Lent means no meat on Friday, because… well, because God said so, that’s why.
Many Americans abstain and indulge at the same time, taking in the great tradition of the Friday fish fry. In a lot of communities, it’s the local fire department that serves up the fish dinners. When I was a member at Elsmere Fire Company, the Lenten fish frys were a big deal: hundreds of community members who would show up and it’s an important fund raiser for the fire company.
The menu varies from place to place, but you’ll always find cole slaw and fries, and at some, baked potatoes or clam rolls are offered. I’m biased, but for me, Elsmere has the best fish around. New Salem Fire Department, in the shadow of Thacher Park has great pies for desert for those with a sweet tooth — assuming you haven’t given it up for Lent! At my firehouse, we also served chicken nuggets, known in some circles as the “sinner dinner.”
Fish frys, church suppers and the like are part of the old-fashioned glue that holds us all together. It’s easy to find yourself a roast beef dinner or all-you-can-eat breakfast. You don’t need to be a regular; everyone is welcomed and it’s a great way to get a taste of a community. Literally.
Let’s talk about this Death Wish Coffee. A large bag of the highly caffeinated brew showed up in my house recently, and in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t pay for it. Long story.
Death Wish hit the marketing jackpot recently they won Intuit’s Small Business, Big Game contest, and all of America saw their commercial in the Super Bowl. You remember the commercial, the one with vikings rowing toward doom in a raging sea? Yeah, this one:
So, after a few days of drinking Death Wish, here are my observations.
Death Wish tastes good, at least as good as the premium store-bought ground coffee I usually brew. After two to three cups, my normal morning routine, there was definitely a noticeable and familiar effect: the feeling you get after having a little too much coffee — and I’m not sure I want that every morning.
If you were on your way to do some pillaging in your viking ship, a pot of Death Wish would be exactly the thing to put you in the mood. Having said that, if I were on my way for a day of pillaging, I’d probably go light on the coffee so I wouldn’t have to stop at every rest area along the way to pee.
Maybe with hyper-caffeinated Death Wish you could drink less coffee and get the same boost. This way you won’t annoy your fellow rowers with constant requests for pee stops — and also avoid a possible beheading.
At $20 per pound, I’ll stick with the coffee I usually drink at half the price — but I’ll save some of the Death Wish just in case. You never know when someone’s going to invite you for a day of pillaging.
There’s magic happening inside two ceramic crocks at my house, where common cukes are turning into delicious garlic dill pickles. Well, it’s actually not magic, but lacto fermentation, the process where microbes turn vegetables into great things like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Maybe you’ve made pickles before? You’ve never done it this easily, because five minutes and a handful of ingredients is all you need.
Seriously, if you like pickles you have to try this. There are thousands of recipes online, but this one from Alton Brown is a terrific place to start. My Polish fermenting crocks were a Christmas gift, but it’s not about fancy equipment, but a simple and ancient technique.
There have been a lot of interesting food exploits in my house in the last year: smoking meats, making bacon, brewing beer, stuffing sausage and now the pickles and kimchi. I need to have a party where all that stuff is served together.
An acquaitance once scoffed at my wife for making her own jam. Why do all that work, she said, when you can buy that stuff at the store. The poor woman. She’ll never understand what it’s like to create something special fro a pile of raw ingredients. You go buy some jam in the store. We’ll feast on our pickles.
There’s so much to be thankful for this year, that I don’t know where to start. I could only be more thankful if Donald Trump were walking down the street and a safe fell on his head. Anyway, a few holiday observations:
Electric Turkey Fryers
Electric countertop turkey fryers are all the rage this year. No doubt these are considerably safer than the outdoor propane versions, but any time you’re around enough boiling oil to fry a turkey, there may be trouble. Please be careful. It is my sincere wish this Thanksgiving that you don’t burn your damn house down or suffer hideous grease burns.
According a story in the Times Union by food writer Deanna Fox, local strip club Night Moves will offer turkey and exotic dancing on Thanksgiving. Club owner Steven Dick Jr. tells the paper, “We offer a chance to get a nice, hot meal and enjoy the show.” Yes, his name is Steven Dick!
Early Black Friday
Are you one of those people who will be starting your Black Friday shopping early by heading out on Thanksgiving? Well, fu*k you, then. Yes, some stores should be open for part of the day, like supermarkets, but c’mon, do you really need to go shopping at Best Buy on Thanksgiving? If you do shop on Thanksgiving, you’re part of the problem. Give it a rest.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if I didn’t share one of my favorite holiday recipes,Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since I first urged you to cook this extraordinary side dish that will guarantee you praise and adoration. Remember, don’t ever use canned sweet potatoes. That would be as bad as shopping on Thanksgiving.
It’s hard not to have that Green Acres fantasy when you stroll around the Troy Farmers Market.
“Hmm… I could give it all up and buy a farm! Maybe raise pigs, or something and sell my artisanal pork to fine restaurants and discerning consumers.”
Yes, that’s a fine dream — and it might even be achievable — but you may wake up when you see how much work it is.
We had a look at that over the weekend when we went for lunch at Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville.
Maybe you’ve seen them at the market with their delicious cheeses and Italian cured meats. The farm also hosts dinners and lunches that include a tour of the barn and cheesemaking operation.
So, let me get this straight: you have this big flock of sheep that have to be milked for part of the year, and then you make cheese and cure meat and sell your goods at various farmers markets and to New York restaurants. Oh, and on the weekend you host big meals and give tours of the farm. On top of that you’re fixing machinery, improving buildings, mending fences, chasing coyotes off the property, dealing with all the rules and regulations involved in producing food — it never ends.
I’m not the first one to say this, but think about what it took to put that food on your table, especially the food that comes from independent farms and small producers. Life on the farm seems idyllic when you’re strolling by booths at the market — and it certainly is idyllic in many ways — but a lot of sweat went into those products.
We had dinner at Angelo’s 677 Prime on Friday. We are not high rollers, but thanks to couple of gift certificates to defray the expense, it ended up only costing us what we’d pay to go to a normal nice restaurant.
No, I would not describe 677 as normal. It’s grand in a way that comes very close to being over the top; in my Yelp review, I described it as the “Donald Trump of Albany restaurants.”
Certainly, it’s good, but it wouldn’t be my top Albany dining recommendation, even to someone who wouldn’t think twice about ordering a $62 steak.
But let’s talk about the wine list.
Let’s be clear: I know little about wine, and if you present me with a wine list that has more than seven-hundred items on it, that’s going to be confusing. The 700+ figure is not an exaggeration.
My approach to wine is to never buy the cheapest bottle, buy the second cheapest one. It’s probably reasonable that a place as special as 677 isn’t going to sell crappy wine, right?
Now that I look back on our grand meal, I wish I’d done one thing differently: have them send over the sommelier and ask them, “What’s the best bottle of cheap wine on your list?”
Yes, it’s oh-so fun to pick apples, isn’t it? Apple picking has become the go-to fall outing around here. And why not? It’s the perfect family activity — and hey, single gentlemen: if you want to impress that lady friend, nothing’s better than a trip to the orchard.
But you know what? Actually picking the apples doesn’t take very long, unless you’re pulling them off the tree with your mouth (which I don’t recommend) or doing it blindfolded.
We stopped at Indian Ladder Farms Saturday for some apples, and because dogs are not permitted, someone had to wait in the car with the Scarlett and Maddy. I volunteered for the picking duty and my objective went from take your damn time to get it done as fast as possible.
It ended up taking me longer to pay for my bag and walk to the trees than to pick the apples; I was done in less than five minutes. Look, I’ve spent plenty of time strolling through the orchards enjoying the beauty and bounty of fall. Sometimes you just want some apples.
I’d been thinking go buying a cheap smoker to dip my toe into the dark art of barbecue when my wife Ann called.
“I have a surprise for you!”
Oh, Christ, what now — another cat? But this time she’d really outdone herself: standing in the garage was a ceramic Big Green Egg, one of the fancier — meaning more expensive — smokers out there.
This was certainly not something I would have ever bought for myself, but she discovered it on Craigslist, for sale by a man who bought it several years ago and never used it. He finally decided he couldn’t stand looking at it anymore, and it came to us at a fraction of the price of buying a new one.
So, since then, every weekend has been a festival of meat.
It turns out that when it comes to barbecue, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. You can find a recipes for anything you want — but ten-thousand of them — and every person who smokes meat has a different opinion on how to do it. It makes your head spin.
Pork shoulder which went on the smoker at 4:50am on Sunday.
But for all the confusion, one thing has been constant: everything I’ve cooked in the Egg has been spectacular. Can you remember the best chicken you’ve ever eaten? I can — it was last week.
So, what about health considerations? Some would say that at 54-years-old, eating more meat might not be the best game plan — but I’m not really eating more meat, just better meat. The jury is out on the health effects of breathing too much smoke, but hey, what are you gonna do?
If you were a kid like me, the highlight of your grade school day was lunch. Now, nearly fifty years later, there are still days like that.
For the most part, I’ve always been a brown bagger, and making my sandwich is a morning ritual. Some days are better than others, but — and not to brag — as a sandwich artist, mine is probably better than yours.
One this week was especially colorful:
This sandwich had an especially local flavor: the beets and greens came from the Great Barrington farmer’s market. I cured and smoked the bacon from a pork belly I bought at Rolf’s Pork Store. The bread? One of the great products that comes from Herkimer’s Heidelberg Baking Company, and the onions — well, I bought them at Price Chopper, but pickled them at home.
When Warren Zevon was dying of lung cancer, he told David Letterman how he’s approaching the great beyond.
“You’re reminded to enjoy every sandwich and every minute of playing with the guys and being with the kids, and everything.”