Archive for March, 2008

“Sometimes you wanna go…”

Monday, March 31st, 2008

“They talk of my drinking but never my thirst. ”
 
– Scottish proverb.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD8ljNobUys

Do you really like beer?  If yes, go to Mahar’s in Albany.

It feels like a British pub, and there’s no place like it in town (I hear Man of Kent in Hoosick Falls, NY, rivals Mahar’s with it’s selection and ambiance, but I’ve never been there).  Mahar’s even smells like a beer joint (in a good way).  The interior is finished in wood, it’s a touch underlit, and it’s often teeming with people; just chatting away and enjoying a pint.  There are no TVs in the place, if there is music on, it’s quiet, and there often seems to be a shortage of seats (it’s really quite small).  No one there is doing shots, topping off plastic cups from Bud Light pitchers, or playing darts/trivia (not that those are bad things).  It’s a place to enjoy a beer and a conversation.  In fact, they only serve beer.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking the selection is limited.  They have ~35 beers on tap and about 100 or so beers in bottles.  The vast beer selection includes cask beers, wheat beers, ales, lagers, bocks, double bocks, stouts, cream ales, fruit beers, and on and on and on.   They peddle beers from all over the world; and just like pubs in England, they close relatively early (midnight). 

If you’re the type that is interested in keeping track of your beer-drinking (I am not), Mahar’s offers a beer club where you can record all the different beers you’ve tried.  They encourage patrons to join the beer club by offering incentives like a free case of any beer you choose, a t-shirt, your own (engraved) mug, and ultimately a name plate bearing your name on the wall (only after drinking the requisite number of pints/bottles).  I am not sure what the requirements are to earn these rewards; go there and ask.  Also, I am not very adventurous when it comes to beer; hey, I know what I like (namely Spaten Oktoberfest, as of late). 

Check out some photos below:

The place.

Ordering a beer.

Look at all those mugs.  A lot of yeasts gave their lives to bring you this photo.  :)

Look at all those obscure beers.

This is Spaten

Worth the wait.

The interior is decorated with beer taps from wall to wall.

There is a computer and printer in the back of the place for patrons to print their list of beers; or if you’re a curious first-timer, you can print a complete list of beers to see what they offer.  They also have food for sale (pre-made sandwiches, crackers, blocks of cheese, etc) from a small refrigerator, should you get the munchies while there.  

Head to the back to print yourself a list.  It’ll be helpful before ordering.

Pub food.  I’ve never eaten there.  I hear it’s alright.

Before I went there, I was warned that the bartenders aren’t the most congenial lot, and I have seen them behave tersely to other patrons.  But hey, they’ve been good to me so far.  Plus, I like the place so much, I’d probably be willing to overlook a few minor service-indiscretions.  Some people have referred to the bartenders as “beer snobs,” and that could be.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend ordering a Coors light.  I think the sign over the bar says it all:

Mind your manners!

The last time I was there, my friend brought some great German cheese and crackers.  The cheese was really good (who knew, right?).  We also played chess; I lost.  I guess he’s some sort of chess super-genius or something [wink].  Maybe I’ll nickname him “Deep Blue.”  Anyway, Mahar’s is a great pub.  

We played chess.

Beer, cheese, and crackers; together at last.

Ok, if beer is not your thing, the Wine Bar on Lark St. is also a great place to have a glass of wine and bite to eat (although I think they might have a beer or two on tap, too).  It’s got it all, atmosphere, food, and knowledgeable servers.  The wine selection isn’t as extensive as you might think, but we always manage to find something we like.  And by the third glass, we like everything [hiccup].

Inside the wine bar.  That’s the only photo I have.

If wine and beer on their own still aren’t your thing and you need live music, let me recommend Red Square.  They have wine, beer, mixed drinks, and often, live music too.   I’ve had the good fortune of being pleasantly surprised a few times by the quality of the bands; most recently by a reggae band from New Paltz, NY (again, who knew?).  They’re called the Big Takeover and they’re chocked full o’ talent and good tunes.  Have a look and listen at their MySpace page, here (we really like the song “Red Rum,” go on, give it a listen).

Red Square.

The Big Takeover live on stage.

If I still haven’t mentioned a “bar” to suit you, try Saso’s sushi bar:

The unrivaled sushi bar at Saso’s.

Good stuff.

If you don’t like that, I give up! 

PR Campaign

Monday, March 17th, 2008

SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF POST**

Cati and I went on vacation to Puerto Rico in February.  We noted that it was the best place we had ever been together* without having to brandish our passports and deal with customs.  We are fortunate to have a good friend who grew up in San Juan, so we met with her (and her family) down there for some fun ‘n’ sun in paradise.  

Some of the more noteworthy highlights are (mouse over photos for brief descriptions):

The coquis:  Holy smokes they’re loud.  We wondered if there were some loud night birds in the garden our first night there; by our third night they were serenading us to sleep. 

Little but loud.

The iguanas: They’re like squirrels down there.  You can spot them running around in the sun, hanging out in trees, or eating leaves from bushes. 

They would just hang out.

The beaches:  Sandy beaches, blue skies, big waves, and stunning sunsets.  They are perfect for snorkeling, surfing, kite-surfing, and just chillin’.  This was the ideal break from the Albany winter. 

The view from our cottage.

Some guy kite-surfing near our place.

This is the beach where we stayed in Isabella.  The beach is called jobos in the North of the island.

My view at breakfast.

One of the best things about renting a cottage was that we all cooked for each other at night.  My buddy and I manned the grill (pork ribs), and the ladies made the rice and various sides (mmm).

Old San Juan was fun too. 

On the streets of Old San Juan.

My friend, taking in the view; always searching for that cursed white whale who destroyed his ship; or something like that.

El Yunque National Forest:  Nice little rain forest.  It’s actually part of the United States National Forest System.  It had some picturesque waterfalls and beautiful views.  Disappointingly, there wasn’t much wildlife of which to speak (other than large snails), but it was full of thick and luxuriant greenery.  I even climbed into one of the waterfalls for a photo; it was cold. 

The low flying clouds in the rain forest.

Inside the rain forest.

Me and a waterfall.

Me in a waterfall.  C-c-c-cold.

El Morro:  I was impressed with the all the interesting history of the place.  It was the site of some pretty serious fighting between the U.S. and Spain, so really, it was like I never left the house [rimshot].  I kid, it was really interesting, and a beautiful place to enjoy the weather, eat sno-cones, fly kites, and take in the views.  The pics say it all. 

The grassy knoll in front of the fort was popular with the locals (and tourists) for just spending the day in the sun.  It really was beautiful.

Exploring the old fort.  This photo reminds me of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

Fire when ready.

The view from the fort.

Another photo in the fort.

Some local kids playing in a fountain.

The food:  We ate a lot of different and delicious things.  If I had to generalize about the food in PR, I’d have to say they know their starch and meat.  We had yuca, tostones, mofongo (shouldn’t that be a swear word?), rice, and beans.  We also had an excellent dish made with green bananas.  It wasn’t sweet at all.  They were more like potatoes boiled in salt and garlic, it was very foreign to me, but excellent.  As for the meat, we had beef, chicken, fish, pork, pork, and pork. 
We even went to a fun little fiesta in the mountains called a lechona.  It’s basically a townie pig-roast with music and good times for all.  From the looks of it, the three “PR gringos” in our group were the only ones there.  That’s one of the benefits of knowing a local (thanks, D).  It was great, food-centric, fun. 

 Arriving at the lechona.

The spit roasted pig.

We all got our trays and took a seat.  I was glad we had out local friend with us, or we would have been lost.  She ordered everything and paid like a pro.

There was a relaxed authentic vibe to the party that made it a lot of fun.  It was all about enjoying good food and music from the local band.

During the entire trip, we had a great time.  The fact that everyone there speaks English as readily as they do Spanish might make it easy for any monolingual Americans who might struggle with another language.  We split our time between our friends’ place in San Juan and a cottage on the beach.  There was a lot of lounging around in San Juan. 

Yeah, this pretty much sums it up.  I read Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene; very engaging book.

The view from the roof of the house we stayed in while we were in San Juan.

The ladies did wonderful things in the kitchen.

The fellows did wonderful things at the grill.

Tostones with chicken.

Mofongo:  What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Some more misc. highlights (mouse over for descriptions):

We went to the house of one of our host’s friends, nice eh?

We picked up some green bananas while there.  They don’t look edible, right?  But they came out delicious (see next photo).

That’s them on the left.  They were so good, although they tasted nothing like what you might think.  They were more like potatos.  The rice and beans were out-of-this-world too.

On the way home from the beach, we stopped by these roadside food vendors for lunch.

They had a lot of unremarkable fried foods at this place, but this rice dish (with some fried plantains) was I-can’t-believe-I-ate-it-all good.

The weather and relaxation went hand in hand.

The view from our bed.

I did also run a few times while there, and the heat was overwhelming (it was ~77F).  That’s good for sitting around and drinking a Medalla Light; but running– not so much.  I guess it a sure sign I am acclimating to the Northeast when I think 35F is ideal running weather, eh?

I failed to raise the ransom money for Nacho by ~$300, and regretably, we had to flush him.  Happy now?  Hm?  (see bottom of this post)  If you should feel guilty about it, I encourage you to expunge your contrition by donating anything you can to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf by clicking HERE.  I know you’re a good person (you must be if you come to this website, right?), so don’t be shy.  Donate online, it’s safe, it’s easy, and it’s sublimely philanthropic.  Many have already done it; more have not.  Doing good feels good; give it a try. 

What can/should I do to compel all the good people that visit this website to donate (even a little)?  Suggestions are welcome. 

*Cati went to Hawaii before we were a couple.  I suppose her convent went on a missionary trip to feed coconuts to orphans, er sumthin’.  Yeah, that must be it.  [shrug]

**We recieved an email from a friend after she read about our trip to PR.  She asked if we saw many of the neglected street-dogs while we were down there.  Unfortunatley, we did.  They were living on the beach, and you could tell by the various domestic breeds that they were not “wild,” just abandoned, and left to fend for themselves.  All they wanted was a little food and attention.  Here’s an excerpt from her note with information on adoption or contributing: 

“…there is a spectacular animal shelter down there that saves hundreds of dogs every year but they are in desperate need of funding as well as adoptive homes.  I was wondering if you might consider posting a link to their website online for your friends and family to view. 

Pokey, is a puppy my mom rescued – he’s a real cutie and very sweet – and he’s featured online.  I met Suzie as well and seriously considered taking her home myself.  ;)

Every dog we’ve ever rescued has been super sweet, gentle, well behaved and virtually housebroken despite having lived on the street for most, if not all, of their lives.”

http://www.boxer.dreamhost.com/

Just Stew It.

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Cati was handed-down a nice estofado recipe from her mom.  The only complaint we have about it is that we never seem to make enough when we make it (for just the two of us, mind you). There are few things better on a cold day than a nice hot bowl of this stuff:   

The Recipe: 

  • ~1 lb stewing beef  (we use the local organic stuff).  I bet lamb would be good too. 
  • 2 medium sized potatoes
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1/2 bulb garlic (6 cloves)
  • 1.5 medium size onions
  • 1 heaping tsp of black peppercorns
  • one small shot of cognac
  • one small shot red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 table spoons olive oil
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 2-3 Maria crackers/cookies (available in the Goya section of your grocery store)
  • 2 TBSP sliced almonds

The Process:

Peel the carrots, potatoes, and onions.  Slice the carrots into 0.5″ thick rounds and cut the potatoes into chunks.  Poke the cloves into one of the onions (like a pin cushion).  Heat the oil in a large stewing pot and make sure the oil covers the bottom of the pan.  Add the meat, the clove-covered onion, the black peppercorns, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt.  Once the meat is browned, add the shot of cognac, mix well, add the shot of vinegar and mix again.  Then add the potatoes and carrots; then cover with water.  Bring to a boil, taste and adjust the salt, and then maintain at a simmer.  While you’re waiting for the dish you’ll have to make the “picada.”  Grab your trusty mortar and pestle.  Chop the 0.5 onion and add to the mortar along with the sliced almonds and the 2-3 Maria cookies.  Pulverize into a coarse paste and set aside.  Stir the stew every twenty-thirty minutes and it should be ready in about 1.5-2 hours.  You’ll know it’s ready when it thickens to a hearty consistency.  When there’s about 20 min to go on the stew, add the picada and mix in well.  This dish takes a whille so it’s good to make while doing other chores around the house. 

Here’s a little hint:  If you are in kind of a rush, or just want the stew to be thicker (we like it like that), you can add 2-3 tablespoons of unseasoned bread-crumbs to the stew at the very end. 

Please find some photos of the process below:

The Fixin’s

The Peel Sessions

Brown the meat.

Add the chopped veggies.

A shot of cognac and a shot of vinegar

Cover with water, and bring to a simmering boil.

Make the picada to be added near the end.

Make the picada while the stew cooks.

A coarse paste is fine.

Now Enjoy:

Enjoy

Que aproveche!

I am extending the ransom deadline [wink] for Nacho by one more week (see bottom of previous post). 

Recognize this?  Anyone?  Anyone?

All kidding aside, as I train for the marathon and (occasionally) complain about having to wake-up early, run in the rain, or run at all for that matter, I consider what a luxury it is for me to be able to train at all.  There are a lot of people who are fighting for their lives and faced with their own mortality as they battle cancers, like leukemia and lymphoma.  If you haven’t contributed to the LLS on my behalf yet, please take a minute to do so now by grabbing your credit card and clicking HERE.  Every little bit helps.    

Runner-up title: “What Would Jesus Stew?”  (Get it?  What would hay-SOOS stew?  Why, estofado, of course.)

Mamma Mia!

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Any schmuck can tell you that dinner at 677 Prime will rock your palatal world.  That’s as obvious as “water is wet,” “kids like candy,” or “bacon is delicious.”  You certainly don’t need to come to this website to find that out.  So what about something a little less conspicuous?  Cati and I had the good fortune of being taken to a nice little pizzeria that we never would have found without a recommendation from our Saratogian friends.  Our brother-from-another-mother and sister-from-another-mister, Gabe and Jen (respectively), took us to this little gem one night out several weeks ago.  Cati and I have been back with more friends since.  It’s called Mama Mia’s (menu) and it’s in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Why would we never have gone on our own, you ask?  For starters, it’s in Saratoga.  Secondly, it’s in a strip mall.  And lastly, it’s seems like a run-of-the-mill red-sauce Italian place.  In our experiences, any one of those attributes alone can make for a middling dining experience (much less all three together); but hey, we were pleased to have been so wrong.  Should you go, you have to try the Mama Giovanna’s eggplant parmigiana pizza; it’s incredible.  I can’t speak for the rest of the menu as that’s all we have ever ordered when we have gone. 

How good is it?  It’s so good it’s illegal in the Bible-belt because Baptists are concerned it could lead to dancing.  It’s so good it’ll make you call your own mama and angrily accuse her of neglect because she never cooked it for you.  It’s so good it’ll make you want to write a blog post full of goofy and tiresome “How good is it?” responses extolling its virtues. 

On our last Friday night visit, the owner was charming and friendly as he greeted us with a thick Italian accent and suggested a round of Birra Moretti while we waited for a table.  The service was solid and the ambience cozy.  If you have a tendency to be as snobby discerning as we are at times, surprise yourself and give this place a try.  

If you’re in Albany, just hop on 9 North and listen to this song on the trip (turn up the volume; louder):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSTTF7Wts5A

Fitting, eh?

Peep some photos below: 

We arrive, and wait for a table.

A slice of pizza’s last sight.

Where the magic happens.

The people are pleased!

Oh man, it’s good.

Also, I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this; I really was, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Donate to the very worthwhile LLS on my behalf or Nacho gets it.

Nacho needs you!

You, dear readers, have one week to collectively raise $1000 or I will flush the dog.  I have made my demands.  Donate hereNOW!!