Happy Birthday to Me

Oh. Wow. I am Old. OLD. IN CAPS, OLD.

Right. So here’s where I share that I am a Junebaby. Or maybe a Maybaby since I tend to run a crazy backlog on events.

And that I am old.

Oh. Goodness.


Ok, so I am having a bit of a tough time with this birthday, if you cannot tell. Who knew that turning one year older would be such a big deal?

I mainly spent it with family, which is nice. They have to hang out with you. Normally I try to throw a party at my place. You know, something low key. Or go out to the bar for a bit, but really, nothing huge. This is a nice plan, but usually everyone backs out at the last minute and it’s me, Albany John and maybe one other person.

This year, I decided I wasn’t going to do anything at all because, dang, I am old. And I really didn’t want any reminder of that.
And then I my mum insisted on taking me out. As in, multiple calls asking where… long story short, there was no way she was not letting me celebrate. Why, oh why, was she so all about it this year?!

So we settled on Bomber’s. I got my birthday margarita (free if you spend $15 or more at the bar, which isn’t too hard, but Albany John and I couldn’t have done it alone). One of our friends even showed up. That was so sweet. I really appreciated that because I basically said something in passing about going there and he just showed up. I really, really appreciated that. Made me feel all nice inside.

I mean, the margarita also made me feel pretty nice inside. And thank goodness this puppy was a watered down version. I’m usually off my ass after 2 of Bomber’s margaritas(with a good buzz going halfway through the first), so I probably would have died if it were the same strength. After drinking to the level above, the margarita finally started to kick in.
And just a note – Bomber’s free birthday margarita is original only. I asked about a prickly pear version and I got shot dooooown. But you should try the prickly pear version – I wouldn’t even classify it as a margarita, but more a vessel of happiness.
I guess now Bomber’s is putting their birthday/big beverages in pitchers, which makes you feel more like the alcoholic you are than someone enjoying a comically large beverage on their birthday. Ah well, that’s what I get for waiting all these years to get the margarita. Oh, yes, this was the first time I’ve had the famed gigant-o margarita. Overall, cool, but maybe more for a 21st birthday than anything else. Next year I think I’ll be back at Lark Tavern for my birthday, as I was last year.
And I raved about Crisan Bakery to my mom, who then picked up $23.00 of pastries for the three of us. Oh, god that was a ton of food.

And can I say… wow: those éclairs are amazing! The whipped cream was light and airy, and there was just enough custard lining the bottom. Crisan Bakery has the best éclairs I have ever tasted. And now that I am incredibly age-ed, that’s saying something.

King Arthur Flour Cheese Bread

I saw a photo on Slashfood or some other online blog with a photo of cheesy pull apart bread. Long story short, I wanted in on this cheesy goodness, and thankfully wherever I found it said it was from King Arthur Flour.

And then I stumbled upon King Arthur Flour’s blog. I really like food blogs. They occasionally contain recipes, but even if they don’t you can find something like it online, or have enough to go with just from the post. My favorite thing about blogs is that you get to see people’s opinions about a recipe. Now you’re not going in on a recipe blind, or by comments from recipezaar or allrecipes. You can decide if you like how that person writes, if it seems like you’ve got similar tastes, and you get little pointers about trouble, or something they’d do to improve upon a recipe. If you think about it, it’s kind of like having a small scientific method all in one post.

Also, there are usually pictures. Pictures automatically make everything 96% better.
Right, wait, where was I going? Oh, right. King Arthur Flour’s bread. It’s pretty good stuff. Most of their recipes are fairly detailed. This one, though… eh. I thought it could have been better.

So it’s basically bread that you fill with cheese (or any kind of filling), let it rise, then cut it in half and bake.

Ok, honestly.

It looked sloppy as all hell.

I kind of prefer a certain degree of neatness in my baking. I absolutely hate it when the filling spills out of the crust in a pie. A floury boule, however, is just fine. Rustic, okay. Messy, no. You would never tell I’m this picky about keeping things neat, but I am. I mean, in baking. Heck, I don’t care if there are underpants hanging from the chandelier or half stuffed in the drawer. But if my pie is crusty, oh hell naw.

I also think the cutting it in half, propping it up on its side thing also led to denser bread since it was more handling overall, although I will speculate that I completely mangled the suckers when I flipped them on their sides. I mean, if you’re touching and cutting dough, it’s bound to lose some air.

For filling, I used cheese on one loaf and cinnamon, nutmeg and almond meal in the other. Both tasted very good hot out of the oven. The cheesy bread a bit more so, since you can’t ever go wrong with hot cheese.

See? Isn’t this just a bit mangled?

So this is inappropriate, but I really think these cut cinnamon-nutmeg-almond meal ones look kind of like vaginas, right?

Cheese horn!

Burnt crusties! Ugh.

I think the cheese version was nice, especially the small little nubbin bun versions I made. These would be especially good for kids to eat, or adults like me who love eating things with their hands.

Below is their recipe. I tossed in some whole wheat red flour to add a little more tooth to the recipe. I had no problems with the sponge at all! Yaaay! I just used cheddar for the filling (and I think I was a bit overzealous. I really think I put in an extra cup of cheese, but when is more cheese a bad thing?) since I am not spending $8 at the co-op for under a pound of my favorite Gruyere.


1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool waterDoughall of the starter

1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) to 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) lukewarm water*

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

*Use the greater amount of water in winter, when conditions are dry; and the lesser amount in summer, when the weather is humid.


2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese, or the grated/shredded cheese of your choice

To make the starter:

Mix the 1 1/4 cups flour, salt, yeast, and 1/2 cup water in a medium-sized bowl. Mix till well combined. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.

To make the dough:

Combine the risen starter with the water, salt, flour, and yeast. Knead—by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle—to make a smooth dough. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, till it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and pat and stretch it into a ¾”-thick rectangle, about 9″ x 12″. Spritz with water, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Starting with a long side, roll it into a log, pinching the seam to seal. Place the log, seam-side down, on a lightly floured or lightly oiled surface.

Cover it and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, till it’s puffy though not doubled in bulk. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently cut the log into four crosswise slices, for mini-breads; or simply cut the dough in half, for two normal-sized loaves. Place them on one (for two loaves) or two (for four mini-loaves) lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, cut side up. Spread them open a bit, if necessary, to more fully expose the cheese. Spritz with warm water, and immediately place them in the preheated oven.

Bake for 20 minutes (for the mini-loaves), or 35 minutes (for the full-sized loaves), or until the cheese is melted and the loaves are a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack. Yield: four mini-loaves or two standard-size loaves.
©2008 The King Arthur Flour Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Veggie Cart

Feeling a craving for vegetables? Are you also kind of pinched for cash?

Here – let me let you in on a little secret:

The Veggie Mobile!!

The Veggie Mobile (aka the Veggie Cart, the Veggie Truck, or the Vegetable Thingy as I am wont to call it) is sponsored by the Capital District Community Gardens and is a program that they started to bring affordable veggies to people who may not normally get produce. This could be a granny who doesn’t have a car or can’t travel very far, college students, and poor people who can’t normally afford the high prices of fresh vegetables in the Supermarket. Trust me, it absolutely sucks when you have to choose between getting a pound or two of fresh veggies versus eating all week and getting pasta and canned tomato sauce to stretch out. It’s do-able, but it’s just so nice to have a fresh piece of food with your meal.

I usually go to the Veggie Cart’s stop at the Rainbow Community Center in Troy on Saturdays. It says it’s 3:00-4:00, but it’s really 3:15-4:15. I think this was a recent change. I’ve been going for a few months now, and have met some really nice people volunteering for it. I like it because it’s right after the farmer’s market (okay, well a few hours after the farmer’s market, but hey, when in Troy, right?)

Many, if not all of the produce are priced at wholesale or below prices. I tend to get several large bags of food for $20.00 or less. I don’t think I’ve spent over $20 yet. Often times, these veggies will last us for about two weeks. Some foods spoil a bit quicker than others, but no more so than at the grocery store.

One of the nice things they’ve been having is snow peas for $1 per bag, which are about 1 lb or more.

Other veggies they usually have: zucchini, squash, red onions, yellow onions, bell peppers, apples, oranges, lemons, limes, white potatoes (possibly yukons… the starchy kind of potatoes), red potatoes, garlic, peanuts, broccoli, romaine lettuce, green lettuce, cauliflower, spinach leaves, mushrooms, tomatoes, grapes, avocadoes, turnips, corn… you really need to check it out.
The sign of prices is a bit small, but as you can see they have a ton of different items to choose from.

Holy crap, random family weekend!

When did we get so busy? Well, maybe you aren’t busy, but personally, I feel like I’ve never been busier.

My weekdays are filled with tons-o-schtuff. And then the weekends come, and there is usually something planned too. Fun stuff, usually (or overlap from the week, worst case scenario), but sometimes it’s just nice to not have anything at all planned, you know?

But crap. Now. Now. Now. Now. A million and one things to do and that need doing. Lately I haven’t even really been enjoying eating, even though I do like baking and my products. It kind of feels like I’ve just been going through the motions, you know? Even with food, which kind of makes me sad, but like I said. I’ve kind of clocked out a bit.

So an impromptu weekend was quite nice. Rejuvenating, even. And when I say impromptu, I mean it. This trip happened literally on the drive home from Mrs. London’s. I felt kind of bad planning a trip on my mum’s birthday, but it was all for my sister and I was going to be the tour guide so she wouldn’t get lost on the bus ride down (and no, she is not 8, but we’re kind of sheltered sometimes). At that point I realized – woahfamilyweekend! First mom, then dad. Crazy! And my mom was having a party later that night, so I figured at the very least she’d have some time to herself and friends. My sister and I had to travel down to see our dad and family in NYC. We took a late bus down (aabus.com rocks) and promptly got soaked. But we made excellent time on the subway and were at my family’s place by 9:30.

I got a huge platter of sushi from my Yeh-Yeh (Chinese grandfather) and Uncle. And I mean, a huge platter. I ate just about all of it with my Dad helping out with half a dozen or so pieces. He had just come back from dinner with his girlfriend. I have no clue why, but that just made me feel so related to him. Dinner, and then sushi. Haha.

If you ever grew up feeling awkward around all of your non-nuclear relatives, trust me, once you hit your mid 20s, you will probably develop a “fuck it, we’re family” mode. Eat with gusto and enjoy them while they’re there (both the family and the eats). I also felt the same way with my Mom’s birthday brunch. Sometimes you just need to clock out and realize how lucky you are to have crazy family members to have special meals with. I can guarantee you that they think you are just as crazy, if not crazier. Especially if you have more pictures of food on your camera than people. By a wide margin. So, in the spirit of enjoying family, friends and general joie de vivre, I hardly focused my photos and just took snaps. They are probably blurry as heck, but I had such a great time.

My sister was awesome and ate avocado sushi rolls, since I mentioned she was vegan and couldn’t eat 99% of what my family would have tried to feed her if I hadn’t told them. My conversation with Pops went like this:
Dad: “Ok, so we’ll have dinner when you get here. What do you want us to get for you? Sushi?”
Me: “OhGODYES. Sushi. *drool* Oh, but yea, the sissykins is vegan now. She doesn’t eat animals or animal products.”
Dad: “… what? Hmm. Okay. Well… She can still eat pizza, right? We’ll just get her a plain cheese –“
Me: “Dad, Dad, no. Vegan means she can’t eat dairy, eggs… if it came from an animal she isn’t gonna eat it.”
Dad: “OH… what the heck are we gonna feed that girl?”
Eventually we settled on avocado rolls as a safe idea. Rice + cucumber +avocado + wrapper (oh I will feel terrible if we later find out they rubbed these with tuna belly or something), and thankfully they were inside out rolls, which I think look less intimidating. The sister was a bit iffy about the whole thing, but when your older sister is the human garbage disposal, excess avocado rolls aren’t really a concern. But once she tried them, she ate some, which I’m guessing means she thought they were good.

Although, I need to point out, sushi is eaten in one bite – people, please back me up on this in comments. My sister insisted on being “dainty” and eating her rolls in two bites. And the pieces weren’t even that big! Come ON! (I’m kidding, kind of; y’all know how obnoxious I get around sushi). But no, she rocks for eating almost half of that. I wonder if she was still hungry after that. It didn’t seem like a lot of sushi to eat, but many of my vegan and vegetarian friends don’t eat as much as I do. They seem to fill up faster.

I kid you not – this is how much sushi I ate. My dad helped out with half a dozen or so pieces. Please compare with the first picture. Even I was impressed/shocked with how much sushi I ate. Seriously. Wow. I knew I liked sushi, but jeeze. My uncle and Yeh-Yeh said they ordered a platter for themselves and split it. And had a ton left over. At that I rubbed my Buddha belly and dipped another piece of delicious sushi in soy sauce.

Where did they get this sushi? I can’t remember the name, but it’s a little place right around the corner from them on the subway line. They’re incredibly affordable and very fresh. This was a nice assortment of salmon (sake), tuna, eel, squid (not my fave as sushi), yellow tail, octopus, shrimp, California rolls and a spicy tuna or salmon roll.

We settled off to bed shortly after eating, since it was getting late. The next day we got up, made ourselves ready, and headed out to eat at one of Flushing Chinatown’s vegetarian/vegan restaurants. My dad knew of one, so we hopped in the car. My family really prefers the Flushing Chinatown because parking is a bit easier to find, and is much cheaper. And, ye know, they live in Queens, so it’s one less bridge to cross and a heckuva lot less traffic.

So we drove around and we hit up Buddha Bodai. It had all of 5 spaces, and they were all full. But luckily we found parking nearby-ish by the Flushing Gardens.
Buddha Bodai is renown for having kosher, vegetarian food. It seems a lot of their foods are also vegan. My dad and the waitress were talking for a long time in Chinese about making the dishes vegan, and everything turned out A-OK.

Oh. My. Gosh. These were hands down the freshest and best rice rolls I have ever eaten in my life. They were silky smooth; the sauce was perfect the perfect mix of sweet and salty. It makes me that much sadder to look at them now that I’m back in Albany, NY and know I cannot get these here. We just have the ones that come cooked, refrigerated and in baggies up here. They’re nowhere near as good. The ones in the restaurants just don’t taste as good either. I don’t know if I can say enough how heavenly these rice rolls were. Simple, delicious, and they made me happy.

Then there were some fat noodles with veggies in them. The noodles were quite chewy and good.

Of course, I saw shrimp rice rolls on the menu (har cheung)and HAD to try them. And of course, they were the only flop out of everything we ordered. Oh well. The family thought they tasted like imitation crabmeat, and were just a little flat, flavor wise. But those rice wrappers were so fresh and tasty!

This was a faux chicken dish over veggies. I think it was like Chicken and Oyster sauce. The chicken flavor and texture was dead on! I just took a bite since my sister really loved chicken with oyster sauce when she was a non-vegan.

My sister totally took on a valley girl accent when we were talking about tofu. I have no idea why. It was funny. “ooooh, yaaahhh. I looove tofu. Like, frrrriiiieeeddd.” These were nice, too. I’d have preferred a sauce or something over them, but I used a black bean sauce on the side of our table as a condiment. They were incredibly soft and pillowy in the center.

This has got to be the star of the meal. A mixed appetizer platter of fake meats – roasted pork and char siu. The char siu was dead on – you could fool meat eaters with it, no joke. This was the first dish to come out, and really set the tone for the rest of the meal (the tone being – holy crap, this is good food). The roast pork was pretty good, but that char siu. My sister even got a tin of it to take home with her and eat later.

I really liked this! It tasted just like a deep fried flaky thing, stuffed with vegetables. The outside was light and flaky, and the inside was moist and just had a nice light flavor.

It was really nice to go to a different place than we normally would have. Normally we go to one of a few restaurants my Yeh-Yeh really likes, and it entails seafood, pork, and more seafood. I do love my seafood, but I felt like I ate a lot here but was much less full/clogged up with meat, if that makes any sense.

After that meal, we hung out with the family a bit, and then hopped on the subway to get to Manhattan Chinatown (har har, as opposed to Flushing Chinatown) to catch the bus heading back to good ole Albany. After walking for a bit, I decided I’d grab a bubble tea, since I am quickly becoming addicted to them. I grabbed a black sesame bubble tea at a trendy little shop and wow, did I stick out like a sore thumb – hair all mussed, towering over everyone, and with a backpack strapped on me. Like I’ve said, awkward. But the bubble tea was amazing and really refreshing. Black sesame is the way to go. This picture is what I took at home. I love bubble teas, but it still takes me forever and a day to finish caffeinated beverages.

PEKING DUCK! I got a half duck, since no trip to NYC is complete for me unless I have a small roasted animal in my luggage. Turns out wherever we got one from (we went to the closest shop by the bus station, which was still a few blocks away) was one of the best places to buy a Peking duck, according to my Yeh-Yeh. It was moist, with just the right amount of fat (sometimes they can be way too fatty) and a nice crisp skin.

And because I’m a glutton, roasted crispy skinned pork. I think Albany John and I chowed down on this entire thing once I came back.
And a tiny egg custard dan tat. I used to love dan tats when I was a kid. This was okay, but the pastry was too heavy and bread-like. Good dan tats should have a super flaky crust. Extra points are earned for dan tats in miniature.

Mrs. London’s Bakery

Happy birthday to… MOM!

It was my mother’s birthday, and I could think of no better place to take her to than brunch at Mrs. London’s.

Mrs. London’s is right on Broadway, the main street of Saratoga Springs, NY. It’s a fairly small bakery with lots of tables inside and out.

I ordered a café au lait for a whopping $2.00. I was pleasantly surprised at that price, and even more surprised when they brought out a huge, huge, huge cup of it. Wow! It was also wonderfully made – very light. I don’t normally have coffee, but I felt it was necessary given all of the goodies we were going to eat. Coffee or some kind of warm beverage is a must with morning pastries.

I ordered a croissant ($2.75). They’re expensive for one croissant, but just fantastic. They are as good and better than some of the patisseries in Montreal. $2.75 is also worth it (to me) to recapture some wonderfully happy memories. (Like feeling the warm sun peering over buildings as you’re walking to and from the wonderful patisserie).
In the background you can see a cookie and a pecan pastry treat. I decided we needed to sample more than one pastry each. Hey, it’s a birthday after all… They were both pretty good and buttery.

My mum ordered the apple tart ($4.75-5.75, I can’t quite remember) and a tea. Her tart was amazing! I would highly recommend the apple tart to anyone, even if you were not normally a fan. The crust was flaky and crisp. It perfectly matched the soft (but not mushy!) apples inside of it. The apples were well seasoned with cinnamon and sugar and just great. They were cooked just the right amount of time and still retained a lot of their original texture, just a bit softer and sweeter. Seriously, this was excellent.

Sadly, they were all out of Ciabatta bread that day. Foo. They had some other breads, but mum didn’t really want any of them.

They also had only one vegan item, which isn’t really a big deal for me since I wouldn’t imagine a pastry shop or bakery to have many vegan friendly items (helloooo, butter). But they counter girls were so helpful – I asked if anything were, and they said an eggplant sandwich was, but everything else was 100% not vegan. Although they thought maybe the oat cookie was, so they checked. It wasn’t, but it was so very sweet of the nice girl to check.

When you walk in you’ll see the counter, display case and breads against a wall on the right. You line up, order, pay and if it’s not all ready immediately, they’ll bring it out to you (ie, if you have a large order. If you’re just getting one or two things, they’ll give it to you then). So this essentially just a counter service type place, or so it seemed to me.

I was very happy with Mrs. London’s. Maybe we should have gone a bit later in the morning/afternoon to also try some sandwiches; since I really thought we would have spent more (the total was about $20) or tried more things. Hopefully mum didn’t think I was cheaping out by taking her to breakfast and not dinner, but she is very particular, and I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything on her birthday. Plus she loves pastries, and said she really liked Mrs. London’s. Heck, just the location is reason to bring someone there – I have yet to meet any parent (regardless of age) that doesn’t like Saratoga. Parents love the place – it’s neat, has an upscale vibe, and the park is beautiful.

Crisan Bakery

OK, so that self control I issued in my last post over the scrumptious Key Lime Pie at the CDFI?

Yeah, well that went out the window when my dearest Panda told me that he’d been to Crisan bakery every day since it’d been open for gelato. And that a scoop was a dollar. And that their gelato was crazy good. Celina Bean enjoyed their food, and gosh does she she have some drool-inducing pictures. And likewise, Mari loved their peach pie (ohh, I didn’t see it – it was the end of the day when I went!).

So after stuffing myself with healthy-goodness at the CDFI, I waddled over to Crisan Bakery on Lark Street. It’s right near Elda’s, if that helps you position it any better.

I got a scoop of hazelnut gelato that was love at first sample. It was so toasted and nutty, I was knocked out of my shoes. I really wasn’t expecting such a complex flavor – just your usual creamy hazelnutty taste, which is always good.
And by the way – how adorable are those tables? These cute blue tables are set up outside – they’re such a nice cheery color.

So I got a scoop and made my way over to the counter to pay when I saw… doves. AAAHHH! Now I love little wee animals, especially if I can eat them. And best of all, the dove was $2.00. These have got to be promo prices, sweet lord, they were cheap.

I put my ice cream on the counter to pay, when a larger order was getting put up. And the guy with the big order ended up getting his elbow in my gelato… Crap, I probably should have put that some place else, but I thought the counter would be the best place for it. The man also felt really badly about elbowing my gelato, and the folks at Crisan got me a fresh scoop, while then nice man insisted on paying for my gelato. Y’all, I cannot go somewhere without doing something incredibly awkward when all I want to do is blend in and not do something stupidly awkward. But I can promise you I don’t do these things intentionally, like some gelato equivalent of a gold digger (a gelato-digger, if you will).

So I walked out with some tasty eats. Oh, yum. I swear to you, my eyes were rolling back into my head with every little bite I had. Oh, and don’t you just l-o-v-e LOVE the wee little spoons you get with gelato? If only I could eat everything like that. I even saved my sample spoon – so tiny, so cute. I think Albany John throws these away, since I end up scattering cute little spoons around the house.

I kept my dove/pigeon/white bird in it’s protective baggie, and brought it out to show various peoples on Lark Street. “Lookie – it’s a bird! A candy dessert bird!!!” And then I realized I shouldn’t have been swinging it so jauntily around, since it ended up looking like I’d punched my bird in the face. Whoops. Sorry about that birdie.

How did it taste? Well, I decided to save it for later since it looked like there was chocolate cake or something under the icing. It looked good, but I was stuffed at this point, so I decided to save it for later. Later became an impromptu trip to NYC, during which brief time period Albany John called me and said:
“Oh, you know that bird you got? Yea, it was really good. It wasn’t just cake, it was a liqueur cake with a great filling. It was great. Really great.”

Sometimes these are the phone calls I don’t want to get. It’s probably best that I was 200 miles away. So now I need to get back to Crisan bakery and try every little pastry. Oh, and unrelated to food, but everyone at Crisan Bakery is absolutely beautiful, gorgeous, and nice. Seriously. I have never seen so many talented good looking people running a bakery before.

CDFI Potluck

Ok, so I’m blaming Albany John for the craptacular “spread” we brought to the CDFI potluck this past Friday. He’s usually so good at remembering these things, and told me early in the afternoon about it. So we had no time to make anything. I have some pot stickers I made in the freezer, but they had lap chong in them, and the majority of people who potluck at the CDFI are vegetarian or vegan, so not too many of them would get eaten.

Instead, we brought sangria and buffalo wing flavored pretzel bits. OH THE HUMANITY!!!! If we couldn’t wow them with our cooking skills, we could at least get them drunk enough to think the buffalo wing pretzel bits were awesome. HAHA – FAIL!

But luckily, other people were much more creative and thoughtful than us.

There was a donation by Aashiana – a sliced beef over yellow rice dish with a yogurt sauce. Excellent – I ate way more than my fair share.

The red headed stepchild of the potluck – sangria. You can see the buffalo pretzels trying to hide in shame behind it. Tisk, tisk.

Sweet potato soup – although I didn’t know it was soup and just ladled it over my yellow rice like a gravy. It was so tasty! You can get me to eat anything if you call it gravy.

Sweet potato salad – mmm! I normally don’t like celery at all, but this magical combination of ingredients yielded a very tasty result.

Sprouted lentil salad – it was so light and refreshing for the nice weather we’ve been having.

Key Lime Pie!!! This tasted amazingly fresh and creamy. And it was vegan! A big thanks to a certain local performance artist. I have to get her recipe. Seriously. It was kind of warm, had just the right amount of tartness to it… oh you had to have been there – it was so totally good. I actually flexed some self control and limited myself to one slice. This baby was gone pretty shortly after!

Snacks at Hong Kong Bakery

Oh. My. God.

Y’all. This is another Chinese related food post. I have GOT to get some variety up in here! So even though it’s all tasty, still. Bo-ring.

If I don’t slack too much I will put up the muffins I made very soon. That should at least inject a little variety, since there are way more Chinese posts to come.

I went to the Hong Kong Bakery again.

And guess what?

I don’t hate bubble tea any more! I freakin love the stuff! I mean, the last time I’d tried it I was in my picky, chubby teenager period, so I figured I’d try a coconut pearl drink at the Hong Kong Bakery. Dudes, I am SO glad I am basically a garbage compost – shove it in front of me and I’ll give it a whirl.

And some cake.

These hit the spot on the blusteringly humid days we’ve been having lately. The coconut pearl tapioca drink was $2.95… or maybe more. I can’t really remember. Their website says $2.50, but I don’t remember it being that low. Maybe it was. But I thought it was closer to $3. Either way, it’s a pretty good buy.

Oh, but completely unhealthy. There was canned cream of coconut, half-and-half, and other fatty things lobbed into the blender. But the ice was also thrown in and blended really finely, so it made everything taste a lot lighter than it was.

Note to self – If I ever have to go to a nutritionist; never, ever tell him or her about this blog.

Still – this was so light and refreshing. It was wonderful to sip (and hard to resist in the car) on such a hot day. And the tapioca pearls were so fun to chew!

The taro and coconut cake ($1.95, I think) that tasted vaguely like cheesecake. Taro is kind of like a starchy potato, or sweet potato. Or yam. Or maybe I’m completely off my rocker and I’ve gotten it confused with another food. It goes pretty well with sweets, I think. I prefer sweet taro dishes to savory dishes, just like sweet potatoes or yams. There was also a coconut gel/ jell-o like topping. It was okay, but I really enjoyed the purple taro filling.

Home Grown Har Gow

Oh, how I love alliteration. Ha ha. Har gow. Har gow is just so fun to say.

Oh, what is har gow? Har gow is just shy of happiness personified (that is reserved for har cherung aka shrimp in rice roll). Also known as har kow, and shrimp rice dumplings, har gow are bits of minced shrimp encased in a clear, thin dumpling wrapper.

Har gow are one of my most favorite types of food to get at dim sum (aka Chinese breakfast tapas, aka appetizers for breakfast, aka yum cha). They’re really just some roughly chopped bits of shrimp put into a light wrapper that is perfect for sopping up soy sauce. They’re also really hard to mess up in an order, at least up here. The har gow in Albany are no where near as delectable as the har gow in Chinatown (either Flushing or Manhattan), but they don’t get royally messed up like my beloved shrimp rice roll wrappers.

That said, they’re still not cheap at around $2.50 for 4 for in restaurants; and $2.25 for 4 at the Asian Food Market, when they get a shipment in. I can eat about 3 of those easily. I don’t know about you, but I normally don’t spend $6.75 on a snack.

So, “Screw THAT” I said, and I decided to look up a recipe for making them, wrappers and all.

Well, as you can see from the pictures, some things got messed up along the way. My dough wasn’t see through. It was like mochi, only mushier. And kind of chalky. I’ll say that’s because I bought a package of mixed starches, so it’s probably my bad there. It was also prone to cracking. But, it did sop up soy sauce like no one’s business. And they were gluten-free because the mix of starches didn’t contain wheat, so they’re good for all you celiacs out there. Not that I shared mine with any celiacs, though, because I can’t let anything with shrimp in it not be in my stomach and wait for someone to come over. Obviously, the filling was very good. But I’ll have to go back to the drawing board on the skins. They were nothing close to what they should be.

The filling – I mean, I wrote out measurements, and it’s basically what I think I put in there, but I’m not really sure (measurement-wise, that is). Start out with some soy sauce, and a teensy weensy bit of sesame oil, like 4 or 5 drops and some white pepper. Smell your mixture and add other stuff to your taste. You can add scallions, shallots, anything you want because dumplings are made for creativity. After you put the basics in, sniff your bowl and see if you want to add more of anything. The shrimp should smell like the sea, not stinky fish. I also messed up and tried to use my magic bullet to roughly piece them out, but I made a paste on the bottom and the rest didn’t get touched. I just ended up ripping them by hand and they came out just right.

Then line your steamer basket with bok choy. I got some Chinese cabbage at the Troy Farmers market for $2 or $3, which were quite a steal considering they’re about 3-5 pounds, and at the Asian Food Market bok choy will run you around $1.30 a pound. The ones they’re selling at the farmers market is also very light – hardly bitter at all and the leaves taste very good just eaten out of the steamer.

1 cup of rice starch, wheat starch, or tapioca starch, or a combo of them.
10 T HOT water
1 t lard or oil

½ lb shrimp, peeled
½ t sesame oil
2-3 T soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
½ inch of ginger, minced
1 t white pepper

Mix flour with hot water and fat. Let rest 15 minutes, covered.

Dice or roughly chop shrimp, mix with all ingredients.

Pinch off quarter sized pieces of dough and flatten into circles. Put 1 teaspoon of filling in the center and close up.

Steam ~7-10 minutes.

CCK Restaurant, or Ocean Palace Lives On

I went to CCK when it first opened. Overall, not that great. The dishes were very oily even though I’d asked for light oil (as in, layer of oil on the top. Come on, people!) and not very flavorful. They touted a huge menu of new and freaky foods we up here haven’t really had the chance to order, which were almost always out whenever anyone adventurous tried to order them. And they kept trying to steer Albany John into the bland food section when he asked for a recommendation. In CHINESE. Oh, baby. Not that great for a place with huge hype.

Okay, so it didn’t live up to the hype. We’ve got tons of places around here that don’t live up to the hype. Just scratch it off of the list of places to go.

And then Ocean Palace closed. Freakin’ Ocean Palace! They lost their lease to Mildred Elly or something like that and closed up shop.

Okay, hold the tears.

The owner(s) of Ocean Palace bought CCK (cue the dancing).

And after going there, I can tell you, it’s Ocean Palace with a different name. The menus are exactly the same. It looks like they just took out the front page that said “Ocean Palace” and replaced it with “CCK”. All the décor and stuff is the same from the old CCK.
We went in and ordered stuffed eggplant and beef spare rib dim sum, and then got salt and pepper squid and beef spare rib dinners. Yeah, I didn’t know Albany John was gonna order the meal spare ribs, but they forgot to bring the dim sum out, so it was cool. There was plenty. They put the spare ribs on the bill, but once we pointed it out, they corrected it. Our waitress said something about him forgetting, or putting them both in the same plate… I don’t really think so, since the dim sum version usually has very tiny spare ribs. Either that or the dinner portion would have been a bit smaller in comparison to their usual generous portions. Either way, no biggie.

Albany John got the beef spare ribs in black bean sauce. This was also $9.95, or maybe $9.50. Both of the dinners came with a bowl of rice. I was excited he ordered this dish since he normally shuns black bean sauce, but I guess he was feeling it that day. The greenery contains celery, green peppers, onions and scallions. We picked out the green peppers, scarfed down the onions, and I was surprised by how I enjoyed a few bites of celery with the rich beef spare ribs and the heavy black bean sauce. Kind of refreshing, and the celery didn’t taste absolutely awful (I usually hate celery – just goes to show, put it in gravy and I’ll eat just about anything).

The salt and pepper squid was spicy! And do you see how much of it there was? It was $9.95, and what a steal! Most appetizer sizes of fried calamari (that’s basically what it is) are half that size and the same price. And they’re usually overcooked, too. These were soft, buttery, with just the right amount of chew in them. I ate a few of the hot green pepper slices (I think they’re called long peppers since they’re really long. This one time I bought a package of them from the Asian Food Market for, like, $2 – seriously, they’re cheap – and it took us over a month to eat half of them. They’re really spicy.). I also think they used maybe half of a long pepper (long pepper, green pepper… I dunno, once you see them, you’ll know what I’m talking about) at most. I accidentally inhaled when I was chewing and had the pepper hit my uvula. OMG. OW. OW. OW. I was gulping down tea and water to no avail. Those little buggers are so spicy. Aside from the squid, which is the centerpiece of the meal, I really LOVE the onions. They’re slightly charred, incredibly crisp, and taste smoky. They are so good.

I cannot wait to get back to this awesomely authentic Chinese Restaurant that is now in the heart of Albany, NY. They’ve also got a roast pork special (my mouth is watering at the thought of a roasted piggy with that crisp skin. Mmmm) on Friday and Saturdays, but I really want to see if they would be able to do a half pig for my wedding. Then I’d have a decoration and tasty food all in one. Look, I’m not creative. The only part of this whole wedding thing stuffs I am getting excited about is the food, Brotherhood wines, and wearing a big poofy dress. Oh yea, and you too Albany John 😀 .
Head over to CCK, it is Ocean Palace reincarnated. I actually kind of prefer the interior to the old one, since everything from Ocean Palace looked like it had been around since the 70s. Now everything is bright and looks much cleaner overall. I don’t think they have a liquor license (so no blue hawaiis or zombies), but dude, who cares? Our total for food was $22 and some change.