Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chain Travel

By day I'm a Librarian, and with approximately 17,000 other attendees I spent last weekend in Orlando where, you may have guessed, it was really hot. If I wasn't melting in the sun I was freezing cold in the Orlando County Convention Center. My powers were getting sapped quickly, so I started looking closely at the culinary opportunities nearby.

The OCCC is on International Drive, close to Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Seaworld, hotels and resorts, and lots of smaller attractions (I use that word loosely), such as the Orlando Eye and Ripley's Believe it Or Not and, for you shoppers out there, the Premium Outlets. The area is crawling with tourists and visitors - umpteen thousands of us - and every type of chain restaurant you could possibly imagine, all doing a booming business.

Chain travel.

I get it. The rents are sky high along the strip, downtown is far away, and heck, let's face it, America loves its chains. Outback, Carrabba's, Denny's, Sonic, Jimmy Buffets, Dave and Busters - burgers and fries and big breakfasts and noisy noisy noisy - good for families with hyper kids. And chains are not always cheap: think Benihana and Capital Grille and Texas de Brazil. The Pointe has dozens of better quality chains all snuggled together at 9101 International Drive - a busy place after dark, trust me, including lots of zombies and vampires and werewolves enjoying the lightening storms - but Zena was taking a break. Just another reminder to keep an eye on your kids.

Anyway, because daytime drinking is such a joy, we started with lunch at The Pub Orlando, in which the beer selection was very good. My Caesar Salad with Chicken and Red's Crispy Shrimp were both skimpy but tasty. The burgers looked good coming out of the kitchen. I suggest you stick to the stick to your ribs food that most pub crawlers crawl to pubs to enjoy.

The B-Line Diner, located in the Hyatt, was actually very good, also not cheap, but open 24 hours, which is cool. The Caesar Salad with Chicken (agin') was great - beautiful tender, seasoned chicken, a nice creamy dressing, not too garlicky. Colleagues both ordered the Mahi Mahi Sandwich served up on a toasted Hawaiian brioche - tasty, nicely prepared, too much bun. We liked this place a lot, and the service was terrific. If you have to live at a hotel for a week I might suggest the Hyatt just to eat at the B-Line.

Coopers Hawk has locations nationwide - they are a wine bar, serving only their own wines by the glass and a $$$ menu, each item listed with a recommended bin number. We had a table for 5 and everyone enjoyed their meal, and the wines were good, better than good maybe, and fairly priced ($7 up). The Soy Ginger Salmon was cooked through, as I'd asked, with a nice brown crust on one side, tender and slightly sweet, with a side of Asian slaw that was absolutely delicious. I like that the menu is varied - lots to choose from, from the smallest appetite on up.

The big blowout was at Copper Canyon Grill, currently with only four locations in Florida. The wine list was excellent (we enjoyed a couple of bottles of King Estate Pinot Gris from Oregon). There were a few steaks, fish options, pork ribs, even meatloaf - large servings, almost everything doused with their "signature spice blend" of mostly garlic and salt. My NY Strip was cooked exactly MR, and tender, but the sides weren't all that great. Dessert made up for it. Try the Key Lime Pie if ever you're in the area. One diner had some food allergies which they treated with great care and respect. I have to like that.

Chains have their place but they can't keep me down. We found some good meals, despite all, well deserved after a hard day at work, and at play.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Eating Well: Do the Numbers

So it wasn't Zombies this time, it was a trip to the doctor that started the fight.

I need more calcium in order to continue to kick ass, and I need to lower my blood sugar, apparently because I'm too sweet.

For the calcium - that's easy: take a pill. Oh, and cheese. Bonus points on eating more cheese.

This is what Heaven looks like. Really. 
But lowering the blood sugar is going to be a little bit harder. OK, a lot harder, so I put on my foodie nerd disguise and did some reading and surfing and soul searching. And I found the App of My Dreams, and it is NOT Angry Birds.

No, it's MyFitnessPal, a free online tool that can help you set goals, track what you eat and it's nutritional content (they have a huge database so you can load your daily food with some ease and accuracy), log your exercise routine, and your water by the glassful. There is a premium service, but the basic service is pretty flexible and easy to use.  I only wish I could take the data and graph it somehow - the printed reports are just pdfs by day, so it's hard to see what you did this week, or over the past month, in terms of making progress.

Yes, I had an 812 calorie breakfast. Back off. 
There's a social networking side of it too, but I'm not big on that - too friendly.

OK so they obviously need a librarian to re-set the data - Ken's Steakhouse Lite Northern Italian Salad Dressing is in there about 20 times scrambled up in a 20 different ways, including spellliing misteaks. So, even if you've added it in your Food Diary (the program will let you re-use the entry without having to search for it every time) it can be hard to find later. Salad Dressing, Italian, Northern Italian, Lite, Ken's Steakhouse, in that order. Yes, OK, my cover is blown: I'm a librarian by day - by the power of Zeus this organizing thing is a curse!!! But the nutritional content seems accurate - just watch for the "homemade" entries, which likely won't have much behind them except calories.
Basal? Really???
The exercise database is big, too, but does NOT include fighting crime, so I've replaced it with Elliptical, FYI. Here are the goals of a typical middle aged female superhero in upstate NY:

Yeah, well, maybe not.  (:
And low and behold, there was light - really bright light, and for a fire goddess and food nerd it just about burnt my eyeballs: too many simple carbs! So I've been cutting back on all those things that I thought made life worth fighting the forces of evil for: cookies and ice cream and pastries and white bread and white rice and potatoes and crackers and candy and chips and french bread and brownies and oh yeah, pie and cake.  And you know what??? I guess I found out that I really like oatmeal and brown rice and wheat pasta and winter squash, I'm eating more veggies and getting more fiber, and I actually feel better. I lost a few pounds, too. And while entering all that info about what you eat and do everyday can become as obsessive as a librarian cleaning up a database, I'm suggesting you won't need to do it forever, but long enough to see what you're doing right, and doing wrong, while you develop better habits.

OK so the wine is going to be a problem. I'm working on that.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

P.S. The database even had Mysore Dosa. Is that not amazing???

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The "Simplicity" of Milk

There is nothing better than dunking a cookie in a cold glass of milk. Simple, delicious, reminiscent of after school snacks, and even a little bit naughty if your Mom also told you it was bad manners.

But when you asked Mom "Mommy, where does milk come from?", she probably answered "Price Chopper", if just to shut you up.

I had a chance to meet with Mark Stanton, 5th generation owner of Stanton Farms, in Coeymans Hollow, with his friend and long-time colleague Tom Gallagher, now with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, and along with his wife Kathy and my good friend Mistress of the Hounds, learned about milk production on the family farm.

Did you know that all of the milk production in NYS is family farms??? I think I'm right on that. Let me know if I'm not.

Anyway, first of all I learned that milk comes from COWS and that cows are big and smelly and inquisitive and that it takes a lot of cows and equipment and feed and workers and hard work and space to make enough milk to earn a living - so much goes into producing what finally leaves the farm. Some of the Stanton success is raising their own grass and alfalfa and corn for feed, with some soybeans and other from suppliers, and they do their own repairs and maintenance at several sites in the area. The feed bunkers are enormous.

Dairy milk is cheap and plentiful in this country, loaded with protein and calcium and potassium and natural sugars. It comes in whole and 1% or 2% and skim, organic, lactose-free, even chocolate. If you go to the farm you can get it raw, although all of the Stanton supplies are now pumped into a truck and delivered to Garelick for processing. Milk and milk products are part of a global market so supply and demand and pricing schemes and structures all come to bear.  Besides liquid milk and cream there's dry milk and powders, cheese and yogurt and butter and ice cream that can be shipped all over the world. The U.S. is the world's largest producer, and NY is the third most productive state with over 625,000 dairy cows. A big driver is our yogurt industry, which is cool.

Cows in NY are mostly Holstein's raised on regulated feed for maximum yield. Because Holsteins produce more milk than other breeds of dairy cow they generally have a higher yield of fat and protein in their milk, and better quality milk fetches better prices. But that means the cows aren't in the fields like beef cattle; here they live in airy, well-managed all season barns. So I don't know if they are happy cows or not, but of the 1600 at Stanton the half that aren't milking you'd think they could be outside, although it seems they don't seem to manage that well on the hillsides out in the open. I'm not criticizing - I'm a city chick so I'll shut up while I'm ahead.  Mom taught me that too.

Thanks and best to the Gallaghers and Mark for the informative tour, and the cookies. All that for a glass of milk. I think I'll appreciate it more from here on in. Much, much more.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, June 6, 2016

Cheese and Ciders!

Boy oh boy - knocking back delicious local cheese bites and washing them down with delightful local cider is something we New Yorkers should do much more often. It's good for the soul, good for the local economy and just plain tastes good. The Hudson Valley Cider & Cheese event in Hudson on June 4 gave us our most recent opportunity. Zena and I got the VIP tickets and cruised in early to an airy space with freshly set up tables arranged beautifully with some of the best stuff on earth. 

The cheeses were also a gorgeous part of the mix - great spring weather, great cheese, great cider and interesting people who choose to try these delicate and risky crafts!  I predict that you will see more cider tasting events that are akin to our blossoming craft beer tastings - get out there and try one this year.

Basilica Hudson is big, so it was nice not to have to push our way through crowds. Basilica is determined to promote lots of good foods and drinks that are gaining ground in the Valley.  All was very civilized and I can't think of a better way to cop a buzz on a warm spring afternoon. One of the delightful parts of this tasting is that it wasn't a mob scene.  Some beer tastings can get that way, but this was way laid back and there was plenty of time and space to talk with producers. I think the location had a lot to do with the vibe. It's apparent that a lot more people could take an interest in ciders and begin to understand them as the varied and subtle beverages that they are. Bravo to Basilica for taking on the promotion of these excellent ciders. We were treated to everything from quite heavy and sweet Angry Orchard fare to the citrus-y, bright and energetic Sundog Cider, to the light, dry, airy fairy wispy Stone Bridge pear.

I proudly carried home one of the growlers on the left filled to the brim with Stone Bridge pear cider. These folks use apples and pears from their orchard and produce dry, light, delicate ciders that I'm sure will go well with foods of many varieties.  I was so grateful for the choice the organizers made to match up cheeses with these beautiful fruit flavors.

I know...they don't look like mom and pop, but most, if not all of the producers in this carefully selected group are couples and families who are making their magnificent foods and drinks in small batches.  Most sell locally. Many cider producers are using local apples from stock that has been around the Hudson Valley for generations.  Some are fooling around with stock from Europe and taking advantage of the carefully cultivated varieties that the Europeans have been working on for centuries. Most of them have web sites and we happen to have a few discriminating shops like Cheese Traveler, Honest Weight Food Coop, Capital Wine & Spirits and more that sell the products locally.  

Our friends at Nine Pin Cider in Albany arrange tastings in their space on North Broadway, and I recommend that you hustle yourself over there every chance you get in order to keep on top of what New York State is producing.

It's time to stop saying "I don't like cider" because you tasted something you didn't like ten years ago.  It's a new day here in New York and there's a very good chance you'll find something you love.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to taste New York's finest, whether you go to tastings, or search for these amazing foods in our local shops.

Doc's Draft Cider table, where Doc and all the best Gods and Goddesses were hanging out on Saturday.

Cider Vendors
Aaron Burr Cider, Angry Orchard, Bad Seed Cider, Brooklyn Cider House, Doc’s Draft Cider, Gravity Ciders, Greenpoint Cidery, Hardscrabble Cider, Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider, Joe Daddy’s Hard Cider, Kettleborough Cider House, Naked Flock Cider, Nine Pin Ciderworks, Orchard Hill Cider Mill, Pennings Orchard/Cidery, Slyboro Ciderhouse, Stone Bridge Farm, Sundog Cider, Wayside Cider, Westwind Orchard, Yankee Folly. 
Cheese Vendors
Acorn Hill Farmstead Cheese, Chaseholm Farm Creamery, Five Spoke Creamery, Four Fat Fowl, Hawthorne Valley Farm, Nettle Meadow, Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., Sprout Creek Farm, Sugar House, Vulto Creamery.