Category Archives: favorites

Bravo, Brava

img_0864On a mellow Sunday evening, I was fortunate enough to revisit Brava Wine Bar in Lenox. It’s hard to say exactly what made it the perfect evening, but the scenery, complete with a dusting of fresh snow, certainly contributed. Seriously, with the holiday lights still on display Lennox looked absolutely magical! What a beautiful little town that is…

We pulled up to Brava early, probably at about 6:00, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only other time I was there was Labor Day Weekend and the place was humming. This night, though, things were quiet. We selected a spot at the bar, as far from the door as possible on a cold evening, and joined two other parties in the small space.

After ordering a couple of red sangrias (they offer white as well) , we decided to make a meal from a kale salad, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, and a pizza with Italian sausage, onions and mushrooms. Noticing the charcuterie options, we quickly added two meats (a mousse/pate and prosciutto) and a Spanish goat’s milk cheese with a paprika rind to our order. Then we sat back and let the refreshingly professional and competent staff take care of us.  What a treat.

The food, like my last visit, was right on. The salad was adorned with a light, creamy dressing and was perfect for sharing. The Brussels sprout were cut in half prior to roasting and they were tender and coupled with crispy bacon. The add-on charcuterie plate was delightful with plenty of pâté for me and some of the most buttery prosciutto I’ve ever had, while the cheese had a not unpleasant funk to balance both of the meats. The accompaniments, including dried apricots reminiscent of my childhood, made for the perfect foil. And that pizza? Blistery on the bottom and topped with simple, but delicious flavors. I’d go back just for that again.img_0865

img_0867 img_0866The atmosphere was relaxed and cozy and the company was perfect. We extended our meal with a moist, delicious bread pudding, a tawny port and a fantastic “bowl” of coffee. Two leisurely hours after we arrived, we departed Brava and headed back to Albany. That, my friends, is how I do Sunday. How about you?

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Filed under Dinner, Eating, favorites, Food, friends, love, pizza, Recommendations, road trips, snow, sunday, Wine, winter

Coming clean

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I’ve got a thing about soap. Growing up, it was all about Ivory and sometimes, if I could get my hands on my mother’s, Dove. To this day, the scent of either can bring me right back to childhood. Not a bad thing at all, unlike that time when I washed my face with the new soap I found next to the bathroom sink. That one experience with Lava convinced me to never use anything that wasn’t described as “mild” or gentle. Lesson learned.

For the last 20 years or so my favorite soaps are from a company called Pre de Provence. They’re gentle and come in a great variety of different scents, my favorites being the hard to find eucalyptus, sage and, in summer, cocoa butter or verbena. They’re obviously more expensive than what I grew up using, but the bars last a really long time making them a modest indulgence.

A couple of winters ago I discovered the Bliss Mammoth Minty Bar – a huge slab of soap with bumps on one side for massage and gentle exfoliation. Amazing! This soap is as close to a life changer as I have ever experienced in the shower and when I received a surprise bar for Christmas, I couldn’t have been happier.

Speaking of gifts, I was lucky enough to be given a few bars of soap last fall for my birthday that I’m still working my way through. They’re from Chasworth Farm Soaps, a company in Saint Albans, VT and the fragrance these babies emit is heady! I’ve got the egg yolk and honey bar, as well as a lavender thyme one still to go.

Despite my extensive soap experiences I still haven’t explored the local market as I should. I hear really great things about Rad and their new space in Stuyvesant Plaza looks fantastic. Have you checked them out yet? How do you wash your daily grime away?

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Filed under beauty, favorites, Local, Recommendations

The New York Times: all the recipes fit to cook

image: rubylane.com

image: rubylane.com

One of the things I really miss about my life pre-restaurant ownership (in addition to loved ones, fretless sleep and true downtime) is cooking. Remember the days when I would have recipes and pictures posted here of yummy food made in my very own kitchen? These days, I’m lucky if I cook an evening meal for my family twice a week. Well, three if you’re willing to count grilled cheese and ramen. While it is certainly a luxury to eat meals prepared, served and cleaned up by others, I definitely miss being in my own kitchen puttering around sometimes.

During a recent break from school, I took advantage of having some extra time by indulging myself in a little kitchen therapy. Actually, I indulged all of us now that I think about it. One of the items I prepared was a new recipe while the other was an old favorite. Both were from recipes I had originally found in the New York Times. Maybe you don’t think of the NYT as a source for recipes, but my vintage copy (1966, baby!) of the NYT Cookbook would prove you wrong. It is one of my favorite recipe collections and I refer to it frequently.

The sides puffed up remarkably.

The sides puffed up remarkably.

The new recipe that I attempted, with great success, was for breakfast Christmas morning. In years past, bagels, cream cheese and lox were our holiday morning go-to meal, but since my divorce things have been a bit more unpredictable. I’ve made variations on pancakes and waffles and one year went to great trouble to make cinnamon rolls. They were good, but not great and, in my opinion, not worth my efforts. Crepes were requested for this year, but, honestly they’re a little more labor intensive than I like at the start of a long day. But, the Dutch Baby recipe from the Times? Well, that was perfect!

img_0778Requiring only 5 ingredients, all pantry staples, this oven baked “pancake” was one of the easiest and most satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever made. Taking only 40 minutes, start to finish, the Dutch Baby is something that can be made even on a regular school morning. It is my new favorite breakfast treat and I think I’m going to make it again this weekend. You should, too.

img_0848The ease of the Dutch Baby was definitely offset by the work involved with making the Meat Lover’s Lasagna. I’ve been using this recipe for more than a decade, despite the extensive list of ingredients and time demanded, and consider it to be a solid version of lasagna, but it comes at a price. First, there’s the actual cost of ingredients – pancetta, pecorino romano and sirloin aren’t cheap, my friend. Then, there’s the time involved in preparing this beauty. Conservatively, it takes about of 4 hours to put this delight together, maybe less if you cheat on the meatballs step. The payoff, though, is good. It is a dense, delicious and hearty entree that will provide multiple meals. That’s a good thing since I won’t have another chance to cook for days!

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Filed under breakfast, Christmas, Cooking, family, favorites, Food, holidays, Recipes, Uncategorized, vacation

Albany – it’s the most wonderful time of the year

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As I close in on 30 years as a resident, I still find myself charmed by Albany. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that make me insane (folks who double park when there is an available space, I’m talking to you!), but I continue to fall in love with my adopted city. Yeah, that’s right. I love Albany.

Last Saturday was one of those days that could have been stress filled and hectic, yet somehow instead managed to be a wonderful welcome to the holiday season. The guys and I went across the river and in a remarkably fast time, located, agreed upon and cut down a(nother) perfect Christmas tree – defined, for me, as tall and thin with long, soft needles. It fits perfectly in our family room.

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Traditional pre-tree killing selfie

We followed our outdoor activities with a fantastic lunch at our favorite Chinese spot – Ocean Palace on Central Avenue. This was the first time we actually ate in rather than taking our order to go, and we were all really happy to sit down and enjoy lunch with a couple of pots of hot tea. We’ll do this again!

Our next stop was Winter WonderLark, aka my favorite Lark Street event. Holidayimg_0678 festivities abounded and we kept ourselves warm browsing the pop up Half Moon Market and chatting with friends as we waited for the start of the Santa Speedo Sprint. There were no Lillys racing, but we provided enthusiastic support to the stalwart runners. What a fun way to do good work – I’m proud of you, Albany!

As fireworks lit up the sky, I found my way to the Lunar B*tches and the starting line for the Last Run. I love this race – the crowd, the course and the enthusiastic spectators combine to make this my favorite 5K. Even when I fall, rip my outer layer tights and skin my knee! The Capitol, City Hall and Washington Park looked absolutely magical.

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By 6:00 p.m. I was changed and ready to go at Lark + Lily, which was a good thing because we had a busy night. I was thrilled to welcome friends, regulars, and runners fresh from the race to my cozy wine bar. img_0707

My day wrapped up with a little music and a bite to eat with a friend. The cover band rocked (their take on Eruption was epic!) and my grilled cheese at the Gateway Diner satisfied my hunger  as a long and lovely day came to an end. I went to sleep full in every way.  Thanks, Albany.

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Christmas, Events, favorites, friends, holidays, Lark Street, Local, Music, Recommendations, running

Read the Inquisitor’s Tale

Every so often a piece of young adult fiction comes my way and then refuses to leave. You know, it just sticks with you. The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz is one of those books. I heard about it at a recent librarians’ book group meeting and was immediately intrigued. The story, set in the Middle Ages, blends historical figures and myth in a manner that is humorous, suspenseful and incredibly sensitive and I was completely taken in by the tale – and sad to see it end.

The novel is told in a fashion reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales with a cast of character relating the story in individual chapters. They provide lively narration, pausing mainly to quench their thirst, in the pub where they have gathered to share the story of “three magical children and their holy dog.” The opening tale relates the miracle of Gwenforte, a dog, who becomes sanctified after she protects infant Jeanne from a poisonous snake, only to lose her life as her actions are misunderstood. This tale provides the perfect example of actions and intentions being misconstrued by those who only possess a small piece of the puzzle, an occurrence which occurs repeatedly throughout the novel.

The characters in this book are colorful and wonderfully complex and the relationship between the children is realistic. In a time when our contemporary world is filled with conflict between cultures and religions, this book provided a welcome escape. Beautifully illuminated by Hatem Aly, this is a must purchase for lovers of fine young adult literature and those wishing to encourage young people in their life to read. Don’t tell Quinn, but he’s getting a copy for Christmas for sure!

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Filed under Books, favorites, Recommendations

Chinese delivery

imageI think I may have mentioned in the past that my youngest son is a bit obsessed with Asian food. What can I say? He was born on Chinese New Year. This school year began with his new lunch box, more specifically a Bento Box, which he tasked his father and I with filling with various Asian noodles, sliced beef or chicken, scallions and some kind of sauce – hoisin, peanut or kecap menas. The first few mornings of school were not easy with his culinary demands, but we figured things out and he happily ate his gourmet lunch, with chopsticks, natch.

Our favorite soup dumplings.

Our favorite soup dumplings.

 

On our last trip to NYC our itinerary completely revolved around where we would eat. We started at Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings, moved to a small Japanese place for ramen in the evening and wrapped up with Korean bar-b-q for lunch the next afternoon on our way to Penn Station. It was a good time, but his hunger for dumplings remained unquenched. Luckily, we found a local source for affordable, convenient and tasty dumplings – Northeast Dumpling House on Central Avenue Some friends turned me on to this place and I’ve dropped in a few times since to pick up frozen dumplings (pork, lamb and cabbage) to stash in the freezer for a quick meal. At $13-15 for 30 dumplings, this is a killer deal and genuine lifesaver on a busy day.

I mentioned to a Chinese friend that Quinn can’t get enough dumplings and that we’ve been enjoying those from the Dumpling House. It turns out her family is visiting from China and that her mother makes dumplings. Imagine how thrilled I was the other night to get a text from my friend offering to share some homemade dumplings with us. We met Thursday morning and she gave me a bag, generously filled, of pork and vegetable dumplings that we’ll be eating this weekend.

Coincidentally, another friend dropped in to Lark + Lily the same evening to give Quinn a cookbook that she was weeding from her extensive collection: Classic Chinese Recipes. It looks to be a terrific resource and I’m excited to have Quinn pick a few recipes for us to try. The cookbook was accompanied by 4 super cool melamine plates, which I know my boy is going to love, and will pair perfectly with the chopsticks our family thoughtfully brought upstate for us after their recent meal in Chinatown. Talk about Chinese delivery! How lucky are we?

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Filed under Albany, Boys, Cooking, Eating, favorites, friends, Local, NYC, Recommendations, Restaurants

My life’s soundtrack – my top 50 at 50

Music is an amazing thing – it soothes, excites, inspires, comforts, stimulates and impresses me more than any other art form.  There are songs that take me back to specific moments in my life like no other time machine I’ve ever known and guitar solos that still make me shake my head with wonder. Below I’ve shared 50 of my favorites that will always be on my personal playlist, be it for the tune, the time they recapture or the story the words tell. Each and every one of these songs means something to me and made it onto this list after more thought and consideration than I ‘d like to admit. How about you? What’s your life soundtrack sound like?

1. Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee
2. Ain’t But One Way Out – Allman Brothers
3. Ain’t Wasting Time No More – Allman Brothers
4. Second Hand News – Fleetwood Mac
5. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac
6. The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
7. You Make Loving Fun – Fleetwood Mac
8. Oh Daddy – Fleetwood Mac
9. Gold Dust Woman – Fleetwood Mac
10. Where the Streets Have No Name – U2
11. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2
12. With or Without You – U2
13. Running to Stand Still – U2
14. In God’s Country – U2
15. Save Me – Aimee Mann
16. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
17. Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye
18. Trouble Man – Marvin Gaye
19. Hold On – Alabama Shakes
20. Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
21. Voodoo Child – Jimi Hendrix
22. If 6 Was 9 – Jimi Hendrix
23. A Sunday Kind of Love – Etta James
24. At Last – Etta James
25. I’m on Fire – Bruce Springsteen
26. American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
27. Steady as She Goes – The Raconteurs
28. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over – Jeff Buckley
29. Just a Little Lovin’ – Shelby Lynne
30. Edge of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
31. Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked – Cage the Elephant
32. Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith
33. Breakdown – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
34. Lover Lay Down – DMB
35. So Much to Say – DMB
36. Gravity – John Mayer
37. What’d I say, Pt 1 & 2 – Ray Charles
38. The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand
39. Girl on Fire – Alicia Keyes
40. Young Americans – David Bowie
41. Justify My Love – Madonna
42. A Moment Changes Everything – David Gray
43. Thing of Beauty – Hothouse Flowers
44. Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Led Zeppelin
45. Changed the Locks – Lucinda Williams
46. I Will Wait – Mumford & Sons
47. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
48. Just Breathe – Pearl Jam
49. Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
50. Waiting on a Friend – Rolling Stones

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Filed under aging, birthdays, favorites, Music