Monday, December 18, 2017

America is Great: The Eveready Diner, Hyde Park, NY

The GOP tax "plan", derailments, sexual assaults, hurricane damage, Russian interference, travel bans, climate change, fires - this is just a short sheet of all that's gone wrong in the U.S. lately. So I ask, is it fake news?

I wish it were.

But in Hyde Park last week I found a few things that made me remember that I love this country.

I love tacky Christmas decorations and iconic upstate NY diners
Start with the drive down from Albany. Upstate NY is beautiful - a wonderful winters morning - a successful night chasing down Yeti (they don't like me, I'm too hot), soft pale sun with a dusting of snow on the mountains, and cold butts on heated car seats (there's a horrible Christmas song in there somewhere). Love.
It smelled like fresh baked cookies and bacon
Nothing like it - chrome, bad coffee, and a view of the parking lot - clean and bright
An early lunch was had a the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park. It was busy with mostly locals, cozy, glitzy, smelling of cookies and bacon and homemade soup. Diners. Something else to love about the U.S.A. - an amazing menu of everything you can imagine, breakfast all day, cocktails, retro 50s decor, real waitresses - you are family starting with your first visit.

Someone at Eveready likes salad as much as we do
Stitch went for a meal of Chicken Pot Pie ($14.99) - with soup or salad (salad) served with their special house dressing (sort of a sweet Italian with bits of tomato). The salad had fresh mushrooms and broccoli and spinach and cuke and red onion slices and tomato and crisp romaine - wow for any restaurant, especially a diner!!!  With the pie came a side of mashed and some fresh steamed veg. This was a big plate. The crust was flaky and crisp, with big chunks of chicken, and a rich flavorful gravy that tasted like a hug.
A big plate - the Chicken Pot Pie could feed two superheroes easily
Puppy started with a cup of Ed's Chicken Soup ($3.49) - again, big chicken chunks, bits of red pepper and onion and scallions and celery, a rich yellow with just a hit of rice - what's not to love on a frosty day?
Oyster crackers (:
She followed up with a Hudson Salad ($11.99) - lettuce, pecans, cranberries, apple slices, lettuce, and grilled chicken on top, more of that house Italian instead of a honey mustard viniagrette. A lovely combination, all things good. Great salads in a diner??? We were impressed. More love.

Surprise! I went for the Chicken Souvlaki Pita ($9.99) - comes with fries (crispy, hot), slaw (grated, sweet, crisp), a hunk of pickle (love). I started with a Greek Salad for an extra $2.00 - pepperoncini, feta, stuffed grape leaves, balanced, fresh and delicious. The dressing was also that house stuff  - I would have preferred something greekier instead, but it was still good.
Greek salad with Italian Dressing  
I've been eating my way (as does any god or goddess or superhero, of course) through diners in Upstate for quite a while now, and eating a lot of these chicken souvlaki because, most of the time, they are delicious. Sorry to say that this one was on the low end of the scale - the meat was dry, so was the pita, the tzaziki was mild (needed garlic), the sandwich needed veg (more tomatoes and onions). I ordered extra sauce ($0.50) and dug my way through, but it needed some krytonite or something, I don't know, just dull.
The Chicken Souvlaki needed garlic or kryponite

Overall, Eveready is a gem, a piece of Americana. Don't miss it.

From there it was off to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's "cottage", all decked out for the holidays. She was an amazing woman - smart, compassionate, tireless, a brilliant writer and statesman, the first real first lady lady, amazing, with a conscience, working her whole adult life to make the world a better place for all people. She gave hope to many during her days. And still she brings hope to mine.
Eleanor's living room decked out for the holidays
Happy holidays to the U.S.A. May yours and my god or goddess protect the weak and forgive the mighty in these difficult times. Wishing you health, money (why not!?), and love.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving: Eating Out, With Reservations

Mortal life has been shit lately, but Thanksgiving has reminded me that I have much to be thankful for.

Like cats. And dogs. And good friends. Actually anything kind and fuzzy. Oh, don't forget about the joys of eating out.

Eating out means you have some cash to spare, with treats you wouldn't normally get at home, laughter and conversation and celebration, and no dishes to wash afterwards.
Fixed price meals on Thanksgiving day starting a noon with the last seating at 500 p.m.
About a week before the holiday The Mistress of the Hounds and I decided to get together and treat ourselves to a restaurant meal - something I've never done before on Thanksgiving Day. My pissy side says eating out on a holiday (Mothers Day, Valentines Day, etc.) is usually awful - way too busy, overpriced, disappointing. But this year, with a sick cat who died just days before, and a dying Mom, and a crazy Dad, and stress at work, and just plain feeling like a bitch ready to explode, I was up to having someone else do the cooking.

There were no reservations available at Normanside. None at the Desmond. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.  I was left asking myself "Who eats out on Thanksgiving?". Apparently lots of folks (and I expect the trend to continue, based on my extreme powers of strength and foresight). I surfed the web looking for options but finding a holiday special wasn't all that easy.  There were buffets and take out available from many local establishments - just sides or the whole enchilada. I finally managed to get a table for two at Innovo Kitchen, located on Route 7 in Latham. Fixed price meals at $38/person - comparable to the area buffets, with a selection of starters (soups, crab cakes, salad), turkey or beef or salmon as a main, and three types of pie or creme brulee or cookies for dessert. I thought the selection was varied and offered something for everyone - there was even a kids menu.
Take out pickups started at 1100 a.m. Over 300 covers expected in the dining room
The front of the restaurant was busy with folks picking up packaged meals to go. I sat at the bar with a cold class of Mount Riley Sauvignon Blanc ($10) - a good pour, watching a dog show on the telly because the help in front weren't exactly chatty. No Mistress. She called me, misdirected, late, apologetic, so I told the (owner) at the hostess point that we were needing to be seated a bit late.  While totally our fault, I expected to hear a gracious "No worries, all is well, we'll figure something out, it's the holidays after all". Instead I got "That's a problem, we may not be able to seat you," followed by "You'll have to be done by 2:00 because we will need to re-set the table for the next party."

Pissy side rises to the surface, superpowers in check. No one wants to be told their holiday meal is a bust. I stopped myself from looking into her soul and instead just smiled and thanked. You would have been impressed with my restraint, trust me.

Seated at 12:30. Our waitress was very nice. She asked if we'd decided on our meals without any description of what they were (e.g., farm raised versus a sustainable salmon? local turkey or beef?) - no work at all to sell what the kitchen had in store for us. And no suggestions for wine pairings. Less than classy, especially for a special meal. OK, no matter. Mistress went for the turkey and I ordered the beef. Their usual white bean dip and seedy crackers arrived at the table (still boring), followed shortly by a small wrapper of breads, including a nice sourdough that was perfectly soft and yeasty.
Gratis crackers with their white bean dip and a few slices of bread were the usual at IK
Round One. Mistress' Roast Pumpkin Bisque was rich, not too sweet, tasting like pumpkin and scented with ginger. I loved the Great Greens salad, topped with roasted beets, goats milk cheese and walnuts with a slightly sweet mustard vinaigrette.
Nice pumpkin bisque...

but I'm betting my salad was better!
Main Course: Mistress got a mound of food, looking like mine would if it was a buffet. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, white and dark meat Roast Tom Turkey, a bit of roasted sweet potato and gravy, piled high, with cranberries on the side. Not a pretty plate, but the food was good. She ALSO got a threesome of green beans, creamed onions and roasted brussels sprouts. The onions were amazing - rich, briney, delicate little bites of sweetness. A well considered, well executed and delicious holiday meal.
Tom Turkey? How do they know it was a boy???
Why didn't I get sides too????  Mistress doesn't like green beans, so I got em!
The Grilled Beef Tenderloin was amazing - tender, a bit salty, juicy, topped with a delicious demi glace. But the plate was NOT my idea of generous or extraordinary. About 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes (creamy, wonderful), and three! brussels (really!!!??) - chintzy almost. No roasted carrot or squash slice or sauteed shrooms or even a sprig of parsley or an offer or horseradish. I asked for more potatoes (which I didn't finish), and at least that came gratis. I really felt they could have done more to make the meal feel special. The fare was excellent, but I was underwhelmed.
It was screaming "Add some color!!! She needs more vegetables! Where's the horseradish?"
Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, coffee. All wonderful. The pecan pie in particular was rich and sweet and dark and gooey. If this were a buffet I would have gone back for seconds.  (:

Pumpkin pie was a classic (above). See the pecan pie isn't all gummy and stuck up like me. 
Dinner for two, including three glasses of wine and the tax came to $121.77. Not a bad value, and I do prefer good food over quantity as a rule. However, while I'm not an "all you can eat" kind of goddess, which is the pleasure of the buffet, the palty leftovers of the fixed price meal were a disappointment. Somehow the generosity, that elaborate touch, and a bit of creativity wasn't let loose at Innovo Kitchen this Thanksgiving. But the food was excellent.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wat??? Wot? Enjoyed the Injera at Umana

"What" is a question, as is "huh what" or "aye, pardon". Wat (or wot) is a stew.

OK I'll say that again.

Wat, a spicy meat or vegetable stew, is served on injera, a spongy sourdough bread, in this case about 12" square, made from naturally gluten free teff flour. It soaks up the juices and serves as a vehicle to help you gobble up every delicious bite without losing a drop.

Umana Restaurant and Wine Bar is boasting street food from around the world - and the menu is eclectic - Thai Satay and Jerk Lamb and Fried Chicken and Samosa - and the place smells wonderful, redolant with exotic spice.  Umana means "the meeting place of all people". And those that know order the Injera ($27).

At the intersection of Central and Washington Ave in downtown Albany
Served nightly, this is definitely a dish to share (burp), and it is not for the faint of heart. We had a total of nine, (9), toppings - colorful, creative, flavorful  and kickbutt spicy (just like me). The injera is bland, and the texture is a bit weird at first, but it's mesmerizing the way it holds up to the moisture. Berbere is the spice base (think hot chilies, cardamon, ginger, fenugreek, nutmeg, cloves, etc.), a well loved and distinctive Ethiopian spice, but there's much much more happening in that kitchen.

COUNTERCLOCKWISE from left:A fork tender serving of very spicy lamb - too delicious to snarf down fast. The cucumber, tomato and ginger salad with mint was a nice foil. Turmeric cabbage and potato wat was soft and searing at the same time. The beans, with a touch of sweet potato, were pan sauteed with a sneaky spice. Cardamom scented beets were lovely and cooling. The chicken wat was a hot scoop of heaven. The lentils, one of my favorite tastes on the plate, were squishy and tasty. The butternut squash was rich with the flavors of curry, followed by a spicy spinach mix laced with onion and red pepper. Optional, at center, was a perfect fried egg that oozes into it all. Decadent.

The Injera is AMAZING!

A beautiful presentation. We made a mess of it because we don't have any experience with this stuff, which is meant to be eaten out of hand, but "all people" as well as fire goddesses are welcome to use utensils, which we did. I asked for more injera ($3.00) to cut the heat as the spice pushed me over into pre-meltdown. My superpowers did not keep me from being a chili-weenie.

The wines were lovely - we did a flight ($10) of South African wines that included a Fairvalley Chenin Blanc ($9/glass) that we both loved (fruity, crisp, clean, and cold), and a Pinotage that was much like a pinot noir only richer and deeper in flavor. Cedarburg Bukettraube was sweet and creamy and just a bit lemony, different and, in hindsight, may have been good with the fiery food.

The decor is funky and open, dark and woody, as festive as it is casual. The staff to a one were knowledgeable, friendly, neighborly even. I was with all the people, even if I am a goddess, and it was good.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Friendly bar, friendly place

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Time Machine Takes You Back to Vischer Ferry General Store

It's NOT a 2004 Honda Civic EX with 111000 miles on it. It's a horse and carriage. Some days it really is, trust me on that.

Shitbox 4 cylinder.

Anyway, no cape and tights for me today!!!  I've donned my best bonnet and my nice high-necked dress that goes down to my ankles and I spit polished by high boots. Puppy giggled she wasn't wearing a corset but honestly she doesn't need it. Oh, and of course, parasols........... We look HOT.
Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner - a simple menu
We crossed the canal by ferry and passed the VanVrankens with a polite wave before pulling into the Vischer Ferry General Store, in Rexford NY. At this point reality set in as I crashed my bumper into the parking spot. Anyway, this quaint little getaway is only 15 miles from Albany, straight up the Northway, but it felt far away and like we'd gone back in time.
Front entrance with porch seating
Located at the intersection of Vischer Ferry and Riverview Roads, this recently renovated historic structure (damaged by fire in 2013) was carefully and lovingly restored, preserving historic details where possible but installing all new mechanical systems, new windows, etc.. The new owners detail a nice history of the building and neighborhood on their website - very interesting. They really do sell wares - soaps and lotions and mugs and jewelry and cookbooks and stationary and old-fashioned toys, fun to explore while you wait for your order. The floorboards and shelves and lighting and finishes are rustic and serviceable and very cool and relaxing. Nice job.
Knick knacks that smell good
Puppy ordered the Enchilada ($8.99), served straight up with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Loaded with chicken and beans, tortilla (of course), corn, cheese and something green, it was delicious, but it could really have used a side of fresh greens, and maybe it was a bit pricey for what it was.
I enjoyed a Ham, Brie and Fig Sandwich ($6.99), warm and melty on a toasted baguette. Sweet and salty, rich and delicious, though the bread was just a bit too hard and crunchy. I added a bit of that sour cream and a touch of grease was a good thing. I like chips for breakfast. This made me happy.

Breakfast chips
The menu is a bit spartan and simple, but suited to the space. Plenty of staff on hand and everyone was superhero friendly. The environment is funky, family friendly, and casual - it feels like a place for the community to gather. The grounds are lovely, and when the weather is nice you can sit outside or on the porches and take it all in.  Close your eyes and go back in time. Then you won't hear me when I try to start my car.
Enclosed back porch seating

Comfortable relaxed environment

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Doing the Numbers at D'Raymonds

I love numbers. I love that they can be so precise and yet make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Welcome to 2017 - believe whatever you want as long as it fits into your world view.
Cute exterior - D'Raymonds is not a big place, so reservations are a must
For example, according to Yelp there are 563 Italian restaurants in Albany, only a couple boast Star #5, D'Raymonds pops up #8 when you filter "Highest Rated", with 111 reviews to date, (11 by my friends). Trip Advisor gave me 60 Italian places within 25 miles, 4 dots out of five is typical, no D'Raymonds, with NY Pizza listed as #1??? Gayot gave us 37 with D'Raymonds having 3 1/2 stars. Fodor's lists 9. There are NO Italian restaurants in Albany listed in Zagat. Actually Albany doesn't exist according to Zagat. The local Times Union had 28 listed in their Best Of for 2017 with D'Raymonds on top, and it's been there for 8 years straight!

OK that last stat, if you stayed with me, was compelling. I hadn't been to D'Raymonds in years. I've had a few good, and a few not so good experiences there and, heck, if All Things Yelp are worthy, that left me 562 other options for Italian food (including pizza, which, Yelp, I'd like to filter out from Italian, but I digress), so I've been in no rush to go back.
Crusty bread that I only ate for because of this blog.  (:
But when DD (Double Donut) was leaving the department we decided to go for lunch and D'Rays was one of his all time favorites. Five point six miles to Osborne Road from SUNY Albany, the menu has 7 apps and soups, 6 salads, 10 grilled sandwiches ("bananas" - ???), 11 Italian specialties, 8 pasta specialties, and 7 fish dishes. And a couple of specials that we were not told of but I used my superpowers to hear the list read to a neighboring table. Everything is under $15, which, in my books, for a sit-down meal is exceptional value.
Excellent salads!!!  
Especially for what ended up being a wonderful meal. The pasta and Italian dishes all started with perfect side salads of baby spinach topped with unique ingredients (compared to Albany Italian mainstream) - ricotta salata, dried cranberries, chickpeas, marinated artichoke hearts, pitted black kalamata olives, red onion, pale tomato with a light, flavorful dressing - terrific. The bread was a bit lackluster but fresh, served with whipped butter. We then shared a Bruschetta -  toasted garlic bread loaded with pale tomato and mozz and topped with fresh basil - decadent, delicious, served with a side of red sauce for dipping that made it even that much better. Mighty good.
Bruschetta. Four pieces was plenty as an app for four people
DD had the Rigatoni Ala D'Raymond, served with crumbled hot sausage and a pink vodka sauce ($12.95) - good, nice and creamy, generous meat that wasn't too spicy, but a bit salty. Red had the Chicken Piccata ($12.95 - she subbed that salad for the pasta) - OK, sitting in butter so it was soft, more butter than wine, missing capers, but very tender. Pony had a ginormous serving of Orecciette Carbonara ($11.95) - a winner - best ever - super creamy, so delicious she couldn't stop eating.
Rigatoni Ala D'Raymond - pink sauce???

Not a pretty dish but the best of them all - Orecciette Carbonara rocked the numbers

Chicken Piccata needed a bit more wine and capers to round out the sauce

No I did not order the Chicken Parm. I went for the straight Italian American classic, Spaghetti Con Polpette ($9.95) - spaghetti and meatball, singular.  The red sauce was the same that came with the bruschetta - thick, rich, simple but herbal, not bitter, not at all sweet. The pasta was a perfect al dente, though I wasn't crazy about the meatball - very garlicky garlic powdery, fine ground everything and a bit dense. A generous serving and a classic in all respects, and I DID eat my leftovers for breakfast the next day.

Spaghette con Polpette
D'Raymonds is a classy joint but still casual, with good service, ample parking, and it's usually busy, so make a reservation unless you like a long wait counting the minutes before you finally get to eat.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

D'Raymonds main dining room at the start of service

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Everyone should have a creative outlet. Art, song, acting, balloon animals, bird house making, playing the spoons, teasing your sister, knitting, fly fishing, Yelping, fighting the forces of evil - the list is endless.
I always liked this comic
Lately I will lay there, up all night, fretting about zombies who just kicked my butt and a sick mom and deadlines at work and the stupid x and all the yard work waiting for a dry spell and money money money what I ate yesterday and today and what I might eat tomorrow and what I would like to eat right now and what I should eat more of or less of.

Yes, I'm thinking about food at three in the morning. It actually relaxes me, don't ask why.

And I'm not dreaming about a Blizzard. As a rule I don't do frozen prepared and take out and take away or dinner in a box - it's a waste of both time and money, and often it's worse than awful.  I want to know where my ingredients came from and what they are exactly and I want the best I can afford and I want variety in taste and color and flavor and texture, and I want to have fun in the kitchen and be a better cook, exploring new ingredients and combinations and testing my skills while I drink a bottle of wine.
Yes, it's upside down...

Sometimes there's dribs and drabs of stuff that stack up or I buy something and forget to use it and weird food combinations threaten and it's none of it is getting any fresher sitting around, just like me. No matter what you have at home, you can ALWAYS make a good meal for yourself - it doesn't need to be anything fancy (the cats especially like anything with canned tuna, but I digress) - without resorting to processed junk. I say BE CREATIVE - relax, and (note to self) - use what you have before you start buying more stuff that could end up in landfill.
Two jars of sun dried tomatoes started me thinking

Okay, so what's in the fridge? the pantry??? When was the last time you cleaned the freezer(s) out, all the way to the back?

The inspiration for dinner on Sunday night was the discovery of TWO opened jars of sun-dried tomatoes in the refrigerator, because I'm an idiot.

Did someone say "PIZZA"???

The tomatoes are in back, herb garden out front, all loving the rain, including vampires and their smaller cousin, the mosquito
I had homemade pesto in the freezer from last year (yes, you can be jealous), AND frozen homemade sourdough wheat pizza dough (actually, several more in store that I still need to use up), basil in the garden already needing to be pinched back, even had the Cappiello Fresh Mozzarella (on sale at PChopper last week, BOGOF - local and delicious), toasted pine nuts on the door of the fridge, and no veggies worthy of a savory pizza pie except onions.

Don't go heavy handed with your ingredients
No recipe: roll the dough out once it's at room temperature, top with a thin layer of pesto and thinly sliced onions, sprinkle around chopped sun dried tomatoes and top with mozz then an handful of pine nuts, bake in a hot oven (450 F) about 20 minutes until the crust is a nice deep golden brown, and finish with fresh basil. I ate half. It was good.
Cooking has become my creative outlet. So has working out, just by necessity, but that's another blog.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Dinner in Rome" with Chef Gio

Dear Chef Gio:

Thank you for your cooking school, Gio Culinary Studio in Voorheesville, NY.  You are offering lots of evening classes that appear to be aimed at us home cooks that want ideas and inspiration to make our Italian dishes rise above the ordinary. From the outside the building is quite plain, but inside it's simple and lovely; the layout is well considered.  The large open kitchen is brightly lit, clean and modern, and I appreciated the cameras and large screens positioned above the work area so participants can watch what you are doing without having to hover.
Small town Voorheesville has a surprise in store for you...

Chef Gio and his sidekick Robin - lovely space for workshops
That didn't keep us, I mean me, from asking lots of questions, but you are charming, answering easily with the "why" so it would be easier to remember, and you didn't give us recipes, just ingredients, and made us take notes, which is savvy teaching on your part. Anyway, I apologize for being so annoying, what with my flash going off, giggling over my wine, fooling with the KitchenAid even when you told me not to - honestly, there's one in every crowd, and I'm an effortless troublemaker in all respects. Your sidekick Robin was aware of my superhero status and I could sense her wanting to "POW!" "BLAM"! "BIF"! and "SOK!" me, but she was very nice. I've met other Robins in my day and they can kick butt, but I digress.
In three hours you demonstrated how to make several relatively simple regional dishes from Rome. I loved the bruschetta, toast scraped with cut garlic and topped with sliced grape tomatoes laced with fresh basil and best quality olive oil. Messy and crunchy, like me. Strawberry liked it too!!!

Making pasta with the troublemaker (me, not Strawberry)
You made handmade pasta seem effortless, but I will likely continue to make mine in the food processor. Thanks for the hot tip about 50:50 semolina (for elasticity) and no-purpose flour (for workability) - I'll try that the next time. I have one of those analog hand crank kneader/cutters and they are a fine substitute for those of us that mess around with appliances or that don't have any counter space, or both. The Carbonara that you tossed with the spaghetti was unctous, rich, salty and amazing. Again, seemingly easy but you stressed the importance of good quality ingredients (and yes, everyone should know about the Cheese Traveler!).

Carbonara with a big hit of real Pecorino Romano
Next was the Saltimbocca al Forno - boned skin-on chicken thighs, prosciutto, sage - very traditional - braised in chicken stock and wine, topped with garlic, in a large pan making it easy to prepare for a crowd. Tender and dreamy. And the class was full, it was a good crowd, friendly and happy to gather and talk about food.

Chef Gio demonstrates boning chicken thighs - the finished dish is below
We finished up with a demo on Zeppole, a cooked pate chou with only eggs for leavening, these were light and just slightly sweet, topped with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. I had two.

Making Zeppole
Dinner in Rome was a lovely event, and I see that you are offering this again in July. I didn't understand that we weren't actually getting dinner for our $65, just sample tastes, and that made the class seem a bit expensive, so maybe you just need to make this all clear on your website so your students don't leave feeling disappointed.  I hate to complain because I really enjoyed the evening in your studio and I learned a lot, so thank you again for bringing your enterprise to the Capital Region.
Rightfully proud of their work!!! Thanks, Chef!
I'll probably sneak back into one of your pizza classes (if I promise to behave)!!!

Yours truly,
Zena, Goddess of Fire