Thursday, December 30, 2010

A black & white world

so simple ~ so perfect

If there is any single food item which I consider myself to be an expert about, it is the black & white cookie.  And - please don't call it a "half-moon" because that makes no sense at all.  I've eaten uncountable examples of this NYC delicacy and have concluded that my favorite examples are heavy for their size, frosted with an icing that hardens rather than remain ing squishy to the touch and with a faint lemony flavor to the cookie.  Pictured above is my ideal - from Rocco's on Bleecker Street, home also to the best pannetone I've ever had.  This cookie gets elevated to the top of the heap by the addition of a light layer of apricot glaze between the spongy cookie and the icing.  Unexpected to the uninitiated, delightful to the experienced.  Get yourself to Rocco's.  You won't be sorry.

Monday, December 27, 2010


For too many years to count, Christmas Eve has meant an elaborate meal, conceived and prepared by yours truly, usually for a crowd of 12-16. However, like many other things this year, the celebration of Christmas Eve demanded something different, something a little more simple.  The obvious solution: Chinese Food and Champagne.  

At 4:00 in the afternoon, I calmly called CCK and placed our order for a 6:30 delivery time.  People - this is how you do it on a holiday.  Call early and get your order in, trust me, it makes things so much nicer for all involved.  The size of our order bordered on obscene: a whole Peking Duck (served with buns, crackers, scallions and plum sauce), a hot pot of seafood, bean curd and vegetables, steamed pork dumplings, har kow, fried squid with hot peppers and salt, hot and sour soup, Chinese broccoli, sesame chicken (for Q, it's his favorite) and an amazing beef satay chow fun, all washed down with bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.  You do know that Champagne and Chinese are a natural pairing, right?  

Did I miss my usual houseful of friends?  Yes, without a doubt their absence was duly felt and noticed.  Did I embrace the food, friends and family in attendance, with sincerity and grace?  Absolutely.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I've always been a Christmas card person, even more so since having my children.  Each November I hope for inspiration and begin planning the annual missive.  I've got things down to an art - the addresses of the recipients are saved and printed onto labels, the boys generally cooperate on photo day and sometimes even help with preparing the envelopes, and I try to get everything in the mail by early December.  Just in case you haven't been on the Christmas List - here's some of what you've been missing.  All the best to you and yours for a peaceful and most Merry Christmas.  Silvia

cutting, glue and glitter - something parents of 1 child (sometimes) have time to do

Thatcher Park ~ 2000

what a somber Christmas that was...

the results of a mixed marriage: Red Sux Sox vs. Yankees


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Tree Hunting

After the reprieve created by that little ice thing a week ago Sunday, this past Saturday, by default, became the day of our annual tree hunting expedition.  We've been going to the same farm for about 5 years or so and couldn't be happier with the tree selection or the $20 price. I prefer to keep the name of the place a secret - bet you didn't think I even knew how to do that, but I'll give you a's on the other side of the river, sort of by Burden Lake.  Burden Lake - what does that even mean?  Does anyone have some information regarding how Burden Lake got its name?  If so, perhaps we can make a trade. 

beautiful vista
The ideal length of time, in my opinion, to be a slave to pine needles everywhere is about 2 weeks, which puts us right in the sweet spot of tolerance.  That ice event was actually a gift from the heavens which made delaying the acquisition of another semi-alive thing in my house an act of God instead of Goddess (aka me).  We were definitely a little late to the game and encountered a fair number of stumps in the field, but, after trudging through the surprisingly deeper than expected snow for about 20 minutes,  we located the perfect tree.  Again.  You see, I say that every single year.  It is one of my standard holiday Christmas phrases along with "I'm never doing Christmas cards again," "This is the last year I'm leaving my house on Christmas Day," and "I'm done shopping.  The boys aren't getting another thing."  I am consistent - sometimes. 

do they look like tree killers?

This wonderful little tree farm provides saws and rope and in no time, that tree was tied to the roof of my car heading to its final new home in the DelSo.  This year's tree is a little skinny, but beautifully shaped and, once again, I think we picked the perfect tree.  Actually, it is so beautiful that I can't wait to see it  spread its beauty far and wide in the form of mulch.  But, until that day (1/1/11) when we offer it up to the curb, I will insist that it be plugged in from morning til night, as a beacon to the ho-ho-holidays.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Scone call - for you.

yeah - i made these.
I got myself into a bit of a baking frenzy this weekend.  It started Saturday morning at about 5 a.m. with 2 loaves of bread, a mushroom and spinach quiche and a mess of scones. See what happens when I stay in on a Friday night?  Productivity!  This was my first time using this recipe for scones and I was very pleased with the results.  Of course, I didn't exactly stick to the recipe, but I did get inspired by it, which seems close enough.  I made 2 variations - to one batch I added sliced almonds, dried cherries, dried blueberries and almond extract instead of vanilla, the other batch contained craisins, chopped dried apricots and dried blueberries and vanilla extract.  I sprinkled regular granulated white sugar on the tops of the scones instead of oats and raw sugar.  They were straight-up delicious - not too sweet, surprisingly light and not dry at all.  They would be perfect for Christmas morning - hint, hint.

Blueberry Oat Scones

  • 3 cups all purpose flour

  • 1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

  • 11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3T)  chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

  • 1 cup plus 3 T old-fashioned oats

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (about 5 1/2 ounces)

  • 1 3/4 cups chilled half and half

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5 teaspoons raw sugar
    • Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
    • Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and coarse salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Add 1 cup oats and blueberries; stir to blend evenly.
    • Stir half and half and vanilla in small bowl. Gradually add to flour mixture, tossing until dough just comes together (dough will be very moist).
    • Using 1/2-cup measuring cup for each scone, drop dough in mounds onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. Sprinkle tops with remaining 3 tablespoons oats, then raw sugar.
    • Bake 15 minutes. Reverse sheets and continue baking until scones are golden and tester inserted into center from side comes out clean, about 12 minutes longer. Transfer scones to rack and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  • Friday, December 17, 2010

    Miss Sydney's Indu Chutney

    I found an unopened jar of this delectable, locally made chutney in my refrigerator the other day and immediately opened it to enjoy with some takeout Indian food.  I imagine I originally purchased it at either the Honest Weight or the Troy Farmer's market - either that or the chutney fairy visited my house while I was sleeping.  However it found its way to my kitchen is incidental because, now that I know it is there, it won't be sticking around for long.  It is soooo delicious.  And made in Feura Bush.  And it doesn't contain any crap - just dates, raisins, water, vinegar, spices and light brown sugar.  That's it.  

    Here's the website to get yourself some - if not directly from them, from one of the purveyors listed. This would help you to make one of my favorite simple appetizers.  Place a nice wedge of brie or cream cheese on an ovenproof serving dish.  Dump (or spoon, for you delicate types) a generous amount of chutney on top of the cheese.  Place in the oven (350 degrees)  until the cheese is melty and soft, perhaps 5 minutes or so.  Serve with hearty crackers.  Enjoy.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Mulligatawny Soup

    a little mortar and pestle action - coriander seeds
    I've got a thing for Mulligatawny Soup.  With my first pregnancy, it was my number one craving, and just like the pregnancy stretch marks, it's never gone away.  A perfect meal is an order of garlic nan and a steaming bowl of soup - usually from Shalimar.  There's something about the spicy wonderfulness that makes me feel content - true comfort food.  I've been looking for a recipe for mulligatawny for a while, but there seems to be an incredible variety of mulligatawny versions and I am easily overwhelmed by choices.  Yesterday, I bit the bullet and settled on this recipe for my framework.  I say framework because, people, it's soup.  I really can't be overly concerned with measuring ingredients for a soup unless it's a consomee' or a bisque (neither of which I've ever made) because, in my mind, soup is an item that is meant to be spontaneous and loosely constructed.  And, yes, we're talking about soup, not relationships.  :)
    lots of onions, garlic and garam masala
    I've been meaning to get to the Indian market on Central Avenue for a few weeks, and gathering ingredients for this soup provided me with the perfect opportunity.  The market was pretty impressive but a bit overwhelming, since I don't really have much experience with cooking Indian cuisine.  If you're looking for basmati rice, inexpensive spices or dried legumes, this is definitely a place you should check out.  There is a kitchen in the rear of the store and prepared foods are also available.  I thoroughly enjoyed the samosas I bought, finding them to be flaky, spicy and generally damned delicious.  And cheap.  I ended up purchasing 2 lbs of onions, 2 lbs of split red lentils, a 7 oz (?) package of garam masala and the samosas for $8 and change. 

    deliciousness in less than an hour!
    When I make soup I like to make a large pot of it - which leaves me plenty to eat, share and freeze.  I sort of doubled the recipe and would estimate I used almost 2 lbs of onions, about 10 garlic cloves, and perhaps 5 cups of split red lentils.  The process was pretty simple, saute the onions in some olive oil until they brown up, add the chopped garlic, spices and lentils and then add stock and coconut milk. I pretty much eye-balled all the spices, and threw in a few tablespoons of cardamon seeds, as well, since the recipe didn't call for any and I love them.  I omitted the chicken and the rice called for in the recipe, but used chicken stock (maybe 10 or 12 cups), which could easily be replaced with vegetable broth to make a vegetarian version. I also skipped the pureeing part because I like a dense soup and why dirty the blender?  I was pretty darn liberal with the seasonings, and finished the pot of yum by adding salt and some generous squeezes of fresh lemon juice.  This is a really easy soup to make with limited chopping - just the onions and the garlic, and I will certainly make it again.  Now, I can satisfy this craving at home.  Mission accomplished.

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    My favorite Lark Street event - The Santa Speedo sprint.

    I've loved Lark Street ever since I moved to Albany 20+ years ago.  When I was first visited the area and found myself having brunch at the Beverwyck, I knew that Center Square was where I wanted to be and concentrated my housing search in that neighborhood.  I like the architecture, the shops and restaurants, the wide sidewalks which are often filled with characters and personalities, the cool city feel when residential and business meld together...  It just all adds up for me.  The only time I don't like Lark Street is during Lark Fest - I just can't abide the public drunkenness and sloppiness.  I'm all about having a good time, you know that, but is it really necessary to get falling down, publicly urinating drunk?  I find it more than a bit repulsive (like old guys and young girls, icky), and generally avoid attending Lark Fest, Lark Street's biggest event of the year.  Fortunately, however, I've found a new Lark Street party which I am more than willing to attend; the Santa Speedo Sprint.  Although this year's run was the 5th annual, it was the first that I've witnessed and I had a blast.  The crowd was fun, spirits were high and the sun was shining.  People were definitely in a partying mood, but there weren't any of those rednecks who seem to populate other Lark street events.  You know, the folks who apparently only have access to alcohol one day a year and are therefore committed to consuming enough booze to hold them over for 365 days, those people.  Anyway - none of those people were there and, in their place, were really fun Albanians celebrating an event that manages to combine festivity with charity.  And, isn't that what the holidays are all about?

    Santa Speedo Run 2010

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Gingerbread Fun at the UAG

    liberal with the frosting
    Yesterday, Quinn and I took part in Lark Street's Winter Wonderlark activities at the Upstate Artists' Guild's Gingerbread Funhouse.  For a (small) recommended donation of $5, we were provided with a gingerbread house and an incredible array of goodies with which to eat while we sat around decorate it.  You parents out there know what a pain in the arse it would be to do this at home - lots of candy, lots of unnaturally colored frosting, lots of mess.  However, in a setting like this, decorating our gingerbread was all the fun I had ever imagined it to be!  Quinn had a blast squeezing crazy amounts of frosting "glue" on to his property and sticking gumdrops, skittles, m&m's, marshmallows, pretzels and candy canes all over, liberally sampling  treats along the way.  I really hope this is an  annual event, because we will definitely be back next year.

    And - if you're looking for something festive to do today, Sunday 12/12, head down there later in the afternoon for a holiday collage card making workshop.  Fun.

    not a swanky clothes event

    carefully trying to get as much candy as possible on the house

    note that gingerbread boy wasn't given a mouth.  i wanted him to be quiet.

    Swanky Party

    cocktail bar tree
    Isn't swanky one of the best words in the English language?  It makes me think of cocktails served straight up and waxed hair and red lipstick - all of which were present in abundance (ok, maybe not the waxed hair, there seemed to be an inordinate number of men with shaved heads) at the Mad Men themed party I attended Friday night.  

    I can't tell you how fun it was to be in a room of gorgeous people who had each put forth some effort in their appearances - what a pleasure.  Then, factor in a Manhattan/martini bar, elegant passed hors d'oeuvres and a beautiful setting... Well, it was a lovely evening.  That  Matt Baumgartner really knows how to throw a party.
    skinny tied Sunny and Ryan

    beautiful Yasmine

    a spectacular looking couple

    fantastic updo by Robb Penders from V Salon

    Yasmine and our host, Matt

    Rob, as drinking Don Draper, (note the loosened tie) and me

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Malignant Marriage

    image from:
    I've got strong feelings about marriage and cancer these days.  Note: I said strong feelings, not clear or rational feelings.  The cancer is on my mind because I've got some routine-ish doctor appointments coming up.  Scans, and blood work and follow-up types of things.  That, and the recent death of Elizabeth Edwards have put cancer, once again, in the front of my mind instead of in that dark, quiet place which I don't often visit.  My thoughts about cancer are musings about why people develop cancer in certain parts of their bodies.  Like me, for instance.  What are the odds of having cancer removed twice from an area as small as the neck?  Isn't it likely that the cancer is in my neck because my head and my heart are in in conflict - and apparently have been for for more than a few years? 

    Which leads directly to my current thoughts on marriage... Did you see this article in last week's Sunday New York Times? As I read it, maybe my second time through, I felt as if I might have written it myself - a response which a number of my friends attested to feeling themselves.  My husband even asked me if I was using a pen name because he so clearly recognized what the female author was saying from our own conversations.   While chatting about the article with my writer friend, Rachel, I told her I thought this "little divorced" thing could very well develop into a social phenomena that future anthropologists would be studying for years.  The only question is: is it a revolution or a plague?

    Olive Greens

    so pretty - so delicious
    When faced with a freakishly large head of broccoli rabe, and the desire to limit carbohydrate consumption, what would you do?  If carbs were not an issue, I'd be all about making a pot of polenta, Union Square Cafe-style with milk, Gorgonzola and toasted walnuts.  I've been trying to wean my body off carbohydrate satisfaction, though, so this was not an option.  What I did have available, however, was about a third of a pint of fantastic mixed olives that I had picked up last month at Eataly.  Speaking of which, have you been there yet?  Let me tell you, it is off the hook crazy, fantastic.  When you go have lots of time and lots of money - but don't go hungry.  I personally found it a bit overwhelming because there were so many options - options for dining (eat in/take out/full service) options for products (olive oils, cheeses, meats, baked goods, pastas, wines, chocolates, etc) and beverage (vino, vino, vino).  And, my issues with making choices have been repeatedly documented of late.  I walked out with a large bottle of Ligurian olive oil and a pint of olives and made my way down Fifth Avenue to Otto where their comprehensive menu seemed inherently more manageable to me.

    But, to return to the simple task at hand - greens and olives.  I heated up some olive oil (not the Ligurian which unfortunately met an untimely demise when it landed on the ceramic tile in our hotel lobby.  A sad story, but easily enough replaceable.) and made a few cloves of minced garlic golden brown.  I then unceremoniously dumped in my olives, along with the orange peel, slivered hot red peppers and unidentifiable (to me) leafy green herb which accompanied them.  Next up was the freshly washed (purposely not spun dry to add a little liquid to steam), coarsely chopped rabe.  The broccoli rabe needed to be added in batches because the head was so humongous that I couldn't have fit it all in the fairly large saute pan at once.  My "technique" was to fill the pan up, put a lid on it and walk away for a couple of minutes - at this point the heat was somewhere between low and medium, perhaps a 3.5 on a scale of 1-10.  As the rabe wilted, I tossed it around a bit and added more, trying to keep the cooked greens on top of the raw.  I repeated this until the greens were cooked al dente.  To finish, I seasoned with salt and crushed red pepper flakes.  Admittedly, these would have been divine served in a bowl crowning a mound of creamy polenta, but, I thoroughly enjoyed them nonetheless.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Cella Bistro

    I've been wanting to get to Cella Bistro for a long, long time.  A recent post on Table Hopping finally made it impossible to not go - open Sunday + 3 courses for $30 = I'm there.  We made a 5:30 reservations and relied on Google maps to get us there, which fortunately worked.  When we arrived, we loitered by the bar area for a few minutes until we were warmly greeted by the apparently sole front of the house employee, Hanna.  She invited us to sit where ever we wanted and brought us menus and water in no time.  The Sunday menu options are limited: only 3 starters, 2 entrees and 2 desserts from which to choose.  Good, I say.  I'm tired of overwhelmingly long menus with far too many choices.  Remember?  I'm suffering from an inability to make choices these days. 
    Artichoke deliciousness

    We went with a garlicky bean and greens soup and a gorgeous herb and bread crumb stuffed artichoke.  The soup was light, filled with intense garlic flavor and still firm greens - delicious.  The artichoke is something I've always wanted to make but have been too lazy to deal with - tamping the breadcrumb mixture between the leaves just seems to me like something I don't have the time or patience to deal with - kind of like making pie crust or working with phyllo dough.  The artichoke was wonderful - it really set the tone for a homemade tasting Italian meal.  The leaves were tender and there was a small puddle of butter to drag each one through prior to scraping the yummy flesh off between my teeth.

    Cavatelli with broccolini
    We selected one of each of the two entree options - the eggplant served with pasta on the side and the Sunday gravy with bucatini on the side.  I am a fan of eggplant and the towering portion I received did not disappoint.  The proportion of eggplant to cheese to sauce was spot on and I also really appreciated that eggplant was cooked with respect - it wasn't mushy or crunchy, just perfection.  The cavatelli was lightly coated with garlic and olive oil and accompanied by broccolini.  My only complaint is that I wished for more broccolini - not a huge problem because the portion was literally enough for 3 meals and I was able to add some of my own greens to the leftover pasta during a subsequent meal. 


    The Sunday gravy was ridiculous - it totally reminded me of when I dated that (fairly)nice Italian guy many, many years ago and we were expected at Sunday dinner every week where a very similar meal was served.  As was the case with my entree, this meal demanded 2 bowls to contain its goodness.  The first bowl was a couple of meatballs, a couple of sausages, a beef rib (still on the bone) and braciole.  On the side, in its own bowl, was a mound of bucatini, which, if you're not familiar, is a thick, long pasta, kind of a fat spaghetti.  Or, what I'd look like if I had attempted to eat even half of what had been placed in front of me, without the long part, of course.  Sundays, for me, are a day of enjoying family, slowing down, relaxing, and this meal epitomized those desired feelings perfectly in a bowl.  The beef was tenderly falling off the bone, the meatballs were tender, the sausage flavorful and firm.  The braciole was a little different than the one I get regularly at Lupa, but that is by no means a complaint, merely an observation.  There were no criticisms at all about these meals - fantastic flavor, abundant portions, quality ingredients, thoughtful service - the full package.

    For dessert we had a trifle and a hunk of tiramisu.  Both were fairly light since the foundational ingredients to both were feather weight sponge-type cake, one being an angel food and the other lady's fingers.  There was a certainty density from the marscapone and cream, but still, these were lovely finales to a worth-waiting-for dining experience.  And - what a value.  Dinner for 2, which essentially translated to 6 meals, with a perfect bottle of Italian red and a fat tip came to $125. 

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Now is the winter of our discontent...

    Winter walk 19

    I'm not one to get all Shakespearean on you  - in all honesty, I've never read an entire Shakespeare work in my life; despite having an undergraduate degree in English.  But, this morning while I was looking out the window and watching the glorious white stuff fall from the sky, this quote just popped into my head and felt apt for my mood

    While I've loved the flakes falling from the sky, I've been less enamored by the conflicted feelings swirling internally.  If  only I could figure out a way to get away...Sometimes it seems that I am so occupied listening to everyone else's voice that I can't hear my own.  Figuring out what I want, where I want to be, who I want to be, feels more like a continuing saga than an increasingly more illuminated path.  Some time alone, without the distractions (joyful or otherwise) of everyday life, would probably go a long way in making me feel a bit more grounded and serene. 

    I know this will pass.  I believe each day brings me closer to a deeper understanding, a more clear acceptance of self and others, but, there are days when this holding pattern I find myself flying within feels more than a little constricting.  For now, I remain optimistically pessimistic. 

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Naughty vs. Nice (or Date Night with 2 Lilly Boys)

    Before I share my impressions and experience as a spectator at the Slay Belles Rollerderby event this past Saturday night, I have a confession to make... I'm not always nice.  Often, I stop just short of being naughty, sometimes of my own volition sometimes due to another's influence.  There - I feel better now that I've shared that fact. 

    Saturday night, I was travelling light with only 2 Lilly boys in tow.  After a fantastic dinner at Emperor's Palace, we headed west in the family wagon, for a new adventure: Roller Derby.

    Thanks to the generous folks at All Over Albany, I scored a couple of tickets to the Troy Hellion's Slay Belles - Naughty vs. Nice intra-league bout which was held at Rollarama in Schenectady.  I have no prior experience with roller derbies, (despite what you may have heard) other than a vague memory of some movie from my childhood.  After attending my first roller derby, I have to admit, I still don't know much about it as a sporting event, but, as a good time, I can now say, I'm quite familiar. 

    From what I could gather, roller derby is essentially a race between 2 individuals on opposing teams.  The purpose of the remaining team members seems to be to block the opposite team as their "racer" tries to get around the track fastest.  While this may be a succinct description of roller derby, it doesn't begin to describe the highlight of the evening for me - the outfits!  Anytime fishnets, rollerskates and shiny lingerie can be worn together in public, is a banner event, as far as I'm concerned.  Add a little (or a lot) of eyeliner and a feather boa or two, and you've got yourself a good time.  More photos below...

    Sunday, December 5, 2010


    Have you ever forced Paper White bulbs?  It is one of the easiest, most satisfying, indoor gardening projects imaginable. 
    Like each of us, they sometimes require a little support.
    1. Purchase a few bulbs - I think I bought a dozen for about $20 at Hewitt's.  
    2. Stick them in a pot of soil or even on a pile of gravel suspended over water in a jar. 
    3. Water when you remember keeping the soil somewhere between not wet and not dry.
    4. Watch them grow.
    5. Enjoy their beauty and fragrance.

    The flowers should last at least 2 weeks.

    These took about 3 or 4 weeks from purchase to bloom.  Buy some today and you could be sniffing them for the New Year.
    See the similarities to daffodils?

    If only lighting a candle could make it so...

    What would your candle say today?