Monday, November 28, 2011

Dynamic Duo

No, I'm not talking about Batman and Robin.  Nor am I referring to the deadly pairing of smart and pretty.  What I'm talking about is the killer combination of stainless steel bowl and whisk, my ground zero for whipped cream, Hollandaise, roux and chocolate sauce.

How about you?  What do you find yourself reaching for with an easy familiarity when you're working in your kitchen?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paper White Project - Week 4

We have fragrant blooms, people!!  It was seriously crazy how quickly these bulbs provided gratification, but what would you expect in a November in which the temperature exceeded the average daily high for 21 of 27 days?

Bethlehem Turkey Trot

We've already established that Thanksgiving can mean a lot of things to different people For some, the holiday tradition may include a physical activity to  stimulate the appetite or to help eliminate some stress. There are a number of morning races in the region, but I opted for the Delmar version because it is fairly new and thus, not too crowded.

I got to bed pretty late Wednesday, after working more hours in a single day than I had cumulatively slept in the previous three nights. Surprisingly for me, I wasn't particularly nervous pre-race, no jitters at all other than the frequent peeing kind. Come on - that happens to you, too, right? I was in good spirits as the holiday dawned and was very comfortable as I started the run.

There wasn't official timing available but I borrowed a friend's watch and did some self-timing. The start was rough because of general bottle necking and the presence of many dogs and strollers. I'd estimate that the first 1/3 to 1/2 mile was mostly spent positioning myself at a comfortable pace. My first mile was a decent enough 9:17, my second was slightly quicker and then I forgot to time my third. I felt pretty in the zone, though. After running the golf course a couple of times a week recently, the flatness of this course was a real lack of challenge treat. My finish time was 27:30 which shaved 40 seconds off my last race time and previous personal best*.

The race was really fun and I completely enjoyed seeing former and current students, silly costumes, and turkey fryers at the ready in a number of front yards. There was typical  enthusiastic Delmar support from spectators and I loved seeing the families and groups of friend running together. (Sorry, Donna!  Next year we'll stick together or at least have a plan to meet, post-race.)  Next up is the Jingle Jog at the Crossings in Colonie on Saturday, December 3rd. I'm looking for two more bib numbers before the end of the year which will make 2011, by far, my most productive year of running.

*sounds way less uptight than "personal record," don't you think?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.  I loved the smells that wafted through the house gently waking me with the promise of turkey, to be followed by pie.  No two Thanksgivings were precisely the same, the faces around the table varied, but there was a familiar quality to the day - watching the parade while playing a board game, helping with dinner preparations by staying out of the way until it was time to set the table. There was always laughter and a sense of sharing that transcended a mere meal consumed simultaneously.

I feel sorry for Kristi Gustafson Barlette.  Despite being one of the few people  "who actually likes her family," she doesn't seem to get Thanksgiving.  It isn't about the food being bland or the time of day it is being served.  Or even what we're wearing.   The significance of taking a day, (or a half day these days due to the commercialization of our national day of giving thanks), to pause and consider all of the gifts we receive, got lost somewhere on the way to her emotional in-box.

I don't mean to completely rag on KGB, but she does seem to court criticism and controversy in an apparent bid for attention and blog traffic. There were plenty of comments made on her post about this topic and many were in complete support of her younger, much taller Scrooge impersonation.  As I ran a flat, suburban 5k this morning, I counted far more blessings than miles.  I decided that what I really loved about Thanksgiving was that it reminded me of a second Sunday - a fat newspaper to leisurely read, more coffee, maybe something with bubbles scandalously early, cooking, football or music, people we love nearby...

I just finished having a late breakfast with my boys.  This is the second year I've planned a Thanksgiving that did not include spending the entire day with the boys, or the extended family to which they will always belong.  The fact that we ate bagels instead of  a predictable  mix of white and dark meat had no bearing on the value of our time spent together.

After a meal shared with my children,  a meal when Liam sang, with tears welled up in his eyes,  a beautiful version of a hymn he learned attending church with his grandmother, Griffin shared stories of himself - a 7th grader straddling the intersection of boy and young man, and Quinn shared his bagel and his last piece of pear, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday of the year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

As easy as...

Apple pie! There was a pattern to my cooking in recent days, a sort of pre-Thanksgiving emptying of the refrigerator to make room for the groceries necessary to prepare a holiday meal. I had some buttermilk I needed to use up, so fried chicken and pancakes made the weekend menu. My cheese drawer was crammed with odd bits of Gorgonzola, ricotta salada and sharp cheddar, a situation which begged for mac n cheese. And there was a collection of miscellaneous apples becoming sadder looking by the moment - perfect apple pie fodder.

I've stocked up recently on chocolate chips and pie crusts, two items that allow me to easily put together a quick dessert be it cookies, brownies, a tart or pie. I know that making pie crust (like pizza dough) is more time consuming than difficult, but I find myself much more willing to take on the task of baking with a little head start.

For Saturday's pie, I laid the bottom crust into a deep pie dish and got busy peeling and slicing a variety of apples - Empires, Macintosh, and Delicious, primarily. I was feeling kind of cocky (that's how I get after a long run. Blame it on the endorphins.) and didn't measure anything, there were about 8 apples, perhaps a 1/3 cup of brown sugar, a 1/4 cup of white sugar, a 1/4 cup of unbleached flour, and a 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and a shake or two of ginger powder. I tossed all that together and then rather unceremoniously dumped it into the crust. The top crust was added and I did my best to seal the edges and crimp in a modestly decorative manner. I sliced a coupe of slits in the top to release steam and placed my rustic, beautiful pie in a 375 degree oven, placing a baking sheet on the rack below the pie's rack. I've finally learned my lesson about things bubbling over and making an awful mess (and smoke) when the drips hit the bottom of the oven. The pie took longer to bake than I expected, maybe 65-70 minutes. Maybe next time I'll use the super cool convection feature which I know nothing about.

The pie cooled a bit while we feasted on fried chicken and mac n cheese. Topped with French vanilla ice cream it was a tasty way to get both a fruit serving and a dairy serving into dessert. Wait - I'm not the only one who considers pie to be a fruit serving, am I? If that thought process is wrong...well, I simply don't care to be right.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Black Forest Bastards

Decisions, decisions...

No, I'm not talking about my brother and myself - I'm referring to the cakes I made recently.  Last weekend I spent some time with a group of very old friends celebrating my brother's birthday on the fantastic date of 11/11/11. The birthday boy has a large, comfortable home and a liquor cabinet which speaks of his fondness for bourbon and dark rums. He also has a hot tub, which came in handy both after the hilly runs I took with our friend James, and in the evening after one of our delicious group effort meals.

My one (semi)homemade contribution to the weekend's menu was my brother's birthday cake. When we were children, our mother would accept requests for special dinners and cakes on our birthdays and my brother always seemed to choose Black Forest Cherry Cake aka Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Although I must have seen her bake this cake a dozen times over the years, I had no interest in duplicating her steps precisely, a statement which can be used to summarize our entire relationship, incidentally. But, I digress...

Over at Vinoteca, I pretty much gave the directions to replicate this Meder family recipe.  The most important things are the Kirschwasser and the cherries.  And being with people you love.  

Paper White Project - Week 3

Holy growth spurt!
These paper whites are growing faster than Liam - and that's saying something!  As the mom to a boy who has shot up from a size 12 to a size 20 in the last 15 months, I recognize crazy growth when I see it. and these bulbs are definitely giving that teenaged boy of mine a run for the money.  

There's still time for you to get on board the paper white train in time for Christmas - or Hanukkah for that matter.  Aren't they the same time this year?

Inspired by this post, I stopped at Hewitt's yesterday and sprang for a gigantic amaryllis bulb, which I promptly stuck in a pot of soil.  It was a bit of a splurge (sale price $11.99) but I can't wait to see the gorgeous white flowers in my boudoir.  I'll keep you posted on the progress of that project as soon as something starts happening.  From what I've read, they're a little slower to get going but the payoff should be spectacular. What a treat - fresh flowers in winter!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cherry Water

Check out my latest post on Vinoteca!
Cherry Water

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cheesecake Machismo

Are words even required?

A couple of months ago (where does the time go?!?), I attended a fundraiser at LaSerre for the Starlight Children's Foundation and succesfully bid on a couple of items in the silent auction.  For some ridiculously inexpensive price, I scored a basket, donated by Cheesecake Machismo, which contained a pound of coffee ("Make your own damn coffee") and a gift certificate for a Frankencake, their name for a cake comprised of 12 individual slices selected from the daily offerings.  I'd been waiting for the perfect occasion to cash in and last week's epic party in Syracuse proved to be the ideal opportunity.

I checked out their Facebook page, saw the day's options and called ahead to have my order ready.  Although one of my personal favorite flavors, Chocolate-Chipotle was not available, I think everyone at the party would agree that what I ultimately selected was exactly what we needed to complete our night.  The flavors I chose, in clockwise order beginning at 12 o'clock, were:
  • caramel pumpkin
  • wild blueberry
  • cookies and creme
  • caramel brownie
  • raspberry Lucille
  • tiger stripes (Kahlua and caramel)

It would be impossible to say which was the favorite, but I assure you, all were gleefully consumed.  This place is a gem.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Drug of choice

I can't remember a more beautiful early November than we're currently experiencing. It almost makes up for the muted foliage season and the need to crank on the furnace in October to offset the chill from our premature snow event. Something happened to me this month, just like I've always feared since high school health class when I learned that one could become addicted to heroin with just one use. I've found my heroin in cross country running.

Now, granted, once upon a time, I knew I was born to be a gymnast, however I started lessons way too late to ever be competitive, so I competed against myself. Maybe that's when I became a non-team player. I remember one summer in particular, I practiced for hours with my friend, Brenda, in her cement basement cushioned with old mattresses, as she worked to perfect her side aerial and me my back handspring. I kind of lost my passion after an unrelated injury forced me to take some time off. There was an extended period of time when my feats were more social and academic than traditionally physical endeavors, which means I was too busy having a different type of fun to exercise with any real commitment. And then the babies came, which was an entirely different and engrossing physical experience, of course, leaving no room (or energy) for recreational physical pursuits. It was about mere survival some of those days.

I stepped back into the exercise world when the boys were in primary school, beginning with yoga. When I left my first class I remember declaring "I've found my sport!" I immediately loved it, the combination of physical stretching and mental quieting was just what I needed. Ultimately I learned that it really was all about the instructor and just couldn't work a class I loved regularly into my schedule. And honestly, I need to exercise more than once or twice a week and would find myself easily bored with yoga. I needed something more demanding. Spinning class met the requirement for physically challenging, but again it was about the instructor and their music and I needed more flexibility in my schedule - plus I hated the competitiveness necessary to get a bike. And I got bored.

The only things that really held my attention, and that I could do on my own schedule, were cross country skiing and cycling.  While totally dependent upon the weather and season, these two activities provided everything I seemingly wanted in a drug exercise - I could go solo or with friends, there were both local and more distant places to pursue these interests, I could literally do either on a moment's notice, modifying my route to accommodate time available and challenge desired.  And I could party exercise outdoors - something I found increasingly more appealing as I began to acquire the clothing and gear that allowed me to play outside and remain comfortably warm.   

But, now there's something new in my world - an activity I never expected to like, much less fall in love with. Running cross country has changed my world. Perhaps my passion is a natural progression on the path of health and well being I've been increasingly drawn to you as I age. Which is ironic in a way because when I'm trotting along a wooded path in a park or golf course, I feel very much as if I'm revisiting my childhood.  The sensation of being outdoors, observing and absorbing the world around me while  pushing my body to keep going, is amazingly invigorating and stimulating. Like speed with a slightly different, less erratic heart race.  

I'm never going to run a marathon, unless running 26 miles is 6 times more fun than running 4.5 miles, and I'm perfectly okay with that.  The pure joy (now I get it, Lucinda!!) I get from running solo, or in the company of a friend, allows me the opportunity to continue my lifelong quest to enjoy moderation in all things.  Anybody want to come along and score some endorphins? 

Crazy good cookies

I realized recently that I have a glut in my quick oats. What is that, you ask? It means I really didn't need to buy those 2 canisters of oats seeing as how I already had a nearly full canister. Must be time to bake cookies!

There is a recipe under the lid of the Quaker quick oats called "Disappearing Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies." It is a simple recipe and goes together quickly leaving plenty of time for creative embellishments. Yesterday I opted to toss in about a cup of butterscotch chips along with a mixture of craisins and yellow raisins, probably about a generous cup. I make big cookies (hey, if you're only having 2...) and I baked these about 12 or 13 minutes. The last batch I left in a little longer and they turned out more crunchy, not a compliment or a criticism, just an observation. Bottom line - easy, delicious and fairly low fat, I imagine. There's only a single stick of butter used, which seems reasonably healthy, to me, especially when you factor in the three cups of oats. You should make these.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I may not look like I've got soul, but believe me, I am an appreciative fan of both the music and the cuisine. I particularly love the side dishes - okra and greens and beans, all cooked in a fryer or with a generous hunk of pork fat, naturally. Of course, eating this kind of heart challenging diet isn't something I often do, but, my boys are young and healthy and I believe in indulging children in cleanly made treats on occasion. Things like home baked cookies, Meadowbrook Farms eggnog and bacon from my favorite butcher shop, Falvo's.

Making this boy favorite meal is so easy that the most effective way to maintain its status as "special" is to make it with great infrequency. 2 or 3 times a year - tops. I cluster the occasions so I can reuse the oil and I try to coincide the festivities with an event that gets me out of the house for a day after the extended frying frenzy. I have convinced myself that the smell of fried foods nauseates me.

I initially made fried chicken when I found myself with leftover buttermilk after some baking adventure. Maybe scones? When I googled to get some ideas as to how to use the remainder of the .5 quart of buttermilk, my results leaned heavily to fried chicken. What follows is not a recipe, just what I do. Adapt to your own tastes, or like me, be a slave to your children's palates and go simple. Place chicken pieces (I like bone-in thighs) in a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Allow to soak in fridge for 12 hours to two days. Remove chicken from milk and drain on a baking rack over a baking sheet for 10 minutes or so. Heat up vegetable oil in a deep pot. Put some flour, salt, pepper and a couple of sprinkles of corn meal to add some crunch, together on a plate. White pepper and some paprika would be nice here, but the boys are still in a muted stage flavor-wise. It's ok, they're a bit of a longterm project.

Dredge the drained chicken in the flour mixture, taking your time to make sure the chicken is evenly and thoroughly coated. Test temperature of oil. I usually drip a drop or two of water in. You don't want spatter, just sizzle. Scientific, right? I cook the chicken, a few pieces at a time. Don't crowd the chicken! TUrn the chicken after about 10 minutes and cook for an additional 10 or 15 minutes. Since I'm cooking in batches, I usually place the chicken, on a baking sheet layered with a brown paper bag topped by paper towels, in a 200 degree oven to keep warm. Once that chicken comes out of the oven, beautifully brown, crunchy and glistening lips inducing, believe me, keeping it warm isn't an issue.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shower of filth

Locker room showers

I have been sick to my stomach since yesterday morning when I read Maureen Dowd's column about the Penn State child sexual abuse cases.  She deftly wove a child's perspective throughout the paragraphs and, at one point, I literally threw the newspaper down because I was so distressed by the explicit description of one of the incidences of rape.  Yes, rape.  I'm sure you're aware that there was an eye witness to one of the crimes.   After hearing and then investigating the source of a repeated "slapping" noise, a 28 year-old coaching assistant witnessed a ten year-old boy being subjected to anal intercourse in the shower.  His response? He walked away.

Now, imagine that ten-year old boy is you (or one of your three sons).  Put a face on that child and consider for a moment that maybe, even with the noises being emitted by the running water and the disgusting old man who is raping you, he managed to hear the witness to this crime as he approached the horror scene.  Now, accept the fact that your could be hero, savior, walked away and left you to be brutalized by a pedophile.  

There isn't enough water in all the world's showers to wash away the filth that was knowingly present in Penn State's football program.  Perhaps those supporters of the program, and their rightfully shamed head coach, should consider who the innocent victims were in this situation and riot on behalf of the children whose only crime was being involved with an organization designed to provide them with "help and hope."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting all Natty Bumppo

Although I was wearing Lycra instead of deer skin, and had no intention of hunting, that was one of the mental images I had yesterday while I was running through the woods on my maiden trail run. Another internal movie clip involved my being in a Black-Eyed Peas video, but I digress...

Have you ever gone trail running?! Or perhaps I should qualify that question by asking if you've run on a trail in the woods post-age 10 or 12, not including running away from the police while partying on the horse trails, Laker friends. I'm sure it is a natural progression to move from playing in the woods to hanging out with friends indoors, but I am firmly convinced it is time to take it back outside, people. The complete joy of running on pine needles in the dappled light of Saratoga State Park has made a believer out of me. Give me more, please!

When I got the invite to join a friend for one of these "trail runs," I was hesitant. I don't run with a partner or group - I'm more a lone wolf sort of runner. I don't want to be responsible for maintaining a conversation or pace, choosing instead to let my little iPod shuffle dictate my speed. I'm also kind of a freak about knowing how far I've run - 3 miles? 4? 4+? I very much allow distance markers and, in the city, counting traffic lights, to inspire me to continue running when my body is more inclined to slow down. But, the weather forecast and the enjoyment I always get when I hang out with Chrissy, prompted me to agree to give it a try, with the understanding that I didn't plan to run and talk simultaneously. Ground rules in place, we hit the ground...running
post run endorphin high
Despite our not always knowing where we were going and being completely ignorant of distance covered, I can say with absolute conviction that it was one of my favorite runs ever. Chrissy and I are well suited running buddies and we wordlessly pushed each other to run farther and faster and up and down some really fun hills. There was some conversation and plenty of blissful sighs, as well. It was an amazing way to spend a couple of hours and I'm already looking for other places where I can get off the pavement and into the grass. Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 6, 2011


who doesn't love a luminaria?

For the second year in a row, I volunteered to pour wine last night at the Historic Albany Foundation's annual event, Built.  This silent auction and art exhibit highlights the use of vacant buildings in Albany and is a wonderful fundraiser, as well as being a really fun night. Mark Brogna, from Capital Wine and Spirits who donates the evening's wine offerings,  originally roped me in last year and I enjoyed myself so much that I asked him this year if I could participate again.  The attendees are seriously the nicest group of people I've ever taken care of - "What, no more Pinot Noir?  Ok, I'll have Merlot!"  I'm talking mellow and happy and appreciative. And, did I mention artfully dressed?

This year's festivities were held at the Cathedral of All Saints. Despite my having spent my first 2 years living in Albany less than a block from this magnificent edifice (if I gush a little it's just to make up for neglecting to give this building its due respect previously), I am sheepishly confessing to never having been inside it prior to last night. The cathedral is absolutely stunning and I think it is the ideal location for this event - can't wait til next year! My awesome neighbors, Lori Hansen and Ken Ragsdale were honored (along with Mark Brogna and John McLennan) for their contributions to Built over the last 10 years, which made the night that much more special. Way to represent the DelSo! The food, rumored to have been catered by the Lily and the Rose (confirmation, anyone?)  looked terrific and the brownie I indulged in met my criteria, which is - it must be able to be stuck back together in chocolate gooeyness.

A highlight for me, in addition to having some fun taking these pictures for the Times Union's SEEN gallery and the generous number of compliments I received on my vintage dress, was finding myself within a circle (natch) of women described by Lori Hansen as being "powerful women." A year ago, I felt very much like an awed witness to the contributions made by fantastic local women like Lori, Laura and Elissa, among countless others.  I am kind of amazed that a year later, I have been included in the same sentence as these ladies.   Built?  Yeah, I'd say I'm very much enjoying this life under construction. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Watch this pot!

6 bulbs, some soil, a cool pot

I can only imagine where some of you thought this was going...
It's that time of the year, folks - get your paper whites planted and look forward to the most satisfying, least expensive holiday decoration ever.  Last week, on my way home from skiing, I picked up 6 bulbs at Hewitt's, total cost: $7.62.  I popped the bulbs into a pot of soil this morning and expect to see beautiful flowers in about 6 weeks.  Not to get all Martha Stewart-y on you all, but, this is a perfect hostess gift for holiday parties. 

a specimen from last year

I will try to remember to give you weekly updates so you, too, can witness the miracle of life and all that.  Trust me, a watched pot never provided so much beautiful entertainment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Sound of Silence

My little corner of the DelSo is fairly quiet. The street I live on doesn't "feed" directly out to Delaware and the previously popular cut through to avoid the light on the corner of Whitehall and Delaware, was cut off prior to my moving into the neighborhood. Occasionally, there's some noise made when someone hosts a party (sorry!) but generally things are pretty tranquil in our little piece of heaven. Except, for in the summer, of course, when windows are thrown wide open. Then we hear the constant drone of traffic on the thruway.

My street is a couple of blocks from 87 and the sounds I generally hear are more a hum than a roar. I imagine living closer, though, might be a different story. I don't know if it is similar to living across the street from a firehouse, something my family did for a year when I was in elementary school. I recall becoming so used to the sounds of sirens and trucks that I no longer registered them as an interruption. Probably not ideal in case of emergency, right?
BIG crane!

Anyway, there's been some activity on the thruway for the past couple of months.  I initially assumed an additional lane was being built (which may still be in the cards) but it looks like it's going to sound a little different here in the DelSo..
Another lane?

...because we're getting these cool sound muffling walls. I think they look pretty good and I hope, for the sake of my neighbors who live ever so close to that busy road, that they sound even better.  It will be interesting to see what things sound like next summer.  And, let's hope these walls remain untagged, or at least graffitied by someone other than a Lilly boy and with some artistic talent. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I had my first taste of Mexican style cuisine at a sleep over birthday party in 6th grade. I can still remember how taken I was with those tacos - crunchy, meaty, cheesy tacos so delicious that the shredded iceberg lettuce and insipid tomatoes couldn't get in the way of my enjoyment. I swear I ate 4 tacos that night and my culinary world was never the same. Since that time, I've both expanded (Fish tacos! Nachos for dinner!) and honed (chiles in adobo make almost everything better) my palate and continue to be smitten by the flavors of Mexican food, authentic or not. The other day as I cut trail through 14+ inches of snow, I was inspired by thoughts of a quiet solo dinner at home - chicken burritos, specifically. Here's what I did:

I had two baked chicken thighs (bone in) hanging out in the fridge. I took the meat off the bone and basically ripped it into shreds and tossed it into a can of semi-drained black beans. I added some cumin, salt and two chopped chipotle chiles along with about a teaspoon of the adobo sauce the chipotles were packed in. As this heated through, I warmed two tortillas and gathered some vegetables in the form of a half avocado, sliced, and some baby spinach. I built a gorgeous mound of the green veggies, the beans and chicken and then finished with a dollop of salsa and a bit of shredded cheese. My plan was to eat two of these bad boys, but when I paused after wolfing one down, I realized I was quite full already. I was a little bummed that my capacity was so limited, but since I'm not a fan of that over-stuffed feeling, I was pleased that I knew when to stop and that there would be another yummy burrito meal to look forward to.