Category Archives: food

The Inspector Calls

In Ballston Spa, a seven-year-old ran afoul of state regulators by operating a lemonade stand without a permit. An overzealous state health inspector made him close up shop after alleged complaints by fair vendors — and America erupted in outrage.

Years ago, I myself had a brush with the the food police.

I was in charge of the hot dog stand at our Cub Scout pack’s annual pinewood derby race. It was nothing fancy: dirty water dogs, potato chips, slices of pizza — you’ve seen these ad hoc food concessions at youth sports and school events. You’ve probably eaten a lot of that food, too.

A woman approached. “Do you have a permit?”

Excuse me, for what?

“I do food inspections at the health department. Most people don’t know this, but you need a permit to serve food —  and if you don’t have a permit, I could shut you down.”

I laughed. Her son was one of the scouts and I figured she was just pulling my leg.

“I suppose we should be wearing gloves, too, right?”

She looked around. “Yes, actually, you should.”

OK, this woman’s not kidding. For a moment I considered trying to bribe her with a free hot dog, but thought better.

I thanked her and said we’d look into getting a permit next year. We never did.

Even though we were not sanctioned by the county or state to serve food, we managed not to kill anyone with our cheap hot dogs. And thank god for that. Poisoning an entire Cub Scout pack is not something you’d get over easily.

Rules are rules, and stupid rules are still rules. But it seems like the one rule we really need is the one about common sense. There’s no regulating that.

It’s Raining Yogurt

Who doesn’t enjoy a little Greek yogurt in the morning? Great stuff — unless it’s plunging out of the sky.

I was walking from my car recently and I heard something land behind me with a loud splat. I turned to see a container of Greek yogurt had burst open on the sidewalk, close enough to spray my pants leg with flecks of delicious yogurty goodness.

There wasn’t a car or person in sight, and only one place it could have come from: the overpass above.

It’s astounding that someone would recklessly hurl this yogurt bomb from their car. Any object thrown from that height could hurt someone, even something so soft and creamy. I suppose it also could have been an accident, maybe a container of yogurt absentmindedly left on the roof the car. In case you lost your yogurt Monday morning, mystery solved.

I was in Price Chopper last month and a man began ranting out loud in the yogurt section to nobody in particular. “Greek yogurt! Greek yogurt! What happened to regular yogurt? All I need is some regular plain yogurt for a recipe.”

I pointed him to the case with Stonyfield Farms products. He would not have been surprised to learn that Greek yogurt was literally falling from the sky, that something that’s supposed to be healthy could come sailing out of the blue and crack you in the noggin.

Getting Baked

There was something wrong with my soda bread.

Over the course of a week, after baking about ten loaves, it was obvious we had a problem. Not to get all technical, but it didn’t have the usual oven spring and the crumb structure was denser than it should have been. It was still delicious, but not quite right in its texture.

Was it the oven temperature, the kneading, the water? Maybe I was not paying enough attention to detail. Perhaps I’d just lost my knack — or it could be something darker. I joked last year of using Lucky Charms in the recipe — and this may have stirred the fairies or little people, who in turn cursed my baking.

But as it turns out, it was the baking soda.

I don’t know how old a can of baking soda must be to be beyond the sell-by date, but my can was expired. Does baking soda actually go bad? Yes — and it was confirmed by a simple test I found online.

A number of factors can ruin baking soda, and generally, it should be kept in a cool, dry place. The cabinet above my stove certainly gets warm — and the steam from cooking can’t be helpful.

I baked a final loaf Sunday night with a newly opened container of baking soda and the results were back to normal. Mystery solved — but just in case, never take any chances with the fairies and little people.

Ziti and Meatballs

The corruption trial of Cuomo confidant Joe Percoco grinds along this week. It’s hard not to feel bad for this guy, who seems to have gotten in over his head in every way possible — but you’ve got to admit, the “ziti” business is funny.

The feds claim that Percoco would refer to payments by the code word “ziti,” and they say they have emails with Percoco writing, “Keep the ziti flowing … Don’t tip over the ziti wagon.” And where did he come up with that? According to the prosecutor, from watching the Sopranos. In other news, Mario Cuomo is rolling over in his grave.

Meanwhile, in a federal courtroom in Allentown, something entirely different is on the menu. Prosecutors there claim that the word “meatballs” was used as code for illicit payments in the bribery case of mayor Ed Pawlowski.

This from the Allentown Morning Call is priceless:

“So, this is not code for a bribe? Did you actually go to Mike Fleck’s to pick up meatballs?” Morgan asked.

Strathearn replied yes.

“Did you actually get meatballs?” the prosecutor asked.

Strathearn replied that he had, but not as many as he was expecting.
“How many did you get?” Morgan asked.

“Four,” he replied.

On cross-examination, McMahon played several more recordings containing references to the meaty Italian cuisine and suggested “meatballs” was, in fact, code for a bribe.

“You want these people to believe it’s really meatballs?” McMahon yelled. “It’s a payoff, Mr. Strathearn. You know, I know and everybody knows.”

Yes, everybody knows meatballs mean money. And meatballs and ziti? Fuggetaboutit.

Core Values

When you live less than a mile from Indian Ladder Farms, fresh apples are just moments away — but why do that when you can pick them on your front lawn?

We were blessed with a bunch of apple trees at our new house, and recently we’ve made apple cake, apple bars, apple crunch, applesauce — all with fruit from our trees. The apples aren’t beautiful, but we’re using them. Next year? Cider — both sweet and hard.

There is some work to this. The trees need regular pruning, and Cooperative Extension has recommended a care plan that should remedy a bit of a fungus problem. Then there’s taking care of the dropped fruit, which has added up to hundreds and hundreds of pounds of apples.

This doesn’t mean I won’t be to Indian Ladder Farms. Warm donuts and fresh beer are just down the road. Those are things that don’t grow on trees.

Jumpin’ Jack’s Flash

I’ve made it very clear how much I hate the annual “Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive In is opening story” done by every local TV station and newspaper.

They will all show up today and do the exact same story as they did last year and the year before that, and the year before that. The theme: spring must be here, because Jumpin’Jack’s is open. They started early today:

How many times can you do the same %$#@ story? Oh, nevermind.

As a service to local newsrooms., here are a few new ideas to spark up your annual Jumpin’ Jack’s coverage:

  • Bring a nutritionist Jumpin’ Jack’s and do a calorie estimate for various combinations of food orders. Get lots of b-roll of fat people. Include cardiac disease stats.
  • Send some samples of Jumpin’ Jack’s food to a lab for bacteria counts. Follow up when results are in. Swab the doorknobs to the restrooms and condiment dispensers, too.
  • People who can stand on line at Jumpin’ Jack’s in the middle of the week are obviously unemployed. Find someone with a particularly bad hard luck story and hear how Jumpin’ Jack’s brings hope to their bleak lives.

See — if I could come up with three great ideas like that in two minutes, imagine what the incredibly smart and talented people in our local newsrooms could concoct? Right?!? Go for it producers and reporters — show us that your not followers, but leaders.

The Secret Ingredient

Someone asked about my soda bread .

“Rob, you must be holding out on us,” he said.  “Your recipe isn’t that much different than all of the others. How is it that the judges at the Irish Soda Bread Competition always seem to enjoy yours?”

I looked around and lowered my voice.

“Well, truth be told, there is a secret ingredient. I’ll tell you — but please don’t share this with anyone.”

He sat up and paid attention.

“Here’s the thing: take a big handful of Lucky Charms and put them in your food processor. Pulse them until they’re reduced to a fine powder. Then sift that in with your dry ingredients, and I think you’ll see a big difference.”

“Lucky Charms?”

“Lucky Charms. Your soda bread will be… magically delicious.”

He thanked me and shook my hand, and somewhere this morning there are people eating soda bread with a curiously different flavor. A certain tang that they can’t put their finger on, but one that seems seems oddly familiar.

A Taste of the Past

To an entire generation in Albany, say chicken teriyaki and they answer you back, “Quintessence.”

It’s two years since Quintessence was demolished, mowed down to make room for the ever-expanding Albany Med. But for years it seemed like an empty imitation of itself; Quintessence wasn’t really Quintessence since the Jimmy Scalzo days. And what days those were.

I’d been to Quintessence many times in the early 8os before I realized that it was not just a place for late night drinking, but a great place to eat — and the chicken teriyaki with spinach noodles were as close to legendary as any dish ever served in this sorry town.

But it’s gone forever — unless you were among those at a class given at Price Chopper’s Market Bistro, where chef Donnie Graham, shared the secrets of the teriyaki. Graham spent many hours in the open kitchen at Quintessence, and served up countless plates of their specialty.

Believe it or not, one of the big revelations was learning how to cut the chicken into a long strip and properly wrap it around a scallion and piece of carrot. It’s then held on with toothpicks until the chicken shrinks and grabs the veggies tightly. Don’t forget to remove the toothpicks. I swear I swallowed one once long ago.

What of the marinade and the dressing for the noodles? Ah, sorry — I’ll post a lot of things online, but I don’t think paying for the class gives me ownership of the recipes and secrets of Quintessence.  You’ll have to rely on your memories of those days, but if you’re like me, many of your Quintessence memories are — a tiny bit hazy.

When Black Friday Comes

I’m not a shopper, so the whole Black Friday thing makes me want to puke. But for deal hunters, Friday is the Super Bowl of buying and many wild-eyed shoppers will be clutching the gigantic Thursday Times Union.

Newspaper circulars remain an effective way to advertise, so Thursday’s five-pound edition must be a real money maker. The paper has taken to flogging the hell out of the Black Friday special edition, even heavily promoting its release as an “event.”

Marketing newspapers has never been harder, but I must say, five pounds of newspaper does sound attractive. That would get me through a lot of litter box changes.

By the way, if it’s Thanksgiving, that means it’s time for the best side dish ever invented, Albany Eye Sweet Potato Crunch. I first shared the recipe in 2006, so this is an anniversary of sorts. And for those interested in history, it was posted just weeks before Albany Eye would crash and burn in a most spectacular manner. Good times!