Monday, January 31, 2011

Oscars

I don't get to many movies, unless they're rated G, of course. And those G rated movies I think more of as $8 naps anyway. I have been trying to see some of the Oscar nominated films, a task I take on every year about this time with mixed results. I've only caught three of the nominated films and they each left an impression on me.  Note: an impression is not necessarily a positive thing. 

image from: http://cdn.buzznet.com

The film I saw first while on my mission, was the critically acclaimed Black Swan,  which I absolutely detested.  The acting was very good and I loved the costumes and special effects, but the plot alternated between boring me to tears and annoying me.  I can't tell you how pissed I was to find myself in a theater, alone by choice, suffering through B.S.  I don't know what I regret more: selecting this movie or not walking out  when it turned  the corner to ridiculous.  Next! 


image from: http://www.amoeba.com



My oldest son, Liam, is a bit of a history buff, particularly when the topic is England. On his request we went to see The King's Speech recently and I really enjoyed the movie - the story, the acting, seeing Helena Bonham-Carter wearing normal clothes...  Colin Firth is incredible and it would be a crime (especially after the snub for A Single Man) if he didn't take an Oscar home for his work.  The only bad thing about this movie, as far as I can tell, is the absurdity of the R rating.  As Liam said, there were way more F-bombs in Get Him to the Greek which had no historical significance.  Out of the mouths of babes...




This past weekend I checked out one of the  nominated documentaries, Gasland, based on the recommendation of a friend.  I have to admit that I may have caught a wee nap during the middle of the film, but, believe me, I saw enough to completely enrage me.  I mean, even angrier than the time I wasted invested watching the Black Swan.  Are you familiar with this movie?  Essentially, the filmmaker, Josh Fox, is offered the "opportunity" to lease his land to a company interested in drilling for natural gas.  Josh decides to do a little research prior to committing to having his land raped and what he learns is intensely disturbing.  I don't want to completely give the plot away, but suffice it to say that Dick Cheney's Halliburton is involved.  Enough said.
I'm hoping to see Blue Valentine one night this week - or even at a matinee if the Snow God(dess) is smiling.  What have you seen?  Any predictions for Oscar winners?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

The Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings show at the Egg on Saturday was the final event of last weekend's grueling social schedule - and what a way to wrap things up! Again, I can claim only a cursory familiarity (thanks to WEXT, 97.7) with Jones and her music, but I do know that she and the band melted the snow at the Egg last weekend. Talk about smoking hot! If you're not acquainted with the band, here's some information that should get you up to speed. And - they were the back-up band for Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album in 2006. What you may not gather from the link is the fact that Sharon Jones definitely has taken the crown from James Brown as the hardest working (wo)man in show business. At 55 years old, she was an absolute dynamo never slowing down from the time her feet initially hit the stage.
A couple of real writers have reviews posted, look here and here. If I had to really write a review, I would have to mention that the preliminary acts left me a bit puzzled.  Charles Bradley seemed like a bit of a caricature to me and I wasn't unhappy when he wrapped his set up.  The female singers were good, but not overwhelmingly so, which is what I guess you'd want from your opening act.   One of the night's highlights, for me, was witnessing Dimitrios Menagais (from the Wine n Diner) rock the stage with Sharon Jones early on in the show. I think she was quite taken with him - his zoot-ish suit and surprisingly terrific voice seemed to really be appreciated by Ms. Jones and I'm sure she didn't regret pulling him from the audience to join her on stage - very cool.  This show was very much a dance party - it was pretty much impossible to stay in your seat during Sharon's set.  Unless, of course, you were stuck between your freakishly tall friend and a guy with no sense of spatial allowance, but, that's another story all together. 

Although I hadn't really heen exposed to Sharon Jones until fairly recently, I understand she's played at the Green River Fest in Greenfield, MA and Mountain Jam at Hunter Mountain. Both of those music festivals are annual events, so keep your eyes open for another nearby appearance, get yourself a ticket and get ready to have a good time.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Michael Franti @Northern Lights

You know how people complain about there being nothing to do in the Capital District?  Well, I'm here to tell you that the real problem is not finding enough to do, instead it is finding enough time to blog about what you did do.  Last weekend, I had an intense 36 hour schedule that nearly brought me to my knees.  It went kind of like this: ski - dinner out - Spearhead show - ski - Soup Swap - Sharon Jones @ the Egg.  Crazy, huh?

Do you ever feel like it is time to see someone different and new (to you) in concert?  Don't get me wrong, I love going to see Neil Young (x5) and Dave Matthews (x12) but have been feeling the urge to see something fresh - and Michael Franti and Spearhead certainly fit the bill.
My initial exposure to Michael Franti's music came from the Weeds soundtrack and from that first listen to Ganja Baby, I've found his voice and rhythms really appealing. If I were asked to to describe his music, I would probably use words like reggae, hip hop and funk.  Sounds good, right?  Particularly on a cold winter's night in upstate New York. 

on a small stage to the right of the main stage
Not only was it my first time seeing Franti, but it was also my first visit to Northern Lights. Can we begin with the parking lot circumstances?  Hello, cluster *#&;%!  I realize that there was lots of snow to deal with, but when you're selling 1,000 tickets to a show, maybe someone should think about having some parking direction on hand.  You know, someone with a flashlight directing people in an orderly fashion.  Folks were haphazardly parked all over the place and it was a bit of a nuisance to park the family wagon, to be honest.  Perhaps I should have thought of the parking situation as a preview of the absolutely abysmal design of the interior.  I hope that the person who originally designed this place found a new career because, not for nothing, but the layout of this place is ridiculous.  It has the most bizarre shape of any venue I've ever been to.  There was a moment during the show when I was trying to push my way up front to take some pictures and I realized that I didn't know where the nearest exit was.  And people were holding their lighters up.  Not a comfortable feeling for me which is why the photos are not as good as I would have liked.  Sorry, but I don't dig the combination of a tight crowd, an uncertain exit strategy and fire. 

Complaints about parking and venue aside, Michael Franti and Spearhead put on a great show.  It was so hot in this place that the windows were steamy and sleeveless shirts provided the most comfort.  Michael Franti stripped off a layer or two himself, but, never got down to the bare skin (other than on his feet) for which  I was secretly hoping. I had a bit of a permasmile watching the crowd jump up and down in near unison to the beats coming their way and the band played with sincerity and heart.  I was surprised how many songs were familiar to me and have to thank a former student for burning me that copy of Yell Fire a couple of years ago.  Speaking of students, it was totally cool that Franti invited a number of kids to share the stage and I loved seeing one of my students rocking out right next to him. 

joined by some kids from the audience, including at least one of my students!
Seeing this show has made me even more excited to finally get to Mountain Jam this year.  Have you seen the lineup for that weekend?  Anyone else  going to Hunter Mountain in June?  If we're lucky it will be as hot then as it was Friday night in Clifton Park.  Hope to see you there! 

Setlist: 
 Ska Intro
 Love Don’t Wait
 The Thing That Helps Me Get Through
 Rude Boys Back In Town
 Only Thing Missing Was You
 Light Up Ya Lighta
 Hello Bonjour
 Anytime You Need Me
 Shake It
 Sweet Little Lies
 Gloria
 Hey World
 The Sound Of Sunshine
 Yell Fire!
 Say Hey
 I’ll Be Waiting I Got Love For You Smells Like Teen Spirit
 Say Hey
 The Sound Of Sunshine

courtesy of jamsforum.com

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Skiing Saratoga Spa State Park

see?  i'm not the only one who likes x-country!
Hi.  my name is Silvia and I'm a cross-country skiing addict.  Whew - that feels better.  Maybe not as good as being outside on a beautiful day with skis on my feet and the sun on back, but, good nonetheless.  The past few years have been  rough for those of us who are dependent upon mother nature for a good time, but she is really making up for the recent "dry" years with a season as good as any I can remember. 

My  love for Capital Hills has been well documented and I don't imagine there is a better free place within 5 minutes of my house, but variety is the spice of life and I'm all about mixing things up when I can.  That statement probably doesn't jibe with your librarian fantasy stereotype, but, believe it or not, not everything in my life is orderly.  Hello!  Have you been reading?  Anyway...
little geyser
Friday afternoon, after making a vat of soup, I drove up the Northway to Saratoga.  After checking into the Hilton Garden Inn, I got into my ski clothes and headed over to Saratoga Spa State Park to check out their trails and get some calorie credits prior to the evening's indulgence(s).

I've skied here a couple of times before in years past and love the southwest area of the park for its quiet hills and beautiful scenery, so that's where I headed.  The trails were a mixture of groomed and untouched, with the roads retaining enough snow cover to provide a decent enough trail for those less inclined to explore the wooded paths.  I had a great little run through, going past Peerless Pool and a number of the pavilions, before heading back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub prior to dinner.

Friday's quick spin through the park was a mere precursor to the more extended run I took Saturday with a couple of friends.  I know that I've said this at least three times so far this winter, but I've sincerely meant it each time I've uttered the following words: The conditions were the best I've ever seen.  Really.  The skies were a brilliant blue, the sun shone brightly enough to convince me that I got a touch of tan on my face and there wasn't a hint of wind.  Absolutely ideal.  Period.  
a wooded path near the gideon
The loop we took was an extension of the path I had taken the previous day.  We started off downhill on the road and worked our way through a good portion of the southwest corner of the park, staying south of the Avenue of the Pines and west of Route 9.  The terrain had some mildly challenging spots but was better groomed than it had been a day earlier and we had a blast.  

It was the kind of day that, if we had unlimited time, we could have easily spent 5 or 6 hours tooling around the park with an occasional pit stop at either the warming hut or the Gideon Putnam's bar.  Or both.  But, alas, we all had places to go and responsibilities to resume, so after an hour and a half we packed it in and headed back to life, with a quick stop back at the hotel for a last dip in the hot tub.  Sublime.  Saratoga is not just for summer.


the epitome of saratoga in the winter

Dinner at Max London's

I don't often get to Saratoga, which is unfortunate because there are some places there that I definitely enjoy.  There are also a number of joints which I've been wanting to try;  places like Sperry's, Maestro's, and Max London's.  Friday night I finally got to Max London's - with basically good results.  I wasn't blown away by Max's food to the same extent that Mrs. London's almond croissants leave me begging for more, but, generally I was pleased with the food despite finding  the service lacking at times, and the music with the heavy Euro-techno beat more than a little annoying.
 
chickpea polenta fries
Speaking of annoying, nothing starts a dining experience more than the initial greeting.  When my party of two arrived the hostess was away from her post, which is fine and  understandable.  What is less than acceptable is that there were 2 folks working behind the nearby bar who refused to make eye contact with us.  That really bothers me...  I'm not asking for someone to immediately seat me, but I really do expect to be acknowledged by someone when I enter a business.  Mini rant over.

We were escorted to a table in a dining room occupied by 3 or 4 tables.  After the water sale service, which is somehow less irritating in a town renowned for its water, we took a look at the menu and made our choices: an order of chickpea polenta fries, a house salad, the clam pizza and the house meat ragu.  They serve their wine (like Otto) in quartos and we started with an Albarino with our first course, moving to a grenache/syrah (I think) with our second course.  The food came out in a reasonable time frame and was the appropriate temperature with the courses being well paced.  The server was occasionally attentive, but more often than not absent - not a real issue until we were ready to go and she was nowhere to be found.  I understand that when things are less than busy it is easy for servers to get sidetracked with their own conversations and perhaps, sidework, but a walk through the dining room on a regular basis is never a bad idea.   Just saying.

house salad
I'd never had polenta fries and thought they were delicious - wicked hot when they were served and beautifully browned and crunchy on the outside with a tender interior.  The salad was also nicely executed, fresh with a generous amount of cheese and walnuts - no real complaints other than an unrealistic wish for more dates. Dates, like the fruit - just to be clear.  I didn't snap a picture of the pasta dish because I was beginning to be self conscious of the flash on my crackberry.  Suffice to say, it was a very solid entree - rich in meaty flavor, not over-sauced and a fair portion.  The pizza was very, very good, almost reminiscent of the pizza I had last week in NYC.  The clams were not chewy, which had been a mild concern when we placed the order, and the saltiness of the pancetta was a great accompaniant to the mild sweetness of the clams.  The crust had those lovely bubbles we all dream about (am I having those pizza dreams alone?) and still tasted damned good hours later - cold.  

pizza with clams and pancetta

So, what's my verdict on Max London's? Quality food made from quality ingredients, at a somewhat premium price (we spent $100 with tax and tip), for sure. With a bit more hospitality in terms of service and vibe, I'd be game for a return visit. Until that day comes, though, does anyone have a recipe for chickpea polenta fries that they'd be willing to share?



Sunday, January 23, 2011

Soup Swap - Sea Shanty Spicy Clam Chowder

clam chowder with a twist
Prior to moving to Albany, I worked in a fantastic little restaurant in Washingtonville, N.Y. called the Sea Shanty. The chef-owner, Len Holl, was truly the man who inspired me to view food in a completely different light; no longer was it something on a plate that I was serving merely to make a living.  Instead, it was something in which to take pride and to deliver to my guests with a pleasure previously not experienced. The restaurant was small, ok, it was tiny - 10 tables with a total of 30 seats.  The entire menu was on a large chalk board, generally 4-6 appetizer choices and perhaps 12 or 14 entree options - and was exclusively fish and seafood.  If someone in your party wanted something other than fish, Len would send the dishwasher to Grand Union to pick up a steak or some chicken.  The aroma of meat being broiled always seemed out of place to me, while the fish stink that we all wore upon leaving after a busy night was as familiar as a baby's blanket.  It was a special little place and I still miss it.

It's been 15 years since Len prematurely died, but the lessons I learned from him are deeply ingrained in my food sensibilities and my perspective of hospitality. I will always think of him when I pick up a knife to chop or cut, since he taught me the correct means of performing these tasks. The names Larry Forgione and Paul Prudhomme were the first celebrity chef names I learned, because Len worked with both of them and my understanding about how to treat delivery people and purveyors came directly from Len. Namely, when it is hot outside offer them something cold to drink and when it is cold outside give them something to warm them up. Nothing was more welcomed in winter by our linen delivery man or by Joe, our fish guy (Joe Fish, get it?) than a steaming bowl of Len's Spicy Clam Chowder. For my first appearance at a Soup Swap, naturally I chose Len's chowder as my contribution. So, here's the recipe for you and most especially for Len. I still miss you, my friend, but would like to think you'd be pleased with my attempt at your recipe.  And, thanks Almost Foodies for letting me join the party - I can't wait to eat homemade soup that I didn't make!

Len's Spicy Clam Chowder (makes 8 quarts)
1 gallon of clam juice
2 lbs chopped clams (I used frozen)
1 lb of hot Italian sausage (loose or removed from casings)
3 cans of tomatoes - 2 diced, 1 crushed
3 10 oz boxes of fresh sliced mushrooms (sliced as a time saver)
2 chopped red onions
5 or 6 red potatoes, cubed
1 bunch of parsley coarsely chopped

Crushed red pepper to taste
Chili garlic sauce to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

mushrooms and onions softening in pork fat
In a deep saute pan, break up and brown sausage.  While sausage is cooking, warm clam juice in a very large stock pot over low to medium heat.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to stock pot, retaining the glistening pork fat in the saute pan.  Working in batches, soften the onions and mushrooms in the saute pan, adding them to the stock pot as they finish cooking.  Toss clams and potatoes into stock pot.  Stir in tomatoes (with can juices) and parsley.  Simmer on low heat for an hour or so and then season with salt, pepper, red pepper and chili garlic sauce.  Serve with oyster crackers and a tasty beer.  Toast Len.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trix are for kids, cocktails are for grownups

beautiful speakeasy decor
Around the dinner table last night we were discussing the respective advantages of being an adult vs. being a child.  The usual examples were thrown around; paying bills vs. nonstop playing, having a job vs. having nothing but free time, freedom to make choices vs. being told what to do... You know the conversation; I'm sure you've been on at least one side of it at some point in your life.  Well, places like Employees Only tip the scales decidedly towards the benefits of being an adult.  Can you say swank cocktail bar?     
lovely fireplace reflection
my manhattan
Let me tell you upfront that I usually select wine or beer when I'm out and about.  I certainly enjoy a cocktail (or 2) but don't always like the taste of strong liquors.  Finding a drink that is well made and tasty in a world filled with barkeeps interested primarily with providing a strong drink, is not easy.  As I was planning last week's NYC visit, I did a little research (you do know that I'm a librarian, right?) trying to find a place for a well made cocktail and this spot in the West Village (510 Hudson Street aka lower 8th Avenue) sounded interesting and we added it to our evening's agenda.

The facade of the bar/restaurant is a little bit deceiving and had I not known the address, I'm confident we would have walked right by it and ended up at the Whitehorse Tavern or the Cowgirl Hall of Fame instead.  The front window has a neon light that says "Psychic" and there is no indication that a beautiful and tranquil cocktail space lies beyond the unassuming door.  As we entered, shortly after opening time (6 pm), many of the bar seats were taken, however we found three away from the door and settled in to peruse the cocktail list.  Because I have a fondness for bourbon, I went in planning to have a Manhattan, their signature cocktail.  I was intrigued with their description of the cocktail: Rittenhouse Rye stirred with Italian Vermouth, Orange CuraƧao & dashes of    Angostura Bitters.   Yes, please.  I can say without a doubt that this was the best cocktail I've ever had.  On the occasions when I do order a Manhattan, I usually ask for it to be a little sweet, generally accomplished by adding maraschino cherry juice to the shaker.  This Manhattan, though, was a dream - so incredibly well balanced and smooth that it has probably eternally spoiled me.  When Rachel joined us, she took one sip ( a small one, I was being greedy) of my drink and  promptly ordered one of her own.  Gee, Rach, we've come a long way since W 16th Street, huh?

Lisa stuck with the bourbon plan and had the Quiet Storm (Maker’s Mark Bourbon & Red Bush Tea-Infused  Vermouth served tall with Fresh Lemon Juice &  Ginger Beer), which she thoroughly enjoyed.  The bartenders were consummate professionals, perhaps not overly warm, but more than willing to indulge us when we questioned them numerous times about mysterious liquids and concoctions we observed them pouring.  We only stuck around for one drink, and didn't even glance at the food menu, but I do believe we found a winner.  And another reason to relish adulthood.  Cheers!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Otto

My most recent trip to the city involved revisiting favorite spots and exploring some new ones.  Otto (8th Street just east of 5th Avenue) is a place to which I frequently find myself returning.  Seriously, I've probably been to this restaurant more than 8 times in the last couple of years - it's just really good.  The design of the space is cool with the large bar area being designed to evoke an Italian train station, including a large destination board which taunts with the names of Italian cities I'm longing to visit.  Damn you, Mario Batali!  Perhaps if I spent less money in your establishments I could actually get to Italy with greater frequency...

We had intended to have a light(ish) lunch here prior to having something a bit more substantial later, but, we ended up making this our main meal of the day - leaving plenty of room for liquid calories. Don't ever say I'm not a planner! Speaking of liquids; I'm usually all over the wine choices when I'm at Otto. They serve their wine by  the glass selections in adorable little vessels called quartos (who knew this posting would be an education in Italian numerals!) which I love. It's like getting a milkshake with a little extra on the side know what I mean?  On this visit, however, we opted for beer, anticipating that we would be drinking bourbon later in the day and finally being wise enough to understand that it is best to stick with either grain or grape to minimize the pain of the morning after.  We only had  one beer each, but, boy were they good!  I honestly can't remember what Lisa drank (maybe a pilsner?), but I might never forget how tasty the Ommegang BPA was!  It was the perfect temperature, beautifully hoppy and served by a man with an Irish brogue.  How happy was I? 

Here's a picture of the pizza we shared - loaded with prosciutto and arugula, crispy and piping hot - divine!  An aside: I think it was only after working in restaurants (for years), and having children of my own, that I truly began to appreciate how special hot food is.  Do not underestimate the power of serving me hot food!  We paired it with a couple of vegetable selections; my favorite spicy broccoli rabe with ricotta salata and some dynamite brussel sprouts.  Can someone please remind me why I didn't like vegetables like these as a child?  They seriously rock my world these days and I am happy to say that I am now old enough that I can't remember a time when I wouldn't dive into these greens with gusto.  
                                             eat your vegetables!!
Whether you're looking for a place to have a meal with the family, drinks and a bite with a friend, or even a (gasp!) date spot, Otto just might fit the bill for you.   And, if you're looking for someone to join you there, give me a shout.  I'm always up for an Otto adventure.

Cross country skiing at Capital Hills

I'm hesitating a little about writing this piece...you see, I am concerned about my little piece of heaven being overrun by enthusiastic but challenged skiers, thus making my own forays less idyllic. I'm basically a sharer, though, so here is a little secret for you: the best free, winter outdoor activity in the city of Albany is cross country skiing at Capital Hills. Heck - don't tell Mayor Jennings but, if I were asked, I would even pay for access to the gorgeousness that is that golf course on a snowy day. It is that beautiful.
Into the wild white yonder

Now you know that I like to think of myself as a bit of an athlete - and I have the scars to prove it. When I initially tried cross-country skiing, under a bit of duress if I remember correctly, I totally thought I would hate it. Being out in the snow gliding along didn't really appeal to me. I had bad memories of a "learn to ski" day at a downhill place near where I grew up (think too much partying and not enough waterproof clothing), and was decidedly not enthusiastic about swooshing along through the woods. The reality though was, that with the appropriate attire and a supportive ski partner/teacher, I finished my introductory country ski experience feeling as if I had truly found my sport. It was genuine love and I've never lost my enthusiasm - and really, how many things can you say that about?
Snow is merely frozen water to Cassidy Lilly

That year, probably about 15 years ago, I got my first pair of cross country skis and I've never looked back. Other than to see where my dog was, that is. I honed my skills at the golf course over the years and have come to take for granted the stunning hilly-ness that is the new course. This is not terrain for those afraid of hills for either up or down hill adventures. It is a challenging course, made more interesting by the nearly complete lack of grooming. You're on your own here and it is frequently necessary to break your own path on the virgin "trail." But, hey, you trailblazer, you can do it!

I got out there recently with a friend who had never experienced the golf course on skis. His enthusiasm and repeated exclamation of "glorious!!" reminded me anew of the amazing gift we outdoor enthusiasts have in the nearby public golf course. There is ample parking, a restaurant for those inclined to have a bite to eat or a drink (the smell of their wood burning fireplace smells enticing without the added aroma of chicken wings), and there are uncountable trails to explore. I've been skiing there with as much frequency as the weather and my life allow for years and I still explore new trails to make my way from my starting point back around to the clubhouse. My latest discovery was the Heineken Trail, marked by Heineken cans stakes at both ends as well as cans nailed onto trees.  As proof that Albany (and its cross-country skiing community) are comfortingly small, I ran into (not literally, I reserve that for my snowboarding escapades) a man skiing, Collin Campbell.  He claims to have marked that very trail, along with a Budweiser trail which I have not yet located, and has plans for a Coors trail also.  Just what I like - something to look forward to!  
In the middle of the city, yet in the middle of no where

A couple of suggestions for the novice: ski with a friend. This place is big and not well marked; it is best to travel with a companion in case you experience any difficulties. Along the same vein, carry a cell phone with you for both the ability to communicate as well as to orient yourself, assuming you have one of those cool mapping apps. If you don't have a virtual compass, listen for the sounds of the Thruway and remember that it runs East/West. You'll figure it out. And, lastly, go and go often. Cross country skiing truly makes the winter something not just to tolerate, but instead a season to gleefully anticipate.

Additional places to cross country ski:
Pine Ridge 
Lapland Lake
Garnet Hill
Cross country skiing near Albany

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bittersweet Exposed

image from picassawebalbums
While skiing through Capital Hills golf course, I was impressed by the aesthetic of the shrubs, bare trees and (everywhere) bittersweet.  As I glided along completely smitten by the exposed, winter panorama, I started thinking about how so often there is more present than what initially meets and greets the eye. How beauty can be subtly layered, frequently becoming more striking as the artifice is stripped away. Yes, of course, verdant greens and brightly hued flowers are obviously stunning, but is what remains after the blowsiness of youth has been exhausted of equal beauty?  And, can the same rationale transfer to relationships?  When the vibrancy and excitement of new love have weathered into a landscape of subtle shades of brown with bursts of unexpected vibrancy, is what remains more than bittersweet?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Soup Dumplings

I'm sure you're all aware of Ala Shanghai and their upstate (near) monopoly on the soup dumpling, right?  I know that folks, who know way more about Chinese food than I do, love their soup dumplings, but Joe's Shanghai will eternally hold a special place in my heart when it comes to these luscious pockets of deliciousness, because it was there where I first popped my dumpling, so to speak. 

Joe's is in Chinatown on a little side street (Pell) off of Mott.  There seems to be some trickery present on this little block since there are 2 restaurants with somewhat similar names, some other Joe's place and another joint with the  word Shanghai in it.  Don't be fooled - Joe's Shanghai will be the place with line outside on the south side of the street.  Wait for the hostess to acknowledge you and give you a number. Things move along pretty fast and I always find it worth the investment of time.  Once you're seated (perhaps at a communal table with some other lucky diners), you'll be offered an opportunity to order soup dumplings - the appropriate answer is "Yes, please."  I really love the pork and crab combination, and find that one order (6 pieces) makes a great appetizer to start, for a party of 2.  If you're unable to share - get your own damn order. 

When I mentally compare these with the upstate version, I find the skins on Joe's dumplings to be more delicate and much easier to pierce daintily to release the steam than those at Ala Shanghai.  And, while the dumpling wrapper is thinner, the broth contained by the wrapper has more body and flavor than the local variation.  It just has more taste, in my opinion.  Let's agree to disagree on this point, ok?
What I will not yield on, however, is the extreme superiority of Joe's scallion pancakes.  Oh my goodness, they're hot and crispy, beautifully browned and loaded with scallions.  The limpness which I've experienced in Latham makes me think that we're not even comparing the same food item.   Get these.
kind of an oily mess, but not necessarily a bad thing.

tasty shrimp with salt and peppers.



Lisa ordered the pork and scallions and the flavor of the dish was right on.  The meat was tender and the scallions retained their beautiful color and flavor despite there being an excess of oil on the plate.  Some rice would have helped to absorb the BP spill, but we were saving our carb calories for beer, so that was not an option.  It was a dish that attracted some attention from the folks hovering while waiting for a table of their own, though. 

I went with a shrimp dish since they had sold out of their green beans.  The shrimp were available either peeled or unpeeled and I took the easy way out opting for shell off.  I  love those hot little pepper slices that were scattered throughout the dish and my plate was not a victim of too much oil at all.  A pretty basic dish, but enjoyable.

I'll be at a little party in a couple of weeks at Ala Shanghai and will revisit their dumplings, but not their scallion pancakes. I will try to remain cognizant that like bacon and turkey bacon, there will be some similarities, but that, for me, it is best to think of the soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai and those from Ala Shanghai as being from two distant regions rather than from next door neighbors.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow day soup

this photo does not do it justice
Yesterday was our first snow day of the season and I am pretty darn satisfied with how I used my found time.  This storm was well forecasted for a change, and I was so confident that I was going to be home for the day, that I prepped bread dough the night before and got to enjoy the aroma of fresh bread baking in my oven.  Love that! 

I am newly obsessed with kale, following my meal at Cafe Capriccio, and decided to make a kale and bean soup.  I don't know about you, but I am convinced that white beans and kale are the flavor combination of winter 2011 - it seems like I'm seeing it everywhere (@Eataly on bruschetta, @Cafe Capriccio on crostini, in Bon Appetit, etc).  I gathered together 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cut into 2" pieces), a package of garlic and chicken sausage (sliced into 1" rounds), a huge bunch of kale (coarsely chopped), an entire head of garlic (again, coarsely chopped), 2/3 of a bag of "baby" carrots, approximately 2.5 quarts of assorted stock (more on this later) and a big can of canellini beans. 

The process:  Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy, deep pot, over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and lightly brown.  Turn down the heat and toss in the chunks of chicken thighs.  Brown on all sides, turning as necessary.  Add the chicken sausage and stock - I used 3 different types of stock from my freezer; turkey and two different batches of chicken stock.  I seasoned each of those birds differently and think the variety added a really nice depth to my end result. Turn the heat down to medium low and toss in the carrots and kale, stirring to distribute evenly, and cover.  My bunch of kale was ginormous and I had to add it slowly as it cooked down, which took a few minutes.  After about 30 minutes, I reached for my can of white beans and...paused.   "Hmmm.  If everyone is doing kale and white beans maybe I need to switch it up a bit," I thought to myself.  I considered how beautiful the orange carrots looked and decided to put my own spin on things (as I like to do) and reached for a bag of dried yellow lentils (2.5 - 3 cups, I'd say ) instead.  Oh, yeah.  Perfect!  I covered the pot again, turned the heat to as low as it would go and went skiing for a couple of hours.  Upon my return, inspired by the lentils, I seasoned the soup with between 1/4 and a 1/3 cup of garam masala and let the spices cook for about 30 minutes prior to ladling that loveliness into bowls.  I served the soup with home baked bread, soft, herbed cheese and roasted cauliflower.  Delicious.  
a delicious winter salad

















Today's lunch was a salad of baby spinach and arugula dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice then topped with leftover roasted cauliflower, croutons and golden raisins. Yum, yum - that's good eating.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wine Fest

I can't imagine a better Friday in Albany than the one I had last week.  It began with yoga @5:45 (yes, that is a.m.), lasted approximately 20 hours, and, start to finish, it was awesome. Photos below are from the 2nd Annual Albany Chefs' Wine and Dine for the Arts, which was held downtown at the Crowne Plaza.  The three day event raised money to support Albany's not-for-profit arts community and it rocked.  The photos below are from the Grand Tasting  which took place Friday late afternoon into the evening.  The snow didn't discourage any hearty Albanians from joining in the fun, (including celebrity bloggers Daniel B. and Albany Jane), and simply made the event more festive.  Can't wait until next year!    Lots of other folks have written in detail about the participants and their own experiences, so I'll just leave you with some of my visual impressions.

sea bream three ways

from one of my favorite sonoma tasting rooms

surf and turf rolls

3 gentlemen (one of whom I've babysat)

whimsical cakes by gio

can't you almost hear "take me to the river..."

joe carr doing his thing

donna actually having a chance to taste some wine

a place i've never been...

here's lombardo's eggplant - tasty stuff

hannah's hope cocoa fundraiser