Category Archives: Recommendations

My first focaccia


B195A6C6-71CE-4356-8AE6-69EADC0DCEFCTwenty-five years ago I went to Italy for the first time. It was my honeymoon and we intended to spend a couple of days in the Lake Como area as part of our five week trip. We were about 2 weeks into our vacation, having already visited rainy Ireland and soggy Germany, when we drove into Lake Como under foggy skies.

It’s hard to recall what made this scenic city feel unwelcoming, but we made the decision to stay in the car and keep driving.  I remember we committed to not getting out of that damn car again until we found sunshine. Three hours later, under sunny skies, we hit Genoa.

The next few days contained some of the most memorable moments of our honeymoon. We had a couple of fantastic meals, were eaten alive by mosquitos and discovered Pigato, still one of my favorite white wines. When we eventually left Liguria to rendezvous with friends in Switzerland, we were sunkissed and happy.

As we departed, we stopped for bread, cheese and tomatoes to make lunch on the road during our drive north. The aroma of the still warm bread filled the car as we drove away from the bakery and proved to be irresistible. We tore into it, our hands and mouths becoming shiny from the olive oil which had been brushed over the top of the loaf. There were deep dimples in the loaf which became wells for rosemary and salt and the dough had been baked to an ever so slight chewiness. It was the best bread I had every eaten – and my first ever focaccia.

It seems that many home bakers, during our current time of forced isolation, are exploring bread baking and I’ve heard about shortages of both flour and yeast in local stores. A friend of mine has been teaching her social media followers how to make and feed their own sourdough starter, a project I’ve never attempted. I’m more a no-knead girl and have used Mark Bittman’s recipe with great success over the years.

When I saw this recipe in the April 2020 issue of Bon Appetit, it immediately called my name. “Shockingly easy?” Yes, please. I’d like to make that. After consulting with my baker friend, I tested the yeast I’ve had in my refrigerator for at least 3 years and was happy to see it was still alive. Time to get busy.D84604E7-2845-4528-8EAD-45D295804B53


I prepped the dough on Friday and placed it in the fridge for an overnight rise. When I pulled it out the next morning, it seemed to have just about doubled, so I continued with the recipe. About 4 hours later, following the directions, I got my hands into the dough a bit, stretching it to completely fill the rimmed baking sheet. The texture was surprisingly silken and poking my fingers into the dough was incredibly satisfying. Excitedly, I dusted salt and fresh rosemary over the dough and slid it into the oven for 25 minutes.

Once out of the oven, there was a final basting of butter* and grated garlic and my first focaccia was complete. It may not have been exactly like the one I greedily ate all those years ago, but I could not have been prouder of the result. Make this!

BDCC4EB3-51BA-4F86-A385-91D35B909848*I used a combination of butter and olive oil.

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Filed under baking, Food, ideas, Italy, Recipes, Recommendations, road trips, Spring, travel

C-ing past Corona

0DB47822-785B-4765-87CE-FB02C5144FA6I don’t know about you, but I’m getting more than a little overwhelmed by the constant barrage of CoronaVirus related news. I’m feeling anxious and isolated and sort of cast adrift as I struggle to figure out how to do my job from home.

While I’ve been escaping with live streamed yoga classes, professional Zoom meetings and binge watching Sex and the City, it isn’t enough. For the rest of my waking hours, irregular as they may be, there are two C words beyond Corona that are occupying my time – cooking and cleaning.

Since grocery shopping is such an ordeal these days and we’re encouraged to remain at home, I’ve been trying to cook out of my pantry and my crisper drawer. Last night’s meal nicely capitalized on what I happened to have on hand – broccoli rabe, chickpeas, canned tomatoes and an open container of veggie stock.

Now, if you look at this NYT recipe you might notice that it doesn’t actually call for broccoli rabe, listing kale instead, but this is very much a recipe that one can modify according to whim or ingredients available. My take on it, after reading some of the comments on the NYT website, doubled the chickpeas and used the liquid from the canned tomatoes and veggie stock instead of water. I also tossed in a Parm rind for some added flavor and increased the crushed red pepper by a generous extra pinch.

DB984C4F-F9E3-4D70-BEEA-684206D4BAEDServed with grated cheese, it was a cheap and healthy dinner with the bonus of being delicious.

Cooking the Pasta e Ceci  was easy and satisfying – just like some of the recent home projects I’ve taken on. Since I frequently find myself wandering from room to room in my house, I’ve done a fair amount of organizing and weeding of items that I’m prepared to eliminate from my home. There’s been quite a bit of dusting also and I actually removed the three milk glass sconces from my bathroom light fixture and gave them a good washing. I learned that they are in fact not milk glass. They were just really dusty.

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On the menu for the upcoming week – Asparagus Pork Stir fry, cleaning the ceiling fans, and moderating my news consumption. How about you?

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, DelSo, Dinner, Food, ideas, News, Observations, Recipes, Recommendations, Spring, stress, upstate New York

Maintaining the six foot rule

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Flowers in bunches are beautiful. People, not so much.

Walking these days take some attention. I mean, it always demanded that we have our eyes and ears open, but walking in the midst of a pandemic requires an additional sense  – as in common sense.

As Jeter and I meander our way through the street of Albany, I now have to consciously take of note of people who might cross paths with us and decide how to best evade them. Cross the street? Go wide? Make eye contact? Smile?

It can all feel a little awkward.

As I walked yesterday I considered how the act of being a contemporary pedestrian was forged into the brains and muscle memory of a lot of 80s kids. We were raised on Centipede, Frogger, Pac-Man and Asteroids. We know how to avoid shit that pops up in front of us and gets in our way. Navigating through perils was a part of our childhood.

The sunshine helps and I appreciated the feel of it on my back Saturday afternoon. Put on some warm clothes and get outside while you can. Breathe deep. Take care of yourselves and each other. Six feet away beats six feet under by miles.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, Exercise, friends, Gardens, musings, Observations, Recommendations, sick, Spring, stress, upstate New York

The inevitability of spring

We each respond differently to frightening and uncertain times. Some say that the media is exaggerating and insist that the situation is not nearly as dire as it is being portrayed. Others feel the need to purchase and hoard essentials without thought to those who may need immediate access to basic household items such as toilet paper and soap. Or maybe, instead of stockpiling supplies, you’re actually working your way through that stash of alcohol and ice cream that you’ve been saving for the perfect occasion. You know, like today.

I suspect that most, though, are doing their best to continue to meet the demands of family and work while remaining cognitive of the obvious shifting of importance of each of those aspects of life. There’s no two ways about it – this is a very scary time and there’s no telling when we will have our normal lives back again.

So, be kind to one another. Check in with your neighbors before heading to the store. This would be a great time to create a virtual neighborhood group on Facebook for communicating with people who live by you. Do some yard work. Clean out the basement. Take long walks. Look for and acknowledge signs of spring. It’s still coming.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, Flowers, Gardens, Local, musings, News, Observations, Recommendations, Spring, stress

When culinary worlds collide – Peking Duck Mac and Cheese at New World Bistro Bar

Mashed potatoes aside, mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food in my world. When I make it at home, I consider it an emptying-of-the-cheese -drawer exercise, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy in multiple ways. (I hate wasting food.) The randomness of the cheese selections means it may never quite taste exactly the same twice, but believe me, it’s always good.

While consistency may not be my personal strength, chef Ric Orlando has been hitting it out of the proverbial ballpark for decades. I can’t think of another person (except maybe Dimitrios at City Beer Hall) who has so successfully merged seemingly disparate cuisines into fantastic and memorable dishes. Thai and Italian? IRC’s done that. Traditional dish with an ingredients twist? Of course!

For the recently held Mac & Cheese Bake Off at Keegan Ales, Ric combined two of my favorite dishes – Peking Duck and Mac & Cheese into a dynamite skillet of deliciousness. I dropped in on Tuesday night to sample the dish and was very happy to have had the opportunity to make a meal out of this small plate which satisfied two cravings with each forkful. Three, if you count bullshitting with Nick at the bar.

Served piping hot in a cast iron vessel, the plate was a delight of creamy, crunchy goodness with lovely and tender slices of duck hidden beneath toothsome noodles, mung bean sprouts and chopped scallions. There were also swirls of hoisin (plum?) sauce and gorgeous buttery breadcrumbs, making this a perfect marriage of many flavors taken from two very different and individual cuisines.

The dish was a special Tuesday, (3/3/20), so call ahead or check NWBB’s website for availability. At $12 it was a bargain, paired with a glass of wine it was a meal. Can’t get enough of Mac and Cheese in all its glory?   Here’s your chance to sample more delectable variations this weekend – and raise some $$ for a good cause.

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, favorites, Food, Local, Recommendations, upstate New York, winter

Where to stay in NYC?

Over the years I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels in New York City. Most of them have been perfectly fine, especially since I’ve only required accommodations for a single night or maybe two. There have been a couple that I won’t book again – The Empire across from Lincoln Center comes immediately to mind. That room was so damn small that it was impossible to navigate, even though there were only two Lilly boys at the time we stayed there and they were significantly smaller than they are now. Pass.

My favorite hotels, the ones I return to repeatedly, are my picks because of a combination of amenities, space and location. Value for the price, basically. The Millennium Hilton on Church Street is my absolute favorite place to stay because it checks every box for me – I love that area of the city for an evening run, on weekends it’s possible to actually find on street parking, and the shopping and eating options are decent. Oh – and there’s an indoor pool, something rarely seen in my experience in NYC.

While I tend to stay at Hilton properties (including Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree) because of rewards programs related to my credit card, there are times when I go off brand and try someplace different. TravelZoo sends a weekly email with some good deals and I’ve discovered some terrific, new-to-me hotels by taking advantage of these opportunities when the price is right.

The hallway and the closet which was larger than many NYC kitchens I’ve been in.

Last weekend my son and were in the city to celebrate his birthday. I had a reservation at a Hilton, but canceled when I received an email offering a night’s stay at the St. Giles Tuscany on E. 39th. A few years back I spent a night at a different St. Giles property, now closed, and found it to be comfortable, chic and well located, especially when Amtrak was using Grand Central as their NYC station. The deal being offered through TravelZoo was unbeatable at $140 total. I booked it.

We arrived too early to get into our room prior to our matinee at Lincoln Center, but we were welcomed and invited to enjoy the complimentary hot beverages in the lovely lobby while our bags were checked. We returned hours later, after dinner and a walk around Bryant Park, to finally see our room and I was blown away.

The room was easily the largest NYC hotel room I’ve ever been in. There was a hallway with the bathroom to one side and a gigantic walk in closet on the other. The bedroom had two queen beds with enough room remaining to move around without bumping into one another. It was just enormous! The bathroom was a dream with gorgeous tile, a floating vanity and a tub that made me regret having had recent surgery which prevented me from indulging in a deep, sudsy soak.

#bathroomgoals

Generally speaking, I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time in any hotel room, much preferring to be outdoors or doing fun things. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate having somewhere comfortable and well laid out to return to after a full day of activity. Maybe you’re the same? What are your favorite places to stay in NYC?

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Filed under birthdays, family, favorites, NYC, Recommendations, travel

Cathedral in Bloom, 2020

Gorgeous welcome courtesy of Kate Fleming of the Floral Garden

Even when winter has been relatively mild there’s still excitement for spring, particularly in upstate New York. As the crocus and daffodils start popping through last season’s faded mulch, I can’t help but begin looking forward to afternoons on the deck (or stoop) and sandals on my feet. Looks like we’ve almost made it to another spring, friends!

Yesterday I got a giant dose of the upcoming season in a floral fashion when I visited the second edition of Cathedral in Bloom Albany’s amazing  Cathedral of All Saints. This gothic edifice, which always seems to be overlooked in favor of the more visible Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is absolutely magnificent. The craftsmanship and architecture of the building provided an excellent backdrop to the artistic and fragrant floral displays and I appreciated the spaciousness of the minimally furnished interior.

Very Madonna ”Like a Virgin,” no?

In years past when there was a similar event hosted by the NYS Museum, I was a regular visitor. The inspiration of the museum exhibits always provided a cohesive theme to the floral arrangements and, while I miss that component, the new venue allows for a fresh approach and provides opportunity for growth as the event gains traction.

I imagine the weekend opening hours will be more densely attended than yesterday’s opening day, but parking should be readily available – and if it isn’t the weather forecast looks inviting. May as well take a walk and grab a drink or bite to eat while you’re downtown. Plan accordingly, breathe deeply and enjoy the preview of spring!

 

 

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Filed under Albany, art, beauty, Events, Flowers, Gardens, ideas, Local, Observations, Recommendations, Spring, upstate New York