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“Summertime Rolls*”

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

We’ve had a great summer (so far).  Nina has been cruising around on her tricycle practically every afternoon.  She doesn’t always look like a state trooper as the photo below would indicate.  She really likes it.

She also “helped” me install the Thule bike carrier I bought for the back of the car.  I put help in quotes because she just took things out of the box and played with them.  Then she made me chase her to get them when I needed them– y’know, helping.

I managed to get it on there all the same.  It’s great; we have been lugging our bikes to trails and bike paths all over the place.  It’s the Thule 915 xt; I recommend it.  The bike shops around here wanted $270 for it, but I found it online for $220 (free shipping).  Thanks internet, you paid for yourself this month.  I also bought the Draw-tite class III trailer hitch on craigslist fro $60 and put it on myself.

Also, we went to the Independence Day parade in Chatham.  I think parades are only really fun for kids, so bringing Nina made it fun for us all.  She was really into it.  Natalia slept through the whole thing in Grandma’s arms.

Nina liked the firetrucks.

Nacho created a small scene of giggling and pointing from all the kids around us when he felt compelled to howl along with the firetruck sirens.  I managed to capture some of his howling on video before it degraded into your run-of-the-mill barking.  I don’t think he liked the horn blast at 0:08.  It’s great to see the little wolf in Nacho come out every once in a while.  Seeing him howl results in instant laughter– talk about delusions of grandeur.

We walked to the farmer’s market after the parade before heading home.

All the excitement took its toll and Nina crashed.

The following weekend, for the World Cup final, we visited my sister’s place in Brooklyn.  She lives in a neighborhood called DUMBO– which stands for down under the Manhattan bridge overpass.  Cati and I commented that this is an ideal neighborhood for trolls due to the fact that they really live under the bridge.  It’s a lovely neighborhood all the same with charming parks and scenic routes for taking a walk.

Can you spot the famous American landmark in the center of the photo below?  (Hint: It’s The Statue of Liberty).

We went for a walk early in the morning and preparations were being made to show the game on a big screen in one of the walkways under the Manhattan Bridge.

Here’s what the place looked like come game time:

There were several hundred people there with standing room only in the back.  We all watched the game in an air-conditioned, sound-proofed, apartment six stories up with sleeping babies strewn about the place.  We were glad to see the good-guys win; Spain- 1, Netherlands- 0.  Considering the way the Dutch played, I think they were confused and thought it was a contest to see which team could get the most yellow cards.    Interestingly, it was the dirtiest World Cup final in history with 13 yellow cards dealt.  tsk tsk.

Also, Cati and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary.  Thinking of a gift for Cati is always a challenge.  What can one get for someone whose every possible desire was fulfilled the day she married the perfect husband?  [I’ll take a husband muzzle— Cati].

I used Yelp to find a well regarded Spanish restaurant in the area and I called ’em up and asked them to make me 20 croquetas de pollo.  The croquetas weren’t a regular menu item so I called a few days in advance and explained that I married a Spaniard and it was our anniversary, etc. etc.  They agreed to make them for me and we arranged a pick-up time.  I went, left a healthy tip, and brought them home to my super-pleased little wifey.  She was thrilled, they were delicious, and she immediately put me on a croqueta ration that I was not to exceed.  We highly recommend Don Pepe II (Well, actually we can only vouch for the croquettes and accommodating service).

We busted out some cheese, pate, sausage, and champagne to go along with them.

Hey, we are very grateful for what a great summer it has been–  more fun to come.

*Where were you in ’89?

The Visitor

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

My friend LT came for a brief visit from sunny California.  You remember him, right

He flew into JFK and I went to get him at 6AM on Saturday.  The drive there and back wasn’t bad.

I drove through Staten Island rather than take the Holland tunnel; I didn’t want to deal with driving through Manhattan.  Traffic wasn’t bad at all, and it only took me an hour to get there.  It was a lovely drive across the Verrazano bridge and back.

His visit was a short one, but we managed to squeeze in some nice meals, drinks, and talk of Tuvan throat-singing*.  We also enjoyed the weather, chasing Nina around, and we even cut down a superfluous tree in our backyard and re-hung some fencing.

Now I need to buy a chiminea for all the firewood.

I was in Puebla, Mexico last summer and while there I was introduced to sangrita.  Sangrita is similar to bloody-mary mix but it’s meant to be sipped, as a chaser, along with a tasty tequila.  I found a recipe online and modified it a bit to suit my tastes.   Here’s how I make it:

  • 32 oz. of Clamato
  • 4-5 limes
  • 2-3 TBSP of OJ
  • 1/2 TBSP horse raddish
  • 1/2 TBSP celery salt
  • 1 tsp Tabasco
  • Pepper to taste

Mix everything together and place in refrigerator for a day or two (or just drink immediately– who has time to plan their drink chasers days in advance, right?).  Make sure you buy some decent tequila to accompany the sangrita– I like Patron (green label).

We also had burgers, home-made cole-slaw, and strawberries and cream for dessert.  I made the whipped cream myself, and it came out very good.  I think making it myself from heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar will be the only way to go from now on– no more Reddi-whip for us.

LT and I are both fans of spicy food and hot-sauces.  I gave him a bottle of this great sauce that a friend of mine from NY makes.  I must take a moment to plug my friend Christopher’s hot-sauce.  I know Christopher from when we worked together in Selkirk, NY.  He would make this out-of-this-world pepper sauce for all his friends at work to try– y’know, as a hobby.  Well, apparently after years of people telling him he should bottle and sell the stuff, he decided to do just that.  This hot-sauce is so thick and hearty, you can eat it on a cracker with a slice of cheese and there are few things better.  Don’t worry, it’s not one of these how-much-pain-can-you-take macho hot-sauces either– it is really tasty (and it comes in ‘Mild’ for all you capsaicin-phobes).  It’s a little tart, a little sweet, a little spicy, and well, delicious.  It’s perfect for pizza.  Because of the sweetness, I am not crazy about it with Mexican food, but there are those who swear by it.  Check out his website and buy a bottle or two ten at www.christophersfoods.com.  It’s made in Upstate NY, and a couple of bottles would make a great gift for any spicy food aficionado in your life.

Traffic on the way back to JFK was a complete nightmare– it took about 3 hours to reach JFK– this was on Sunday at 4PM.  LT missed his 7PM flight home and had to get a seat on the flight out the next morning at 9AM.  So with a night to kill, he took the opportunity to roam around Manhattan (bars) getting in adventures– y’know, like Caine from Kung-Fu.  But hey, this blog only covers Cati’s and my adventures… go find his blog for his adventures.  ;)

* Ok, back to the Tuvans– the sounds these guys make are downright other-worldly; it blows my mind a little.  Check it out:

LT and I, with our confidence bolstered by the tequila, practiced our harmonic overtone singing.  We discovered how to quickly annoy everyone around us– even Nacho left the room.  I think we’re ready to start touring.   

Check out the Tuvan Simon and Garfunkel over here:

“Hard to Explain”

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Here are some gastronomic (and other) highlights that probably warrant a post all their own, but I have grouped ’em into one.

Cati took me to a great sushi place for my birthday. It’s called Sharaku in West Bloomfield, MI. It was incredible…better than Saso’s (RIP).

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The uni and ikura were so nice, we ordered ’em twice.  It was easily the best uni we have ever had. 

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Some complimentary dessert from the sushi chef.  It was a kind of bean paste with some frozen grapes– quite tasty really. 

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We bought an iRobot Roomba for the house. I am aware that I am helping usher in the robot apocalypse, but it’s a handy little tool that vacuums up nicely.  I don’t know when exactly it will turn on us to enslave humanity, but it’s taking care of a dreaded household chore, so whatever. 

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Our friend, who knows a lot about sushi, hosted a sushi party at his place. I prepped the quail eggs (ignore the shell fragments in the bottom left egg.)

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My same friend, who lived in Japan for many years, introduced me to natto. There is nothing like it– it’s funky.  I actually thought it was a gross stringy mess the first time, but now I really like the stuff.  It’s fermented soybeans that have a very unique nutty flavor.  If you get the chance to try it, I recommend it (no money-back guarantees).  Apparently, the rule is that you have to try natto seven times before you like it – kind of like whisky or cigarettes (I like those too).

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Also, we were in Albany for a weekend not too long ago and went to Angelo’s 677 Prime for dinner (along with three of our friends). We were presented with a smoked-salmon cake amuse-bouche (Thanks, Chef!). It was very salty but the smokey bacon flavors were quite good.

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Cati had the American Kobe steak on a hot river rock appetizer.  Yeah, it was gimmicky, but good– really good.   

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The wasabi mashed potatoes kinda stole the show.  They were so strong with the wasabi.  We teared up a little with each bite, but none of us could stop eating ’em.

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When a pregnant woman wants two chocolate desserts, she gets two chocolate desserts.  She also ordered the tall glass of milk– for the baby, of course. 

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While we were in the Capital District, we went to Famous Lunch in Troy, NY for some mini-hotdogs (we can’t resist the call of cased-pork).  They are so good.

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Nina enjoys her first mini-dogs (plain).  Her fingers look like mini hot dogs themselves:

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Summer Nina in Mallorca:

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Fall Nina in Michigan (not her real ears):

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…and the inspiration for the title of this post:

Beware the ides of Oktober

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

We have been enjoying a beautiful couple of days in the middle of October here in Albany.  There is a touch of fall in the air, but the days are crisp and sunny (it won’t last).  I seem to have come down with a case of German fever.  The doctor prescribed a trip to Rolf’s Pork Store to cure what ails me.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t gone there sooner.  I am familiar with their wares as Cati and I have a very kind and charming neighbor who has given us frozen sausages and bacon from Rolf’s as gifts a few times over the years.  We have always liked what he has given us. 

What a gem of a store.  It’s not in the best neighborhood in Albany (corner of Sheridan and Lexington), but it’s not the worst either.  The store is small and consists primarily of a meat counter.  There are some imported pickles, jams, and cheeses along with German candies and flags.  I went for the sole purpose of buying some “brats” for the grill, but I couldn’t resist picking up a few more things while there.  I bought a pint of German potato salad, a half-dozen Mozart kugel chocolates, a few links of bratwurst, garlic bratwurst, and weisswurst.  On the way home, I swung by Oliver’s (aka: beer drinker’s Mecca) and bought six-packs of Spaten and Paulaner Oktoberfests.  We fired up the grill and invited our lovely friend Gina to enjoy the day with us.  In addition to a keen wit and mastery of prose, she brought a twelve-pack of Sam Adam’s Oktoberfest (which was better than her wit and prose by a long shot  :)  ).  Although Renee and I agree that Spaten Oktoberfest is the perfect beer (’cause it is THAT good), the Paulaner and Sam Oktoberfests are delicious as well.   Also, I picked up some sauerkraut from Hawthorne Valley Farms (at the Co-op) to go with the German theme.  I have mentioned the stuff here before; it’s good. 

If you like authentic, quality food, you oughtta go to Rolf’s Pork Store and pick up some goodies.  The sausages are excellent, the chocolates are a sin of indulgence, and the potato salad is beyond compare.  Ever notice how some deli prepared foods taste like they are deli prepared?  I can’t really describe that flavor, but a macaroni salad from Price Chopper always tastes like a macaroni salad that came from Price Chopper.  The potato salad at Rolf’s tastes like it’s homemade.  The vinegar is tart, the bacon bits savory, and the potatoes have just the right firmness–  go get some now; see what I am talking about.   

Let’s not forget the requisite peppers and onions.

After the beautiful plate of food above, we brewed some coffee and had dessert– three times.

Dessert 1:

The aforementioned Mozart marzipan chocolates.  My dear mum turned us on to these a few years back.  They are so good, there oughtta be laws against it.  I understand that marzipan is an acquired taste for some; but to us, it’s nothin’ but good.   

Dessert 2:

Oh c’mon, a bite or two of chocolate hardly makes a proper dessert, so we had another.  I bought some pumpkin ice cream on a whim at the Co-op the other day.  It’s from Adirondack Creamery and it’s quite good (although a bit chalky for some reason).  I served the ice cream with a small piece of heated up apple tart.  The apple tart was made and delivered to us with affection by our lovely friend Jen (the real star of blogmasterg.com). 

Hand modeling by Gina

Dessert 3:

A glass of Tokaji.  We were introduced to this sweet wine at Angelo’s 677 Prime a few years back.  We found it, quite by accident, at a wine shop here in town and bought it straight away. It’s ridiculously good (and it better be for what it co$t$).  This Hungarian wine kinda breaks the German theme, but hey, it’s good (plus if it were up to the Germans of years passed, Hungary would be Germany [wink]). 

To return to the German theme, here is the best German hip-hop song you’ll hear all day (play loud, grab your sweetheart, enjoy) :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rfSKY3aX8Q

And for no reason at all; here’s a picture of Nina in a sweater and a babushka.

Ham, Pastrami, and Turkey (2 of 3).

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Pastrami and corned beef are related, but differ from one another in that pastrami undergoes a smoking step during its preparation.  Initially, the “pickling” of these meats was done as a food preservation technique (before refrigeration was readily available), but the unique flavor and texture imparted by these now-unnecessary steps are still popular today.   

I finally got around to trying the food from Old World Provisions on Westerlo and Pearl St. (about 2 blocks north of the dreaded DMV) here in Albany.  They have an interesting business model; they do take-out sandwich fixin’s. 

On our visit we bought a loaf of deli rye, a jug of pickles, a jar of mustard, and 1 lb of pastrami.  Let’s start with the pastrami.  It was like no pastrami I had ever had.  The thick juicy slices were richly marbled; they looked more like slices of succulent prime rib than the dried out paper-thin slices we have come to expect from grocery store deli-counters.  The rye bread was soft to the touch and flavorful.  It went perfectly with the tangy mustard.  To call the pickles the champagne of pickles is more than a metaphor; they were actually effervescent.  They tingled on the tongue with each crispy bite and were neither overly sour nor salty.  My folks were in town (helping with baby-prep) and we wondered aloud, “How’d they do that?” as we chomped away.  Assembling the sandwiches was a breeze and we had everything we needed for a perfect little meal.  The food is artisan crafted.  By the way, if any ladies out there should ever try to win a guy’s heart via his stomach, a box of gourmet sliced-beef, a perfect loaf of rye bread, and a jar of gourmet mustard will likely do the trick; throw in a six-pack and he’ll be writing you love poems within a week.  [wink]

Also, a group of us went to Washington Park on Monday August 4th and caught a free show by Lez Zeppelin (an all-woman Led Zeppelin cover band from NYC).  I was impressed with how talented they were, and of course, I enjoyed the music.  The lead singer’s voice boomed with passion, the guitarist effortlessly peeled off the guitar licks, the drummer flailed about like a crazy person (in a good way), and the bassist handled those Zeppelin time-changes masterfully.  It was just a fun way to spend a pleasant Monday night in the park; I don’t think it’s meant to be taken too seriously.  Here’s a short video I took during “Black Dog;” enjoy:

Unfortunately, it’s not all Greek to me.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Good yogurt is important to me (it’s my Slavic genes; I can’t help it), and if there are any readers from India here, y’all know how important it is too.  I don’t know if any of you out there buy Fage (pronounced Fa’-yeh) Greek yogurt.  It’s available at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, and the Delmar Hannaford.  It’s probably available at Price-Chopper too but I wouldn’t know because I don’t shop there.  We’ve been buying it for a couple of years now and we really enjoy the stuff.  It sure beats the slimy varieties like Crowley, Yoplait, and Dannon.  It’s creamier, thicker, and more flavorful.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it was imported from Greece.  I mean, how many perfectly good cows and dairy farms (not to mention thousands of miles of sea) did this stuff fly over to get here?  What a staggering waste of resources to fly a little carton of yogurt halfway around the world to get to my desk at lunchtime.  This was particularly bad considering all the excellent local dairies we have right here in Upstate NY.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to sign up for the 100-mile diet or anything, but buying local just seems like a good idea (but is it always a good idea?).  I was bummed that I could no longer justify buying my everyday yogurt from Greece, so I was pleased to discover Fage had started producing the stuff locally in May 2008 (in Johnstown, NY).  My dilemma was solved; or so I thought. 

One day, while at lunch, I noticed my usually-excellent Fage tasted a bit off.  It was chalky, mealy and way too sour; it lacked the great flavor to which I had grown accustomed.  I checked the packaging for the expiration date and it still had 7 days, so then I looked at where it was manufactured– it was manufactured in the USA.  Could it be that the American version was worse than the Greek version?  Why would it be?  The ingredients are milk, cream, and active yogurt cultures.  Cows are cows, right? 

A quick Google search confirmed that I was not the first person to notice the discrepancy between the two production sites; see this discussion thread, and this one.  There is a lot of speculation on these threads about why the quality is worse, but everyone pretty much agrees that the quality has suffered in the move to the US.  Interestingly though, the price of the product has not dropped with production having moved to the USA.  I recently did a side-by-side taste test of the two products and I again found a difference.  The US-made product was mealy and sour and lacked the smoothness and rich flavor of its Greek-made counterpart.  The US-made product had large air bubbles in it too, and the texture is visibly coarser and grainier.  Have a look:

 

I don’t know if this is a problem due to plant start-up in the US, but if so, I would not want to trade positions with the quality manager at the Johnstown plant when his annual review comes around.  Fage has stumbled, big-time, and lost quite a bit of brand equity in the process.  We bought some Oikos brand Greek yogurt, but I haven’t tried it yet. 

This is an excellent opportunity for any yogurt manufacturer to make a superior product and win my business (and apparently many others too).  If you know of any manufacturers who make a more consistent product, let me know because I am looking to switch.  My next post will discuss another essential ingredient for surviving Siberian winters– kapusta.

I kid; I’ll spare you.

Cati has been doing a lot of reading to prepare for our little-one’s arrival in September.  I, on the other hand, learned everything I need to know about fatherhood from music.  If we have a boy, I do this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M89c3hWx3RQ

and if it’s a girl, this:

What could possibly go wrong?  [wink]