Birthday – present, early and late

imageI sent out some invitations to a party I’m throwing to celebrate my 50th. The guest list was challenging – there are so many people I want to raise a glass with, but space is limited and I want to relax and enjoy the event rather than feel pressured to entertain. I ultimately decided to not give in to the reflex of obligatory invitations and instead only invited people who bring joy. I’m lucky enough to have many such friends in my life. Speaking of bringing, I didn’t specify “no gifts,” as I’ve seen on some recent invites I’ve received. I like presents, but hope no one feels that gifts are necessary.

imageSpeaking of presents, I bought something for myself. I’ve had an idea for a piece of jewelry for many years but hadn’t been able to squirrel away the funds to bring my vision to fruition. Not going away for our usual two weeks this summer, resulted in a surplus in summer funds and thanks to Elissa Halloran (for the referral) and Siobhan Byron (for the artistic skill), I now have a fantastic piece of jewelry created from a few pieces which had been occupying space in my dresser rather than on my body. Behold my new necklace forged from a single diamond stud (remember, I lost the other one? Twice.), a pendant that had once hung from a gold herringbone necklace and a pair of vintage earrings. Isn’t it stunning?! Go see Siobhan at Nahbois  in Troy and get yourself something. You deserve it.

Unlike the remarkable beauty of a special piece of jewelry, sometimes stunning has negative connotations. It seems that our world is filled with surprising and devastating tragedies, such as the recent earthquake in Italy. While I had originally intended to feature three of my personal favorite not for profit organizations as potential recipients for September’s Cocktail of the Month at Lark + Lily, I’ve decided instead to focus exclusively on Amatrice. We’ll be offering a classic negroni  cocktail, as well as an Amatriciana pasta special, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for earthquake relief. I’ll continue my birthday celebration through October when we’ll return to our usual format of three organizations from which to choose. We all do what we can and I hope you’re able to help support causes which are meaningful to you. Stop in and help us to help those in need.

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Filed under aging, birthdays, drinking, ideas, Italy, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Troy

Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America

imageSome days my good fortune threatens to overwhelm me. For instance last Friday, as part of a day of professional development, I had the opportunity to enjoy a three-course meal at Ristorante Caterina de Medici, the CIA’s Italian restaurant. What a treat! image

Have you dined at the CIA before? I think it’s been close to 20 years since I was last there and, boy, does it look different! I wish I had more time to roam around and check out what’s new (to me), but I was with a group and we had a schedule to maintain. Andiamo!

We began with a Caprese salad, which was lovely. I mean, seriously, if you can’t produce a tasty and beautiful tomato-centric plate in the Hudson Valley in late August, well, you might want to find a different career. This plate was a winner with an unexpected touch – green olives. Nice. imageOur second course was pretty dreamy – portions of 3 different pasta dishes. I really wish I could order this again because sometimes I struggle with decisions and it was the perfect entree for a girl who can’t always easily make up her mind. The ziti was pretty forgettable but both the lasagna and the risotto were really nicely done. The lasagna was definitely my favorite but an impressive amount of flavor came out of the vegetable risotto. imageDessert was tiramisu – really good and generously portioned, leaving me only hungry for a nap. image

Other items of note, the dining room was beautiful with excellent service and two somewhat garish Murano glass chandeliers suspended overhead. There was also a very coolly repurposed card catalog that charmed this wine bar owner – librarian. Check it out!

Isn’t this awesome?

 

Not my style but I do appreciate the craftsmanship.

Not my style but I do appreciate the craftsmanship.

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Filed under Eating, Food, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Fifty

imageI haven’t been so excited about a birthday since my 30th, which was just shy of 20 years ago. Then, I was a newlywed, in love and pregnant with my oldest son. I had my first “real” job as a school librarian and we celebrated with a dinner party at a wonderful restaurant with friends and family. Those memories make me smile. Life was good.

This one, though, is different. I mean I think it is.

I’m no longer married, so that’s an obvious and major change. As I plan a celebration for my upcoming milestone, I can’t help but recall that the task for organizing my last decade birthday party was also my responsibility. Not everything changes. My birthing days are behind me and the void has been filled by hot flashes and skinny jeans without front panels made from elastic. In a couple of weeks, I’ll begin my 21st year as a librarian and I am starting to imagine what might come next professionally. It’s exciting. Life is good.

I don’t feel like I imagined 50 would be. The number isn’t scary to me or overwhelming or sad. In fact, it feels like a wonderful new decade filled with opportunity and a sense of capability that can only come from years of surviving and thriving. It’s beckoning and I can’t wait.

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Filed under aging, birthdays, Events, friends, musings, Uncategorized

Clueless about tipping

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Image: Bon Appétit

There’s an article* about gratuities in the September 2016 issue of Bon Appétit that caught my eye and has me thinking. According to the piece, there are two driving forces behind the current trend toward including service in the price of the meal – minimum wages increases and an existing disparity in pay between front of the house and back of the house employees. As you might imagine, I’ve got some thoughts on this.

First, a story…many, many years ago I worked with a fantastic chef named Len Hull. God, he taught me a lot about food and music and life! Prior to opening his own wonderful little restaurant, The Sea Shanty, Len had worked under Larry Forgione at Brooklyn’s River Cafe. He had wonderful memories of his time there, nights filled with celebrity diners and fantastic meals, but one thing he said really stuck with me – the kitchen employees all drove shitty Volkswagens and crappy Datsuns, while the front of the house folks were all driving Mercedes and BMWs. It’s just the way it was and has always been.

I think the hourly wage for a server during my full time days was somewhere around $2.10 an hour, with the expectation that tips would raise it up to beyond the standard minimum wage per hour. Most nights it did. In January of 2016, servers in NYS were given a 50% hourly raise when the standard went from $5.00 to $7.50 an hour. Even with this raise, my front of the house staff probably averages between $15-20 an hour. Does that sound like a lot? Take into consideration a few things – I don’t provide health insurance to any of my employees. It isn’t possible, unfortunately. If my servers need a night off, they don’t get paid. There are no sick days or vacation days. It is very much a hand to mouth existence for most. Reality.

As for back of the house, most chefs are salaried employees. In a business the size of mine, health insurance is not available to my kitchen staff either. If you know me, you’re aware of my feelings about access to healthcare and how much it bothers me to not be able to provide this benefit to the people who make my business happen. Again, it just isn’t possible. If the math were done (something I’m not encouraging!), I imagine that my kitchen staff hourly wage averages somewhere in the $12-18 range, definitely lower than front of the house wages. Chefs have been provided with paid vacations during our closures (in spring we closed for a week’s vacation, for instance) as well as paid holidays and the occasional night off for personal commitments, but that’s about all I can do.

So, do I think that a gratuity included model of business to “redistribute wages more equitably” is the way to go? No, I don’t think I do even if Danny Meyer, one of my restauranteur heroes, is adopting it for his NYC restaurants. Unless, of course, we’re also going to figure out a way to redistribute the salaries of grossly overpaid executives in the corporate world to better share their income with employees lower on the totem pole. I’m not overly traditional, but the disparity in wages between back and front of the house is the way it’s always been in the restaurant business. As a chef stated in an unrelated article in the same issue of Bon Appétit

Cooks work long hours. It’s a stressful environment and, honestly, not the best pay in the world.

Nothing would make me happier than to provide all of my employees with real benefits and adequate income to enjoy quality lives. I’m doing my best with that, truly. I’ve certainly heard grumblings, over the years, from the kitchen when it comes to how much more money the floor makes than they do, but I don’t think it is a genuine issue most days. I mean, sure, when the kitchen is 95 degrees and they just got slammed with orders and are busting their asses to feed the dining room with the knowledge that they aren’t making a cent more than if it was 72 and we only had a deuce seated, it’s only natural that there might be some resentment. But that, my friend, is the restaurant business.

Thoughts?

*I wasn’t able to locate the article online while I was writing this. There may be an embargo on the latest issue, but if you want to try, the title is Gratuitous Advice and it’s on page 52.

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Saratoga morning

I understand that, to some people, going to the track involves a pink sheet and placing bets, but I’ve always enjoyed it best early in the morning before the crowds arrive.  The true beauty of the facility and the horses just shines when the day is new and the air is fresh.  It was a gorgeous morning today and I would have regretted missing the time spent with a good friend far more than I missed those couple of hours of sleep.  You see, Will, is an early riser and I was on the road a little after 6:00 a.m. to meet him.  Watching those horses, full of personality with an apparent need to stretch their legs, was a wonderful way to start the day.  Our post-track breakfast at Siro’s, prepared by the legendary Debbie Klauber, felt very much like a reward for our efforts.  I hope those horses are fed half as good as we were!

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Filed under beauty, breakfast, friends, Local, Recommendations, Saratoga, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Ain’t but one way out

imageIf we’ve seen each other in the past week or two, you know exactly where this is going… I am currently obsessed with the Allman Brothers. Like, really, really obsessed. First, some history – I’m lucky enough to have seen the band in its various incarnations, probably a half dozen times, mostly at SPAC. I’ve always had a great time at their shows, but never really considered myself a huge fan of the band. Until I read Gregg Allman’s 2012 autobiography, that is.

Yep, it started with a book. I’ve read a lot of rockstar autobiographies over the years, and My Cross to Bear ranks pretty damn high on my list of best rock and roll life stories. It’s kind of weird because I was so excited a few years ago to read Keith Richards’ book and pretty much hated it. A similar thing happened when I attempted to read Neil Young’s book. Ugh, I thought it sucked. I never finished either of them, for the record.

This book, though? It was hard to put down. The opening pages describe the state of absolute intoxication Gregg was drowning in during the band’s induction ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I was immediately sucked in. This is what I want to read about when I’m learning about a musician’s life – sex, drugs and rock and roll. I don’t want to know about Neil Young’s obsession with trains and cars. I’m not interested. Tell me more about opening up for the friggin Doors on your first trip to Cali, Gregg. I’m all about that!

The book is a super fast read, filled with anecdotes, struggles, shows and wisdom that can only come from life experience. So, if you see me and I feel compelled to share a tidbit or two about what I learned about the Allman Brothers, bear with me. I’m sure I’ll move on soon enough, but until then, I’ll be cranking At Fillmore East. You should, too.

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Filed under Books, Music, Recommendations, SPAC

Scary grass and a wonderful veterinary practice

imageProving that there is indeed never a dull moment, minutes before I was planning to leave for work on Friday, Jeter sidled up to me with an eye well on its way to being grotesquely swollen shut. Since I had just taken him outdoors not 30 minutes previously, I was at a loss as to what might be the problem. A quick Google image search (dog swollen eye) and I had my presumed answer – bee sting.

Never having dealt with this before, I didn’t know what to do. This is my usual response in medical emergencies, by the way. As Jeter’s eye continued to disappear behind a balloon of fluid, I decided to phone our vet, Boght Veterinary Clinic never expecting a response to my call since it was after 5:00. Well, was I most pleasantly surprised…

imageThe woman who answered the phone was exactly what I needed – informative, helpful and wonderfully competent. I explained the issue, adding details about his demeanor (normal), breathing (also normal) and the appearance of his eye (gross, but apparently not abnormal when stung by a bee). I was placed on hold for a few minutes while the receptionist consulted with the Doctor. On her return, I was offered a couple of options: 1. Bring Jeter in as soon as I could get there, even though the office was now closed and it would take at least 30 minutes in Friday evening traffic to get there. 2. Take Jeter to the nearby emergency veterinary hospital or 3. Give him three 25 mg tabs of Benadryl. I went with number 3.

Here’s the thing, so many veterinary practices would have not made themselves available beyond regular hours, might have insisted that I take him to an emergency facility for treatment and would not have so willingly recommended a dosage of over the counter medication. Their reasonable and pragmatic care, dispensed with the caveat that medical advice over the phone is less than ideal, was yet another example of why I have been loyal to this practice for more than 25 years.

Saturday morning, Jeter’s eye was almost back to normal. He was his usual bouncy guy self, except for one thing – he seems to be afraid of grass! For whatever reason, it seems that Jeter is associating the lawn with the bee sting. It’s kind of silly because I’m convinced he got stung on the back deck, but he’s holding firm to this new phobia and refuses to step foot on the grass choosing instead to walk on sidewalks, driveways and in the street. It’s ridiculous! Any tips for getting my boy back on the grass?

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Filed under medical, Recommendations, Summer