Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New squared

Those of you living in and around Albany may be aware that there's a new bar or two in town. What makes me especially happy is that said new bars have two things that are very important to me - good beer and outdoor drinking space. The latter has been seriously lacking in our fair city. Tonight I had occasion to try out one of the new joints - Stout, down in the warehouse district, yup, I'm jumping on the bandwagon of calling it a district - with a new friend. While I'll say it might not have been the best day to share a beer with someone who is also a Big 10 alum but not a Buckeye, the company was gracious in the face of my pain, the tap selection was good (Magner's cider on a hot day ... heaven) and the breeze through the giant patio doors was lovely. I'd heard some grumblings about seven dollar beers, but they are 20 oz drafts and I didn't at all feel that we'd spent too much for a couple of rounds with good conversation in a nice setting. We're not talking coors light here folks. I did not try the food, choosing instead to obtain my sustenance in liquid form, so I can't weigh in there.

All in all, I'm a fan of new.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I need strong booze part II

I just looked at the title for my post from the morning, and it made me laugh out loud. The same rings true, but in a different way now! I've always been prone to a touch of headstrong independence, and those of you who are regular readers may have noticed a heightened note of this in recent posts. Indeed, Green Peccadilloes has evolved a bit. I wrote a while back that I'd lost a bit of inspiration, that I didn'tfeel like I was telling much of a story beyond what's for dinner. I've been writing a lot lately because I do feel like I have more of a story to tell - the mission is the same, to find a balance in life with a focus on good food and good drinks. But now I'm not just balancing a busy work schedule and trying to cook a nice meal, I'm balancing all that plus being a homeowner on my own. I'm certainly dealing with managing the rigors of homeownership in my own way, from buying a reel mower (which I love) so I don't have to deal with mower repairs to trimming hedges in the middle of the work day because that's when I had a second. I hope that this new narrative woven in with the rest of GP keeps folks interested and that my dear readers don't mind a little deviation now and again.

Today was no different. While standing up high on a ladder in the back yard, with Wonderpup barking nervously from behind the glass door and limb trimmers held high over my head I thought maybe I should change the title of the blog to "Not becoming a statistic..." I thought about all those silly accidents that land idiots like me in the ER on sunny holiday weekends and it seemed fitting. Then I proceeded to start cutting down a cedar with a bow saw. So when I got the call to head out to the sticks for some drinks, food and pool time, I bolted from my yard duties like a superhero running to the rescue. Seemed the safer thing to do.

Back from the hilltowns, I felt inspired again and, as I was unbearably hot, I endeavored to put in the air conditioner. Of course I grabbed the big one and began the long ascent from the basement to my second floor bedroom. I'll spare you the details, but let it suffice to say I managed to not drop it out the window, but I'm a tad more bloodied and battered than when I started.

But I did it. So there.

To treat myself, I decided to forego the bitters idea (for now) and whip myself up a quick, warm rhubarb compote to dump over ice cream. I didn't care that I'd put a bunch of work in to end up with about two tablespoons worth, I just really wanted this yummy treat.

I started to simmer the rhubarb in water and sugar, with a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon. Then I wandered upstairs to start this post. My bedroom was already getting nice and cool, so I settled in to enjoy the reprise. That is, until I got far enough along in the post to remember where it was going in the first place ... I'll just let a picture speak volumes tonight:

I need strong booze

The word "Everclear" is enough to send chills down my spine. Not only is it because of the band that should have just stopped at the one-hit, but more terrifyingly, it brings back images of 'jungle juice', 'punch' and every other disgusting, stupor-inducing mixture frat boys can come up with. Shudder.

I'm not sure if I've discussed my love for Imbibe magazine here yet. Probably, because I do love it. Anyway... I was sitting up at the lake, hiding from the rain and reading Imbibe when I discovered a recipe for rhubarb bitters. How cool! And - problem solved!

Making homemade bitters, however, requires grain alcohol, like Everclear. Searching back through the haze of Freshman year, I recall the aforementioned frat boys taking trips to other states to buy Everclear because you couldn't get it here. I have to be honest, I've never, ever sought the stuff out, so I'm not certain if this little adventure is going to require some cross border action or not. I can say that I might be a little embarrassed asking for grain alcohol at 30-something.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A quick trip home.

It's quite warm out and the heat snuck up on me, so I don't have my A/C or fans all set up yet. I decided to run home mid-day to make sure Wonderpup wasn't sweltering and that he got a good water break. Leaving work at 1pm on the Friday before a holiday weekend with full intentions of returning is a HUGE test of will power. I'm going back, I swear.

While I was letting my pup chug some water, eat some ice cubes and prowl around the back yard, I decided to multi-task and take care of some yard work. The garden got a quick drink. I picked up some sticks from my giant tree that seems to be shedding them like nuts. And then I did this. In work clothes. In flip flops on a wicker chair.

What can I say, the branches laying on my house were driving me nuts. So down they came. I am determined to one day have a backyard that produces both food and relaxing enjoyment for me. Someday. Ok, back to work....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rhubarb ideas?

The previous owner of my house planted one rhubarb plant. Last year, I spent a bunch of time trying to come up with something new and different to do with it, then got busy and missed it altogether. What a waste! So, one plant isn't a ton. One of my very favorite things in the whole wide world is strawberry-rhubarb pie, but I know myself, I won't find time to make one. (anyone want to make one for me?? Please??) I toyed with compote for ice cream, but unless I supplement w/ farmer's market rhubarb (which means remembering to buy some before mine goes bad), I don't really have enough. I'm intrigued by a savory idea - anyone ever do something totally unique with the stuff?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

No good deed goes unpunished

One thing that unquestionably makes my day is a little dog park time with my pup. He's been an unflappable companion and makes me smile every single day. He even loves to hang out in the kitchen with me, but I suspect that's for selfish reasons.

We haven't been able to hit up the park in quite a while due to all the rain and the inevitable mud pits that come along with it. Today was a challenge and there was nowhere I wanted to be more than in the sunshine at the park with Wonderpup. I had planned to work late, but instead I snuck home to whisk my guy off to an impromptu play date as a mental health break for me and a "thanks for being a buddy" treat for him.

Apparently, the mud puddles are not dried up ... I wish I could say this was the worst of it, but then he discovered full head/mud immersion.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rain and chocolate does a soul good

I can honestly say I've had better days. Or weeks. Or Springs. Sometimes, though, when personal and professional pressures just keep on compounding and you think you've about hit your breaking point, it's amazing how the smallest thing can get you to take a deep breath. For me, that thing often involves food.

Take my experience this afternoon. I'm working on one of those projects that can just hang over you. The Type-A in me wants to work on it forever, and there's enough info out there to do so, and the rest of me just wants to throw my hands up and say enough is enough. (I'm hoping what I actually submit strikes the appropriate balance...) Plus, like the great big cloud currently hanging over the Capitol, I have my own big cloud hanging over me this week. By about 3pm today, the weight of both of these things was nearly too much and I decided to get up from my desk and take a quick walk outside. The aforementioned cloud (the real one, not the figurative one) was looming large and seemed to follow me down Pearl St. Although I was sans umbrella and picked up my step a bit, I kind of appreciated its presence. Behind it I could see slightly brighter sky and that gave me a little hope with respect to my figurative cloud. Plus, I love the smell of impending rain.

I scurried down the hill to a candy shop that I rarely frequent, but a snack was in order. I walked in thinking I wanted crunchy - nuts perhaps - and grabbed a bag of wasabi peas that were on sale. But then, as I stood at the checkout, my true desire - the one I didn't even know I had - called to me. Sorry I didn't think to snap a photo before devouring most of it, but $0.83 bought me a truly satisfying moment of pure joy. Pretzel, immersed in dark chocolate and generously caked with toasted coconut and toffee. Is my project done? No. Have my other stresses vanished? Not really. But thanks to this little salty, sweet, chocolate, unexpected moment of joy I can say the burden of both is at least temporarily lifted.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Relaxation, inspiration, alliteration

Look at me titling an alliteration post with a rhyme. Two similes and a metaphor and I'm looking at a kicking 7th grade English assignment.

I had a very hectic weekend. Lots of running around, working on the yard and garden, cooking and a bunch (but not nearly enough) of work. Oh yeah, and some prolific posting here. All of a sudden it was Sunday evening and I didn't feel the least bit relaxed. I looked at my chewed up fingernails still caked with dirt and, apparently, dye from the mulch I bought (that's a conversation for another time) and thought my hands needed a good soak. Then I decided all of me needed a good soak. So I drew a bath with blood orange and white pepper bubbles from bliss, grabbed bon appetit and settled in. All that was missing was the booze. By the time I thought to grab wine (or, apparently beer would have been better) I was already settled in. Silly me.

While enjoying the inadvertently "B"-themed bath, I found the booze right in the front of bon appetit in a plug for their blog. Mason jars filled with fruit and vodka. Blueberry vodka.

I have a soft spot for blueberry vodka that goes back a few summers. I'm not typically a fruity drink kind of girl but one especially hot day I was looking for something different and Julie at the Gingerman recommended blueberry lemonade. (It's Julie Byron, by the way, she totally fits the theme...) Except that it's blueberry vodka and lemonade. YUM! So here I am in my bubble bath and visions of homemade blueberry booze appear in front of me. And we all know I have a bountiful blueberry harvest. I can hardly wait!

The Rodents Return

I've not been shy about my feelings regarding squirrels, especially when it comes to my garden. I'm sure some of my issues can be blamed on rabbits and birds, but I chosse to place responsibility squarely on squirrel shoulders. (We will ignore the fact that my open compost pile likely feeds every little bastard for a three mile radius, thus attracting them to my yard. I'm very, very good at selective blame placement) Wonderpup tries to help by throwing himself against my sliding glass door when he sees one in the yard, but the urban renegades know he can't get them and I swear they just hang out and give him the finger. Poor puppy.

Anyway, now that I have plants in the ground, my obsessive garden checking has kicked in. I went outside this morning to admire my plants and found this...

Not a bite was nibbled, the culprit just yanked my baby chard from its new home and carelessly tossed it on the ground out of spite. Jerk.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fiddleheads and Melrose

Apparently playing in the garden did inspire me to get my sorry butt back into the kitchen, but it didn't deter me from trashy television. I'd forgotten I had some fiddleheads in the fridge. Typically I have them cooked on a fire/grill in a foil pouch, but I thought I'd try something different. A quick google for inspiration later and I was set to make a tomato-fiddlehead pasta with balsamic vinegar.

I started with my basic tomato pasta sauce base - onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oil and canned tomatoes. I was shocked to discover that I had not one single can of diced tomatoes in the house.
I've seriously neglected my pantry stocking as of late, guess it's time to get back on track. I did have whole plum tomatoes though, and I think they actually worked out better than what I'd originally envisioned.

I let the tomatoes, etc. cook down while the pasta water boiled. Then I added some balsamic, the fiddleheads and finished with a healthy dose of parmesan. A quick toss of pasta and I settled onto the couch with a springy, healthy dinner and blew through a few episodes of the ultimate early 90s smut-fest, Melrose Place. I just discovered the WHOLE series is streaming on Netflix. Yikes.
Well, the biblical rains ceased long enough today for me to get a little bit of yard work done and get a start on the garden. One thing I've learned about my new reel mower is that while it does a great job on grass and violets (sad...) it doesn't do much for dandelions. The little bastards just bend and pop back up. So the yard still doesn't look perfect, but it's better.

I hit up the Menands farmers' market this morning and now have a row of chard and some eggplant in the raised bed. It'll be my first attempt at either of these. I also got part of the herb garden in - basil and cilantro. I'm most excited for that, I've so missed just walking out my back door and snipping a fistful of fresh herbs right out of the garden. The rosemary I moved from the garden into a pot has survived, so I guess now I just have to decide if it should go back in the ground for the summer or if I should leave well enough alone.

I'm really hoping all this gardening inspires me to cook. At the moment all it's done is inspire me to wait out the next impending storm on the couch with some trash tv.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thanks Yelp!

On Friday night I spent some time with someone very dear to me and we decided to head across the river to a place that's very dear to me - Troy. The four years I spent in Troy were formative, as college is for most people. I started on my path there shy, insecure, and just desperate to find my own way. I left a much stronger, more independent person and I always get a smile on my face when I think about my time as a denizen of the Collar City. Troy's come a long way since I moved out ten (gasp) years ago and I don't visit nearly enough.

So we headed across the river without a plan and were debating dinner options when it struck me that I should turn to Yelp. I always have a list of places I want to try, and when push comes to shove, I forget my list. Thanks to my handy app, I was reminded of Carmen's, which I remembered other local folks raving about, so we headed there.

I didn't think to sneak any pictures as I was wrapped up in the food, company and sangria, but I love this place! We had a truly spectacular cheese plate that was clearly selected with great care, a range of tapas (including the best fried plantains I've had in a long time) and a generous helping of sangria. I went for the spicy, which was pitch perfect. Complex, refreshing and interesting - certainly not cheap red wine with some fruit tossed in. We were sitting at the bar and had the pleasure of chatting with staff and the proprietors, lovely people all, and sampled the other sangria varieties - a dry red and a white - that were also fantastic. It was just one of those nights where we very much needed to stumble on a little bit of magic and that is exactly what we did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Burnin' down the house...

A while back I bought a roast at Ryan's Farmer's Market. They're now stocking reasonably-priced grass fed beef and I thought I'd give it a try. I took it out of the freezer with plans to cook it this weekend, and just never did. It's now Tuesday and I am facing letting my still not cheap piece of meat go bad. I have a thing with that - it doesn't matter how long a food product can actually sit, once I get it in my head it's even a moment too long, I can't bring myself to touch it.

So, I came home from work exhausted after a long day and a poor night's sleep to face the roast and it was pushing 7 when I crossed the threshold. Sigh. Still, I felt I had no choice. A quick sear in the cast iron pan while the oven was preheating, a simple rub of salt and pepper and a bed of onions, garlic and a sprinkle of parsley on top and I was good to go.

Then I made myself a turkey sandwich for dinner. No way I can wait for that roast!

Here's hoping I can keep my eyes open for the next few hours and not end up with a charred mess, or worse. What a single girl is going to do with six pounds of beef is a problem for another day...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ramping up dinner

Tee hee hee ... bad, I know.

Tonight I am trying my first attempt at ramps. As far as I know, I've only had them once before at a restaurant, but I was intrigued, and then saddened to learn how brief the season is. I just never got around to buying any last spring. I grabbed some at the Troy Farmers' Market this past week on my way to see Tern Rounders and others play a great little outdoor acoustic event. (That was for you JK!)

You can saute the bulbs like garlic or onion and then use the greens. I did both for this particular dish, but only used a few bulbs as I was unsure of how pungent they are. Olive oil, ramps and tomato, tossed in angel hair - this meal quite literally took me 10 minutes to prepare and I was drafting this post while cooking.

All in all, it was a good dish - light, simple, yet with a nice twist of something special. I am glad I didn't use all the bulbs for a single portion, but maybe I could have used one or two more.

I think ramps, like garlic scapes, will be one of those early season treats I look forward to each year.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

For all the lounging, dog park visiting and hangover nursing I did this weekend, I actually managed a little bit of productivity. I made a really valiant effort to start the lawnmower so I am not run out of my neighborhood with torches, but it was not to be. The mower is a hand-me-down and was always touchy anyway. Add in the fact that I've never touched the thing myself and the cards were not stacked in my favor. The grass that was really annoying me was just some over zealous tufts in the back yard, nothing a little weedwacking can't take care of. Yes, I mowed my lawn with a weekwacker. I'm nothing if not resourceful. But, while such an effort is fine in the privacy of my backyard, I think the neighbors would put down their torches in favor of a straightjacket if I made that the mowing method of choice for the front this summer.

So, I decided to bail on the small engine approach altogether and today ordered a reel push mower. You know, the old-fashioned, rotating blade type. I might pretend that I'm just super committed to reducing my carbon footprint, but really I just don't want to fight with machines. My yard isn't that big and it doesn't grow fast thanks to shade, clay and clover, so I think it'll be a manageable little project.

To further reduce my mowing obligations, I finished turning the last remaining portion of my backyard that gets any reasonable amount of sun into garden. Peas, red lettuce and broccoli are in!!