to be). Garnish with parsley and serve".   
There, I leave you with a fancy, easy option for breakfast, which is a lot less depressing than a Special K protein shake. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Beer Snobs Rejoice!

Important breaking news for craft beer fans in the Capitol Region.  I saw at Oliver's today that later this month the superb Kalamazoo, MI brewery Bell's will be making their beers available in New York later this month. Strongly recommended!  And the Michigander half of this blog will be especially happy...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Festivals and Tastings

A couple weeks ago I attended the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival with my friend Jessica who wrote about it on the Fussy Little Blog. Last week I attended the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival with my husband, which was a very different event, and this weekend we did a little bit of wine tasting in the Hudson Valley. Here's what I have to say about all this.

First of all, the Albany Chef's Food and Wine Festival in the winter is so great because you get to try so many different things (here is my post from 2012). We first learned of All Good Bakers and The Hungry Fish there.  Because I was thinking of how much food you normally eat at the Albany food and wine event, I didn't eat breakfast before going to the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival. There were about 5 bites of food offered at the entire event and endless tables of wine. Now, maybe you shouldn't try so many things in this situation unless you want to get to a point where you announce to your friend that the two of you should make Mo Rocca your best friend, and then walk over and say a bunch of things to him you won't remember, but none of which could have been good (Jessica does remember, however, that he was impressed with our jobs). The Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival, however, because it took place on the Altamont Fairgrounds had all kinds of foods available that you would normally purchase at a lower brow event (I had a very delicious corn dog). My husband got a healthy option from the same food truck my friend Julie and I bought lunch from at the Brimfield Flea Market in July. They do good work.

So first off, you've got more food at the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival so chances are already less that your day will vear off into some unwanted silly direction. As far as the wines, they were definitely not as high brow as the Saratoga event, but there were some good ones. I liked Americana Vineyards, and I had never tried them before since we definitely have a Seneca rather than Cayuga Lake bias. It said something that most of the people around us were just walking around saying "You got sweet wines? I only like sweet wines." Also, the guy from Anthony Road was really surprised we actually knew anything about wine, which was pretty funny. Both events had vintage cars on display, but beyond that they were so different. I do have to say that at $85 to get into the Saratoga event and $6 to get into the wine tasting at the Altamont Fairgrounds (also another $8 to get into the Fairgrounds initially), I can't imagine I'd ever really go back to the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival. I did get to sit two feet away from Michelle Riggi of Christmas Card fame, but despite working in Saratoga for the last year I have yet to actually feel connected to the place in any real way. It feels so old money, so crusty, and I am sure the landscaping money it takes to groom the lawns of North Broadway alone costs more than the entire economies of whole small towns in other areas of the country. Everything about Saratoga feels cold and as fake as a movie set, whereas the Albany food and wine event in January feels like some sort of large family reunion. I did, however, try a very delicious Amarone wine from Italy at the Saratoga event that normally retails for around $50. I don't know much about Italian wine in general, so that wine itself might have made it all worth it.  So, that is all to say if I were to choose again next year between those events (you can only attend so many festivals each fall), I would probably be more likely to choose the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival. It was a more well-rounded event and had a lot of other things going on besides wine.

That all being said, this weekend we headed out to Whitecliff Vineyards and Tuthilltown Spirits both in Gardiner, NY. The Hudson Valley is so beautiful and not far from Albany at all. Whitecliff wasn't as good as our favorite Finger Lakes wineries, but their chardonnay was so buttery and crisp that we brought a bottle home with us.

Here is the view from the back of the tasting room:

The tasting room at Tuthilltown is very fun to visit. I am pretty sure Jessica and I tried their products when we got into the VIP room at the SPAC event, but I'm not sure I remember the finer subtleties in the flavors. This is the reason I would argue against festivals in general and say that if you visit tasting rooms you are spreading things out in a way that seems way better in terms of remembering how things tasted and not drinking more than you should (seriously, the SPAC event started at noon and was mostly wine, how does that even really make any sense?). Also if you visit tasting rooms, you can see where the products are actually made, meet the people who work there, and get to know the town. Then, when you buy a product, come home and leave it in your cellar for a few months, you can think back on your fun trip and enjoy it that much more. Here are some pictures from Tuthilltown:

 At the SPAC event I found the pourers to be not knowledgeable at all, which is weird because part of the fun of trying different things is to learn more about the subject. The pourers at the Capital Region Apple and Wine Festival were people who worked at the vineyards, but they were really too busy to have any real conversation about the products.

So in general, I guess I am saying forget the festivals and go to the place. I guess I am becoming a person who is really interested in wine tourism. You can learn about places that don't have distribution to where you live and try new products from places you already really like. We went to Napa for our honeymoon and the Finger Lakes for our summer vacation. I've always heard people say this place or that place was their "happy place", and I never knew what mine was. I now know that it is exit 41 on I-90, the Wegman's with great cheese and baguettes, charming Geneva, and ultimately gorgeous Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake, it turns out, is my happy place. Wine and spirit tasting in the Hudson Valley turns out to be really fun too, and close enough for a day trip.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Place After My Own Heart

Good to see Brown's opening a place with priorities that match my own:
Brown’s co-owner Garry Brown has personally been leading the construction project since early last year. The pub and tapas bar will be for adults seeking a quiet, relaxed adult experience — no big screen TV sets blaring sports, no loud music, no flavored vodkas.

What it will have is Brown’s own beers and ales on six taps and three beers from cask-conditioned gravity pumps, as well as some 30 scotches and 20 bourbons.
And actually, the ban on loud music is more important to me than the anti-vodka bias.  There's nothing worse than sitting down with friends in a nice pub and then have them insist on playing music at ear-splitting volume even though there's no dancing.  At any rate, I'm sure we'll have a report soon...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Bier Abbey, Schenectady

With the closure of Mahar's, I've been looking for a place that had a similarly excellent beer selection and atmosphere.  I've been told mutliple times that the Bier Abbey was great, but hadn't made it.  On Sunday,  we happened to be visiting the Place Beyond the Pines to visit a friend who's a big fan, so we decided to finally check it out.  I can't really make this claim after only one visit, but I'm tempted to say it anyway -- this is the best beer bar in the capital region.

  More importantly, the selection of beers is outstanding, comparable to Mahar's.  Also nice is that they offer 4 oz. pours, which allows you to try multiple offerings and still drive home.&nbsp. I had Southern Tier's sublime milk stout, poured at the perfect temperature, as well as Nøgne Ø's sweet and smoky Tiger Tripel, which I hadn't had before but was fantastic. Ms. Garlic tried the Elysian pumpkin, a good version although it's not my favorite genre. The food is very well done as well. Our friend ordered a very good cheese plate. Ms. Garlic and I both had the fish and chips, which easily surpassed the very high demands I have of choices that will require me to spend an extra 15 minutes a day on the elliptical for at least a week. The haddock was actually flavorful, not the usual empty excuse to eat deep-fried breading, and there was a real, flavorful coleslaw rather than the typical tiny cup of cabbage slathered in mayo. Our friend had the Thai mussels which both Ms. Garlic and she were veryi impressed by (my allergies prevented me from trying them.)

The first-rate beers and very good pub food are served in a commensurate space. I find the affected "authenticity" of some of Albany's quality beer bars an annoyance in practice -- the communal benches at the City Beer Hall and rickety pub furniture at the Olde English are, how you say, uncomfortable, so the real tables and chairs inside and out are a relief.  I love what they've done with the space -- nice patio, nice bar with a large chalkboard listing the day's selections, and a very nice back room. Service was very friendly and efficient. 

If the Bier Abbey was in Albany it would definitely be my go-to pub, and it will certainly compel us to make the trip to the Stockade more often. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Four Recommended Finger Lakes Wineries

Since we've had a couple friends ask us for tips after visiting the Finger Lakes the last two years, I thought it would be useful to put up a post we could point to, and that other people might find as well. This list is far from exhaustive, and of course what you'd choose to visit will depend on what kind of wines you like and experience you want. I'm not including Dr. Konstantin Frank on this list, for example, but that's not a criticism. It just reflects that 1)almost everyone who cares will know about it and their wines are widely available, and 2)they have so many visitors that I found the tastings a little corporate and impersonal for my tastes. But the spot is lovely, and if you're a big fan of sparkling wines it's a must visit -- there are a lot of good Reislings out there but the sparkling wines at DKF are really first-rate. But here are some lesser known ones worth visiting:

 Ravines On Keuka (with another tasting room in Penn Yan we haven't visited), Ravines makes a dry Riesling that is one of the best bargains not only in Finger Lakes wine but in American wine, period. It's a truly dry Riesling -- less than .5% residual sugar -- and it's beautifully balanced. It's worth a visit on its own, but I like several of their other wines, including a Provencal style rose and an excellent Meritage blend.

Domiani Their best wines generally can't be found here, but this is a small gem. It's one of the few top-quality Finger Lakes wineries where the reds are as consistently good as the whites; we especially liked the Lemberger (an Austrian grape well-suited to the region also known as Blaufränkisch.) The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and it's right next door to Finger Lakes Distilling, so you can polish off two must-visit places in one fell swoop.
Sheldrake Point A real star, Sheldrake Point probably has my favorite portfolio of whites of the New York wineries I've tried; I especially recommend the Gewürztraminer and the Chardonnay. The reds coming out this year hadn't been released yet when we visited this year, but we liked what he had last year. Of particular interest to capital region residents is that it's one of the few serious makers of dry wines on Cayuga Lake (we haven't made it to the well-regarded Heart and Hands yet.) They have a tasting room (with a beautiful lake view deck) on the east side of Seneca as well.  

Red Trail Ridge [Pictured Above] The Red Trail Ridge Pinot Noir is the red equivalent of the Ravines Riesling; it's a great bargain, not for a Finger Lakes wine but period. You would have a hard time finding an Oregon Pinot that's equally good at the same price point. It's not a secret any more but hopefully it will remain affordable. And like Ravines, it's not a one-trick pony; the Dry Riesling and Dry Rose in particular are very good.

We'd like to hear your picks in comments, but all of these are definitely worth a visit if you're vacationing in the area.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ratatouille Pie

I love the Gardner Museum Cafe Cookbook, because who doesn't want to cook luncheon pies and party like its 1890? I also love the photos in the book from the archives at the museum taken during many of Gardner's fancy dinner parties. Everyone looks so relaxed in their tight-fitting Victorian outfits.

I made the ratatouille pie recipe last night from this cookbook. I have to admit to having felt a bit stressed. I remember when I was in college and reading in the bath a short story in The Atlantic about a doctor who got to Friday night and collapsed and thought to himself "This is professional life?" I remember thinking "That can't be right, clearly you finish all your school assignments and the whole rest of life is easy." Where I got this idea I can't ever recall. When I was a kid it was always all this pressure to do well at each thing so that you could get onto the next thing ("You better be perfect in high school so that you can go to college!", "You better be perfect in college so that you can go to grad school!", "You better be perfect in grad school so you can get a job!"). At some point that is  your entire life you are rushing through with all sorts of pressure. It isn't always about the next thing - and for that in life we have pie crust. My entire young adult life probably would have been different if I had found any task that allowed me to live in the moment as much as rolling out a pie crust does.

The hands-on process of breaking up the butter in the flour, the stirring of the ice water in the mixture, the rolling out of the dough - its enough to make you think. I spent years feeling as though parts of my life were spread out in pockets of geography - memories here and there, important friends there and over there. One can feel compartmentalized - a combination of unrelated, far-flung versions of oneself, like when you visit those places you are who you were when you lived there.  I can now say though that I am happy here in my thoroughly modern life - as a present day Betty Draper who spends most of her energy at her job, a die-hard Real Housewives of Every City fan who spends most weekends reading books, a half 16 year old girl and half 80 year old woman who thinks the world's biggest compliment is when my student assistant says I remind her of Mindy Kaling. I am happy here with a closet filled with Mad Men dresses, contemporary Some Girls pieces, and more flea market accessories than most people might know what to do with. I am happy here with piles of craft supplies and books ranging from silly to scholarly (Drinking and Tweeting, I'm looking at you). I am happy here with kitchen filled with wedding presents from all the people we enjoy remembering, as well as a food processor, Penzey's spices, and vintage linens. I feel grateful for a home that gives me a sense of stability as well as possibility. That's not as easy as one might think, but take the time to make a recipe like this, and you'll see.

Ratatouille Pie

For a 9-inch pie or quiche

Sift together 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in 1/3 cup cold shortening (I put the shortening in the freezer for a little bit before) and 2 tablespoons butter until pea-sized pieces form. With a fork, mix in 5 tablespoons cold water ( I put ice in the measuring cup to keep the water cold) 1 tablespoon at a time, until large balls form. Flour a work space and rolling pin (I use a rollpat like this one). Roll out the dough until it is large enough to fit the pie plate or quiche pan with a 1 inch overhang. Line the pan, being careful not to handle the dough too much. Fold under the edges and crimp.

I think at this point that you should work the surface with fork pricks, and bake just the pie crust for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees with pie weights or rice or dried beans on top of aluminum foil on the crust. Once I didn't do this when I made a quiche (since the recipe doesn't say to), and I felt that the crust was soggy under the filling.

Heat 6 tablespoons butter (I would probably feel free to use less) in a dutch oven over low to medium heat. Saute 1 large diced onion, 8 cloves minced garlic, 1 large diced green pepper, 1 large diced red pepper, and 2 stalks diced celery until the onion is soft and clear. Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas), 3 small zucchinis (I bought my zucchinis from the Berry Patch at the Troy Farm's Market, you could also use less zucchini and some eggplant instead), and saute for 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup pitted and chopped black olives, 1 cup tomato purée, 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1 cup red wine (I used Hob Nob Wicked Red), some chopped up parsley (or basil or oregano), salt, pepper, 2 cups washed and trimmed spinach leaves, and a half cup grated parmesan. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the excess liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat.

Spread the mixture in the pie shell. Heat 2 tablespoons butter (again I'd feel free to use less, this cookbook gets a little crazy sometimes) in a frying pan over low heat. Stir in 1 cup herbed bread crumbs and toast lightly. Sprinkle them over the top of the pie.

Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes depending on what kind of pan you are using. The recipe says to serve it topped with sour cream, but I honestly don't think it needs it.

Cut it, put it on a plate, close your eyes, pretend you are in France.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brimfield Flea Market

I checked out the Brimfield Flea Market just like I did last year (in July and September). We had a fabulous time. What did I get this year, you ask?

A cute hair comb, postcards of beloved Michigan places like Frankenmuth, Mackinaw City, and the Father Marquette Museum, some cute jewelry (including a Girl Scout pin from the 1920s).

This ring says on it that it is from 1957, and I plan on cleaning it up a bit.

I also bought this cool plate to hang on the wall:

Oh, and this cute portrait of a little girl on the bottom here, which plays great on the wall next to the above pictured Lilly Martin Spencer's "The Jolly Washerwoman:

We enjoyed sitting on some furniture:

And my friend Julie bought this awesome arrow:

Most of all the exciting score for me was a vintage Westinghouse roaster with stand. I plan on using it as an awesome shelving unit and conversation piece in my dining room. It seemed like a steal at $50.

Can't wait to go again next year! I love all the unique and interesting pieces, the historical perspective, and also how reusing old stuff is great for the environment. What a blast! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Speakeasy Albany

Both Steve Barnes and Danielle Sanzone had good writeups of the new Speakeasy in the basement of the City Beer Hall. Since I've been hoping that an equivalent to my beloved Clover Club would open in Albany eventually, I've been excited to try it. Tonight we did, and...I would have to say that is surpassed my already high expectations. About a month after opening, it's already a local treasure. The Speakeasy has some of the rituals of a speakeasy -- you can see the full list of "rules" at Sanzone's post -- including the need to ring the doorbell, an dark old-fashioned decor, and reservations recommended for the very comfy booths. But this doesn't mean that there's anything pretentious or forbidding about the friendly, knowledgeable service. And the cocktails are simply outstanding. I had a variation on the Rittenhouse Manhattan made with cognac and a classic Sazerac, both of which were beautifully done. Perhaps the star of the night was the gin fizz Ms. Garlic ordered, and she had an excellent, spicy mezcal-based cocktail as well. Our friend Julie had another very fine gin-based cocktail as well as an exceptionally good off-menu rye cocktail with an earthy liqueur. All of the drinks were thoughtfully balanced and beautifully presented, and our choices were arbitrary given that pretty much everything on the menu looked good. Food options are minimalist, but the charcuterie plate we split was excellent, and the prices were very reasonable for cocktails of this quality. It's a gem; we'll be back soon with another report.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Weekends

It's officially summer, and on the weekends I can't seem to get up off my chaise lounge. For this, I made up a great cocktail (pictured above - you can also tell I mean business by my Ryan Gosling Hey Girl notebook ). The consists of a lot of lemon juice, some honey, and a good amount of water, stirred and then topped with some gin and Lillet. I love Lillet, especially the back of the label, which when you read it out loud sounds like pure class (something about being meant to be enjoyed at the moment when evening becomes night). This drink also needs a ton of ice so it will stay cold long enough for you to sip it and get a lot of reading done.

Recently, I read a very interesting book called Inside Christie's by John Herbert about the auction house. What I really enjoyed about it was reading about all these stories which would start out with the person from the auction house starting up a relationship with someone, some long winding plot ensues with colorful characters, millions of dollars, lots of stress on the side of the employees and outside dealers, customs officials - all ending with the picture hanging on the wall of somewhere like the Met where people like me enjoyed it without having any clue how it got there. There's a whole social history to artworks as they exist in the world that can be equally as interesting as the art history aspect of the thing actually being made. Also, I liked the way that it all seemed like hard work, but that the employees seemed to feel satisfied by achieving  success through working together. I bought this book in an antique shop in Hudson in such a random way, but I'm really glad I picked it up.

I am currently reading out on my patio Ten Girls to Watch by Charity Shumway. Sometimes you end up reading exactly what you needed to at that exact moment, without knowing it beforehand. What I love about this book is that it simultaneously sends the message of "It is ok for your life to be a little difficult/not as glamorous as you might have imagined" and "You can accomplish everything you might have ever hoped for if you stick with it". It manages to be realistic and inspirational at the same time, as well as laugh out loud hilarious. It also has some great stuff about New York City apartments sucking, and some funny stuff about how the standards by which young women are judged as successful have changed in the last six decades. Its like a cheerier, better, and funnier version of the movie "How to Make an American Quilt".  

We've also discovered some cool out of the way places. Last weekend, we checked out The Ugly Rooster Cafe in Mechanicville. The food was really good, and the menu had some things you don't see everywhere like fried green tomatoes and french toast with marscarpone, orange zest and chocolate shavings. Scott had a crab benedict thing, and I had a grilled cheese with tomatoes, cheddar, and spinach on rye. Also, the guy next to us did their 5 pound pancake challenge, and unfortunately was not successful (it was entertaining though). According to their website, the Collossal Pancake Challenge consists of: "2 twelve inch pancakes with your choice of fruit filling along with butter, whip cream, and syrup. If you can finish the entire meal in 20 minutes you get the meal for free, an official Ugly Rooster T-shirt, your picture on the wall of fame, and more. $15 to take the challenge!"

We also recently checked out Lakeside Farms and Cider Mill in Ballston Lake. We had a great lunch in a cute spot, and bought all kinds of local products and vegetables. They sell Oscar's Smokehouse meats, which are great, and their own tasty doughnuts. It is the kind of place that is a little out of the way, but totally worth it for something a little different.

Overall, it has been a pretty low key start of summer, although we are hoping to make it to the Finger Lakes for some wine tasting, and we did celebrate our two year wedding anniversary (with this delicious cake from J&S Watkins! Aw!).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Crossroads Brewery: Athens NY

On Memorial Day weekend, Ms. Garlic and I decided to take a trip to the Hudson Valley.  On the way down, we decided to check out the Crossroads Brewing Company in Athens (across the river from Hudson).  I'm a big fan of their Outrage IPA, a nicely balanced west-coast style that is commonly available in Albany.   As it turns out, they've opened a nice pub in a newly renovated building.   We can't say a great deal about the food, since we just split a salad, although it was really good -- real greens (not just iceberg or romaine) with other fresh veggies and a nice homemade vinagrette. 

For the "main course," we decided to try the above-pictured flight of six beers.   All were at least decent.  I was particularly impressed with the lovely Black Rock Stout and the Abbey Road Dubbel, with the Homewrecker 2xIPA a close third.   Ms. Garlic was also a big fan of the Brick Row Red, which I also quite liked.   I wasn't overwhelmed by the Lighthouse Wheat, although since I'm not really a fan of the style this doesn't say much about the quality.

Anyway, definitely worth checking out for Capital Region craft beer fans, and we look forward to heading back and trying a full meal. 


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cod In Spicy Tomato Sauce

The meal pictured above wasn't the typical version of this recipe, since the cauliflower we had turned out not to be usable, so we had to improvise with broccoli instead. (Which worked fine!) But this is a really good one. How does one go about making it, you might ask? Well:

  • Cut enough cauliflower (or broccoli) for your party into florets, quickly blanch. 
  • Season cod (or other whitefish filets) with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat.
  • OPTIONAL BUT REALLY GOOD: mince an anchovy or two and put into the oil at this stage.
  • Add the cauliflower, sautee for a few minutes. 
  • Add a minced shallot and a minced jalapeno pepper, saute for a couple more minutes.
  • Add a clove or three (I would say the latter) of garlic, saute for 30 seconds of so.
  • Add several fresh tomatoes (if in season) or a can (14 or 28 ox/ depending on the amount of fish) of high-quality canned tomatoes, diced either way.  Let them cook down for a couple minutes.
  • Add the fish, cook on each side until done, which will depend on the thickness of the filets.  Don't overcook.  If you're cooking for 4 or more, you might have to remove the cauliflower with a slotted spoon before adding the fish; you don't want to crowd the pan.  
Simple, and really good.   Serve it with a green salad dressed with a lemony vinagrette.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


You know it is spring around here when the Jim's Tastee Freez opens up again! We tend to think that the Kurver Kreme is a little overrated. We haven't been to all the places in the area (we still want to visit On the Farm in Latham), but we really like the Tastee Freez.

My husband loves the Boston Shake (see also Mr. Dave's post from three years ago - probably where Scott got the idea to try it to begin with), which is vanilla soft serve in a chocolate shake. On this particular day, they had pistachio soft serve. I can't be sure that any real pistachios were included in the concoction, but it was refreshing and delicious with a nice mild flavor. I'll never understand why pistachio flavored things have to be green. I was raised with green pistachio pudding, and then eventually went to Belgium where their amazing white pistachio ice cream sort of blew my mind. But this green stuff made into a marshmallow sundae - I also enjoy.

Working on a college campus means another thing for spring and that is lots of seniors graduating. There's a lot of anxiety and general unease in the air. By contrast, I've been feeling life is very simple lately. People shouldn't over think it. Just go with it. Your life is what you do while you do it. Like when you get married and say "I do" - you aren't just saying you will, you are saying you do - like an action - like go do it, like love and life are verbs. That isn't really an answer to a graduating college senior who asks "How do you know things will turn out ok?" You don't, but there is ice cream at least.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Talking about Troy

I'm feeling really hopeful about the future of Troy nowadays. Back last year when the Pioneer Co-op closed, I wasn't feeling as hopeful. I have a friend who used to shop there who now walks across the bridge to use the Watervliet Price Chopper (its not their best location). I really feel that things are looking up though, and not in a way like realtors have been saying that Long Island City in Queens has been looking up for the last ten years - where they build luxury condos assuming other businesses will follow, and they never seem to (unless you want to count the gentlemen's clubs under the subway tracks).
  • The Troy Farmer's Market is great. Next week is the first week they are going to be outside, and as a bonus they are also going to keep things going an hour later (untill 2). They are also adding a twilight market on Friday nights. Some of our favorites at the market include: Danascara Cheese, Pika's Farm Table (I really like to throw a couple of their quiches in the freezer for times when we don't have anything for dinner), and The Berry Patch (this winter I was particularly fond of the blue hubbard squash). I do have to say I've gotten a little bored of the winter market and the focus on cheese, potatoes, and snacks, so I was really excited to see some vendors advertising fiddleheads for next week. 
  • The Arts Center of the Capital Region seems like a really positive space for the community. I have a gift certificate there I have been waiting to cash in on Embroidery Basics taught by the proprietor of  Anchor 5 Boutique on a day when I'm not traveling for work. They have all sorts of classes though from memoir writing, to stained glass panel making, to Chinese cooking. My Yoko Ono Appreciator's group had a drawing we did in a show called "Text as Art". We had it set up so people could add to the drawing while it was installed in the show.

 We took the students down to do a Yoko instruction piece called "Walk on a Painting", in which we took our drawing down from the gallery, stomped on it, got the audience to stomp on it, and then hung it back up. It was a lot of fun. Also, St. Rose professor Kate Laity read some amazing poetry and talked about her piece in the show. It wasn't a huge turnout, but it was a great vibe, and the students had never been to Troy before and were really impressed.

  • We went to the Illium Cafe this weekend and really enjoyed it. They have unusual things on their menu like scallops quesadillas and pork belly and crab omelets. I also thought this high protein salad sounded really interesting: "gigante white bean salad, peppers, capers, carrots, romaine lettuce, arugula, locally produced black truffle infused cows milk cheese and crispy onions topped with a fried egg and lavender-balsamic vinaigrette". I got a breakfast sandwich with ham and swiss on a croissant, and Scott got the Parisian Omelet ("shaved ham, gruyere cheese, sauteed spinach and chevre"). We both really enjoyed what we got and couldn't believe we hadn't come sooner. Some of our friends are huge fans and others have mixed reviews, so it was great to finally try it ourselves. Jen is Green went there recently too
  • The Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar is fabulous. Everyone loves it. It is a fabulous space, they have Finger Lakes Riesling on tap - what more could you want? Oh great cheese and some venison on the side? They have that too. I can't wait to see the positive influence I know they are going to have on Troy in general.
  •  Some Girls is my new favorite clothing store. It is so, so well curated, and it isn't like you are going to want to buy everything in the store (although I bought quite a bit this weekend)- but you can look at pieces and imagine that there would be a person or event right for them. We talked to the owner quite a bit this weekend, and she said "Why can't Troy be as cool as Hudson?" That doesn't seem to be that high of a bar actually, but I took my friends from out of town to Hudson as a day trip and they loved it, so maybe she means something like that - a cool place with great restaurants and a happening arts scene that you can take out of town visitors for an afternoon and they won't be bored or let down or feel unsafe. 
So, I think things are looking up for Troy. There is something for me especially about loving the Confectionery so much and hearing that more and more people love it too, that makes me feel especially optimistic. I sort of like all those Uncle Sam statues too.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tara Kitchen: "Pure Joy"

Cheryl Clark definitely speaks the truth about the Tara Kitchen here. The tagines there are remarkably flavorful, and I also love the atmosphere. One one the best food values in the Capital Region. The chicken with preserved lemon and olives pictured in the photo is what I had, and it was remarkably good.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Business Trips and Housewives

I was in Michigan last week on my way to a work errand in Chicago, and my grandfather said to me at his 90th birthday party "How can you stand to live in a place you aren't from?"

It was an interesting question. He was asking me about my new-ish job and Saratoga, and I said to him "I think you can like many places".  I've taken to this new theory nowadays that there can be several happy endings to everyone's stories, instead of only one. Perhaps life is less fated, and more "Choose Your Own Adventure". 

I went to Chicago where I met up with some friends of ours who are originally from the San Francisco area and moved to Albany around the same time we did. We went to a Starbucks that serves wine (what? what? see for yourself below! It was great fun actually!)

They talked about the difficulty of moving to a new area, the difficulty of making friends, finding work, and fostering a sense of community. They didn't seem to like Chicago as much as they thought they would. I actually ate at three Rick Bayless restaurants on my entire trip (including Xoco which was fabulous). Mexican food seems to be taking over. An art handler I met from San Francisco said the tacos have been better in the Windy City in recent years than in the Bay Area.

I sat on the shores of Lake Michigan my final day there and called my dad. Great Lakes vacations were an important aspect of my childhood, so much that I wanted to have "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" as our father/daughter dance (to my surprise no one else got the charm of it!).

It was interesting to sit on the side of a lake opposite my home state, with my grandfather's question still pinging around in the back of my mind.

Upon coming back, my boss and I had an interesting discussion about my friends' lack of friends in Chicago, and we came to the conclusion that you can't force true friendship anywhere - it just happens. I wonder that with places too - you either feel like you fit or you don't, and you can in fact fit into multiple places. I've heard people make arguments about this area, and say there is more of a sense of community in Brooklyn, or more tight knit neighborhoods in Manhattan (neither of which I agree with). I will say that so much about how you fit in somewhere has to do with you - making an effort, being yourself - but sometimes there are factors you can't control. Sometimes it works or it doesn't.

With that, I'll leave you with some trashy and awesome things. When I lived in NYC, and the second "Sex and the City" movie came out I didn't really want to see it, but I secretly wished I had a gaggle of tackily dressed women to go see it with. What I can say to my grandfather is that I might not be from Albany, but I have people willing to come watch Season 8 Premiere of the "Real Housewives of Orange County" with me and eat these awesome high heeled cupcakes I made. I think in some convoluted way, that is the answer to his question.  For fun, you can check out my feelings about having moved here that I wrote around this time last year. And check out my cupcakes!