Ice Cider

Albany John and I have been trying to make a habit out of going to the Troy Farmers Market on Saturdays. Getting out of bed before noon is one of the more trying aspects of keeping this habit. We also hit up the veggie truck afterwards as well. (More on the veggie truck later – but short story – it’s an awesome program trying to get low-cost produce to poorer communities within the area to get people to eat healthier) I was also in the height of my annual winter sickies, so I popped in some Dayquil and off we went.

I really enjoy the produce at the Troy farmers market – but it goes quickly. By the time we get there a lot of the ‘good stuff’ selection-wise is gone, and it’s kind of take it or leave it with everything else. Mind you, this is excellent quality produce, so really, it’s probably not as bad as I’m making it sound. But if you roll in around 1 pm like we usually do, don’t expect each vendor to be well stocked.

We stopped at a booth that had cider tastings. Woo! I do enjoy cider! It’s Slyboro Farms, a local place up past Saratoga Springs that makes ciders. We sampled the 3-4 ciders they had present. One tasted kind of like apple seltzer, another was like a normal cider. They aren’t the most affordable prices either, starting at $8 per bottle, but they are local business and it’s not like they distribute across the country or anything.

And then there was ice cider.

I felt so good after taking a sip of the light colored ice cider. It had such a velvety mouth feel, and was incredibly sweet.

We bought a bottle for $22 + tax. Ouch. And it’s only 375 mL. Double ouch. But it’s so freakin’ tasty, and we were expecting company later, so we bought it. They also took credit cards, which was fortunate, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten anything since we bring whatever change is in our pockets to the farmers market. We’re usually pretty lucky and it’s over $5.

The pretty bottle sat in our fridge overnight, and we brought it out for an after-dinner treat on Sunday. It was OK, but not the sweet, smooth cider we’d had on Saturday. Was it just a bum bottle?
We had about half of the bottle left (I’m surprised too – on Saturday it took what little will I had to not pop it open and stick a crazy straw in the top), and it sat on our windowsill until last night. I had a little glass, and it tasted like it did at the farmers market. I’m thinking maybe it needs a little time to get some air, or maybe it needs to be warmer. Either way, it was a nice bottle, especially to get someone as a gift, but at $22 per bottle I can’t say we’ll be buying it every week, or even every other month.

Midnight Cupcakes


Soooo, yea. I’m kind of milking this ‘sick’ thing for all it’s worth in the food department. When someone asks “Didn’t you just eat something?” you can reply “But I’m si-iiiiiiiick”. Or maybe you don’t cause you don’t eat like a neutered house cat when you’re at home for more than 3 hours with nothing to do.

So, what is an Albany Jane to do when she is in dire need of cake at an unholy hour in the middle of the night? Drive to the grocery store and buy cake? Pshhhh, no way. That cake is always so… not cake-y. Don’t get me wrong, in an office, or maybe if you need a gigantic cake to smoosh in someone’s face, it’s great. But I wanted something with … flavor. Not just vanillin and chocolate flavored dry particle board cake.

After flip-flopping with just being lazy and not having cake (and also not risk needing a new pants size after being sick for a week or so) or making cake, I decided to make a small batch of cake batter. Somehow it justified making cake in my head, so at least I wouldn’t have a LOT of cake to eat. I know – I’m rolling my eyes now too. My logic sometimes goes out the window.

I picked up the Joy of Cooking and found a simple enough white cake recipe. And then I quartered it. I didn’t have some of the ingredients like eggs and milk, so I just used powdered milk and egg whites from a box. So with the Joy of Cooking’s recipe as more of a guideline, I basically threw some shit in a bowl and hoped for the best.

I found and washed off my cupcake tins, and spent the better part of 15 minutes looking for cupcake liners. I didn’t find them, so I sprayed some cooking spray in them and dusted them with powdered sugar so they wouldn’t stick. Ohmygoodness, actually writing this makes this whole cake baking seem like quite a fiasco.

I popped the filled cupcake tray in the oven at 375 F, and let them cook for about 15 minutes.

Woohoo! The came out wonderfully! (Don’t they look a little like corn bread muffins?) The outside had a nice crunch with the powdered sugar, and the insides were fluffy and not the least bit dense. I ended up with 8 short cupcakes. And I’m glad the powdered sugar added a little extra sweetness and crunch, since at that point there was no way I was going to make frosting.

Now do the cupcake dance. You don’t have a cupcake dance?!
Oh, and I got lazy and put my cooling rack on top of a pot on my stove. They did cool really quickly, though!

A good place for a baby shower?

Mrs. Squirrel of Hollow Squirrel wanted to know a good place to have a small baby shower on a weekend with light food. And cheaper is always better.

Here are a few places I can think of, in no random order: Mangia – they’re a local chain of Italian restaurants. They’ve got good prices for a group. The one in Stuyvesant plaza also has a spare room.

BEFF’s – I’ve been to the Delmar location, and it’s pretty quiet on weekend afternoons in the dining room. It’s one open room, but if no one is there… it shouldn’t be problematic. Garcia’s – They do large groups well, in the few birthdays and such I’ve been to there. Jose Malone’s – It looks like you could partition off the back area for a group.

Jack’s Oyster House – I’ve never even set foot in Jack’s, but they have burgers. Sandwiches and such for lunch, which are priced around $8.

Mamoun’s Mideast Café – Mamoun’s is really quiet: Hardly anyone whenever I go in there, but the décor is cozy, if a bit dark. And you can’t beat cheap Mediterranean food.

Mercato’s Pizzeria and Restaurant– This Italian red-sauce joint in Delmar is one I really enjoy. They have enormous portions (easily split) and separate areas and rooms.

Chico’s BBQ – This is in Guilderland, and has some pretty decent barbeque.

Smokey Bones – It’s a chain that has closed nationally, but stayed open in Albany (kind of like Ho-Jos). They actually have decent food and tons of space.

There are also more restaurants with descriptions here at the Metroland’s Dining Guide.

A lot of the places I frequent are open spaces, with not much room that
I could see being nice for a small party. Does anyone else have any recommendations?

Split Pea Soup

Are you a soup person? Renee at Almost Foodies is. She even had a Soup Swap! That’s how much she loves soup.

I, eh….. not so much. I’ve got my few that I’ll order in a restaurant. MAYBE. They are clam chowder, lobster bisque, French onion, and miso. Actually, I like miso a lot, but mainly because it’s so light, it really tastes like salty tea. And I love sushi, so anything associated with that also rocks.

I’ve got my basic soups, and I don’t really have soup cravings. It’s just liquids. I don’t see the big deal. I’m starting to come round and eat soup more often, but it’s slow goings.
Except when I’m sick – then it’s soup city. It’s all I want to eat, and also gets my appetite up (I know, like that should really be a problem).

My immune system really likes to crap out on me during this time of the year. I got sick around mid December, and was sick until Christmas. Now I’ve been sick again for a week with some kind of throat speckling something-or-other. I’m pretty sure it’s not contagious, but Albany John has been my only immune system testing board, and that boy has the immune system of an ox.

So we were walking around Hannaford (I might be sick, but I’ll have to be strapped to a bed with an IV pushing fluids to keep me from walking around my beloved grocery stores) and he suggested the perfect soup. Split Pea!

He grabbed a bag of split peas. That’s all you need. Ok, and maybe some cursory vegetables too. We are not talking Albany John’s Grandmother’s Grandmother’s secret family recipe or anything here. This is sickie soup. The bag we got already came with the powdered ham flavor packet. I love the powdered ham packet. It means you don’t need to add ham.

Best of all, is that there’s a recipe on the back of the bag. Again, this is easy soup to appease sick people.

The soup is ready in an hour. SIXTY MINUTES TO SOUP!

After that it looks kind of… unappetizing. Imagine if there were ham chunks in there. Ew.

And you know what we did to make it gorgeous?

Put it in the MAGIC BULLET!!!!

My mom gave us the Magic Bullet for Christmas. She has a thing for giving me/us domestic and kitchen appliances. This year I totally scored. I was skeptical, but it freakin rocks. It makes smoothies super smooooth, and purees soup wonderfully. If I didn’t have this, I would have eaten ugly soup. And then I wouldn’t have eaten it, because it looks gross.

It was smooth in about 5 seconds. Srsly. Velvet Split Pea Soup.

I sucked down about ten cups of soup. That bag makes a lot.Also, if you add salt to your soup, it tastes kind of like bacon instead of ham.

Via Fresca

I should have known I was getting sick. When do I ever crave chicken breasts? I hardly ever crave chicken breast. Actually, I never do.
So I walked into Via Fresca one day and decided I needed a salad. SALAD! And a cannoli. Or a cookie. I putzed around the store a little, trying to decide what to order, and I noticed one of their new salads was smoked chicken and peppadews ($8.99). I had no clue what peppadews were, but they sounded cute. I asked Cris what they were, and she explained that they were sweet peppers and let me taste one before hand. They’re paper thin slivers of pepper. They tasted kind of sweet-and-sour, which is something I normally wouldn’t like, but I haven’t had something I didn’t like yet at Via Fresca, so I figured I’d try it.

Holycrap – that was a huge amount of chicken breast and peppadews. It also came with a roasted/grilled red onion on spinach with blue cheese dressing. The chicken breast was splayed in all of its glory. It also looked kind of inappropriate, but I just can’t put my finger on how.
I couldn’t really taste much of the chicken, but I liked the texture. I think cold chicken just has this way of losing a lot of its flavor and tasting rubbery. The peppadews added a little bit of kick and sweetness for a cool contrast. Again, I’m still not sure why I ordered anything chicken, other than that it was a signal I was going to get rediculously sick.

Overall though, this was kind of a dud. The blue cheese dressing (which had huge chunks of cheese in it, by the way) combined with chicken, peppadews and red onions just did not work for my mouth. I liked them separately, like eating a piece of smoked chicken, spinach and blue cheese (or chicken, peppadew, spinach; or onion, chicken, peppadew), but I think red wine vinegar might have been better with everything.

Yes, vinegar. But then again, I’ve been dousing everything remotely salad-like with red wine vinegar lately.
Get their tuna salad – they use tuna canned in oil (the good kind), not the kind you may have grown up with as a kid. (Or in my case, refused every time someone went near a can)

Hawaa’s Takeout

Takeout-Daycare… That’s what I originally thought when I walked into Hawaa’s takeout for lunch the other day. There was one little girl gurgling around the joint (there is no way in hell I’m calling this a restaurant), who I thought was an owner’s toddler or something. And then three more came out into the small cooking area, which also looked like it was being used for storage.

So… my first impression of this place was rather… unconventional? It looked jam packed with crap. Papers, empty slush machines, a nacho cheese machine, more papers, some paper piled up on top of other things. Muffins, open half-eaten muffins underneath the nacho cheese machine. But that stuff was shoved off on the side of this really tiny place, and there was a guy in the center metal island mixing stuff in a big metal bowl, and another guy nearer to the front. Hawaa’s is definitely a hole-in-the-wall take away place. It’s also located at 117 Lexington Ave, which adds to it’s hole-in-the-walliness, because it doesn’t quite stand out. Except for the giant printed sign that says “HAWAA’S TAKEOUT”.

I had to ask for a menu, because I was hoping that the white index cards with food available weren’t the only things they had. Also, it’s kind of troubling. I was half out of my mind with hunger though, so my usual holy-crap-run-ometer wasn’t really working.

I ordered a chicken wrap ($3.50) and turned around because I was hoping I didn’t see anything that really grossed me out and made me run for the car. Plus I usually find that these hole-in-the-wall type places crank out some really good food. I did see the guy in the back grab some ground meat mixture out of the bowl he was mixing from and slapped it onto a gigantic skewer and put it on the grill. Yea skewer!

For some reason (which I will blame on Albany John), I can’t watch people make my food. I think it’s because whenever I go in the kitchen and Albany John starts cooking, he kicks me out. It’s fair though, because I turn What’s-For-Dinner into 20 questions.

After a few minutes I had my wrap, paid $3.50 (either tax included, or not charged at all) and was out the door. There is no space at all that you could sit in. The back is cut off from the front so you can see everything, you just can’t walk back in there.

It was just a bit shorter than my forearm (but I’ve been told I have short arms, so you should probably find a more reliable measurement), and could have been shared between two people if you had a salad or something else to supplement it. I ate the whole thing with nothing else for lunch.

It was so tender and moist – there were sliced onions, bell peppers, and maybe watercress. Or the mystery ingredient could also have been grass. Oh, or maybe cilantro. It was a light, green type thing that was leafy. All of this was wrapped in a soft, chewy round of bread. I’m also assuming it as pita bread, but it must have been fresh, because it was so, so, so soft and absorbent… it had just the right amount of chew to it. Kind of like a gummy pillow, if that helps (trust me, it was good). There was also either a spicy sauce, or spice in the chicken. Either way, it added a ton of kick to it, and I was kind of hoping for a yogurt sauce for it. But you probably won’t because you can tolerate spicy a lot better than I can.

Also, don’t take out the green peppers – they really added a new level to the flavors for me. I usually hate, hate, hate, hate, hate green bell peppers, but they added a nice green subtle crunch in this wrap. Maybe it’s because the rest of the flavors drowned it out, but it worked really well. There were only a few slivers too, so it wasn’t overwhelming.

So I’m glad Hawaa’s Takeout was a surprise hit (and seriously filling) for a good wrap. Next up is the beef wrap. I would also lurrrrrve it if they had a grilled veggie/falafel type wrap, because that would go so well in there.

O’Brien’s At The Garden Grill

So what do you do when you’re already a bit buzzed and roaming around the Delaware Ave area craving food at 9 or 10 at night? Andy’s and Cardona’s are closed. Leaving you with Chinese take out, pizza, or The Ultraviolet Café as possibilities.
But what if you want to keep drinking? What if, after a few drinks, you find yourself in serious need to eat a big hunk of meat, ‘cause after all, you’ve been meaning to eat a burger for weeks now, but haven’t gotten around to it? Or what if you just want the best-ever burger to be found in all of Albany, NY?

O’Brien’s. Go to O’Brien’s. Seriously. O’Brien’s.

It’s a bar on 2nd Ave, just off of 787 (take 787 allllll the way South to the end, go past Hoffman park, and at the end of the road at the light, take a right – O’Brien’s is on the right).

O’Brien’s is an Irish bar (if you couldn’t tell), but welcoming to everyone. I didn’t even have to pull out me No-Really-I’m-Part-Irish card, which is sometimes required, like during St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s day is also probably the only time I actually look ethnic, since most of the time… I, uh… don’t? But put me in a sea of people just a hair paler than I am – woo, it’s Albany Jane’s time to look kind of Chinese.

Anyhow, my own racial identity crises aside, I like O’Brien’s.

Their main draw for me is raspberry lambic – ON TAP! It’s Lindemann’s Framboise Lambic, actually, my absolute favorite beer. It tastes like fizzy raspberry soda, not at all like beer. I’ve had other lambics that were okay, but still tasted like beer. Lindemann’s is like nectar. Also, I’ve always seen it expensively sold by the bottle in bars around here, if at all. A small glass will run you $3-4 at O’Brien’s.

Albany John and I walked in and ordered burgers and chili. The burgers cost… I want to say $6.50, but I couldn’t see the sign, because it was written in yellow whiteboard marker, which is not the easiest thing to see in bar lighting. Albany John was also awesome and picked up the tab, which was around $25 for burgers, chili, and a few drinks.

I ordered mine rare, but a lady drinking at the bar heard me ordering, snapped around and told me I should get medium rare, because they don’t fool around – rare is RARE. Hey, ok, I’ll definitely take that advice. She also extolled the virtues of the burger. How awesome is that on those rare occasions someone overhears your order and goes ‘Oh, you are gonna LOVE that – it is so good….’? It’s freakin’ awesome, is how awesome.

Our food came out – the burger came with chips – and omgholycraplolcats – It was perfectly medium rare and oozing with burger juices. It was probably the best burger I’ve had in ages. BEFF’s was ok, but a little too tough or something. Red Robin’s haven’t been that great for a while either (Man, you’d think I was eating burgers every day).

These, though. Oh, these… these hit the spot so wonderfully. Had a full on meaty flavor, were cooked perfectly and were just the right size (I’d wager about ½ a pound). They were also tender, and not gristly. I demurely wolfed down my burger in all of ten minutes.

Oh, Right… Chili! We also had chili. The chili was decently sized in a crock, and had a coating of cheese on it (real cheese, not chee-z). It was meat-filled, but I was really enjoying it. Usually I really don’t like meaty chili, since it tastes heavily. I also liked that it wasn’t greasy, but had a good balance of flavors, as well as beans that weren’t complete mush.

And for the record – O’Brien’s burger totally kicked BEFF’s burger out of the water.

Germania Hall Banquet Haus – Germania Haus

$5 all you can eat breakfast buffet? The last Sunday of every month, you say?

At Germania Haus in Troy, you say?

Albany John and I had been over to Germania Haus once before for our friends’ baby shower. By the way, if you’re ever throwing anyone a baby shower, open bar is the way to go. (godiloveyouguys)

I’ve only been in the bottom part of it, which has a very cozy feel to it. And kind of old, but it looks like the place has been there forever. I also like all of the… stuff on the walls. There’s also another room attached to the bar/bottom area of Germania Haus, and this is the important place – it’s where you get your food.

So Albany John and I actually got up before noon and headed out, because $5 for breakfast is such a steal. When we got there we walked down the stairs (there’s also an electric chair lift thing… I’ve always wanted to ride one of those suckers. They look so cool) and paid up at the guy by the register.
They usually take credit cards for purchases of $15 or more, but not on Sundays. So bring your cash! Heck, I was surprised they even took credit cards. For some reason I always picture community centers as being cash-only operations.

So we snapped up a table, and surveyed our surroundings. There were steam trays of food at the front, and there was soft lighting throughout. I also had a hangover, so this was a huuuuge plus.
I walked up and grabbed a plate and popped the covers off of each tray. They had pancakes, corned beef hash, sausage and ham, scrambled eggs, potato pieces (like square home fries), and some sweets at the end. And toast.

I grabbed a little of everything, but you can skip your carb intake on the pancakes. They were small (aka cute), dry, and they just didn’t taste very pancake-y. The Mrs. Butterworth’s at the end helped, but man, they could take a lot of syrup. (Also, if you are used to ‘real’ maple syrup like Albany John… you’re out of luck. Personally, I love fake syrup)
The sausages were good – they had a skin to them and were of the miniature link variety. The ham looked dry, but smelled really bacon-y.
The scrambled eggs were probably some kind of instant egg thing, but they were super soft. I liked them a lot.
The potatoes – also good.

Since I was hung over, some kind of beverage was necessary. I didn’t see any water, but next to the coffee station (which you don’t pour, someone comes around with them at your table) were small cups of juice. Total score there. They had cranberry, orange and grape. I was in heaven.

So let’s recap: $5, end of the month, all you can eat, drinks included, hang over-friendly lighting.