Category Archives: upstate New York

Happy trails

DSC_0009At one point Sunday afternoon, as Chrissy and I ran over snow and sand and through mud and ice, I had to laugh at how lucky it is that we both find the challenge of trail running to be fun.  Yes, fun.  It’s like being a kid again, running through the woods to either get somewhere, or maybe away from someone, not really knowing exactly where we’re going, but having the luxury of enough time to simply run.

On Saturday we did the Parker 5k, a seriously challenging lope through the woods which Chrissy blazed through.  We were down a lunar b*tch, unexpectedly, but we both rallied for respectable finishes on a morning which was far more benign than expected.  There was no rain and the mud provided an obstacle or added an element of excitement, all in the eye of the beholder.

Aren't they lively looking?

Aren’t they lively looking?

A couple of remarks I heard post-race were validating, the race was “humbling,” and the trail “grueling.”  No one was complaining. This event is pleasingly small with only about 100 finishers and everyone who participated appeared remarkably healthy and fit.  As Chrissy said, it felt much more like a friendly group run through the woods than a race.  Next year, hopefully we’ll be our usual running threesome. Missed you, Karen!

Sunday was a gorgeous day – the first day of the year for me to run wearing only a single layer and sleeveless, at that.  We met at the Pine Bush’s trailhead #7, where we consulted a posted map and quickly determined we had no idea how to read it properly.  It was mid afternoon and we had time and an app on our side so we headed in, bearing right at most forks in the trail as we sought a longish run.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the day was an ambiguous one, early spring which easily could have been mistaken for mid fall.

"Mudders"We skirted a deep ravine and ran on the narrowest of paths up steeper than expected hills.  There was mud, but no real standing water and we both were glad we had worn our mudders from the previous day again.  We encountered fewer than a handful of other intrepid fun seekers and I have a new desire to familiarize myself with this large nature area.  Saratoga State Park’s trails have nothing on this place in terms of challenge and beauty and I can’t wait to go back for another, even longer, loop.

We wrapped up our running adventures with a first of the season soak in Chrissy’s hot tub.  It was a good weekend.

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Filed under Albany, beauty, Events, friends, Local, running, Schools, Spring, sunday, upstate New York

Maple Weekend 2014

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing that “pancake” syrup was all there was to drown my pancakes in. Based upon my middle son’s recent query about “Why is the number one ingredient in maple syrup water?,” I have to think that more must be done to educate children about the difference between pancake syrup and genuine maple syrup. Maple Weekend 2014 provided the ideal opportunity for a little lesson on the genuine article vs. that water-based, artificially colored and flavored bastardization known as “pancake syrup.”

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Last weekend, on a damp and cold morning, Quinn and I headed out to Berne to see the trees from which our syrup comes. The drive was full of sights for us to observe – cows and horses, heaps of lingering snow, raging creeks, and to discuss and, in case you were wondering, that boy has no interest in living in the country. Definitely a city kid.

We arrived at Mountain Winds Maple Farm in the late morning. While we weren’t the only folks visiting, Randy made time to take us on a little tour. Our footwear choice (rubber boots) was validated by the squishy earth and we confidently headed towards the little pumping station. This was where the tubing, working with a vacuum pump, initially collected the surprisingly clear and remarkably not sweet sap.

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Randy explained that the yield has thus far this season been very low since we have not yet had a true thaw to encourage a free flow of sap. Fingers crossed, a few days later that he and the other syrup producers are seeing a more impressive run as the temperatures have somewhat moderated.

From this first collection point the sap is sent to be boiled down, changing the percentage of sugar from approximately 2% to a more familiar 60+%. The rich amber color also develops as the syrup is concentrated and caramelized.

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We were lucky enough to nab his last gallon of syrup and have stashed it away in the basement as back up for the gallon we’re currently enjoying. In the DelSo, I use 100% pure maple syrup, preferably extra dark. I buy this delicious liquid, 2-3 times a year, by the gallon. It’s an investment at approximately $55, but buying in bulk definitely makes sense for my household where we eat pancakes or waffles or French toast at least weekly. In addition to this standard use of maple syrup, I frequently find myself reaching for the syrup dispenser to add flavor to root vegetables and other savory items. Delicious!

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When it is time for some more amber sweetness, we have options other than hauling out to Berne. Randy vends at the Bethlehem Farmers’ Market and also distributes through Farmie Market. In addition to syrup and syrup related products (cotton candy, syrup straws, hard candies, etc), he also sells farm eggs and fresh chicken.

See you at Maple Weekend 2015!  Don’t forget your boots.

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Filed under Boys, breakfast, Events, Local, road trips, Spring, upstate New York

What makes a tradition?

unnamedI remember Aloysius asking me that very question a couple of years ago as the Laker guys and I started talking about revisiting Mountain Jam. Since we had all gone together the previous year, was returning to the festival for a second time, in fact, a tradition? Operating on the premise that traditions bring us closer as friends and family, we decided it was. This June, we’ll hopefully be honoring that tradition for consecutive year. Rock on.

In March 2011 I skied for the first time at Belleayre Mountain. When I say “first time” I mean, I’d never really skied before and I’d never been to Belleayre. I was participating in a winter triathlon and I only took one run down the mountain, but I remember grinning like a fool as I cautiously wove my way down the mountain. The view was gorgeous and the novelty of actually having edges on my skis gave me, a veteran cross-country skier, a new sensation. I loved it.

During the winter of 2012-13, I got back down there twice, once for Ski School with my youngest son and once just to enjoy the slopes with Aloysius. That second visit was on a beautiful late winter day in March. The skiing was great as was the novelty of enjoying a cold beer midway down the mountain in the warmth of the bright sunshine. Sublime.

Yesterday, I made my way down that way again. My map app offered a number of different routes and I chose the one which took me along local roads through Greene and Ulster counties, in no rush despite having been robbed of an hour due to daylight savings time. The drive was beautiful with a sky alternating between flurry-filled and sunny.

I pulled into the parking lot just before noon, with perfect timing to take advantage of the half-day rate of $90 for rentals and life ticket, and to meet friends who had gotten an earlier start. As has been my experience on previous visits, the staff was incredibly pleasant and helpful. I obviously don’t have a lot of experience with skiing or the skiing lifestyle, but the folks here are excellent ambassadors to a novice like me. I particularly appreciated when the young guy who fitted me for skis remarked that I “looked like an athlete.” Yes, and thank you very much for noticing, my new friend.

I got in a couple of runs on the easy trails, gradually becoming confident as the moves became more familiar, prior to meeting up with my friends. We had lunch together in the base lodge and then took one run together on a moderate trail that I remembered from prior years. Chrissy remarked that I skied with a lot of control, a fair enough observation. I have no interest in getting hurt, I just want to enjoy being outdoors – the fresh air, the mountains, the sounds of my skis cutting through the snow.  My friends left and I returned to the chairlift again and again until I was cold and ready to warm up and head north again.

While I wish I had the time and the money to get to Belleayre more frequently, I’m okay with only getting there a time or two a season.  After all, the traditions I most treasure, like Mountain Jam, are those which only occur once a year.  That being said, if anyone wants to head down there before the snow disappears for another year – hit me up.  I’m in.

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Filed under Aloysius, beauty, Exercise, friends, road trips, skiing, snow, upstate New York, winter

My love affair with Winter

Valentine’s Day seems the perfect time to express my adoration for Winter.  In all honesty, it’s a love I never imagined experiencing.  Winter was always the cruelest of seasons, I thought.  Endlessly long, yet filled with days which offered mere hours of daylight.  Cold in a way that kept one indoors, in isolation.  Yuck.

Our relationship was purely platonic at the start.  It was a casual thing for many years, sort of a “friends with benefits situation.”  If I had a little extra timphoto 2(4)e, I could maybe work in an hour outdoors on my cross-country skis.  Many people have a summer romance, but we had a winter fling. Winter certainly wasn’t something I was willing to build a life around. It was more a matter of convenience, a circumstance I’d be remiss to replicate in my romantic life, yet acceptable for a relationship physical in nature.

During the snowy years, we got a little more serious with each other and I found myself keeping my skis in my car “just in case.” I explored Capital Hills, familiarizing myself with the various trails, learning which spots tended to get icy and which direction to ski to witness the often stellar winter sunsets.  I bought better cold weather gear and, repulsed by the false consistency of the treadmill, committed to running outdoors year round.

Winter challenged me and I responded with enthusiasm and devotion.  Downhill skiing beckoned and I fell even deeper in love.  The combination of adrenaline, fresh air and sunshine was intoxicating.  Winter was no longer something to be survived, it became a season to savor.  I realized recently that Winter has become my favorite season and I no longer wish it away as I may have in the past.
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Sometimes we find love in the most unexpected places.  Recognizing it, and embracing it with grace, makes our time here, and our hearts, feel remarkably full.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Filed under beauty, Exercise, favorites, holidays, Local, love, Normanskill, running, skiing, snow, upstate New York, winter, x-country skiing

I have no words.

Words?  Who needs words?  Behold…

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Ok, here are a few words in case the picture doesn’t tell the complete story.  Pizza Carbonara: Caramelized onion, housemade pancetta, smoked mozzarella, (perfectly cooked) egg, Cafe Capriccio.  Everything you could ever want from a pizza.

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Filed under Albany, Dinner, Eating, favorites, Local, pizza, Recommendations, Restaurants, upstate New York

Saratoga bites

A few months back I bought a Living Social deal for Javier’s in Saratoga. My motivation was to enjoy a night out and sample some of Brian Bowden’s food. Well, you know how that worked out. Nonetheless, Thursday night we hit the Northway and arrived promptly for our 6:45 reservation.

While the downstairs bar was completely empty, the upstairs dining room was close to full. We were shown to a nice table and looked over the recently updated menu. Eventually we decided to start with fried oysters and a pear salad, followed by the duck breast and monkfish entrees. I settled back contentedly with my glass of bubbles and my favorite fellow, prepared for an indulgent meal.

Our meal service began with dense and cheesy “muffins,” accompanied by softened butter garnished with roasted garlic. Nice. Our first course was served and I don’t know which one of us was more crestfallen by the size of the portion. You see, we’re good eaters and the salad, particularly, was shockingly paltry. Seriously – it was about a third of a pear. Maybe. The oysters appetizer was four morsels – a bit of a disappointment if you’re coming from the Rick Weber school of fried oysters, which is more than likely where this rendition originated.* The oysters were tasty but definitely would have benefitted from a touch of salt and a multiplication of two.

The entrees were far more impressive. Both of the portions were reasonable and the plates were nicely presented. The duck was perfectly medium rare, with a touch of sweetness to the sauce and nicely crisped skin. I don’t often eat monkfish, but I certainly would order it more frequently if I was assured it would be cooked as masterfully as the piece I enjoyed at Javier’s. My “poor man’s lobster” was mild, and moist and the accompaniments were a nice foil to the fish. Well done.  I didn’t take any photos of our meals, but you can see the salad and monkfish on this blog.

We had a dessert, some sort of something leche which was simply not my thing, but my dining companion made short work of it. Dinner, before discount, came to just over a $100, pre-tip. Service was capable, but not particularly personable. I’ve met Javier before (and his wife, following dinner) and they are both warm and social. It would be pleasing if the service reflected some of that.

Two days later, I was back in Saratoga to shoot some photos for the Times Union. The occasion? Chowderfest 2014. This was my first time attending this event and it is a huge deal. I believe there were 86 restaurants participating and, from what I understand, this annual celebration of chowder is second in popularity only to Travers Day. Props to Saratoga for hosting an event, in January, which literally fills their streets and sidewalks with folks willing to wait in line to sample minuscule “cups” of chowder. The crowd was enthusiastic, patient and seemingly appreciative of the offerings, as well as the relatively mild temperature.

My tight schedule prevented me from being able to invest time waiting on the sometimes formidable lines, but I would definitely consider participating in this fun event in the future. Truth be told, finding a reason to visit Saratoga, and a place to have a bite, is never a struggle.

*Brian Bowden worked with Andrew Plummer who worked with Rick Weber and those oysters had Rick Weber’s name all over them.

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, Events, Food, Restaurants, Saratoga, SEEN, soup, upstate New York

Yaktrax and making tracks

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for those of us who like to exercise outdoors.  I mean, 5 degrees on the plus side just doesn’t beckon to me, especially when the skies are grey and the wind is kicking up.  After nearly a week without a run, I finally got out last Saturday during a break in the deep freeze.  Of course, it was kind of snowing and rather messy, but damn it the thermometer was finally in the double digits and I needed to run.

Yaktrax in the snow

I’ve enjoyed winter runs and consider a layer of ice on the sidewalk to be an added challenge, along with a bit of a core workout.  I like it.  Layering up may be time consuming, but I have the right clothes and I love the time outdoors, traveling at my own pace.  Saturday’s run required 4 layers and the addition of a new foul weather friend – Yaktrax.

I originally bought these “slip-on” grip enhancers last winter, but they languished in my running drawer until the other day.  My hesitation to use them was based on fear – I was afraid that my feet would hurt or that I would feel awkward running on these springy-things.  Fortunately, I was wrong.  Once I figured out how to put them on they felt pretty light and were actually fairly unobtrusive for the first 3-4 miles.  I had a great deal of traction and didn’t slip or slide at all while wearing them.  I began to become more aware of them during mile five, feeling some new sensations in my lower legs, which may or may not have been from the Yaktrax.  Either way,  I’ll use them again and try to remember to pair them with an outer layer with pockets leaving myself the option of taking them off, if necessary.

Sunday morning, I got an email from Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area, an awesome old school ski area on the other side of the Hudson.  This place has some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever skied on and I was thrilled to receive notice that they had 25 km of trail open.  After consulting with my runner girls, we made a plan to get ourselves to Poestenkill for a couple of hours of outdoor fun.

Beautiful!

Neither Karen or Chrissy had ever skied here before and I was so happy to share this beautiful place with them. Chrissy offered me the job of “Life Tour Guide,” a career I think I could really get down with if only it was a real option.  Although it was only about 13 degrees, there wasn’t any wind and the sun was reasonably bright.  There may have also been a sip or two of homemade limoncello that provided a nice warm glow to our afternoon.  We had a fantastic time and I hope to get out there again next weekend.  At less than $20 for a trail pass and only a slightly more than 30 minute drive from the DelSo, it’s a bargain indulgence.  Get there!

So fun!

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Filed under beauty, Exercise, favorites, friends, running, upstate New York, winter, x-country skiing