Category Archives: Recommendations

Help me see the light – decisions about solar energy

I grew up in a home where “Put a sweater on” and “Turn off that light” were common phrases. One of the reasons I no longer have a traditional cable box is due to the amount of energy I heard they consume and I unplug appliances such as my coffee maker when I’m not using them. How many clocks does one house really need?

Encouraged by my oldest son, I’ve been thinking about solar energy recently. My house has a lot of roof space and faces southeast, pretty ideal conditions for sucking energy from the sun rather than National Grid, it seems. Any hesitation I’ve had about pursuing solar panels has come from my lack of information about how they work and a general sense of being overwhelmed about all the options – lease, buy, finance, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a step in the direction of solar energy and had a salesman visit me and talk about leasing solar panels. I was a little taken aback about the 20 year commitment (what if I sell my house?), but moved beyond that by considering that I essentially had already agreed to purchase all my energy from National Grid forever since they were the only game in town.

Price per kw isn’t a huge thing in my decision as long as I’m not paying more than I already am per unit. I don’t necessarily feel that I should pay less, believing that the environmental benefit is a sufficient compensation. I also don’t want to be paying two companies on a regular basis, so I need to produce sufficient energy for my household’s needs. This is being determined by a site visit, currently scheduled.

I’m wondering if any of you have pursued alternative energy and might be able to share your thoughts and knowledge. How did you make your decision? How much did it cost out-of-pocket? Are your bills lower? Any wisdom you can contribute would be welcome.


Filed under Albany, house, Local, 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

Palio in comparison

imageSunday morning, despite an early and drizzly start, I headed up to Saratoga with one of the other Lunar Bit*hes and ran the second of three half marathons I had registered for as a personal challenge in honor of my upcoming milestone birthday. The appeal reputation of the Palio was that it was a flat course. At least until they changed the route around this year, that is. Even with the somewhat hillier new course, it couldn’t rival the Seven Sisters or the Chingachgook Challenge for hills, which did make this a relatively flat course that left me feeling accomplished after 13.1 miles rather than nearly dead. Winning!

I can’t complain too much about running this one solo after my friend confessed (on our way north) she just wasn’t feeling the half and had decided to enjoy the 5K rather than hate the half. I think that’s a great decision and imagine myself coming to the same conclusion at some point. We run for ourselves, not for some false glory bs! I run most often on my own and, particularly during a longer race, I think I do best when I can pace myself without feeling pressured to maintain a speed or conversation. I really tuned in to my run this morning and was very content checking out the scenery as I wound my way around Saratoga Springs and the always beautiful state park.

The race was well organized and the volunteers were enthusiastic and plentiful. My sole complaint was the number of bathrooms available at the start – there just weren’t enough. Aside from that, it was an awesomely executed race with plenty of water/Gatorade stations and adequate restrooms along the route. My play list was on point from the very first song (Joe Cocker’s Feelin Alright) and I felt strong and in control the entire distance.

imageThe miles ticked off and I began to increase my pace, committing to not allowing anyone to pass me, and working hard to move ahead of those in front of me. In the last 3 miles I passed 49 runners and my final 2 miles were my fastest of the entire race. The finish line, once it finally came into view after 2 turns, was a welcome sight and I’m satisfied with my 2:22:34 time. It was a really good run. Up next: the Hairy Gorilla!

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Filed under Exercise, Recommendations, running, Saratoga

Yoga Brunch

imageOne of the most exciting parts of owning a restaurant, for me, is conceiving and hosting events. The Ladies First party last fall and our New Year’s Day Open House, were two of my favorite afternoons spent at Lark + Lily in the  near year (!) since we opened. Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to add a third such afternoon event to my chain of satisfying and happy hospitality experiences, yoga brunch.

Originally planned for August, but rescheduled for after Labor Day, our introductory yoga brunch had a reasonable attendance on a morning that threatened rain. I definitely went big in terms of food, but I’m pretty certain the menu was well received and enjoyed. It was challenging to know how much to prepare since Albany is such a last-minute town and people don’t necessarily honor commitments made without prepayment. I get that, but next time a deposit might be necessary to better help me have the appropriate amount of food available. Believe me, there was no hardship in taking a dozen bagels home for the Lilly boys and it seemed more than acceptable to stop at the St. James Firehouse on September 11th to drop off an extra dozen donuts.

Because I didn’t want to interfere with the kitchen’s well deserved weekend, I made myself responsible for the prep and kept things fairly simple by creating a spread of bagels, veggie cream cheese (thanks, John!), Cider Belly donuts, hard-boiled eggs, lots of fresh fruit, homemade granola and R&G’s fantastic yogurt and ricotta cheese. I think I’ll keep the format similar, maybe mixing up the carbs a little and keeping the fruit as seasonal as possible. It’s a fun little project for me that I really enjoy.

I didn’t get to take the class, unfortunately, but everyone came back from the park a bit flushed and more than a little livelier than they were before class. There are some great photos taken by Trudy that really capture the bliss of being outdoors on a late summer morning. Be sure to check them out and mark your calendars for our next class led by the wonderful Jammella – October 23rd. Keep an eye on the Lark + Lily Facebook page for more details.

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Filed under Albany, Brunch, Eating, Events, Exercise, Local, Recommendations, Restaurants, Summer, sunday, Uncategorized

Getting your mind into the gutter

When you own a house there’s always something that needs attention. If you’re lucky, you can alternate the fun projects such as a new bathroom or a rehabbed deck with the necessary, but unsexy projects like replacing the roof or windows, and achieve some sense of satisfaction with the expense of homeownership. If your house is as old as mine (110 years), I wish you good luck with that.

My investment this summer was of the latter sort – adding gutters to the east side of my house in the hopes of preventing water from coming into my basement. I know that it is irresponsible to hire the first contractor you meet, but I wish it wasn’t. It’s just such a headache having to contact companies and schedule appointments and go through the same process multiple times. Sadly, this is probably my number one reason for delaying projects.

The process for this recent job was pretty typical, I suppose. I started by searching “gutters” on All Over Albany in the hopes that someone else had broached this topic in recent years. Sure enough, there was a thread from a couple of years with a strong winner when it came to customer satisfaction. I emailed the contractor and waited for a response…and….nothing. A week or so later, I emailed a second time and followed up with a phone call and message and still…nothing. I moved on.

I contacted two other potential installers – Huff n Puff and Ipek. I’ve never used Huff n Puff, but they were quick with a response and we set up a meeting. Ipek, who did my roof a number of years ago, took a bit longer to return my call and when they did, I was in the middle of a run and asked them to phone back later, which they didn’t. Huff n Puff was looking better and better.

The salesman came when promised and provided me with pricing which, as he explained, would be out of line with other companies due to their product being superior. He left and I planned to follow-up again with Ipek. But, wait! I received a phone call within a day or so from the salesman and learned that at their weekly business meeting, my project was discussed and they came up with a new option making their price about 25% less than previously quoted. Done, deposit paid and scheduled. Great.

Until, of course, the installers came and determined that they couldn’t hang the gutters because of some sort of issue with the fascia of my house, at least not for the agreed upon price. Back to square one. As tired of the process as if I had installed the damn gutters myself, I called Ipek again. This time we connected and one of the same people who had worked on my roof, came out and gave me an estimate lower than either estimate I had received from Huff n Puff. A few days later my gutters were installed and, ironically,  we’ve been pretty much rainless since.


Filed under house, Local, Recommendations, Summer, Uncategorized

Anniversary dinner

Anniversary: a date that is remembered or celebrated because a special or notable event occurred on that date in a previous year

imageYesterday was my 22nd wedding anniversary. I’ve been divorced for 5 years, so there weren’t any cards or flowers to mark the occasion, yet I felt surprisingly sentimental about the day. I think it may have been because of the drive I took which literally brought me down memory lane. It was a good place for a visit.

On a beautiful early September afternoon, I passed off two of my children to their cousins in Lee, MA, a perfect midpoint between Albany and the lake house where their father’s clan would be gathered for the long weekend. Seeing those young men, along with the brother-in-law who was the best man in my wedding, unexpectedly filled my heart with happiness. I’m so grateful that my sons belong to such a wonderful family. Good things came from that equally beautiful early September morning 22 years previously.

Upon recommendation (thanks, Michelle), I headed to Lenox for an early and indulgent dinner. Brava, an intimate wine bar on Housatonic Street, was nearly at capacity when I rolled in and bellied up to the bar at about 5:30. The space is simply and cozy with a couple of big windows and small tables that can be pushed together for larger groups. Flexibility is key in a dining room of this size, particularly when there is a no reservations policy. This theory was quickly proven when the guy next to me and I were each asked to shift left one stool to make room at the bar for a party of five who were facing a 30+ minute wait for a table. Request cheerfully accommodated.

imageI wasn’t in the mood to peruse the wine list so I just asked for a glass of rosé and was quickly provided with a delicious Bandol. After consulting with one of the servers, I placed my order. I opened with the marinated white anchovies and was immediately transported back to a sunny day in Barcelona. They were perfect and paired beautifully with my wine. The portion was ideal – enough to satisfy without overwhelming my taste buds. Great start.

Next up was a salad of roasted beets and basil chèvre. The serving was generous, presented on a simple white rectangular plate which was the ideal backdrop to the vivid colors of the dish. The beets were sweet and the components were nicely balanced without any single ingredient outshining another. As I was making my through the salad, my next (and final) two plates arrived: the patatas brava and the lamb chops.image

The potatoes were amazing – cubed and perfectly cooked with a crisp exterior and fluffy inside, generously accompanied by a smoky, spicy remoulade of sorts. My first bite inspired hiccups, my usual response to spicy food, but they quickly abated and I focused my attention on this plate because potatoes need to be eaten hot. So damn good.

imageThe lamb chops, two on the plate and served with mint sauce (not mint jelly), were fantastic. Cooked to a perfect pink, flavorful and tender, these chops were exactly the protein I wanted to accompany my otherwise vegetable centric meal. I’ll confess right now that, after cutting away all of the meat possible, I finished by picking up the chops and getting a good gnaw in before acknowledging that I was perfectly satiated and ready to continue my drive back to Albany. image

It’s kind of funny that I had such an exceptionally satisfying dinner on 9/4/16. I recall being famished post-wedding festivities 9/4/94, having neglected the food, which I heard was delicious, in favor of enjoying our guests. Yesterday, though, was different. I found myself on familiar roads from long ago, appreciating the turns my life has taken and holding on to the gifts I received from a marriage which ended, yet continues to provide unanticipated joy. It was a day to be celebrated.


Filed under Boys, Dinner, Eating, family, Food, marriage, Recommendations, road trips, Summer, sunday

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