Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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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

A challenge of a run

imageSo, on Saturday I ran a half marathon. Yep, that’s right, 13.1 big ones. How was it? I’ll tell you about it, but bear with me – it’s going to be kind of long. You know, like the race was.

The race, called the Camp Chingachgook Challenge, was the first road half that I’ve ever registered to run. The course was reputed to be hilly, but I figured the Seven Sisters run in May had prepared me for hills. I was right. Kind of. The rolling hills of this course, I would come to learn, were certainly less intimidating than the mountains we encountered in Massachusetts, but they were nearly as exhausting as they clustered with an annoying frequency towards the end of the route. More on that later.

I arrived at the starting point 35 minutes before start time which gave me plenty of time to:

a. Park

b. Check in and get my shirt

c. Use the portapotty and

d. Feel a bit outclassed by the other remarkably fit looking runners.

I talked myself down by reminding myself that I wasn’t in it to win, but instead to challenge myself with a new experience. Head on straight, I joined the rear of the pack and took off when the horn blew, promising myself to run my own race.

The first few miles were great and I was surprised each time my Runmeter ticked off another mile. The morning was humid as hell, but there wasn’t any sun to contend with, so it was bearable. The first water station came up pretty quick at about 3 miles and I walked through it, enjoying my drink. I considered using the portapotty again (Anyone who knows me, knows how frequently I pee. Actually, I guess everyone knows that now.) but decided to wait for the next water station. Bad move – the next stop didn’t have any toilet facilities which meant I had to leave the course and make use of a bathroom at an accommodating resort. I imagine that added a minimum of 4 minutes to my time, but whatever. It beat any alternative.

I’d say the opening 8 miles were the most pleasant – there were lots of gorgeous homes to see, the hills were fairly manageable and my body felt strong. At about the 9 mile mark, I started seeing a significant discrepancy between my app’s measurement of mileage and the painted markers on the road, which was a bit discouraging. By the finish, my app read close to .5 of a mile over the course of 13.1. It might not sound like much, but, believe me towards the end if felt like a lot.

Things started to get a little gnarly for me at about mile 9. My legs were getting heavy and the bottom of my left foot was on fire. The sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and my body was simply dripping with effort. Cue rolling hills… At this point I started allowing myself to walk a little. I could feel myself getting a little light headed and chose to not push myself beyond where I was comfortable, and by “comfortable” I mean endurable discomfort. I don’t know if any of you experience foot pain when you run, but it is the worst thing I’ve ever felt during a race. I really need to get this figured out – hopefully before next month’s Palio in Saratoga.

I crossed the finish line at 2:27, which was fine for me. I immediately took my shoes off and waded into the refreshingly cool lake for a quick dip. My next stop was the showers, which was really an exercise in futility – I hadn’t brought soap or anything so it was a mere rinse off. Despite my oversized beach towel, it was impossible to get dry due to the extreme humidity. I dressed my still damp body and went to wait for the shuttle bus to take me back to the start and, of course, that’s when the rain finally started. I basically got drenched for the fourth time of the day (sweat, lake, shower, rain) only to finally get on the bus where I came as close as possible to passing out without actually losing consciousness. I’m not 100% sure what it was about, but I’m thinking dehydration and my generally low blood pressure weren’t a great fit with the outrageously humid and hot bus ride. Reflecting back, my lack of need to urinate is a huge red flag for me and I didn’t pee for at least 3.5 hours despite my taking in close to 64 oz of water – so unlike me.

Regardless, I made it back to my car and ate a perfect peach to rally myself for the drive home. I had an invite for a celebratory breakfast, but I requested a big, fat burger instead and met my friend at Crave, which was exactly what I wanted.

Our table number at Crave - perfect!

Our table number at Crave – perfect!

I continued pounding water before finally crawling into bed for a nap. I’d definitely consider doing this race again, but the experience only affirmed my disinterest in ever doing a marathon. I just don’t think that 26.2 miles sounds fun and if it isn’t fun, I’m not in.

Until next time – Summer Mountain Runner (my new Native American name courtesy of my lunar b*tch friend, Karen)

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Filed under Eating, Events, road trips, running, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York

Millions of (bad tasting) peaches

imageI don’t know when it happened but it seems that finding a delicious peach has become a challenge on par with picking the trifecta at Saratoga. I mean, your odds of buying a flavorful, juicy peach are even less favorable than that of a thoroughbred surviving a hot summer season in the Spa City.

After buying too many bad peaches from the grocery store, I’ve given up on peaches which do not come from a farmstand or farmer’s market. I’ve been stalking the Troy Farmers’ Market the last few weeks sniffing around for my favorite summer fruit, but seem to have been a bit premature in my hunt. I did, however, score some amazing ricotta cheese from R&G which we paired with local blueberries, honey, candied pecans and chocolate mint from St Anne’s Institute for a dynamite dessert at Lark + Lily. But, I digress…image

Yesterday, though, my perseverance paid off. I stopped at my favorite farmstand, Burger’s on Route 7, and found exactly what I been dreaming about – a luscious, succulent peach. It was the perfect size, not overly large, and the ideal temperature, not refrigerated. My first bite was juicy and sweet, unlike the mealy, dry peaches I’ve suffered through this summer. I sat in my car and devoured it with glee. Nirvana! Get some.

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Filed under Eating, favorites, Food, Gardens, Local, Recommendations, Summer, Uncategorized, upstate New York

My favorite governor in New York State – Governor’s Island

image When I mentioned to friends last week that I was heading down to the city for a couple of days, they suggested that I visit Governor’s Island. Although I often stay downtown in the financial district, I’d never really considered taking the ferry to any island other than Staten and knew nothing about Governor’s Island.  Our proximity, though, and the budget fare ($1 each way), made this excursion too appealing to deny.

Monday morning we made our to the dock for the 11:00 a.m. boat. It was a cloudy morning, but dry, and the super quick boat ride was comfortable and refreshingly lacking in diesel fuel aroma. We docked and made our way to the bike rental tent, which was just a bit to the right of where we had disembarked. Within minutes we were set up with 3-speed cruiser bikes at a cost of…zero. Yes, the first hour of bike rental was free. Talk about budget friendly!

imageWe took a quick spin around the island, pausing to capture some pictures of our favorite lady in the harbor, and got the lay of the land. We saw the newly completed “hills,” along with a beautiful wildflower garden, amazing residences and brick dormitory looking buildings and an area that has been utilized as a training site for firefighters. I kept imagining how cool it would be to live on the island in one of the historic looking homes…amazing.

On our second lap around, we parked our bikes and climbed the hills to get the best vantage point of the southern tip of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. The skies were clearing at this point and it was just so easy and mellow – no crowds, no stress, barely any expense. Phenomenal.

imageAfter an hour and half or so of island living, we made our way back to the dock and returned to Manhattan, satisfied with our adventure and pleased to know of another inexpensive option for exploring the city. I’d definitely consider going back again to spend an afternoon or take in an event.  On the weekends there are a variety of food options, including food trucks, to sample or you can pack a picnic and go total low budget.  Thanks, Colette and Steve!

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Filed under biking, Boys, ideas, NYC, Recommendations, Summer, Uncategorized

Taking my guests for a ride – cab service in Albany

imageTuesday night we had a number of diners who were decompressing after Day 1 of the NYS Bar exam. It’s always interesting to meet and talk with young attorneys from literally around the world who are seeking credentials to practice in my home state. A table of six the other night really stood out in my mind. The group consisted of  Brazilians and Argentinians and they were full of life and appreciative of the hospitality we bestowed upon them. They loved our patio and enjoyed the cocktail of the month and our pasta special and it was great to witness their relaxation.

As they were departing Lark + Lily, they were talking about football. You know, soccer. I mentioned that Albany has a terrific soccer bar, Wolff’s Biergarten, and suggested that they might enjoy visiting there after the second day of the exam. One of the men quickly responded that he planned to come back to my place the next night – and he did, bringing four different test takers with him.

After their meal, we were talking together and they related some stories about their experiences taking cabs in Albany. If you’ve ever taken a cab around here, you know what’s coming next… They were completely shocked by the condition of the cab (“the car looked like it had been in a bad accident”), the rudeness of the drivers (“this is how we do it here. I don’t know what it’s like in your country”) and the practice of picking up passengers all around town (“I used my map app to confirm that we were going around in circles rather than directly to my hotel”). Yes, indeed, welcome to Albany, the Capital of New York State.

I agreed with their assessment and apologized for the wretched cab service available in my city. I noted that it is on par with what I would imagine would be present in a third world country. Laughing, they said that they represented 3 third world countries and that their service is far superior to ours. Wow.

When they were getting ready to leave, they asked if the Biergarten was nearby. Could they walk there? I explained that it was some distance from the restaurant and that the walk might be a little ambitious. Seeing the disappointment on their faces, I immediately made the sincere offer to give them a ride. Their disappointment changed to astonishment. “Really?,” they asked. Absolutely.

My friend, who had just arrived, and I piled them into the car and gave them the 10 minute tour of our city. We drove down Washington Avenue to State Street and then across Broadway, filling them on the architecture and history of what is a lovely, lovely city with shitty, shitty cab service. While I completely enjoyed giving them a ride (I’ve been the recipient of many kindnesses myself while traveling and was happy to return the favor), it sure would be nice if visitors and residents of Albany had available quality transportation. Until then, I’m just glad I have a station wagon.

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Filed under Albany, Lark Street, Local, Observations, politics, Rant, Restaurants, soccer, travel, Uncategorized, upstate New York