Thursday, September 30, 2010

One-Armed Bandit Cooking

Since my surgery last week, I haven't done much in the way of cooking.  Although I am left-handed, I grew up in the days when special accommodations were not made for the those of us who leaned to the gauche side, so much of what I do is right handed, including using a knife.  Not being able to chop, slice or essentially use my right arm has definitely impacted what we've been eating this week at home.  And, when you factor in the painkillers, I've been taking...well, it's probably just as well that I can't hold a knife since I'd probably be a menace.

I had taken some chicken out of the freezer and initially imagined a stir fry - thinking to myself "hey, the husband is home, let's put him to use."  Stir fries were one of his signature meals back in the day, but I mistakenly discouraged his cooking in the pre-dishwasher early days, due to his insistence upon using separate bowls to hold each individual ingredient.  He's never really recovered, unfortunately,  from this rejection and thus doesn't really do much cooking.  Anyway, something came over me, in the middle of the afternoon and I developed a strong craving for chicken parmigiana.  Since the boys aren't tremendous fans, I knew I could I prepare simple drumsticks for them and breasts for us and hopefully satisfy everyone.  The chicken was egg-dipped and rolled in bread crumbs while some garlic browned in olive oil.  I added the chicken to the pan and got it nice and crispy on the outside before placing it the oven at 375 to finish coking through, approximately 20 minutes for the drumsticks, closer to 30 minutes for the huge (Dolly Parton huge) breasts.  The alternative, of course, would have been to pound the breasts with a mallet, but I was essentially working with one arm and wasn't able to manage anything quite that physical.  Especially since I don't have a mallet and generally use my marble rolling pin which is really heavy.  While the chicken finished baking, I threw together a quick tomato sauce - olive oil, garlic, a can of crushed tomatoes, a generous squeeze of anchovy paste and salt.  During the last 5 minutes of so (total sauce cooking time = about 20 minutes) I tossed in some chopped fresh basil and some chunks of fresh mozzarella reasoning that it would just that much easier prep-wise, plus I really like the crunchy bits on the chicken and they can get lost when covered with sauce and cheese.  Tom gallantly cut my chicken up for me, and I served some cavatelli with the cheesy tomato sauce on the side as I considered my good fortune - home with the family enjoying a wholesome dinner.  Life  is good.  And so was dinner.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beans & Greens - A Fall Romance

I'm starting to get a little excited, perhaps even falling a bit in love, again with autumn eating.  I don't know if it's the change in temperature or the much needed rain, but all of a sudden I'm getting turned on by squash and sweet potatoes and magical things cooked in a crock pot. It's a positive thing right, that as each season arrives I greet it with complete conviction that it is in fact my absolute favorite time of the year for cooking and eating? 

The boys have been requesting pancakes and I had a brilliant plan for how to make all of us happy with minimal effort: breakfast for dinner for them, beans & greens for me.  I started by broiling some nice thick-cut bacon to put on the side of their pancakes, reserving 3 slices for my own use.  I placed a small amount of olive oil in a deep pot (to avoid too much splatter) and got about 5 or 6 chopped cloves of garlic gently turning light brown.  I then added the bacon, which was coarsely cut into approximately 1" pieces.  As the garlic and bacon were turning my kitchen into an orgy of delicious fragrance, I rinsed the broccoli rabe and chopped it up a bit, leaving the greens fairly sizable but not unmanageable.  My garlicky-bacon combo was on the verge of becoming stuck to the bottom of the pan - perfect.  I poured in a box of low-sodium chicken broth and deglazed the pan, loosening up all that deliciousness and turned the heat to medium low.  Just a note about the boxed chicken broth - I have quarts of homemade stock in the freezer, but saw no reason to use one of my own intense broths when I really wanted the chicken flavor to be far in the background.  Risotto season is around the corner and it will be much better put to use then.  The broccoli rabe went in and I let the flavors mingle and get to know one another for about 10 minutes.  This would be a great time to toss in any hard cheese ends that you may have laying around for an additional layer of flavor.  The last thing to do is rinse a couple of cans of cannellini beans and add them to your pot to warm through.  For seasoning, I added a generous amount of crushed red pepper flakes - salt was completely unnecessary with the bacon present, in my opinion.  Ladle into a bowl and finish with some grated cheese.  Start to finish - no more than 25 minutes.  Faster than a cup of coffee with a blind date and way more satisfying.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Human Touch

image from
While skimming Cheryl Clark's review in today's print edition of the Times-Union, something I do each week with a mixture of shock and awe, a sentiment stood out for me: "...lacking the human touch that makes a restaurant welcoming."  Ah, yes, the human touch.  In a restaurant, this human touch is what makes the guests feel welcomed and taken care of and generally acknowledged and indulged.  It's the part of the restaurant business with which I am most familiar - it's what I do, hopefully, with grace and sincerity, every night I work the front of the house in a dining room.

I've been thinking about the human touch, the personal component of a restaurant which evolves and magically comes together to create the fabric which binds a restaurant together.  If you've ever worked in a restaurant perhaps you've been fortunate enough to be a part of a team that together creates something beyond what each is capable of achieving individually.  I can recall having this sort of experience only 3 times in my 25+ years in the business.  It is that rare and special, in my opinion.  The irony of this restaurant kismet is that unfortunately, one often doesn't realize the amazing circumstances until they have changed, a natural occurrence in the restaurant business.  Everyone knows that the hospitality industry is filled with people going places - to school to prepare for a "real" job, to resort areas to capitalize upon tourists and their free-spending ways, to new ventures and opportunities.  This transience is as much the nature of the business as the drinking, the alleged drug abuse and the otherwise loose morals of which we restaurant folks are always being accused.  It's how it works.

I have a tendency to stay at a restaurant - I'm not one for change, particularly in a business where employees are guaranteed a  new adventure every single night they work.  The only occasions when I've left a restaurant to immediately begin working at another restaurant, were directly related to my desire to improve myself and were related to food quality - I can't serve something I don't heartily endorse.  Both of these times, I gave my professional 2 weeks notice and departed with no hard feelings on either side.  It was understood that my decision to move on was based upon personal opportunities and interests.  I was doing something for me, not doing something against my employer.  And, yes, it really is that simple.  And it is something which occurs every single day in the hospitality industry. 

Failing to understand that the human touch is integral to the success of a restaurant is on par with confusing business decisions with those more personal in nature.  It only creates a situation which leaves a distinct "bad touch" feeling behind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Soccer and Serenity Now

Although I wouldn't admit it to just anyone, I don't mind sharing with you that I'm a soccer mom.  Albeit a reluctant one.  My inability to completely embrace this persona probably is the result of a few factors, things like I don't drive a minivan.  Or 100% understand the rules of the game or the various positions on the field.  And, maybe, just maybe, I get a little resentful of the demands on my life as I try to manage the practice and game commitments of two players essentially by myself due to my husband's work schedule.  But, the little guy loves it and my middle guy craves a competitive outlet and I find soccer to be a more appealing option than some of the other past times with which he would find himself involved.  As I often remind him kiddingly, it's what keeps him out of juvie.  

Fall season is barely underway and already it's time to try out for indoor travel soccer.  That's the way this sport is - there are opportunities to play essentially year round.  Now, the outdoor season has definite advantages over the winter season.  Aside from the fact that the evening practices occur when it is still light out, I really prefer being outside in the fresh air rather than in a stuffy school gym or under an Afrim's bubble.  Last week's game allowed me an opportunity to sit in the grass for an hour or so and enjoy being outdoors.  Something kind of weird happened, though.  As I alternated my attention between the book I was reading and the clump of 5 year-olds clustered around the ball with feet flying, I became conscious of a voice requesting "Serenity."  Of course, I interpreted this almost-chant as some sort of new-age exercise in personal centering, a la Seinfeld, but somehow the tone was all wrong - too impatient, not beckoning enough to achieve the desired state.  But then I realized that Serenity was not in fact a personal aspiration for the speaker, but was instead the name of her child - the child she was dealing with in a decidedly unserene fashion. 

I try to not measure my successes and failures as a person, and/or parent, by any yardstick other than my own, but when I witness that type of irony, it is difficult to resist.  And when I received a beautiful candle this week as a birthday present, a candle who's scent was called Serenity, I thought of this other struggling mom and wished there were  a way for me share my gift of serenity with her.  Because we're all ultimately on the same team, aren't we?

Monday, September 20, 2010

For Four-Four

I've been thinking about lists.  Mental lists, list of things to do, lists of pros and cons to assist in making a know, lists.  I once worked with a woman who was a dedicated list maker.  I'm sure she felt that having a tangible list of things to do helped to keep her life in order, but, she still seemed pretty stressed out to me.  When I looked a little more closely at her list I realized that she was never "completing" a list.  Instead, as she crossed items off the top of her list, she would add additional tasks to the bottom of the list, thus creating a perpetual list and never garnering a sense of completion or accomplishment.  Well, that was enough to dissuade me from getting involved with list making other than for Christmas and vacation packing. Until now, that is. I've noticed a trend towards making lists of things to do, be it during a particular year of life or simply prior to the end of one's life.  I'm all about looking forward and making plans for the future, but somehow making that sort of list doesn't appeal to me - perhaps a lack of ambition on my part?  And, while I'm not one to reside in the past, I'd rather make a list of things I already have accomplished in recognition of my 44 years worth of living.  Bear with me - this is completely self-indulgent.  They are in no particular order.
  1. Put myself through college - and graduate school, completely on my own.
  2. Watched the sun rise over the Atlantic numerous times.
  3. Had letters to the editor expressing my opinion(s) published
  4. Nurtured and grew children in my body
  5. Had cancer removed from my body twice
  6. Lived in NYC
  7. Survived without a television - or a car, for numerous years
  8. Swam in the Mediterranean.
  9. Volunteered.
  10. Mastered hollandaise.
  11. Ridden my bicycle for 50+ miles.
  12. Been to the beach every summer for the last 12 years.
  13. Found my father's family
  14. Visited the birthplaces of both of my parents.
  15. Hitchhiked around Europe.
  16. Saw a bald eagle and her eaglets in thier nest while sea-kayaking around Orcas Island.
  17. Ate at the French Laundry.
  18. Learned how to live without credit card debt.
  19. Received tenure - 3 times.
  20. Birthed babies, both surgically and without drugs.  Prefer the latter.
  21. Had my heart broken. 
  22. Broke some hearts.
  23. Had a trans-Atlantic romance.
  24. Maintained friendships with people despite time and distance.
  25. Visited the USSR before the Wall fell.
  26. Saw my candidate get elected to the White House - twice.
  27. Created a home for my family.
  28. Lived alone in complete contentment.
  29. Took a chance on a person.
  30. Convinced someone to take a chance on me.
  31. Maintained a marriage for 16+ years.
  32. Rode my bicycle around Greenwood Lake.  A long ride in memories, not necessarily miles.
  33. Learned how to apologize with sincerity.
  34. Laughed until I leaked fluid.  Use your imagination.
  35. Went to the desert, unfortunately not on a horse with no name.
  36. Saw more concerts than I can count.
  37. Met celebrities and treated them like human beings.
  38. Drank a perfect bellini.
  39. Walked around a vineyard with a winemaker and learned how much science + art goes in each bottle.
  40. Experienced being robbed and having my house burn down - survived both.
  41. Came to truly understand that life is all about choices.
  42. Accepted that living in the moment will probably always be a struggle for me.
  43. Can still do a kick-ass cartwheel.
  44. Became the person I am because of all of these things and more. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Bump in the Road...

Or the shoulder, to be more precise, is being removed this week.  While I often wore my bump, the result of a bicycle crash a couple of years ago, with athletic pride it is time for it to go.  Aesthetically, I could live with it, but it has been making me increasingly more uncomfortable for the last 9 or 10 months so I'm sucking it up and going under the knife. When I originally separated my shoulder, I had no idea that a body could be so thrown out of whack without breaking a bone - seems that muscles and tendons are pretty damn important to the whole structural integrity of a body.  The surgery is scheduled as an outpatient thing and hopefully I'll be given only local anesthesia since pharmaceuticals are not my favorite thing.  Either way, I'm trying adjust to the idea of being a bit (?) incapacitated for the next 6 weeks or so and hope that my inability to exercise doesn't result in more extreme modes of stress relief.  Like hari-kari.  Maybe the pain pills will be beneficial after all.  Have any of you had a similar injury?  Any suggestions for helping the healing process?

Saturday, September 18, 2010


In honor of the official first weekend of Football Sunday, we ordered take-out from the new place in the DelSo, Pizzalo, last week.  In addition to pizza their menu features pasta, salads, subs and wings, which certainly is convenient if you're serving a crowd with divergent appetites.  We kept things simple by placing a focused order of just pizza and wings. 
Large half pepperoni pizza

Small with onions
The guys had been jonesing for a pizza/wing feast for awhile so I wasn't able to grab any photos prior to the onset of the feeding frenzy, but I think you'll get the gist of things.  We went with a large pie, half pepperoni, a small pizza with onions and 24 wings.  The large pizza was definitely better than the small - we won't bother going small again.  The crust was decent, fairly crisp and had some of those airy-dough spots that I appreciate.  One of the issues I had with the previous pizza place on this corner was a tendency for them to under-cook the pizza and leave the crust soggy - yuck.  This pizza was definitely cooked the right length of time and the boys were very pleased with the texture, sauce and cheese.  The small pizza was weird - almost as if they assembled it from a different batch of ingredients.  Instead of being crisp it was nearly crunchy and had unfortunately absorbed some flavor from the cardboard.  It just wasn't good.  The onions were a bit skimpy, especially when 
 you consider the cost of onions, and I just wasn't feeling it with this menu item.  Fortunately, the wings helped to shift the balance in our overall experience.  Our wings were medium hot and had just the right amount of spice to evoke pleasure rather than pain.  They were nice and meaty without being over-sized and I generally found them to be high quality.  The wings were served with a generous amount of commercial bleu cheese dressing and fresh, crunchy carrot sticks. Solid.

The verdict?  A good addition to the neighborhood for convenient, one-stop, take out.  The quality of the food is pretty much what we expected and the owners have really taken some time to improve the physical appeal of the space.  We'll definitely put them in the rotation.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Restaurant Smallbany

How many of these folks have served you a meal?
I think we can all agree that Albany has way more dining choices these days than were available in years  past.  In addition to the myriad of ethnic options previously absent from the Capital Region, there are numerous creative American cuisine restaurants, which together provide lots of options for diners, depending upon their mood and/or budget.  What hasn't changed very much is the pool of customers to whom we hospitality professionals cater.  In my 20+ years  in Albany, I've worked in only 4 restaurants - and as the years go by, it is pretty amazing to consider that there are some guests I've been taking care of for more than two decades. 

Recently I stopped into a wonderful restaurant in the DelSo for a glass of wine.  As I entered, I noticed a very well known Albany author and his wife being seated for a late meal.  The manager of this place is not originally from the area, and one of the bartenders was giving her the heads-up on who this couple was, and their quasi-celebrity status.  Knowing both the employees, as well as being familiar with the diners, I was able to interject into their conversation that this particular couple was adamant that every item they were served must be positively piping hot.  They thanked me for the tip and I am confident they were able to deliver precisely what Mr. and Mrs. Albany wanted - unlike the last time I offered this grain of wisdom in another restaurant (apparently I travel in the same dining circle as famous folks!), and things went swimmingly until the cappuccino was found to be tepid.  Oh - so close... 

This recent situation got me thinking about the relationships built and shared in the restaurant business.  I considered the relationships between guests and servers, as well as the connections between servers and servers, both within a particular restaurant and between restaurant "families,"  and wondered what it all might look like from the outside looking in.  But, before I ask you to share your perspective as a diner or a guest, let me tell you a little bit about what servers in town know and share.  And I'm not even referring to these folks at all. 
  • We share information about what makes you happy - bottled water, a drink made in a particular fashion, food prepared with or without an ingredient, a specific table you prefer.  This is valuable insider information and the fewer times you have to request something, the more satisfied we'll all be. 
  • Sometimes we text server friends, who are not present during service, for a reminder on what your name (or your spouse's) is.  We know exactly who you are, but we honestly just can't always remember your name.
  • We give greetings from (absent) servers to guests because we genuinely like you.  We also relay pertinent information about what's going on in your life to one another, both positive and tragic.  You're a person to us, not just a tip.
  • We try to know what you, our guests, do for a living and when it is possible we use your services or refer others to you.  At my house, our insurance, appliances and jewelry all come from folks we know from restaurants.
If you're a server, what do you know and share about your guests?  And, if you frequent a particular restaurant regularly, what do you expect from the person who serves you and do you feel a sense of shared relationship? 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Opening Eyes at Open House

Last night I attended Open House at the school where my 2 younger sons recently began the academic year.  The evening's event was specifically designed for 5th and 6th grade parents and the experience prompted a flood of thoughts from me.  Although Griffin is in 6th grade, he is new to this school at the end of our block.  Last year, I became less satisfied with his elementary school and decided I would prefer that he attend the magnet school in our neighborhood, rather than truck it by bus to the smaller school he had attended since kindergarten.  Admittedly, the recent change in how Albany's middle schools were populated was also a factor in my decision; the policy had shifted to "feeder" schools instead of one of lottery/neighborhood preference.  I wanted Griffin to have the opportunity to attend a school within walking distance,  not just this year, but for the next three years. So, we applied for the lottery in the spring and now have 3 children who walk to school, two of whom attend the same building. 

When I was an elementary school student we moved a lot, and, by the time I was in sixth grade, I had attended 5 different schools in 3 different districts.  I am very sympathetic to Griffin's being the "new kid," however, I also know that he will ultimately develop more confidence as he learns to negotiate his way through a new academic setting.  He will have the benefit of experiencing two different schools and learning that educational settings have both similarities and differences, a fact which remains constant despite education's steady march towards standardization and homogenization.  I was really impressed with the teachers I met last night and their devotion and enthusiasm for their craft was obvious.  I am incredibly optimistic that Griffin will have a great year, but I witnessed something last night that has left me sobered with sadness.  During a presentation by one of the academic teachers, a sign-up sheet was passed around the room inviting parents to participate in the planning and execution of 6th grade graduation in June 2011.  After I added my name and contact information to the list, I handed the sheet to the woman sitting nearest to me.  A few minutes passed and I realized she was still looking at it.  I assumed she was trying to project into the future about her availability, perhaps mentally considering her calendar of commitments.  Until she got my attention to ask, "Is this where we put our names to show that we were here?"  I was stunned.  I don't think she was able to read.  

As I struggle with the daily decisions and stresses and challenges involved with parenting, I will do my best to remind myself of the positive ratio of advantage to challenge which we, as a family, possess.  And to remain cognizant that a fundamental purpose of education should be to open everyone's eyes. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Things I think about when I'm cleaning...

image from
When I was single, I kept a pretty darn tidy home.  Perhaps my neatness was the result of the importance my mother always placed upon cleaning and chores.  My brother and I were given numerous responsibilities as small children and, as long as I can remember, my chores included putting my laundry away, polishing my shoes and helping with the family's laundry.  As I added men/boys to my life, I've had to relax my cleanliness expectations to maintain my sanity, but some days I go into a hyper-cleaning mode.   Today was one of those days when everywhere I looked, I saw something which displeased me... the little grates on the microwave... the vegetable bin in the refrigerator......the blades of the ceiling fans... As I again wished that our former cleaning woman could get legal immigration status, I dove in and began neatening up the external in the hopes that the end result would be a cleaner house, as well as a more tranquil mind.  For the record, I don't dislike cleaning, I just have a tendency to approach cleaning in a manner that is a bit ADD which prevents me from accomplishing as much as I would like.  Particularly when thoughts like those below are streaming through my head at about 100 miles per hour.
  • Why can't we simply throw away (recycle, donate) things we do not need or use?  Is it really necessary to hold on to stuff in a quasi-Purgatory?
  • I love my Dyson vacuum cleaner but even without the commercials, I would know a man designed it.  It works great, but it isn't always intuitive, to me, how to dismantle it to use the "wand."  And, please don't call it a "wand" if it doesn't involve magic.  I hate to be disappointed.
  • When is this great "paper-less" society going to begin?  I'm so sick of paper and mail and catalogs and don't get me started on the campaign literature... I must admit, however, that I struggle with discarding personal notes and cards I've received and I would like to think that if I sent you something you would want to keep it, too.
  • If we could discover a means to use dust as a source of power it would be the ultimate form of renewable energy.
  • I know that one day I will miss cleaning up the boys' splashes in the bathroom, but, right now I'd be happier if they just had better aim.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Journal Entry - 9/13/01

It has been the most desperately unhappy days I have ever known.  When Princess Diana died, it was terribly sad and the world mourned, but that tragedy pales in comparison to the horror we have witnessed. My spiritual home has been violated in a manner so violent to have never before been imagined.  For three days I  have seen the twin towers - beacons of the world's greatest city, crumble into a massive pile of rubble and bodies.  Thousands of people are no longer, and the repercussions of their deaths have not yet even begun to reverb throughout the world.  There is no real fear present, just an aching desire for justice to be executed, wisely, judiciously, without regret.  All of those families have been denied their loved ones... It is incomprehensible that the world continues to revolve, that the sun has shone so obscenely bright...Nothing will ever be the same again.  Our world is forever changed.

image from

Friday, September 10, 2010

Boston Recap

image from
Earlier in the summer, I mentioned we were planning a weekend in Boston to celebrate our anniversary, as well as meet the new baby of some dear friends.  I solicited advice about what to do and see and thought it was only polite to let you all know how things went.  I  have to confess that I did nothing based upon recommendations made.  Please don't let that discourage you from making future suggestions, because I did appreciate the input.  Things just went a little off course, shall we say?  To begin, Tom had to work Saturday and couldn't travel east until Sunday morning.  Of course, I opted to take the train solo from Pittsfield (nearby to where we were ditching dropping off one of the boys) rather than change our reservations, and I don't regret my decision.  The train was comfortable, cheap ($18!) and very convenient to the Back Bay.  The hotel (once I found it after wandering around a bit on poorly laid streets lacking signage) was more than adequate and the staff was thoughtful and considerate - offering me a choice of rooms with varying amenities and a celebratory bottle of bubbly.  

Old South Church
After check-in, I cleaned up a bit and went out in search of oysters and champagne.  The concierge had recommended a place on Boyleston - The Atlantic Fish Company.  I checked out the menu and it looked like it would meet my needs, however, the wait for a table or a place at the bar was crazy long.  I decided to take my chances and to use my gourmet sense, (kind of like Spidey sense without the benefit of web-throwing) without a thought of settling for anything less than the perfect place.  I walked over to Newbury Street and saw an interesting menu at the Capital Grille and, unlike Red Sox fans (better luck next year!), I picked myself a winner.  As fate would dictate - there was one seat available at the bar and I settled in with a glass of Nicolas Feuillatte and a menu.  I decided on a half dozen oysters and the beef carpaccio, which was prepared in a style reminiscent of Tuscany, and completely had my cravings satiated.  The couple on my right were lovely and we had a very nice conversation about upstate New York and "Southies," a previously unheard term for folks from South Boston.  I completed my meal with the absolute best coconut cream pie ever and a glass of Far Niente Dolce, a complete indulgence at $22 a glass, but worth every penny.  Boston was doing more than okay by me.

Pretty lace skirts at 70% off!
Tom arrived Sunday morning fairly early and we enjoyed a leisurely walk around the Back Bay getting acquainted with the retail options.  The brownstones, were gorgeous and there were far too many stores to explore - but, believe me, I did my best.  We hit up an awesome Marshall's where I almost didn't make it out of the Shoe Department, and I got a bag filled with great stuff ( 3 skirts, 2 tops) at a consignment shop, Second Time Around,  for $33. And we even had time for a nap before our epic dinner.  

So - what's my verdict on Boston?  Let me put it in baseball terms - in the fall of '78  the Yankees beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the American East title - they both had good seasons but we all know who went on to win the series. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

She's Like a Rainbow

Inspiration is coming from all sorts of various stimuli these days; farmers markets, psychic Ipods, Facebook friends and changeable weather conditions... Tuesday evening, I took a walk to the DelSo Farmer's Market and was magnetically drawn to the Asian eggplant.  They were so beautiful that I had no choice but to scoop some up and bring them home with me.  At the time, I imagined a stir-fry, perhaps with a sauce of coconut milk and maybe some red curry paste.  Today's overcast skies caused me to change direction however, and I decided instead to cozy up the kitchen by turning the oven on and doing some roasting.  And when my Ipod tossed me some vintage Rolling Stones, well, it just seemed to sum up the kind of eating late summer/almost fall offers us here in the gorgeous Northeast: 

"She comes in colors everywhere;
She combs her hair
She's like a rainbow..."

How pretty are these?
The  prep for these beauties was blissfully simple - slice them in half lengthwise and place them, cut side down, in your favorite roasting pan.  You do have a favorite roasting pan, right? The one I use time and time again was a gift (along with my shapely legs ;) from my mother, and my friend swears it is a "magic" pan - it always does the trick.  Anyway, I digress!  Drizzle the eggplant with sesame oil and kecap manis  (you did add kecap manis to your pantry, right?)  and then top with some chopped Thai basil.  That was it - I didn't even use salt or pepper.  Roast in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes and then prepare to swoon. 
Perhaps not as pretty, but damned tasty.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

image from
Are you familiar with this classic Clint Eastwood movie?  It seems like I grew up watching it, along with a Fistful of Dollars and Hang Em High, of course  What can I say?  We liked spaghetti Westerns at my house and Clint could rock a poncho like no one else - except my good friend Aloysius, perhaps.  The movie, like myself, premiered in 1966.  Maybe that fact, along with an excellent  theme song*, are why I am always willing to invest nearly 3 hours watching this terrific film. 

I haven't done much cooking in recent weeks, but three things I recently attempted personified The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  I thought I should share my failures with you as well as my culinary successes - a gentle reminder that none of us (other than Barbara Lynch) are perfect.

The Good
Let's begin with The Good - not only is that consistent with the title, but you all know I'm an optimist at heart.  Today was my first 5:30 a.m. wake-up call for the school year, and I used my time wisely by preparing dinner 12 hours early.  I've done brisket a number of ways, with varying degrees of success, but this "technique" always results in tender, falling apart, flavorful meat.  And, talk about easy!  Combine a can of beef broth with a jar of chili sauce in a slow cooker.  Add brisket (Get one bigger than you think you'll need - it cooks down and you'll want leftovers.) and top with some sliced onions, toss in some carrots if you have them, chopped potatoes would be lovely, too.  Cover.  Turn on low and cook for 10 or 12 hours.  There you go - delicious, easy dinner in one-pot.

The Bad
And now for The Bad...we had a surplus of red and yellow peppers in the crisper drawer so I decided to toss them on the grill and roast them.  Which I did.  For a long, long time because I completely forgot about them.  What I ended up with were absolute fossilized peppers - they were completely charred and lacking even the slightest amount of liquid. Aren't they kind of cool looking though?  Obviously they were inedible, but I'd like to think that the neighborhood squirrels ate them and became really sick.  Squirrels, too, are Bad.

The Ugly (but delicious)
After an August filled with succulent tomatoes and sweet corn, I'm ready to begin enjoying root and cruciferous vegetables.  One of my favorite cooler weather veggies is cauliflower.  Ugly is perhaps too  strong a word but work with me here, ok? Compared to perfectly round, glossy tomatoes and corn with shiny silk, cauliflower just isn't as visually appealing to many folks. After years of attempting to replicate my mother's mustard sauce, I've abandoned that folly and decided that I am more than happy with roasted cauliflower - again one pan and very little attention required.  Perfect. Break up your head of cauliflower into florets and toss into your favorite roasting pan.  Drizzle with  olive oil and liberally season with coarse salt.  Roast at 400 for about 40 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to toss the cauliflower.  Remove from the oven and enjoy - tastes great hot or cold or even pureed as the foundation of a soup.  Don't they say the ugly girl is usually the nicest?

* Because of some ridiculous pissing match between Apple and Adobe (which I obviously don't understand) I can't embed the song here, but click here for your listening and viewing pleasure.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Epic Dinner at Restaurant Menton

I'm just emerging from the food and wine induced coma I have been in since departing Menton Restaurant last night (this morning?) at 1:15 a.m. and wanted to share the experience before a single detail becomes lost.  Things definitely got a little fuzzy towards the end of our meal, but I did my best to take good notes and I invite you to share our memorable evening's repast.  Hope you have some time - this is looonnngg.

We were in Boston for Labor Day weekend to celebrate our (sweet) 16th anniversary .  For those of you considering marriage in the future, I highly recommend planning your nuptials on a holiday weekend -it makes it much easier to get out of town to celebrate!  After seeing Menton named by Bon Appetit (Sept 2010) as one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country, we decided to make a reservation and prepared for an over the top dining adventure.  What we got was without a doubt one of the best meals we've ever had - absolutely on par with the French Laundry, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern.

Amuse Bouche
When I made the reservation using Open Table I mentioned that we were restaurant industry professionals celebrating an anniversary and asked for any possible professional courtesies in terms of a romantic table.  When we arrived for our 8 pm reservation we were immediately ushered to a fabulous corner table in the elegantly plush dining room.  Within moments we were presented with glasses of Aubrey Champagne and offered the evening's menu options.  We selected  the 7-Course Chef's Tasting Menu ($145) rather than the 4-Course Prix Fixe menu ($95) and settled in with the wine list, which Tom immediately fell in love with - Cat Silirie may be my newest rival for Tom's affection.  There was an absolute army of servers - or perhaps they're a cult.  They all seemed to be true believers in their mission and delivered service which was professional, warm and completely on mark.

Rock Crab Salad
Bluefin Tuna Tartare
We began with an Amuse Bouche of tuna served with pickled huckleberries, Asian pear and a candied flower and I literally felt my taste buds awaken - a fantastic start.  Tom selected a half bottle of Nigl Gruner Veltliner Privat", 2007, to get us through the preliminary courses and it was a wonderful accompaniment to the first three courses which were all fish focused.  The Rock Crab Salad was incredible -  flawlessly shelled crab amazingly bound by almonds, on a tart grapefruit gelee with a luscious layer of white sturgeon caviar - I mean, really, Barbara? The textures were so seemingly disparate and the flavors, which could easily be in conflict in a lesser chef's  hand, were so balanced and harmonious...phenomenal.  Wow - talk about an exemplary marriage! 

Served next was the Clean Seas' Bluefin Tuna Tartare with heirloom tomato, lemon cucumber and Greek yogurt.  The tuna was the perfect temperature - not cold, not warm, but an ideal place in between, and the flavor just exploded in my mouth.  There was a crisp wafer separating the fish from the vegetables, but I made it my goal in life to make forkfuls that combined all of the ingredients in a single bite.  The  cucumbers were pickled and the tomato was possibly the sweetest tomato I've had the pleasure of meeting.  There were also fennel flowers, which are the most delicate flowers to admire but possess an intense flavor that directly contradicts their appearance.  When this course was served to our neighboring table I overheard the diner ask "Did I just have fennel?," followed by a moan.  She was definitely having a culinary climax, shall we say.  It is that kind of food.

Maine Lobster
Next was a signature dish - Maine Lobster, pain perdu ("lost bread"), grilled local romaine and dill.  We've had poached lobster before, but this was ethereal - tender, sweet and succulent.  The pain perdu was topped with small pieces of cucumber and dill, while the romaine provided an earthy foundation to the dish.  Now, we all know that dill and cucumbers are friendly, but this dish proves they are in fact lovers - oh my god. At this point in the meal I realized that one of the four women at our neighboring table was chef-owner Barbara Lynch,  dropping colorful comments, as she enjoyed a meal with friends.  What most impressed me (aside from the fact that we had the best table in the room) were her interactions with her staff.  I've waited on many chef-owners over the years and it is unfortunately rare to see the "boss" relate to her staff in a mutually respectful manner, without pretension or hesitation.  The team who served Barbara Lynch completely convinced me that we were equally important in their eyes and there was none of the awful fawning over the owner that I have witnessed too often in other restaurants.  

Carnaroli Risotto
Our red wine was served, a 2006 Peay Pinot Noir "Pommarium," Sonoma Coast, which Tom thoughtfully selected, instead of a more bold Italian red which he knew would be too tannic for me to enjoy.  An aside - we were four courses in and  had not yet looked once for the conspicuously absent salt and pepper.  If you're going to season food this perfectly there's no reason to clutter the table with extraneous items.  We were presented with an unexpected pasta course next - Carnaroli Risotto with summer vegetables and lobster mushrooms.  It was a delightful preparation, the pasta perfectly al dente and the seasonal vegetables were showcased perfectly.  

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
A thick slice of Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras served on brioche with wild Maine blueberries, pickled blueberries, candied Meyer lemon and basil flower was next - and we agreed that if there were an apocalyptic event following this course, we would die happy.  We were poured glasses of NV Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d'Alba "Visciole," which is an Italian wine that has been flavored with sweet cherries.  Are you imagining the wild blueberries, the sweet cherries, the lemon, both sweet and tart , and the basil?  Yes, yes, yes.  This course required a restraint not prompted by other courses - I actually gave Tom my last bite (Happy Anniversary!) rather than risk becoming too full to continue.  Note to any potential executioners: If I were being led to the gallows - this would be what I would want to eat.

St. Canut Farm's Porcelet
Next up was St. Canut Farm's Porcelet - prepared three ways; pork loin, pork belly and panko encrusted, served with green tomato jam, fava beans and rapini.  The pork belly was incredibly light without the intrusion of smoke, while the loin was smooth with a slight saltiness which the server attributed to the youthfulness of the pig.  The panko added a wonderful textural contrast to the smoothness of the other preparations and the rapini and beans offered a wholesome simplicity to the entire dish. 

Strip Loin of Beef
Pt Farm was the purveyor of the Strip Loin of Beef served with carrot, Langue de Boeuf, sauce Perigeux.  What can I say  (other than apologize for the blurry image)? The Napa cabbage (on the left) was perfectly matched by the potato which was cooked just a half a step beyond crunchy to a done-ness that lent a new flavor to a familiar vegetable.  The dining room was becoming less populated and we began to chat with our neighboring table as we all became increasingly hypnotized by the food, the  wine, the soft, yet distinct music, the bathroom's fragranced absolute seduction was taking place.  This is what fine dining is all about and the un-frilled dining room managed to be feminine to an extreme without obvious artifice - I can't describe it any better than that.

Cheese, wonderful cheese
Oeufs a' la Niege
Naturally, we felt a tremendous need to indulge in some cheese from this beautiful array of artisanal choices - we selected a triple cream (Delice de Bourgogne, Burgundy), an assertive sheep's milk blue (Blu di Capra, Piedmont) and an aged Vermont goat cheese  (Manchester Consider Bardwell Farm) that transported me back to Tuscany.  The cheeses were served with a fig compote, delicate honey and sourdough crostini and we particularly enjoyed the honey with the triple cream and the figs with the blue cheese.  

We were served another unexpected course  - an intermezzo which was a play on Oeufs a' la Neige (or Eggs in the Snow).  Seriously, by this point I was so unbelievably over stimulated by food that my note-taking diminished...there was meringue, creme anglaise, caramelized sugar...I remember being surprised by the refreshing qualities of this simple palate cleanser and actually becoming excited for... another course!  Dessert.

Chocolate cake
Our final course, Chocolate Cake, vanilla glace, cherry, marcona almond was presented with thoughtfully personalized plates and accompanied by a delicious, softly sparkling Piedmont rose.  I hope you'll forgive my lapse in detail in light of the fact that our evening at Menton occupied a full five hours.  If I had to express my ultimate impression of this fantastic restaurant, I would have to say that I was completely blown away by the respect shown to each individual ingredient without an iota of preciousness present.  I can't wait to go back to Boston (never thought I'd say that) to experience Barbara Lynch's other restaurants.  I can't imagine an evening more perfect, nor a place I'd be more happy to spend an amount of money which hovers between a car payment and a mortgage payment.  Thank you, Chef Lynch's staff, Barbara, Terri , Annie and Kristin for an unforgettable celebration.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Judge Helena Heath-Roland for Surrogate Court - and Matt Baumgartner for Mayor!

Earlier this week I went to drink vodka  an event to support City Court Judge Helena Heath-Roland's bid for a seat on the Albany County Surrogate Court.  You all probably remember that Judge HHR provided me with the letter "J" when I did the DelSo A-Z a couple of weeks ago and, in case you're unaware, she is a smart, compassionate and experienced judge who would do wonderful things on the Surrogate Court. Primary Day is September 14th - don't forget to vote!

Niko was an extremely gracious host.
The fundraiser was co-hosted by Matt Baumgartner and Tess Collins and was held downtown at Matt's amazing home.  There was a great turnout, plentiful and delicious food made by Shy, (the former cook at the Lark Tavern) who will be heading the kitchen at McGeary's, and lots of lovely Stolichnaya.  I had the opportunity to see some old friends, as well as meet some new people, including Albany Jane and Albany John, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Lark Street Hospitality Mavens, Tess & Deb
Matt's home is in an area of Albany that is more well known as a former industrial area  than a residential hub.  For those of you familiar with NYC, if you're wearing your pinkest rose-colored glasses, the sweet little street he lives on could almost be imagined as Albany's very own Washington Mews - it really does have that kind of potential.  As you would expect, Matt's place is filled with warmth and style and art and if he ever needs a dog sitter, I'd like to be considered for the position.  

Now, about my ultimate plan for Matt to be sure would be nice to have a mayor who developed businesses and had more of an interest in improving a place than in leaving a (Convention Center) mark.  Perhaps, if we all encourage Matt, and pool our Valium supply and make it available to him, he'll start taking me more seriously.  Until then, please support your favorite candidates in the upcoming elections.

Yes, please.

Hello, Secret Garden anyone?
Still life

An inspiring candidate
Yellow roses and pick-up trucks - my favs!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bovine & Balls

Chocolate milk cow.
Which came first - the cow or the clothes?
My husband does not go to fairs or carnivals - ever - which is kind of ironic since he saw like 300 Grateful Dead shows, and really, what were those other than carnivals with music and hallucinogenics? Whatever.  I've grown accustomed to the idea that I am the boys' only hope if they want to eat fried dough, gawk at animals and get their feet impossibly dirty.  So, it was off to Syracuse and the NYS Fair for us on a recent sweltering day.  Fortunately, my brother lives in Syracuse and is usually up for a Fair visit.  And he has a pool.  Bonus!

After our recent visit to the Great Escape, I was a little apprehensive about what the crowd was going to be like.  I probably can't say this without sounding impossibly snobby, but... sometimes fairs attract a crowd long on Nascar gear and short on teeth.  I don't know how to break it to you, nor what the social ramifications are for the greater Capital Region, but the folks at the fair definitely were a better looking group than those we mingled with in Lake George.  Just saying.  And we weren't even there on Justin Bieber night.  

Mint chocolate milk!
I don't know if you've been to this annual fair, but it is really big.  The weather being what it was (95+), we decided to linger at my brother's pool rather than make any attempt at doing the fair in a comprehensive way.  In all honesty, we just wanted to get some greasy fair food and maybe take in a few exhibits, and a couple of the more sturdily put together looking rides.  We splurged on the $10 parking across the street rather than the $3 parking across the tracks (literally) and were at the gate, and in,  5 minutes later.  Under twelves are admitted free, so it was just $20 for me and three boys to get in.  Did I mention my brother is a doctor?  He paid his own way.  

I swear it wasn't our plan, but somehow, like always,  we began our fair experience by visiting the Bovine Barn.  It actually may not be called that exactly, but that's how we like to think of it.  The smell is pretty intense, and you have to be careful where you step, but we always enjoy seeing the beautiful cows - and they have the most awesome milk machine ever.  Flavored milk is also the perfect beverage to coat a stomach before the real fair food gets consumed - gourmet items like bar-b-q pork sandwiches, locally made sausage heroes and fried pierogi with onions.  Yum.  And, since we are all fans of bringing things full circle, the natural conclusion to a fair feeding frenzy is... ice cream.  Although I did not take photos of any of the food we ate, don't be fooled  - it was the reason we were there.
Boy in a bubble.
Getting his balance.

I fully expected to be sucked into visiting the midway for some cheesy rides, but the boys weren't really interested, at least not after they spent some quality time in these European Bubble Ball things.  I hesitated a moment before shelling out $8 per child for their opportunity to potentially suffocate in  public, but, I must admit, I felt like we all got our money's worth.  It was a bit disturbing to watch two of my children climb into un-inflated plastic balls in a pool of water (particularly in a world which consistently warns that plastic bags are not toys!), but the folks in charge of the attraction were very nice and gave the boys a very long time to practice their best hamster moves.  And they were so damn hot and tired when they finally were released from their plastic pods, that cutting out and going back to Uncle Tom's for a swim was more appealing than hitting up the midway.  Perfect!  Excellent value for $16. 

While we didn't begin to see everything - or even very much of anything, we had a great time and will hopefully expand our explorations next year by venturing into more of the display areas and perhaps going with an actual agenda.  And, of course, if the weather is more inviting, we'll try to get an earlier start so we can enjoy lunch and dinner at the fair.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

KO'd by Kindergarten Orientation

Coloring the world.
This afternoon Quinn and I went to his Kindergarten Orientation at the Albany School of Humanities.  Quinn is my youngest child, the one I worked hardest to have and the one whose childhood I've been most ferocious about hanging onto.  You'd think that by now, I'd be accustomed to the fact that children grow up and become school aged, but walking through those hallways today with their shiny tiles, Quinn looked impossibly small to be taking such a big step into his future.  I must getting more sentimental as I get older or maybe it is just the knowledge that he is my last baby, but I suspect there might be some tears Tuesday morning.  And not just because it will mark the end of my fun-filled summer, either.  Why is it that the more children you have, the faster they grow?

Pedaling towards me still, not away.  Yet.
As I turned the proverbial calendar to a fresh new page, I reflected that all endings can also be considered beginnings, right? While Quinn's confident stride into the world of elementary education effectively ends a chapter in parenthood (and our days of daycare expenses) a whole new world is opening up to my little man.  A new world complete with labeled cubbies, friends waiting to be made and experiences that will impact and inspire my child.  

And so, Tuesday morning I will be going into work a little late, perhaps with some evidence of recent tears remaining upon my face, and I will focus on the start of wonderful new things for Quinn rather than an unofficial end to a tender stage of parenting .  No need to be knocked out by thoughts of my baby growing up when I possess the knowledge that each day will continue to end with him giving me the special kiss he created just for  us: cheek, cheek, forehead, nose, lips.  And, for now, I'll remain still standing.