Category Archives: Recommendations

The berry best

berriesYou know how, as a parent, you want your child(ren) to eat well and appreciate simple pleasures?  We work to expose them to flavors and provide them with options when it comes to satisfying their appetites as well as their curiosity about what things taste like, and where they come from.  Well, there is no better time to do that than now – it’s strawberry season and nothing will teach your kid faster about the superiority of fresh local produce than some time spent in a field picking (and eating) berries.

All over Albany did a great post last week summarizing many of the options available in the Capital District for picking your own berries.  On Saturday, Quinn and I headed out to Altamont Orchards and quickly picked three quarts of juicy fruit.  We were prepared with our own containers (not too deep because the berries will crush under their own weight), sunscreen and clothing we wouldn’t mind becoming stained from the berry juice.  The drive took a little longer than I had expected, but Quinn’s company pretty much entertained me the entire way.  Note: the pick-your-own fields are not located in the same location as the farm stand/market.  Call for clarification if you plan to head out there.

 I wish I had the words to describe how amazingly delicious that first berry I popped into my mouth was…warm from the sun, succulent, juicy, sweet…it tasted so different from a supermarket berry that it isn’t accurate to call them both the same name.  When my middle son sampled a couple of berries after we got home, he asked “How come they make the ones in the store taste so different?”  I’ve got no answer for that, just a suggestion for him – eat as many of these as you can because the season is way too short.  I guess we could take that advice about living in general, right?

For three fine mornings I enjoyed berries in my cereal and with my waffles.  Jeter, who is inclined to sit at my feet when he sees me slicing strawberries, also appreciated the berries which I shared with him.  We’ve got a quart of cleaned berries in the freezer at the ready for smoothie-making and I’m trying to figure out a way to get back to the fields this coming weekend.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Filed under Boys, family, Local, Recommendations, Summer

World Cup mayhem!

photo(171)How was your Sunday?  Mine was wonderfully insane, thank you very much.  Why, you ask? Well, I spent my day selling mugs and beer tokens down at Wolff’s Biergarten, which may not sound very fun to those of you who aren’t into crowds or soccer, but it was right up my alley.  There were hundreds (thousand+?) of folks sporting red, white and blue looking to have a great time on a gorgeous day.  What could be bad about that?

While the match may not have ended soon enough for team USA to walk away with a win rather than a tie, it was still a fantastic day.  I’ll be working a number of additional shifts in the next few weeks and hope you all make it down to take in a match and indulge in some tasty beer and a scene unlike you’ll find anywhere for this event.

photo(172)For the uninitiated, here’s how it works:  for $20 bucks you get a 1 liter plastic stein and 2 beer tokens.  The tokens are good for .5 liters of beer so you can fill your mug fully once or halfway twice, your call.  Personally, I’d go with the halfway twice because I like my beer cold and I like to wander between the Biergarten and the Bier Tent.  Since taking beer from one location to the other isn’t permitted, you’d probably want to enjoy a beer in both places to catch the full scope of fandom.  Need more beer?  Additional tokens are $7 each or 3 for $20 and the tokens don’t expire.  Speaking of not expiring – your stein will get you entry into any and all subsequent games so make sure you hold on to it.  Bring it with you for any matches during the World Cup and you get in without any additional charge.

So, there you have it.  Soccer, bier, peanuts.  Come get some.

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Filed under Albany, beer, Events, Local, Recommendations, soccer, Summer, sunday

Every boy an island

Yep, there were three boys and yes, we did visit three islands. Mission accomplished.  Here are some highlights.
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  • We actually got on the road precisely on time.  This is such a rare occurrence that I could not let it pass without acknowledgement.
  • The drive was uneventful and we encountered no traffic until we got to the Holland tunnel.  This was a different route for me, but it made sense to avoid the West Side Highway and enter Manhattan in TriBeCa.
  • We parked for free right in front of the hotel.  Really.
  • After leaving our luggage behind, we hopped a subway to Battery Park and  made our way to Staten Island, fortifying ourselves with some Sabrett’s along the way.  I eat a hotdog maybe once every few years.  This one was with onions and mustard.  It was divine.
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  • After docking, we jumped on a train for two stops and then walked the remainder of the way to Stapleton Pier where we got in line to tour the U.S.S. McFaul.  Also present was the U.S.S. Cole, but that line was even longer.
  • Our tour was informative and free and the perfect activity for Memorial Day Weekend.  Recommended.
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  • After docking again in Manhattan, we walked to Chinatown where we gorged on soup dumplings, crispy duck, Shanghai noodles, squid with salted vegetables and peppers and, my favorite, green beans with pork.
  • A leisurely walk back to our hotel followed dinner, with the boys remaining behind while I hoofed it up to Rocco’s for pastry.  It was a beautiful evening for a walk and I was thrilled with the patriotically lit Empire State Building and Freedom Tower.
  • Have I mentioned before how much I love the green spaces in lower Manhattan?  The west side, with its meandering paths which hug the Hudson is so lovely, particularly in the spring.  I couldn’t resist a quick run to start my day, while the boys slept in.
  • Our reservations for the Statue of Liberty (obtained online a couple of weeks prior) were for noon.  We again headed to Battery Park via the subway and were through security and waiting on the dock in little time.  But, then the waiting really began.  Waiting for the boat to arrive and unload.  Loading the boat.  Arriving on Liberty Island and unloading the boat.  Waiting to go through security again… The 196 steps which took us to the base of Lady Liberty were the least painful part of the entire process.  Unless the National Park Service figures out a more efficient way to get people on and off those boats, I don’t imagine myself ever returning to Liberty Island.  If you plan to go there, look into departing from the Jersey side.  I think it would be faster.
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  • The boat ride does provide a fantastic view of lower Manhattan and it is impossible to take in the sights without imagining what newcomers to America must have seen.  On a sunny day in May it must have been magnificent.
    DSC_0030We were in the car and driving north only 4 minutes beyond my target time.  There was a quick stop in Jersey for some diner chow and then it was back to Albany for the Head and the Heart show, courtesy of 97.7 WEXT, at the Upstate Concert Hall.  I had a great weekend – hope you did, too!

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Filed under Boys, Events, family, favorites, NYC, Recommendations, road trips

Come on in my Cucina

See that post title above?  I have a confession about it… I seriously almost used  a more, shall we say, colorful homophonic version of the word “come,”  but chose not to because I was afraid it might be interpreted as vulgar.  I may be salty at times with my language choices, but crass is something I do not want to be.

So – why the temptation to use a word with carnal connotations to describe a dining experience?  Well, because Cucina, located at the north (east?) end of town in Woodstock, is a very sexy restaurant.  From the wide porch which offers dining al fresco during the warmer months, to the painted plank floors and the understated decor, to the menu which invites exploration and sharing, this place is hot.

My number one advice for planning your meal at Cucina is this: go with people you love because you’re going to want to share your food. Until the dessert course, of course, but we’ll get to that…

My home(town)girls and I selected Cucina for our “midway” dining date based upon recommendations from the Wine Bar & Bistro Chef, Nick, and the prior experience of one of the girls. We had 7pm reservations, but arrived a little early since most of our usual shopping destinations are still on winter hours and had closed by 6pm. We began at the bar, an open, well-lit area, and perused the creative cocktail list. I struggled with personal responsibility wanting to order one of everything, gin drinks aside. Because of our mutual appreciation of wine with dinner, Ginny and I elected to share the Orient Old Fashioned as an aperitif and it was a revelation. Spicy from the ginger syrup, smooth from the Bulleit, refreshing and piquant, I easily could  have gulped this down in record time.

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squid – two sauces

The dinner menu came with its own impressive array of temptations, but as a party of four we were in a good position to try a number of items.  I took charge (imagine!) of how many dishes we would have and collectively we agreed on what each course would contain.  We started with two appetizers – the crispy squid and the shrimp and white beans.  Neither dish broke any new ground in terms of composition, but the execution was exceptional.  The squid was lightly battered and virtually without greasiness, while the shrimp were perfectly cooked and accompanied by beans which retained the ideal amount of firmness.  Great start!

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

shrimp, white beans, tomatoes

We followed the appetizers with two salads and a special pizza.  The asparagus, snap peas, endive, etc salad was creative and capitalized on ingredients which are coming into their own, seasonwise.  What can you say about roasted beets, Coach Farms goat cheese and balsamic vinegar other than yum?  Exactly.  Our beautiful pizza, topped with a riot of green veggies, including some banging jalapenos, on the thinnest of crusts, was a spicy delight.

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pizza – baby spinach, jalapenos, red onions

We finished our savory experience with two pastas – the spinach and ricotta filled ravioli with brown sage butter and an evening risotto special with scallops, shrimp and saffron.  The portions aren’t tremendous, but the flavors are and we were very content with the quality and amount of food we were served.  Speaking of served, our server was terrific.  No complaints at all , start to finish.  With our meal we enjoyed a bottle of Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, 2010, a wonderful food wine which I am familiar with from the Wine Bar & Bistro on Lark.  Perfect.

MY dessert - no sharing

MY dessert – no sharing

When it came time for dessert, I was done with sharing and insisted that it was every woman for herself.  My choice, the butterscotch budino, was off the hook, crazy delicious.  Butterscotch, caramel, toasted coconut and sea salt put together in ideal proportions to make a dreamy pudding-esque climax to a wonderful evening.

Yeah, I’ll come on in Cucina any time.

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Filed under Dinner, drinking, Eating, Food, friends, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, upstate New York

Yoga and the best shift ever

Have you seen this heartwarming video?  I myself tried to resist the repeated postings and “likes” on Facebook, but finally caved a few days ago and watched it.  I cried.  There was something so touching about Chelsea’s story – her own recovery from an eating disorder, the support she provides to her younger sibling, her daily efforts to work as a restaurant server as well as devote time to her passion and healer, yoga.  She is truly inspirational and I was thrilled to “witness” her hard work be rewarded as she was presented with a fat cash tip, a trip to Hawaii, her dream job and a new car.  Wonderful!

Chelsea Roff struck me as a survivor, a young woman who has worked to improve a life which came with an almost unfair share of challenges.  One of the ways she has changed her life has been by devoting herself to the practice of yoga.  Not content to reap the benefits of yoga without giving back, Chelsea has created a foundation to share yoga with others struggling with food issues.

Yoga as a therapeutic activity seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  Lest you think it is an opportunity not available in our area, allow me to direct your attention to some exciting local opportunities designed to provide yoga to those who may need it most – those who struggle with addiction and recovery and military veterans and their families.  These free classes are designed to bring the benefits of yoga to people who may not otherwise be exposed or involved with yoga and the rewards practice can be bring to anyone.

Check out the offerings below, share the information with anyone you know who may be interested and contact The Hot Yoga Spot with any questions.  Namaste.

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Filed under Albany, Events, Exercise, Local, News, Recommendations, yoga

Motherhood and The Silver Star

This is either the perfect book or the worst book to read when you’re dealing with an impossible mother-daughter situation.  You’ve been warned.

Are you familiar with Jeannette Walls?  Her first book, The Glass Castle related the story of her own childhood and was on the NYT’s bestseller list for 6 years.  It was a powerful story, but her tale complete with two dysfunctional parents and an extended family,  was certainly not one to which I really related.  I did admire, however, Jeannette’s survival instinct and her ability to propel herself forward through sheer determination and the desire for stability.  I understood that.

Her second work, Half Broke Horses, delved even deeper into her treasure chest of family history, merging reminiscences and imagination into a tale which brought her maternal grandmother’s colorful life to readers.  This book was clearly an artful blending of fiction and nonfiction, and Wall’s grandmother, Lily, an almost mythical character.  Her resourcefulness and tough as nails attitude make her an unforgettable narrator and woman.

This new book, though?  Well, it kicked my emotional ass.  Here’s how the blurb from the library catalog begins: “Two motherless sisters, Bean and Liz…” Mentally replacing “sisters” with “brother and sister,”  I immediately checked the book out.  Last weekend I tore through the novel’s 269 pages, stopping to catch my breath after this passage -

“Mom’s account of my dad had always left me hankering for more details, but she said she didn’t want to talk about him and we were both better off if we put him behind us.  Mom didn’t have a picture of him, and she wouldn’t tell me his name,  I’d always wondered what my dad had looked like.  I didn’t look like my mom.  Did I look like my dad?  Was he handsome?  Funny?  Smart?”

Oh my God.  How did Walls know exactly what that conversation sounded like?  Even more painfully, how did she know precisely what having that conversation felt like?  Jesus.

The passage though, that nearly broke (or maybe Half Broke me) was this -

“I think Mom believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.  Maybe she just needed someone to blame for the way everything turned out.”

Never before have I read anything which so clearly expressed my own experience with my mother.  Never, I said.  That was my own mother perfectly summed up in two sentences.  Mercy.

I guess maybe I don’t have to write that book now after all.

Screw the silver star.  Walls gets a gold one for this book.

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Filed under Books, family, moms, Recommendations, relationships

Sunday dinner out in the DelSo

One of the first images to enter my brain last Sunday morning came to me courtesy of an email from Living Social.  They were offering a deal for Yanni’s Too, a place known for its fried calamari, and the picture accompanying the sales pitch became my obsession and inspiration for the day.  Crispy looking golden brown rings and tentacles… I needed some, but had no desire to drive south and dine riverside.  I explored my options, beginning, and happily ending, in my own neighborhood – Nicole’s Restaurant.  All I had was a 5 mile run to get through first.

Run finished, I quickly called Nicole’s to make sure they still had tables seated at 8:00 on a Sunday.  I never want to be that person who comes in on a quiet night and keeps staff hanging around.  I was assured that they still were doing business and invited to please stop by.  On my arrival I was offered a nice deuce in the front and settled in with the menu and a basket of warm bread accompanied with good quality olive oil and an olive tapenade.
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I was hungry and went a little crazy ordering the fried calamari, the eggplant rollatini and an intriguing sounding Brussels sprouts Caesar salad.  After considering a bottle of wine, with the option to bring home what I didn’t finish, I talked myself down and went with a glass of chianti which satisfied me perfectly.

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The calamari was terrific. It was piping hot, crispy and not oily in the slightest.  The accompanying sauce was different and enjoyable, but I’m pretty simple and would have been equally pleased with a marinara sauce on the side.

eggplantThe eggplant was tender, completely devoid of bitterness and wonderfully smoky from the oozing cheese.  Again, the presentation is a little different with only some roasted red peppers topping the eggplant, rather than the more typical bath of red sauce.  Tasty.

ceasarThe salad was a unique spin on Caesar – a feat that is not easily accomplished, but I didn’t really taste the classic Caesar notes of garlic, cheese and anchovy as I had expected.  The anchovies were white which, in my opinion, gives a sharper, more vinegary taste.  I liked the salad more when I finished it up the next day as part of my lunch.  It seemed to have mellowed out a bit.

cheesecakeI wrapped things up with an indulgent slice of chocolate cheesecake – 5 miles, people.  I had just run 5 miles.  Belly full, $50 + tip lighter, I slept like a well fed baby.  Although I don’t get to Nicole’s often enough, it’s nice to know they continue to offer a consistently creative menu that never fails to provide comfort and quality.

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Filed under Albany, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, Food, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, running, sunday