Friday, September 23, 2016

Vegging Out: The Schenectady Greenmarket

After another night of zombies then beer then the gym, I need to do something peaceful and virtuous. Maybe a nice salad and a walk among mortals.

Yes, it's time to go to the farmers market! There are so many in the Capital Region - Delmar, Troy, Saratoga, Empire State Plaza, and Colonie Crossings, to name a few. But just like where I buy my cat food and gas and wine and prescription drugs and T.P. it usually comes down to proximity and convenience. So for me, Sunday is Schenectady Greenmarket day, downtown by City Hall.
Not too big, not too small, and very friendly

I tried the CSA route - too much food, too many tied up Tuesday's, not always stuff you want, and quite frankly, I missed being out in the community. I missed the bugs and the dogs and the smell of the grill and babies in strollers and live music and face painting and bumping into friends. But most of all I missed seeing what so many dedicated local farmers and entrepreneurs are growing and pickling and bottling and crafting - honey, candles, soaps, fresh milk, dips, cheeses, meat, crackers, spice mixes, peanut butter - you name it. Oh, yes, and then there are the fruits and veggies.

Maple products from Uncle Pat (with a smile, on the left)

Assembly Coffee Roasters - my their coffee smells GOOD!

My friend Stretch loves Ole McDonalds Cinnamon Honey

The chef's mom proudly displaying products of a local startup
So fresh, so much variety, so much food! I have a tendency to overdo it, but I usually have a game plan in mind before I go about what I'm eating in the week to come. I like that the fruits and veggies don't decompose the minute you get them home.

Amazing tomatoes!

Eggplants everywhere. Red cooked up some Caponata. 

Fresh pears and apples are coming into season


Interacting with the vendors is always a delight. They are so proud of their products and will tell you where things come from and how they got started and who the chef is and where the farm is and about their animals and the weather these days.

Enjoying the vendors

Painted Goat Farm has GREAT cheese!

A few tips:

  • Bring cash. Small bills and quarters are appreciated. Some vendors do accept cards.
  • Street parking is plentiful, but you can also park in the lot at the corner of Clinton and Franklin, despite what the signs say.
  • Wander around first, have a cup of excellent coffee, look at what's available, ask about pricing, listen to the band, sing along if you wish.
  • Try something new on your way - a hand cream, maybe some hummus or a cookie. Buy yourself a treat. 
  • Now go back, once you've ditched your coffee cup, and fill your re-useable bag with fresh stuff. This week there were lots of eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. 
  • Oh, and leave the dog at home - not allowed at this market, although they are welcome at others.
Zena, Goddess of Fire

PS: After buying all that lovely fresh food I went to the pub for wings and a beer. So much for virtue!

We knew most of the words to "Four Strong Winds"

Friday, September 9, 2016

Eat Great Food: Capital City Gastropub

Q: What's kinda hip with a touch of grunge, still a bit classy, practical, decidedly local and pretty tasty?

A: HA! No, not me, silly - it's the Capital City Gastropub!!!
Homey, neighborhood feel with sidewalk seating in summer
OK, Albany has many many pubs and bars and taverns and saloons and roadhouses and taprooms and ale houses and speakeasies and gin mills and public houses and beer joints and watering holes and cocktail lounges and canteens and beer gardens and other dives. Take your pick. Some will say the food is good if you know what to order, but from where I fly I never expect much from the kitchen. I've even scoffed at those reviews in the TU because really? Who cares? It's just a pub, right? The food always fails in some way, and we expect that.

Level 1 is the usual burgers, pizza, mac n' cheese, bangers, french fries, wings always, sometimes a bowl of chili or nachos with yellow cheese goo. Ordering the salad is not recommended. $

Level 2 may also have panini and wraps, steaks, onion rings, cobb salad, shepherd's pie, quesadillas, and, of course, the flatbread of the day,  the decor is usually better, and so is the price, but the food will likely be just as uninspiring, and you may not get as much. $$

Level 3 will also offer you burgers, and pizza, mac n' cheese, bangers, and fries, but they will take your mind off another pint and back looking at your plate, wondering how something so simple could be so sublime and delicious. $$$ and worth every cent. A.K.A. Gastropub!!!

Decor includes hard chairs and it's noisy but streamlined and chic

Jaguar enjoyed a glass of Vino Bianco, Planeta La Segreta Bianco from Sicily ($8) - served up cold, nice and dry, not too fruity. I joined her with a Bell's Best Brown from Comstock, MI ($6) that was slightly sweet and very smooth. There's about eight beers in bottles or cans, a dozen or so on tap, and a pretty substantial list of whiskeys and ryes and bourbons to choose from - very nice.
My first beer and some water just to pretend I also drink water at the pub

We were both in the mood for a burger. She ordered up a Kilcoyne Farms Burger ($15), with house made pickles and roasted garlic ailoi, adding blue cheese and caramelized onions to the bun ($2.50). OMG this was perfectly medium rare, piled high, juicy, delicious, beefy even, and the fries were some of the best ever - skin on, crispy, but mushy inside, tasted like, um, POTATOES.
A big, juicy, beefy burger perfectly cooked medium rare

I went for the Double Pork Burger ($18), with two tender, lightly spiced patties, gruyere, housemade zucchini pickles, onion and Russian dressing. It was almost 3" high - messy, drippy, divinely decadently good - but the bun easily disintegrated. I ate the first half without putting it down and ate the rest with a fork and knife. Actually, it didn't need the bun so I might skip that next time.

Double Pork Burger - juicy piggy decadence

Gastropub - buying local, cooking up fresh, taking care of details, inventive, creative even. It's a pleasure to have a pint (OK, I admit, two) and some really great food at a pub, in my jeans and old shirt on a Saturday night.

Get down to the Capital City Gastropub - you deserve it.

xxx Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

DOING DISHES: Chicken Parm at Bellini's

I was buzzing from a big night of fighting off more zombies in Guilderland (that's a problem out there), and I needed a pasta and chicken parmesan fix, bad, real bad.
Scenic strip malls in Albany, NY
So on Saturday noontime it was off to Bellini's, located in just another scenic strip mall down in Slingerlands at the intersection of 85 and New Scotland Road, with two great friends for toasts to summer. Yes, I love the luxury of daytime drinking, don't you? There was a nice selection of reds ($25-$130/bottle), most (if not all) available by the glass. TBB ordered a glass of the Josh Cellars, Cab Sav ($10)  - a reliable choice. There were fewer whites but what we had we quite enjoyed. I tried the Massimo Sauvignon Blanc (NZ, $8/glass) - grassy and crisp, and Stitch treated herself to the house Pinot Grigio, Tiziano, Toscano ($7.75).
A casual dining space with a touch of class - clean except for a fly that liked me very, very much
We talked a lot and finally, buzzing again and being buzzed (see above caption), we ordered.

They had "salad", and "soup". Stitch loved her soup/salad combo ($9) - choosing a small but hearty bowl of Florentine (chicken & mushrooms, spinach) - creamy, delightful, with tender greens and meat, followed by a house salad (cranberries, cuke and a cherry tomato with mesclun greens). The cranberries were delightful, as was the housemade balsamic dressing, topped with a generous helping of shaved parmesan. Not a big lunch but filling enough and delicious, especially if you have a slice of their warm, traditional light crusty Italian bread along with your meal, served with a bit of basil oil or butter if you prefer.
Florentine soup (above), and the house salad "Di Casa"

TBB asked for the Caserta Salad ($10.95) without the proscuitto or mozz, with a topping of herb grilled chicken ($6.00). She said "wow, this is the best dressing I ever had", pumping the waitress for details. We got mixed messages at first, but it's a simple mix of OJ and lemon juice and mustard, oil, S&P. Five stars!!!
The most delicious salad dressing in the universe
Of course, I ordered the Parmigiano (pan fried chicken cutlet, marinara cream sauce, lots of rigatoni/$12.95), as well as the aforementioned house salad ($5.95). The cutlet was served hot, the meat was succulent and fork tender with crispy edges, the cheese was gooey, the pasta was perfect al dente, and I would have licked the plate clean the sauce was so tasty. I tried to eat the whole thing but there WAS alot of pasta, so I finally had to stop. It was SO good, I really must go back any second now for another round. If I can take down zombies, I think I can take out a dinner portion.
A perfect cutlet - with a hearty portion of pasta. Burp. Excuse me. 
Lunch for three ladies, including four glasses of wine (yep, I had two!), plus tax, came to $84.

Cheers to friends and summer!!!  xxx

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Doing Dishes: Dining at the Diners - Mike's

short order
a dish or serving of food that is quickly 
prepared upon request at lunch counter

Mike's Diner, at the intersection of Old East State and Carmen Road in Schenectady, is hands-down my favorite diner in the Capital Region. I'm small and ruthless. Mike's, on the other hand, is small in the coziest way possible. The staff are all friendly and attentive, kitchen service is quick, and the homemade food is really delicious, including fabulous baked goods that I can quickly dispatch.  (:
Cute building on the corner

Old fashioned in a wonderful sort of way
Breakfast is always a winner, especially after a night of fighting zombies.  I love the Florentine Super Omelette ($9.50), and the Buckwheat Pancakes with Blueberries ($8.95), though the Eggs Benedict ($9.25) is sort of like eggs in yellow gravy - skip that. Anyway there are lots of choices, including Belgian waffles (the "Dolly Parton" has two scoops of vanilla ice cream - should I laugh at that???), so you're sure to find something you like. Order off the lunch menu too, if you like, loaded with sandwiches, burgers, salads and wraps. Nothing fancy, but reliably good. 

Eggwich with fresh sliced tomatoes and a side of fruit
Peanut and Zena doing the diner
Last weekend Peanut enjoyed an Eggwich with Cheese ($3.50), asking for a tomato slice (no upcharge - nice!) - egg over easy, on a toasted English Muffin, Uhmerican cheese - all perfectly prepared. She asked for a bowl of fresh fruit - they had some choices though you could only order one kind (weird) - the cantaloupe was nice and ripe and sweet ($4.50) - a taste of summer. 

Like at so many of the other diners in the area, I ordered a Chicken Gyro ($9.50) - asking for extra tzatziki on the side (agin' no upcharge!) - lots of tender nicely marinated white meat chicken, lettuce and tomato, with just a hint of red onion in there (I would have liked more). I was told my fries would be coming - I think the oil wasn't quite hot, as I was probably the first of the day to order off the lunch menu - I appreciated that they waited until the temp was just right - these fries were hot, crispy and delicious. Not the best Gyro in the city, but I was content.
Great fries - you will have to fight the forces of evil trying to snitch off your plate
The gyro came first - it fell apart in my hands, but I have a way of doing that

Sometimes there's a line at the door (the smallish parking lot is a good indicator of how busy they are) but it's worth the wait. Once seated you will never feel rushed, and I like that.  Open 7 days a week, 700 a.m. to 300 p.m., FYI. 

Love, Zena Goddess of Fire

PS: Grab a Nut Horn on your way out the door. The cinnamon ones pack a lot of tasty in a little package.

short fire goddess
a short dish that is quickly 
dispatched to fight the forces of evil

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Blueberry Fairy

In the far away land of Colonie is a magick place we call the Shaker Shed - filled with luscious homemade pies, fresh soups and sandwiches, gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and healthy annuals and perennials galore. Wonderful enchanting staff are always on hand to assist.

And they have a Blueberry Fairy, and she is small and fat and purple.

This was not the first time the Fire Goddess was taken in by a food fairy - dark and tantalizing, glowing with goodness, calling my name - and yes, I came away with four quarts of local blueberries.

Time to make jam!!!

Follow the recipe, and here's some tips:

1. You will need every inch of counter space that ever was in heaven or on earth. Start with a clean kitchen, assemble your equipment, tools, and ingredients. Plan to measure everything except your weight and height.

2. Be prepared to wash every dish you ever owned in this life and your past life. In particular wash all those Ball jars in lots of warm, soapy water and rinse well unless you like the taste Palmolive.
3. After washing the berries and removing anything that looks like a killer (small and green, squidgy) as well as stems and twigs and leaves and bugs and stuff, dump them out carefully onto a large rimmed baking sheet so you can be absolutely sure that they are clean. Be picky or be icky.

4. Puree your berries in a food processor. This is a lot less work than peeling and pitting and hulling, making blueberry jam easier to prepare than other fruits. Of course if you have superpowers all that extra effort is never a problem.

5. Cook with sugar and spices and lemon to a rolling boil, then add your fruit pectin and in another minute you can start filling jars and processing them in the water bath. Use a timer. No really, use a timer. 

6. Plan on being in the kitchen for hours, including cleanup. NOTE: No tomatoes were injured as part of this recipe. Wine helps.

7. If you end up with 44 jars of jam remember your friends and fellow superheroes when the holidays approach. It'll be like summer in a jar. Oh, and make toast.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Courtesy of Taste of Home:  CANNED BLUEBERRY JAM

·        8 cups fresh blueberries
·        6 cups sugar
·        3 tablespoons lemon juice
·        2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
·        2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
·        1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·        2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid fruit pectin

1.      Place blueberries in a food processor; cover and process until blended. Transfer to a stockpot. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, lemon peel and nutmeg. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2.      Remove from the heat; skim off foam. Ladle hot mixture into hot sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-in. headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Yield: 9 half-pints.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ROAD TRIP: Delaware County, NY

 A nice article in the NY Times touting cool stuff happening in Delaware County got us curious. Where is this "Delaware County"? Is there shopping? What about lunch? You know, the usual important questions before setting out on a road trip. 

Zena and the Mistress of the Hounds, with Sophie Super Puppy, left Glenmont on Saturday morning ready to explore.
  • WHERE:  Delaware County is southwest of Albany, containing a good part of the Catskills, it is bordered by the Delaware River to the south (separating us from Pennsylvania), and is the fourth largest county in NYS. Also, it has the lowest population density outside the Adirondacks.  Thank you, Wikipedia. 
And it is really beautiful. Rural, hills and mountains, farms, small towns, lush with leafy trees and wildlife, quiet, and filled with easy going, gentle folks. We took 32 South to 23 West through the Catskills. Lovely. 

  • SHOPPING: Our first stop was in Windham, NY - still in Green County - and we found all kinds of lovely little shops along Main Street: antiques and art and crafts abound. This is a ski town in winter (if there's snow, ahem ahem) so it's quiet this time of year. Check out the CatskillMountain Artisans Guild for soaps, ceramics, jewelry and other locally made goods, The Gallery on Main, Garden of Stone, Twigs n Things (antiques/collectables), and Spread the Light (candles). 

Candle shop - not what you'd expect - go check them out

Garden of Stone. I bought a little cement piggy. 

Lovely layout of interesting and sometimes odd antiques

The Gallery on Main had beautiful paintings 
  •  LUNCH: We were getting hungry after all that poking around and decided to eat at the Catskill Mountain Country StoreMistress of the Hounds ordered the Emily salad - dried cherries, pecans, warm goats milk cheese and organic greens with a raspberry vinaigrette on the side - delicious, but could have used more greens for the price ($10.99). I had the Big Cheese ($6.99) - asking for both swiss and cheddar, on the server's recommended "pane paesano bread", adding tomato slices ($1.00). I got perfectly melted beautiful flavorful cheeses (no Uhmerican here!), deep red tomatoes, and amazingly crispy bread - a big sandwich, rich and tasty. The fresh pickle on the side was pretty salty, as were the corn chips, but the little cup of salsa, made with fresh jalapeno, onion and tomato was crazy good.

The warm cheese cinched this summer beauty

The sandwich was amazing. Sophie enjoyed the chips.
Sophie had bacon, a treat from the kitchen. Puppies get all the attention!

She was a very good puppy
After lunch, we checked out the adjacent General Store, full of jams and jellies (including a line of no sugar added) and local honey, maple syrup, candies, crafts, homemade fudge, fresh bread, some fresh dairy - rustic and fun.

Got fudge?

Fun to explore

More candy
After we hit Grand Gorge we were in Delaware County, continuing on 30 South and making our next stop Margaretville. Home Goods of Margaretville is a fun place to poke if you like to cook. Don't miss Catskill Candies and Confections - I bought three dark chocolate turtles that I decided not to share.  (:

We drove up 28 through Delhi (the county seat) and continued north on 10 because it was raining, pulling into the very small town of Hobart, known for their second hand book trade. I bought Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and Pepper: A History of the World's Most Influential Spice - both at a good price and in excellent condition - at Blenheim Hill Books

Then home, about 8 hours to do the full circle, though we did take our time when we stopped. Don't hurry a trip like this - NYS has so much to offer, and the little hidden gems always feel special when you find them.  Go explore. Upstate is really beautiful this time of year.

Zena, Goddess of Fire