Friday, September 27, 2013

DOING DISHES: The Mussels Series, Part II of V - The Merry Monk

I like eating out with FF because she and I like to go splits on things and not over-order or overeat.  I overeated anyway. It was good.

We made plans for a Wednesday night because on Wednesday nights mussels are 2 for 1, and we like eating out on the cheap so we can order lots for less and feel a bit less guilty about eating out too often. Well, I do anyway.

We arrived just after 5:00 p.m. while the State office workers scrambled for an exit to the highway, but found free parking on Clinton Street, only a few blocks away from the restaurant. Nothing of value was visible through the windows of my car, FYI.

There are two doors to the Merry Monk, the main entrance on the left, the second one is on the right. Both were open when we arrived so we sauntered in the right-hand entrance. We couldn't figure out if it was okay to sit just anywhere, but we asked permission and did so, instructed that as long as there wasn't a RESERVED sign on the table to relax and find a spot. No hostess in sight was a bit odd, but we took a small booth that could seat 2 or 4 comfortably and settled in.

EVENTUALLY one of the waitstaff brought us menus. I poured over the list of draft beers, knowing, because I work at a university and one of my student workers is beer-literate and cheap-savvy as well, that draft beers are $2.00 off between 3 and 6 p.m., and, as you already know, some of us like it cheap. There is lots to choose from, so I read every entry in the very descriptive, beer-poetic listing, having a hard time deciding what might pair well with mussels. When then server came for our order FF told her we weren't ready because she didn't have a beer menu of her own and I'd obviously been hogging the one we had. So I'm an idiot. Anyway, because I am a dyed dark brunette these days (part of my disguise) Zena chose the Leffe Blonde, a pale malt. FF chose the Goose Island Matilda because it was "wild in character". Gotta love that girl. Both were great! The Leffe Blonde tasted just a bit smokey. It had a long finishing flavor and was not overly chilled, which I liked. The server tried to answer my question "What would go well with mussels?" but it didn't go anywhere; I think the lighter beers worked out well in the end.

P.S. They have lots of great beers listed in the bottled beer menu, including Belgian Ales and Lambics, as well as Fruit Beers and even Gluten Free beers. Go figure that one.

Feeling somewhat virtuous we ordered a house salad with a balsamic vinaigrette to start that we told the waitress we were going to split. Like Garden Bistro the salad wasn't divided in the kitchen for us, and we had no utensils at the table to facilitate the process, but we finally got the waitress' attention and, with a well-meant apology, she brought what was needed (e.g., side plates; we still had to use our forks to toss and dish up). We managed fine, and really enjoyed the salad. The dressing was sweet, strong, clingy, and the greens/cuke/cherry tomato/crouton delight held up to it quite well. A lot of pubs, which is what we would call the Merry Monk, don't do salads well as a rule, but this was lovely. It was a nice portion for $8.00 bucks.

MUSSELS. We ordered two types, the MM "almost" classic Meuniere (with white wine, butter, cream, celery and shallots), as well as the Beer Steamed (in Belgian amber ale, onion, garlic, tomato and fresh thyme). There were seven "Moules" to choose from, as well as a special for the day, but we wanted to stay with dishes that we could compare to other area restaurants. The combined flavor of the mussels and broth with our Beer Steamed selection was GREAT, the better of the two that we ordered, but the broth alone was a bit too salty. The combined flavor the Meuniere mussels and sauce was great also, BUT, the broth alone or dredged in the nice, solid baguette served alongside was absolutely perfect.  We liked the addition of the celery but weren't too sure about the cream - it had coagulated a bit on the shells and had separated from the sauce. The count was good: about 25 mussels per pound, with only one unopened shell. Too bad about half a dozen or more had a bit of grit. Even us cheapskate superheroes hate biting into sand (not that Zena is undone by a bitty piece of sand). Oh, AND there were more than a few mussels that had escaped their shells. Do mussels also have legs??? I am becoming suspicious. Anyway, most importantly all the mussels were tender and the presentation was low-key and simple. We were VERY happy with our dinner.

But Zena had to order another beer, this time an Ommegang Scythe and Sickle. It tasted almost lemony, a bit spicy, and very good. Too bad it was 6:30 and I had to pay full price, but I digress. Zena needed another beer because she was out-eating her foodie friend, including eating most of both hunks of sturdy baguette soaked in the two broths, and needed a drink. I easily beat off an "un-server" who attempted, at no avail, to remove the appearantly empty bowls while I finished things off.

Being cheap, I'm happy to report that a dinner of a salad, two pounds of mussels (for the price of one), and three beers came $46.00 including tip, and we were both satiated. We liked the pub environment, FF noting a nice mix of 20 something hipsters, suits, and middle-aged suburbanites, as well as a few superheroes. By 7:00 p.m. there was a lineup at the left door but no one rushed us along. Zena appreciated that she could finish her beer without being pestered by the waitstaff.

I burped my way home, happy, way too full, with plans to work it off out saving the innocent and fighting off dragons or whatever comes along that night, or, if I have to, at the gym the next morning. Not to confuse mussels with muscles, of course.

Yesterday morning I bought a half-off gift card for the Merry Monk through What a great deal!! I plan to return and continue to explore their menu. Also maybe link up with a few superheroes.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Friday, September 20, 2013

Koozi Sham!

I've linked to this image from Jeff Janssens entry over at All Over Albany because I was so fascinated with the koozi sham once I got it that all thoughts of a photograph flew from my mind.  Jeff does a marvelous job of describing this adorable  little poochie bubble of a dish.

I recommend that you not bother with reading a lot about it, but that you get yourself to the Oasis Cafe at 4 Delaware Ave and try one. The aromas, the texture, the astonishing blend of spices, pilaf, and other stuffing items you can choose will be a true delight - especially now that the weather is cooling down.  This is pure, delicious comfort food of the highest order.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Clams Got Legs!

Clams got legs, but I date myself. This is one of my favorite all time B.C. comics by Johnny Hart:

Actually they don't have legs but they do have a foot so they can move around. Dragging themselves around, not hopping. For the record.

I really enjoyed the mussels I had with FF last week. With the weather turning cooler I wanted soup so I decided to cook up a batch of homemade clam chowder. I had everything except the clams, an essential part of the recipe (duh). Zena, Goddess of Fire took her little legs for a walk to the grocery store. A good idea also when anticipating something made with cream and butter and bacon.

Canned clams. I hate canned clams. They are often sandy, salty and have a funny orange color. I'm sure there are premium brands you can order online if you are a rich gourmand and planned this meal two weeks in advance. Some of the ones I look at had sodium tripolyphosphate (to retain natural juices) and calcium disodium EDTA to protect color (doesn't really work in my opinion). EDTA is a short term for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid.

Ugh. RUN AWAY!!!

I didn't want to start with fresh clams - too much work with too many other superhero projects in the works, like fold the laundry. I looked in the frozen fish section and found Sam's Clams, a 16-ounce plastic container of shucked clams ($5.99). Ingredients: Clams, water. OOOOOH. I liked that. This is what I found online:

"100% natural chopped clams are hand processed by Blount using the time honored hand-shuck technique because, to date, this method still produces the highest quality meat (heat shucking methods tend to blanch and toughen the meat more than our standards would allow). Our products are guaranteed 100% natural. We do not soak or pack with tripolyphosphate. We use no salt or preservatives. The clams are washed in fresh water, plain and simple. The end result is a healthier, fresher, sweeter, more tender product."

It also had a label that it was "Certified Sustainable" but according to an NPR report the labeling thing isn't reliable (, but I still felt a bit better about eating seafood, a topic which is very confusing for most mortals (and superheros) but very serious from an environmental standpoint. PRI's environmental news magazine "Living On Earth" had a piece on the radio yesterday about some newfangled inland shrimp farming operation near Boston that's environmentally friendly. We may be able to feel good about eating shrimp again, but that might not be for awhile. The first tankfuls are going to high-end chefs that will treat the food with respect. Time for a meander to Boston, n'est-ce pas?

I left Sam's Clams on the counter to defrost during most of the course of the day while I protected the innocent, sharpened my sword, and vacuumed. They were still very cold with a few ice crystals in the center when I started cooking, so I think I got the timing just about perfect. Just a few seem to have walked away but my cat's just looked at me innocently, then licked a foot. The clams smelled sweet and briney.

The next new ingredient I used for this soup was Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Bits & Ends ($2.99/lb.). VERY smokey, almost too much, but distinct and flavorful. These were definitely ugly and very fatty, which may be me some day if I don't quit sleeping in on Sundays and eating rich food, so I won't be overly critical as I meander over to the stove and start cooking.

Here's my recipe. The clams were wonderful - tender with just a bit of chew, the bacon added a rich, intoxicating smell, potatoes, butter, cream and salt. A a couple of virtuous veggies. All good.

Serves 4 as a first course
  • 2 ounces chopped bacon, cooked over medium heat in a medium pot until the fat has mostly rendered and the meat is tender crisp; remove the bacon to drain; reserve 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan.
  • Add 1/2 small chopped onion, l large sliced shallot, and 2 finely chopped celery stalks and cook until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add 2 cups of water, and 2 medium sized red potatoes that have been washed and cut into 1/4" dice. Also 1 1/2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and a generous grind of white pepper.
  • Return the bacon to the pot, bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer, covered, while you make the roux.
  • In a separate saucepan melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. When just sizzling add 1/4 cup all purpose flour and cook 1 minute, stirring with a whisk. Slowly whisk in 1 can of whole evaporated milk (or light cream if you prefer). Cook until thickened and bubbly and set aside.
  • When the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes or so) add the clams (rinse these well before you use them, and look out for bits of shell). Don't cook them longer than a few minutes so they don't get all rubbery on you. Stir in the roux. Serve with oyster crackers.
And a beer. It's Sunday, after all! Time to put up your feet, relax and enjoy.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Thursday, September 12, 2013

DOING DISHES: The Mussels Series, Part I of V - Garden Bistro 24

It seems my Foodie Friend I are easily confused these days, but FF is all academic and analytic and that's how she tries to keep track of stuff and make sense of things. Me, I just look like an idiot then try to run away really fast.

Now where was I. Oh, okay, we got into talking about mussels. We both really enjoy mussels when we go out to eat, sopping up some lovely broth with a hunk of bread, taking a passing sip of wine, picking out another mussel from it's shell, now slurping up the broth with a spoon, and sometimes drinking more wine until we are totally confused about just about everything. Divine!!! But we didn't know much about mussels, and neither of us had ever tried preparing them at home. We wanted to compare dishes in a few venues here in the Albany area, then cook up a batch of our own. This series is the first of what we hope will be many where we do some comparison dining and then bring it home. We call it DOING DISHES. No, we are not dishes.

I'm trying to find my phone.

Anyway what was I saying? Right - this is the first blog of four restaurants and one in-house cooking event. We'll talk about each dining experience in turn then finish up with an across the board comparison. FF made a chart for her notes. She did her homework. According to Wikipedia, where everything is true, the "...word "mussel" is most frequently used to mean the edible bivalves of the marine family Mytilidae, most of which live on exposed shores in the intertidal zone, attached by means of their strong byssal threads ("beard") to a firm substrate." There was a good article in the most recent issue of Cooks Illustrated, and too much information online, and plenty of recipes. She arrived at our first venue, Garden Bistro 24 in Colonie, NY with her pen and chart and mobile device. I took a few pictures, a few which were NOT on my phone today, which messes with my head, and just tried to wrap myself in the experience.

During dinner last night Zena was very certain that the raging thunderstorm and flashes of lightning were either Thor pissed at me again for something, or a sign that what we were about to partake of something wild and wonderful. Confused, I tried to focus on the wine list, which isn't very long but very reasonably priced. I ordered a white Bordeaux, which was really lovely - crisp but satiny. We shared a Countryside salad - crunchy soybeans, fresh sweet peas, red leaf lettuce, cheddar cheese, radishes, dressed with their homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Not salty at all, which I appreciated, since salt raises your blood pressure then you loose your temper, hence the problems lately with Thor. Right, dinner - sorry. So, we had to ask for side plates. All we each had was a napkin and a fork. There was a knife in the salad. A few minutes later our waiter offered to bring us utensils to serve the salad with, but we declined. By then we were getting into the almost minimalist environment. Paper napkins, a flower. The salad was hard to eat with just a fork. We shared the knife. The picture of the salad is NOT on my phone.

Then our mussels arrived. Our waiter was kind enough to bring us two hunks of bread and offered to bring more, but we just asked for spoons, which he forgot about but brought by later. We ordered the Mussels Frites - there are five choices and a special of the day; we chose the classic with wine and shallots. A huge thingy of frites freaked us out - they were good, a bit overdone perhaps (tasting slightly bitter as a result), but with a nice crisp exterior and still soft inside. We didn't eat too many. We ate mussels: a good count (30), all open, no broken shells, and small but tender. Only one with grit, but I blame that on the gods, Thor in particular, since I got it and not FF. Then the amazing sauce - very yellow, a few tomato bits, buttery, winey (not to be confused with whiny, which we were not). Great bread. I ordered another glass of wine and had to use my superpowers to keep the waiter from taking the glass that still had a slurp in it.

I wonder if there was saffron in the sauce. Didn't see any red floaties, but look at the color:

When Garden Bistro first opened they touted local/sustainable, but that seems to be off their marketing agenda these days. Mussels have been on their menu since they opened in 2010, and there isn't much local that you can say about PEI mussels in Albany, aye? But they ARE considered sustainable (eating at the bottom of the food chain), and the farming methods are okay for the environment, which is great. There is a lot about this menu that hasn't changed, so those of us who are easily confounded by change are happy to see our favorites still available, but we wondered if there wasn't another potato besides fries. The prices, uh, have gone up a few bucks since they opened, but I think dinner is still a deal. Salad: $9.50, Mussels $16.50, Wine $8.00/glass, plus tax and tip - a lovely dinner for just over $50.00. I couldn't figure out the bill because FF owed me three bucks for eggs but she had it together. It was a WONDERFUL meal - really GREAT mussels. Not to be confused with muscles....

Zena wrestles with a mussel at the Y
Zena, Goddess of Fire

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Cheese Tour

Ballcap: Check. Sturdy sneakers: Check. Sweatshirt: Check. Cooler with ice packs for cheese we purchase along the way: Check. GPS programmed with farm addresses: Check. Beautiful weather: Check. OK all set it's time to head out for the 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour with FF. It was a beautiful day to drive the back roads, visit the farms making artisanal cheeses, and enjoy fatty cholesterol laden calories high in sodium and just screw it: We will be at one with good eats.

From downtown Albany it was about an hour and fifteen to get to 3-Corner Field Farm in Shushan, NY, our first of six farms open for visitors this season as part of the Tour. Wash off shoes: Check. We washed off our footware before we entered so as not to bring in "viruses" (and should have done the same so as not to bring sheep poo back into my nice clean Honda Civic on the way out).  3-Corner Field Farm is the first sheep dairy farm in Washington County and one of only four in NYS.  We had the pleasure of meeting the farm's owner, Karen Weinberg, when we first arrived, who explained some of the challenges of sheep farming, i.e., sheep don't produce a lot of milk, it's labor intensive, and you have to market your product which is more expensive than cow's milk products, etc. They had organized tours of the fields and the milking operation, which were really cool because they were, I think, intent on educating us city folks and other ignoramuses about meaningful, sustainable farming. We found out that, in addition to cheese, they have the wool and meat products that they also market. However, most of the questions from visitors were focused on the ram's and ewes' screwing habits, which was funny at first then quickly got to be really  stupid. FF asked where the slaughterhouse was, which shut everyone up for few minutes. I love her dark side. Ignore City Folk With Too Many Questions: Check. We worked our way back to the barn to taste cheese.

FF and I were a bit frustrated by the cheese tasting set up at 3-Corner, but this might have been their first time as part of the Tour. Staff were cutting off little bites of cheese to offer guests AND taking money AND talking about cheese stuff while the tasting line built up behind; not very organized and slow, especially if we were going to get through the list of farms on the Tour. Anyway, FF fluffed off but Zena persisted. She really enjoyed the aged, Basque-style sheep's milk cheese called Battenkill Brebis and bought a piece to take home. Very good with early fall Macintosh apples she bought the day before (and a beer, but not until later when I got home, dearest Mr. State Trooper).


Next stop: Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlett, VT, specializing in goat's milk and cow's milk cheeses. The cheeses were amazing - one called Manchester  (an aged raw milk goat cheese) was my favorite, but I also bought a piece of the Dorset, a washed-rind, raw Jersey cow cheese. The atmosphere was more like a little tiny farmer's market, complete with banjo players and roasted corn, but they were relaxed and organized and the farm was bucolic. It was actually the most beautiful of all the farms we visited that day. Not much good to say about Zest, one vendor selling a variety of prepared foods, both to go and to eat now at the many picnic table set up in the mowed lawn down the hill. FF had a chili dog and thought the meat was weird and the cheese was cheap and there was more bun than anything else. Bag lunch the next time: Check.

Next stop was Argyle Cheese Farmer. We didn't stay long, but did get a chance to hear about their involvement in making Greek style yogurt, which mostly sounded like a second-hand prospect with very little philosophical investment. But the yogurt was amazing! I also loved their Revival Cheddar Cheese, and bought a nice hunk to take home for later indulgence. I got lucky and got a chance to see the cheese aging room, wishing I had a good reason beyond greedy to buy a whole wheel of their wonderful offerings. Plan a party to eat all of this cheese I'm buying: Check.

So the GPS, a necessary piece of equipment on this type of adventure, got us on a stretch along a gravel road to the last farm we could visit as part of this year's cheese tour (to add on the last 2 farms would have been a very long day and would have cut into our happy hour). We were at Sweet Spring Farm. Sadly, all they had left was Chevre, but it was really really very very yummy, so we weren't too disappointed, also because by now we were getting pretty tired. I loved this place - so quiet and beautiful. It was the ONLY farm where we got to pet a goat, which was lovely, something we expected more of, you know, petting farm animals. Clean up with disinfectant hand gel: Check.

Lots of good cheese to enjoy and I feel SO lucky to live in upstate NY and have so many wonderful products to enjoy in season. The only issue I had with the whole event was that the Cheese Tour  signs were useless, showing up at the last turn before the farm instead of 5 miles out, 5 turns earlier, as you wiggle your way into the back country trying to find your way. Printed maps are good - very analog and 1970s, but at least you know where you are in the big picture, not just where you are right now. GPS gets you there but you have NO IDEA where you are. But maybe that's a good thing, lost on a summer afternoon, experiencing rural NY, and enjoying your time with a best friend and eating cheese. A wonderful day. With fat, and salt. Buy more apples: Check.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Friday, September 6, 2013


What kind of radius from home is your sense of "local" when it comes to food?

The Slow Food movement includes this basic idea: "Our primary idea has to be to make agriculture local again." from Carlo Petrini, Founder and President. But there's nowhere on the website I found that puts a radius of miles or kilometers on the concept of "local".

The Locavore people say that local is 100 miles and that you should eat from your "foodshed".

The Eat Local Challenge people also don't seem to want to put a number on it and they also use the word "foodshed".  They seem to have lost a lot of steam if you look at the web page or their Facebook page, but maybe that's because we are not in a local challenge period.  Their idea is to restrict yourself to local food for certain periods of time in order to figure it all out.

Cornell - bless them!!! - has a whole foodshed web page crammed with information that I recommend you read.  However their attempt at a definition leaves a little to be desired:

"What is a "foodshed"?
Though it may be unfamiliar, the term "foodshed" was used almost 80 years ago in a book entitled How Great Cities Are Fed (
Hedden, 1929) to describe the flow of food from producer to consumer. Seven decades later, the term was used to describe a food system that connected local producers with local consumers (Kloppenburg et al., 1996). In this project, the general definition of a foodshed is a geographic area that supplies a population center with food."

The Foodshed website's mission statement caught my eye because they use terroir.

We champion local, sustainable farmers. We root for the chefs and businesses who sell their food and wine. We believe in terroir, in the glass and on the plate. We eat where we live. So should you."

So I had to look up terroir in wikipedia:
"(French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, "land") is the set of special characteristics that the geographygeology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant's genetics, express in agricultural products such as winecoffeechocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, cannabis, and tea. The concept has also crossed to other Protected Appellations of Origin (PDOs a form of geographical indication), products such as cheeses.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French loanword."

I have chosen to use Gary Paul Nabhan's radius of 250 miles. In his book Coming Home to Eat he decided on that radius for his year of eating local food. I also appreciated his effort to find not only locally-produced food, but indigenous foods and local food ways.  He was looking for the good stuff that's been the good stuff for a few generations back - before agri-business and factory farming techniques became widespread. His idea was to look at the food-human relationship as part of a more broad ecosystem concept and I definitely like that and want to support it. 

Sitting in Albany with a 250 mile radius to define "local" provides a wonderfully broad set of possibilities, and yet it still reduces the current average distance that food generally travels from producer to consumer. That is a general goal of mine. But my motivation for eating local is sustainability and I think that Nabhan's efforts to raise awareness about producing more and more ecosystem-logical foods is worthy of consideration. If we must wreak havoc in our foodshed to produce foods we want to eat we are continually going to have to "battle" elements of the ecosystem.  If we determine which foods provide adequate nutrition, are aesthetically what we want and don't mess too much with our foodshed that seems like the best we could ask for in terms of sustainability. I would very much like to follow in his footsteps and find our local old foodways, and yet I have no idea how to go about doing that.  If anyone has any ideas, please pass them along in the comments.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Phoenicians Restaurant: Good

Nothing like dropping a friend off at Subaru on Central Avenue to make an excuse to go to the nearby Phoenicians together for a home style Lebanese dinner. Last night, while I waited for her to get her car I got my GPS ready to direct me. It was 5:30 and the estimated arrival time was 5:32. Good thing: I was hungry.

Traffic was thick, but there was only one car in the parking lot. Not a good omen. I don't think the sign out front gets much attention, what with everything else that screams at you along the strip. The building, too, is pretty nondescript (and there's a strange little house in the parking lot). The grass next door needed to be mowed. That said, we ventured in and were welcomed by owner Robert Rahal and seated directly. Only one other guy sat in a corner but he ordered take-out and was soon good to go.

The decor was nice, good enough, colorful for sure, but what's with the TV (at least it wasn't on; we listened to.... [wait for it]....opera)? Simple tables topped with plate glass reminded me of diners, the glass protecting beer, wine and dessert menus that looked up at us against the glare. A regular menu was delivered that listed a nice selection of starters, a few salads, a number of pita wraps, as well as a pretty standard selection of entrees including kabobs and shawarmas.

Robert is the owner, host, and waiter. His wife, Rindala, worked the kitchen. We ordered drinks - a cold beer (nice and cold!) for Zena, white wine for Subaru. Also a plate of hummus ($4.99) to start that was very good - a nice balance of creamy chickpeas, sesame, garlic, and salt. Too bad the basket of pita bread was so dry. But Zena had an appetite so I ate my half and then some. The hummus was actually some of the best I've ever had, which is when index fingers come in VERY handy. Another table of three came in and seemed to be celebrating something, which was nice to be around, especially for Zena, who likes to go out to be seen. They took lots of pictures. Not of me. I didn't take one. Sorry.

Anyway, friend Subaru ordered the pita wrap with the lamb (not on the online menu), which came with a side of rice. I had a Lebanese salad with grilled chicken (on the online menu; not on the in-house menu, and $2 more than was listed online). Both dishes were good, plentiful, although the chicken was a bit dry and the salad a bit heavy on the vinegar. We especially enjoyed "wild cucumber pickles" and marinated turnips (also a pickle flavored with wine and salt). Our host showed us jars of the cucumber pickles and told us more about what they were. He even brought us an extra dish full at no charge, which was sweet. Robert is very gracious, and talkative, and attentive. Maybe a bit too much so, but still it was charming and his wife, too, always had a smile. So home style cooking in a place that was sort of homey, too. I liked it.

HOWEVER: the specials were never mentioned. There's a white board near the doorway that we didn't even see. Something about lamb chops that I was sorry to miss.

I was interested to see that there were all kinds of cans and bags and boxes and jars of specialty foods for sale, as well as a lovely selection of baked goods in the cases, including enough baklava to feed my sister's oldest boy. The web site doesn't mention groceries.

It was a good supper. We got a discount using a Double Take coupon, which was good, because the prices seemed just a bit on the high side considering what we had and the overall ambiance. The place overall was good, pretty good, but short of really good, in small ways that I think wouldn't be hard to fix. But still good.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, September 2, 2013

Putting the Pest in Pesto

Labor Day - a day to sleep in, stretch widely, and be at one with your reality. Which of course means getting up before dawn when it's pouring rain, bitching about how your back aches, and going to Fox Creek Farm to pick basil with FF. We are one with mosquitoes.

It was a humid, sticky, gray start to the day but the drive to Schoharie was lush, verdant (never actually used that word in a sentence before) and filled with the hum of bugs on the prowl. We only got lost once, missing the turn in Altamont because we were yakking. Fox Creek Farm is a 300 member CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that also offers a U-Pick of herbs, small tomatoes, and flowers for members to pick for free. Zena forgot her sword, so we stopped at the Price Chopper on Western Avenue and 155 for cheap scissors before we hit 146 East. Also bananas, 2 bars of soap, and some shallots, but I digress.

On arrival we were directed where to park and pick, and greeted soon after by owner Raymond Luhrman and one of his little barn cats, who proceeded to bravely go right into FF's car and explore, which was fine until he started to scratch up the upholstery. FF has been a long-time advocate in the Albany area for sustainable farming and buying local; Fox Creek is part of the solution and going strong, and FF and Raymond were on best terms. No one questioned the fact that the Warrior Queen was there, armed with her new Scotch brand scissors and several plastic bags, bug spray (NOT that I need it, of course) and rubber boots. I SHOULD get a farm share but I'm finding it kind of satisfying to be cheap and take advantage of my friends' connections, but that's another blog, and again, I digress. We took a wide look, stretched widely again, and started picking. 

OK I admit, I have a tomato problem. And a pasta problem. And a white wine on Friday problem, but it's only Monday so let's not go there.  There was an abundance of tiny tomatoes - and I picked enough to freeze several large bags for when the weather turns cold and I need to remember summer tomato flavors (which in turn is excellent with pasta, and wine). Also enough basil to make 40 ounces of pesto. I made 20 ounces using pine nuts. These are for me. I made another 20 ounces for my friends, whom I love, using walnuts, and walnuts are cheaper. Enough said. I really enjoyed tasting all the basil varieties available - lime and lemon basil, Thai basil, Aromatic (sp?) which had a taste of licorice, and a couple of others I don't remember. Lots of lovely herbs, including several varieties of dill, which FF planned to use in tomato soup. Happy mouths and tummies tonight!

As we were getting ready to head out co-owner Sara Luhrman came to greet us, along with a hound dog and another little kitty. In addition to all the herbs and tomatoes we'd picked, she offered us two large bags of heirloom tomatoes (just south of fresh) and about a dozen newly dried garlic bulbs, which of course we accepted heartily. Made  more marinara (see the previous post for my recipe) so those heirlooms wouldn't go to waste. I got about 8 mosquito bites, one on my butt, and I can only say it was worth every itch for what we walked away with.  All this for free, and as they say on TV - membership ("non") has it's rewards. Needless to say I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, scratching my butt wondering "how did I ever get so lucky with all this bounty?". I put my sword to good use preparing Way Too Much Produce. With a glass of wine, of course!

Zena, Goddess of Fire