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Notes from this weekend’s adventures:

12 Sep
  • I am getting too old to be up late drinking whiskey and listening to loud music, but I still had a great time at Friday’s 518 Rock n Relief Fundraiser at Valentine’s, sticking it out to the (near) end. It was nice to see a number of our musical acquaintances rocking out for a good cause. And kudos to organizer Eric Halder of Charmboy, because even with 18 bands, multi-item rolling raffle and bake sale, it was the smoothest-run event I’ve been to at that venue.
  • The Washington County Cheese Tour was a nicely pastoral late-summer road trip. Like last year’s tour we added stops at Hick’s Orchard and Roy Egg Shop. And even though I was stuffed with freshly-made cider donuts, I did not pass up the cheese panini offered at Consider Bardwell. It’s made with their Pawlet cheese, and is seriously tasty with a bit of mustard on the side to cut the richness.
Pawlet cheese panini

My 2010 Pawlet panino from Consider Bardwell Farm. Didn't even stop to take a picture this year, just scarfed it down.

  • Saturday’s Meat Fest was my first foray into making a large quantity of mashed potatoes that would be held for a while. I found a few tips and tricks online, and they all worked smashingly! Pun not intended! I might devote a post to making mashed potatoes, with fall and (gulp) Thanksgiving on the far horizon.
  • If, like me, you enjoy sharing popcorn with a movie buddy, don’t do it while watching Contagion, unless you want to become increasingly disconcerted for 105 minutes.

Last-minute experiments.

19 Jul

Six friends and I coordinated our wacky schedules to watch the final Harry Potter movie together. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for themed foods. I decided to see what I could whip up to celebrate the occasion.

I’d seen golden snitch cake pops earlier in the week and thought they were pretty cute. But I really, really dislike the texture of cake pops. I thought doughnut holes would make a great substitute, and I started daydreaming about making perfect little globes with edible gold coatings and fondant wings. Then reality hit: there was maybe an hour before I had to leave, and no time to go to the store. And right now I’m lucky if there’s milk in the fridge, forget about doughnut holes and fondant. Rummaging through my fairly bare kitchen I found the following:

  • EXACTLY 1 1/2 white chocolate squares
  • EXACTLY 7 strawberries
  • Random tubes of food coloring

A short while later the Golden Snitch experiment was complete:

edible golden snitches

Sweaty, messy and melting, but still edible. Yes, that's a sweet potato.

Here’s how it went down: melted the white chocolate and added a blorp of what I thought was oil-based food coloring to make it ‘golden’. Turned out it was gel and the moisture made the melted chocolate seize. Had no dairy so added a splash of oil to smooth it out again, knowing it wouldn’t harden properly anymore. Grumbled for a second, then decided to proceed anyway. Used a toothpick to dip the first strawberry in chocolate. Realized I had no place to put it to dry. Whacked up a sweet potato with one hand while yellow chocolate ran down the other. Propped snitch body on newly-made base. Coated the remaining strawberries and popped the whole thing in the freezer to set. Painted wings on parchment, let cool in fridge, drew veins on wing with toothpick, popped in freezer to set. Assembled with more chocolate and popped in freezer to set.

So much went wrong. Between the thinned-out chocolate and the heat and humidity the only thing keeping those babies together was being frozen, which also made them crack a bit. I took a photo at home since I was fairly sure they wouldn’t make it intact to the theater. But who cares? I mean, snitches! For my friends! For Harry Potter! Sometimes the spirit of a thing is so much more important than a perfect end product.

Rainy day jams.

4 May

The end of April brought the end of the sock monkey & photography show Nicole and I put together for the Lark Street BID. Our month of exhibition went by so quickly! It seems like only a few days ago we were running around Albany taking pictures of those crazy monkeys. The end of the month also marked the finish of a thoughtful First Friday opening-night gift made by my pal Stephen: pâté paired with incredibly savory-sweet onion jam.

jars of pate and onion jam

Mmmm, onion jam. Paté on the left.

Stephen’s the kind of guy who has the ability to make everything he touches magically delicious, and this was no different. The pâté was great and disappeared quickly. And let me tell you about the onion jam. Oh, the onion jam. Wow. It was the first time I’d tried this savory and sweet treat and I loved it. I had a lot of fun exploring ways to enjoy it, too: a dab on some crusty bread with the aforementioned pâté. Tossed with roasted root vegetables from the farmers’ market. A spoonful stirred into scrambled eggs along with fresh herbs. Tasty, tastier, tastiest.

Here’s why I’m telling you this (it’s not just to gloat, I promise!): if you’re tempted to try making your own onion-jammy jar of deliciousness, now is the perfect time. You see, the key to most of the recipes I’ve found is lonnnnng cooking times. You don’t want to be tied to the oven in the middle of the summer do you? No. So, right now, before the heat, while the weather is a bit chilly and blah: pick a recipe,  get in the kitchen and give it a go. I will, too.

Feeeeeeeeelings.

14 Feb

Don’t worry guys, this is not going to be a post about Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Nor, I promise, is it a public paean to my sweetheart, known by many as M. Beardface, or The Dirt Nerd.

I’m quite disinterested in this holiday, but I must admit the love stuff I see everywhere has been having an impact on my brain. So, I want to take this opportunity to encourage everyone: Valentine’s Day, Schmalentine’s day… whatever day it is, don’t hold back from telling the people you love that you love them. So many people I know (including myself sometimes) self-edit their feelings. But, really: tell people that you love them. I’m not just talking about saying it to a partner. Tell it to your family. Your friends. Your dog. Say it to the most important person: yourself.

Oh, and while you’re all expressing your feelings and things, keep in mind you don’t have to stick with “I love you.” If you are touched by a friend’s thoughtfulness, tell them. If you really appreciate how well your office manager keeps everyone together, tell them. If you’re tickled because your barista greets you by name and says “the usual?” every time you come in, tell them.

And, yes, sometimes it’s harder to say how you feel if you’re not sure if it’s mutual. Be brave.

Share the love, folks. Appropriate much more than once a year.

National Soup Swap!

23 Jan
Peanut & Tomato soup

Yay, soup! 6 quarts, ready to swap.

Soup soup soup soup soup soup! Once the thermometer dips I pretty much live on soup and hot toddies. So, an event like the fifth annual National Soup Swap is right up my alley! The lovely lady behind almost foodies hosts a swap here in the 518. This was my first year joining in the fun, and I was really excited to participate.

I immediately knew I wanted to make a peanut soup. In December a group of friends and I were leaving our rented cabin in Merck Forest–a great winter adventure, by the way–and hiked 2.5 miles out on a rather exposed ridge, in bracing wind and a combination of hail and sleet. Once we got back to our cars we drove immediately to the Blue Benn diner to unthaw and fill our empty bellies. I got the soup of the day, African Peanut, and it was exactly what I wanted: savory, spicy, hearty. It was the first time I’d had a peanut soup, and I was hooked.

Google provided many many interpretations of peanut soups, but in the end I went with a variation of this Curried Peanut and Tomato recipe from the February 2006 issue of Gourmet. I liked its simplicity, low number of ingredients and the oddly tasty combo of peanuts and tomatoes. My tweaks:

  • Olive oil instead of vegetable oil.
  • Madras curry paste instead of curry powder.
  • Fire-roasted whole tomatoes–I prefer the sweeter flavor of roasted tomatoes–and if this were summer I’d suggest roasting fresh tomatoes and skipping the can.
  • Unsalted peanut butter from the Albany Co-op (sole ingredient: roasted peanuts).
  • Vegetable stock instead of chicken broth.
  • A last-minute light sprinkle of brown sugar (note: this is the only ingredient potentially keeping this soup from being vegan, another sweetener could be used for those avoiding refined sugars).
  • Immersion blender at the end to smooth things out.

A splash of coconut milk would be another nice tweak if you wanted to tone down the curry spices. Gourmet suggests topping this soup with fresh cilantro. I like it served with a dollop of plain yogurt.

souper delicious

So fragrant, I wish you could smell this!

I can’t wait to try all of the delicious-sounding soups I walked away with: Albany Jane’s Black Bean-Tomatillo, Spicy Curried Lentil with Roasted Eggplant (with a Parivar Spices business card attached), Black-Eyed Peas & Collard Greens (love love love collard greens), Tomato, Fig & Beefalo with Fig & Goat Milk Yogurt Quenelle, Silvia’s Sea Shanty Spicy Clam Chowder and Renée’s Cream of Tomato, which I’m breaking into today with some grilled cheese!

I’d recommend Soup Swap to everyone. And if you missed it this year, don’t wait until 2012; why not host your own swap sometime soon?

My 30somethingth birthday (part 1)

11 Jan

I’ll admit, I’ve not always been a fan of my birthday. I mean I’m happy I was born, certainly, but it was at a rather awkward time of the year: January 2nd–immediately after New Year festivities–and typically the weather is horrible, people have party fatigue, or are out of town, or have made some sort of resolution that prevents them from eating birthday cake and drinking over-sized margaritas and boots of beer. Last year when I was living with my ex we discussed alternative ways to celebrate. In the end we held a brunch, which turned out to make a lot of sense. It was less intense than a late night out, rather nicely low-key and relaxed for those (myself included) still feeling hungover from the holiday. Besides, I have a Sicilian mother so feeding people makes me really happy!

No question about it, I definitely wanted to do brunch again this year. Of course, I’m in a different apartment now, and I wasn’t sure how much seating I could squeeze in. Luckily all it took was a very minor bit of rearranging and some borrowed chairs, and the twenty-odd that stopped by to celebrate were easily accommodated. And so it went: we ate a ton of food (with indulgent casseroles alongside lighter fare like fruit salad and muffins for those on the resolution wagon), drank tons of oj and coffee (boozy mix-ins available for both) and hung on to the holiday weekend one more day. Though I told people it wasn’t necessary to bring anything but an appetite or a friend many contributed: The Nerd showed up early with a gigantic bouquet of flowers and a casserole. Alex and Dave both made really tasty stratas. Christa and Jason brought a retro pot of cocktail weiners. Stephen generously brought along fixings for mimosas, and added his own homemade apricot and cherry liqueurs for extra festiveness. Nicole made delicious (and giant) cupcakes in my favorite flavor combo.

One fun part of the afternoon was getting to see Albany grow ever smaller and smaller, as people mingled and found odd commonalities. For example: the aforementioned Jason (the guy behind Trek Fest) was talking with a woman from my book club and discovered she lives across the hall from his sister’s boyfriend. The bookclubber exclaimed, “Oh! Yes! The man with the cats! I want to borrow them to take care of the mice in my apartment!” Making new connections is why I like mixing different social circles, and why it’s such a treat to know people who play well with others.

Being able to have shared the day with loved ones and friends, new and old, in an apartment full of people eating, laughing–and in one memorable moment, booty dancing–is such a wonderful feeling. The only down side? I still get mortified during the whole singing part. Hopefully people are at least amused by watching me turn purple as I’m serenaded!

And that’s how I came to like my birthday. My deepest thanks to everyone who celebrated with me this year.

Movie Dog and Friends Celebrating Birthday

I'm horrible at stopping the moment to take photos. Instead enjoy this 1956 photo of doggies celebrating over a rib roast. Image © Bettmann/CORBIS

Next up: birthday part 2, celebrating with The Nerd at the soon-to-be-gone Dale Miller.

Cookie swaps!

20 Dec
scenes from the cookie swap

Sugar! Sugar! Bubbly! More sugar!

It’s cookie swap season! Do you cookie swap? Rules follow: everyone participating makes a set amount of cookies (typically a dozen) for each participant, plus one extra for the ‘party pile.’ In the end everyone walks away with a wicked sugar rush and bags of delicious cookies. This year my roommate (pumpkin with brown butter frosting) and I (chewy chocolate drops with chocolate peppermint ganache) were in the same swap, and after some minor kitchen negotiation were both armed and ready to EAT SOME COOKIES.

We had pizza and salad beforehand, in an attempt to prove that as responsible adults, we would never simply eat baked goods for dinner. But the much-anticipated stars of the evening were the cookies, so after the slices were done we dove into the divvying. After making sure everyone had one of everything we opened up the party pile. We also took a moment to toast our pal Stephen in honor of his birthday. (Hope you liked the bubbly, Stephen! And thanks for making our lives a little more delicious.)

I rolled away at the end of the night with my bag and my belly full of the aforementioned pumpkin, as well as Charlotte’s glazed cranberry orange, Beth’s lemon thumbprint, Jody’s peanut butter, Stephen’s mincemeat, and Heather’s Mexican wedding cookies in addition to 7 layer bars courtesy of Nicole. Oof.

I found my cookie recipe on the back of a Baker’s Chocolate box, and it is incredibly quick and easy. You can see it online here. If you are wary of things like Cool Whip–understandable if you’ve read the ingredients list–just substitute 6 oz. of heavy cream. I also added a few shots of peppermint extract to the ganache for a little extra wintery flavor. Give it a try the next time you want a soft, brownie-like, chocolate drop cookie.

Traditions.

1 Dec

So there’s this guy, his name is Jason. We grew up together and have become peas in a pod. In fact, we’re on our 25th year of knowing each other. 25! The number blows me away sometimes. We joke that our relationship is older than some of the people we’ve dated. And for 18 of those 25 years Jason, the sci-fi aficionado, has been inviting friends over for a marathon viewing party of original-cast Star Trek movies. This has become my oddest and most long-standing annual tradition. When we were teens it was a pizza party, but now it’s all grown up. Trek Fest 18: Treksgiving took place at the UAG Gallery on Lark Street this past weekend from noon until midnight. Even though I was under the weather I dragged my sniffly butt over and got ready to yell at the bad guys, laugh at the dialogue, and drink Four Loko Blue Flavor Romulan Ale with one of my dearest friends. Am I a Trekkie? Nah. But I certainly love my friend, and it’s a tradition I’m happy to have.

spock turkey

Happy Treksgiving everyone!