An Amherst Christmas

DSCF5164Albany John & I didn’t get to celebrate Christmas with his parents, so we did it later in January. Of course, my stomach couldn’t make it all the way to Amherst, so we had to take a pit stop in Northampton to reup our cheap food supplies from Deals & Steals (organic Kasha puff cereal for $1.50! Holler!), and try Grub Sandwich Shop. They support a ton of local businesses, and change their menu seasonally. But also, they have fish sauce and sriracha in addition to their two types of hot sauce on each table. I am down with any restaurant that puts out fish sauce & sriracha.
DSCF5165 Cute chalkboard menu listing all of their eats. DSCF5162 We went with hot dogs as a snack. Snack? Yeah, snack. Fatty life, what’s up? Seoul dog on the left, Hazmat on the right.

The seoul dog was my favorite – kimchi dog with their own kimchi, spicy mayo, and bacon. This was a great example of how to use mayo well. I really liked how all of the flavors worked (especially with the snappy natural case on the hot dog), and even found myself adding a few extra drops of sriracha to up the heat content.

The hazmat was also great, and made Albany John and I realize we should totally use roasted chili peppers more in our cooking. Warm, but not very spicy, it went well with the aioli and cheddar. I preferred eating the dog and its toppings without the bun, but Albany John liked just the fillings with the bun even better. (Imagine an epic stuffed bread/grilled cheese kind of thing)
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MERRY CHRISTMAS MAMA & PAPA AMHERST! We ate the heck out of an Empire turkey breast for dinner. Oh man, that was so freaking good and perfectly salty.

Then we opened up a care package from one of our cousins. He’s been traveling throughout Southeast Asia lately (with the occasional side-trip to Japan), and snagged some goodies for us. DSCF5167 MORE GREEN TEA KIT KATS!! THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING MY ADDICTION! One even has the sakura/cherry blossoms on it. DSCF5169 These Pepper Sweets which were not peppery, but very savory-sweet tasting. They had birds as their mascots. DSCF5171 Mangosteen wafer cookies (top left), blueberry Oreos (top right), and the dried jackfruit & coconut below. The jackfruit smelled incredibly pungent, but tasted just overly sweet & needed some tartness. The dried (and sweetened) coconut was awesome. These were meaty chunks, kind of like coconut jerky. A little chew. DSCF5173 Emping crackers. At first they were interesting, and then they became something we could not put down. They were super crunchy, a bit thick, and had a spicy kick after you swallowed a chip. DSCF5177

Collon candies. I think he got these on an airplane & didn’t eat them, so he sent them to us. Or he bought a lot of single-sized snacks for us. But omg, so good! They were green tea candies! The outside were wafer-y cookie rolls & the inside was like a really light whipped filling. Yay, matcha!

DSCF5181Here’s a shot of the blueberry oreo. It was just a little bit purple on the inside. Tasted like a mint berry kind of filling.

 

Banh Mi

Banh MiBanh Mi in Albany? Well, sorta. I picked this sammich up at the Asian Food Market on Colvin Ave for $4.50. It was one of the foods they bring up from the city, and it was fresh that day.

Bread: Crispy shell of an exterior, thin poofy interior. A bit of a chew overall & better than the “French” bread you’d find at a grocery store in Upstate NY, but nothing swoon-worthy. Still, fairly decent as bread overall.

Fillings: Some kind of slightly-livery meat pate thing on the left (it was more like crumbled, moist sausage to me, although Albany John said it had a lot of pleasant liver flavor in it), slice o’cured pork ham-like meat thing, pickled carrots & daikon, raw cucumber, cilantro, and a wee smear of mayo.

Overall, a pleasant combination of fillings, and they worked well with the bread (not too much of one or the other), and it beats the pants off of a $5 foot-long sub that a few places are hawking now (heck, I bet that it would still beat at least one pant leg off even if this banh mi were a day old). The veggies, both raw & pickled, were crunchy and fresh, which was a nice contrast to the richer-tasting meats.

I still dislike mayo, but I am becoming more accepting of mayo on sandwiches, mainly because in small instances like this they don’t really stand out enough to offend. I really don’t see what it added to this sandwich (aside from fat and calories), or why they even bothered putting it on.

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Grape leave

Roma smells amazing. Every time I’m in there I want to order one of every deli meat, all of the cheeses, and tons of olives. They have a bunch of Middle Eastern groceries, and I picked up 2 lbs of grape leaves for $5.25! Not too bad! This was about 75 or more leaves, some were bigger than others, but overall this was a great price. The supermarkets charge about the same for less grape leaves.

This time I decided I wanted to try making stuffed grape leaves in my crock pot. I put slices of lemon in between the layers, which added a different sort of bitterness to the grape leaves that made them interesting in addition to the tartness of the lemon juice. I shared a bunch of these with some  friends (well, those that I managed to wrangle out of Albany John’s clutches – hot damn, that man loves stuffed grape leaves, especially these), and the overall verdict was that they were quite tasty and more would be welcome at any time.

I added a bit of mint to the mix, too, which Roma also sells.

Make these vegetarian by leaving the meat out. I think I will do that the next time.

Stuffed grape leaves

Crock Pot Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe:
1 C brown rice
3/4 lb ground meat (I used a combo of veal & beef)
2 onions, minced
Olive oil
2 T dried mint leaves
3-4 lemons
50 Grape leaves

Sautee minced onions in olive oil until firm but translucent. Remove & let cool in a bowl.

Once cooled, add rice, ground meat, and mint leaves.

Rinse the grape leaves well (until water runs clear). Put about 1-2 teaspoons of filling in each leaf and roll up like a little burrito.

Snugly fill a layer in your crock pot. Once full, cover that layer with grape leaves & lemon slices and juice of 1/2 lemon. Repeat until you are out of grape leaves! Pack them tightly – put a plate in the crock pot and weigh it down, then add another weight on top of the crock pot lid, otherwise the rice may expand and break the grape leaf skin. Cook 3-4 hours on low heat.

Taiwan Noodle

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I was lucky to go out one with one of my favorite chosen families on Christmas for dinner at Taiwan Noodle. The FUSSYlittleCREW invited Albany John and me to join them at dinner, and I just couldn’t resist. It was one of the few restaurants on Central Ave that was open on Christmas, and was bustling with business.

4 adults & 2 kids = lots of food to order! Above are the wood ear & celery app that Albany John loves, and some seaweed knots with garlic.

DSCF5136 Har gow shrimp dumplings & fried wheat collar (AKA you tiao on dim sum menus). Little miss fussy wanted scallion pancakes, but they were so busy that they were out! This filled in nicely for something fried, wheaty, and crunchy. It was both her & my first time trying this dish! Really! My family didn’t really do a lot of fried foods from dim sum carts when I was growing up, coz you don’t know how long it has been sitting on the carts for. But these are made to order, so no worries of sogginess. DSCF5137 Har gow in AlbaTny. My Christmas dreams have been answered. Yum. DSCF5142

Three mushroom soup, some pork chops, and more dumplings. DSCF5140 Pan fried pork bunsDSCF5139 Pan fried dumplings. Taiwan NoodleI think we also got a few more soups, and this steamed rice dish with pork, black bean, and lop cheong. Yum!

Oh, Albany John also got their house-made cranberry tea, which was pretty refreshing and tart.

 

CLA: Conjugated Linoleic Acid (aka, my fatty pills)

CLA

Conjugated Linoleic Acid is one of the few mainstay supplements in my diet. I affectionately call it my fatty pill, partially because it is all oil, and partially because it helps reduce fat.

I stumbled upon this supplement last year when I was researching something that might help me shed some pesky belly fat and tone up a bit more at the gym. I didn’t want to take anything with caffeine in it, so that eliminated a lot of options. I also wanted something simple that didn’t have 9,000 ingredients on the label.
Enter: CLA

There are mixed reviews and studies out on CLA and its benefits for weight loss and muscle growth. I have personally had a positive experience with it, specifically this brand:  Nature’s Way CLA 1300 mg softgel.
I get them from Amazon because the subscribe-and-save price is great, and I don’t have to actually go to a store and buy anything (or forget to buy anything). One bottle will last me about a month.

The CLA comes from safflower seed oil, which contains about 70-80% CLA. Since all 1300 mg is the safflower oil and not the CLA, the CLA from each pill is approximately 1000 mg. Many CLA bottles will list the mg of oil in them, and frustratingly, not the actual CLA mg content. This is important, because CLA only becomes effective at certain amounts, but from what I’ve read, it seems that for CLA to be effective, a person needs to take at least 3,000 mg per day (So, MRM brand might not be a bad pill to try either, when looking at the CLA per pill and cost per pill, I’ve just been using the Nature’s Way brand for a while and like my results on it. Hmm, maybe I will try this MRM brand, now…). At any rate, you can find studies for and against CLA, like pretty much any supplement out there.

I’ve been taking these steadily since about May/June of 2012. Albany John started taking them some time in the fall after we started noticing my results, and wow, his body really took to using CLA. He has a real mesomorph body type, though, and tends to react very quickly to exercise, diet changes, and supplements like this. Sadly, my body type leans more toward that of an endomorph and it takes me quite a while to see even minor changes in my body. Oh, and Albany John tends to take all of them at once instead of spacing them out during the day, and that hasn’t affected his progress. So I’m not so sure how much timing comes in to play with these supplements as opposed to, say, caffeine.

Ladies, CLA may have mixed results for you, so here are my experiences with CLA (in no particular order):

  • Take it for a month before you expect to see results. This isn’t a fast-acting supplement, but it helps curb appetite a bit and my muscles seem a bit more defined after using it. That said, if you forget a day or are too sick to take any supplements for a day or two during a month, that won’t set you back.  Just don’t take less than 3 g/day and don’t take them only a few times per week.
  • My first month or two I took 4 g of CLA per day (4 pills, usually 2 with/after lunch & 2 with/after dinner), but now I have cut down to 3 g of CLA per day (usually 1 with lunch & 2 after dinner).
  • My belly fat has been reduced a bit, and the definition in my muscles seems a bit clearer. I mainly started taking CLA after getting definition in my arms and legs, yet being frustrated with not being able to change the belly fat despite much gym-going and diet-changing. I still have some lower abdominal fat, but I’ve got a bit of definition up top, which I’m pretty happy with and wasn’t something I had really even considered within my realm of possibility before this. Now I want to see how much more I can define my abs.
  • CLA has helped me lose weight and belly fat. I want to stress that it is a supplement that has helped, but certainly has not been the sole cause of my weight/size loss. Diet and exercise to play a huge role in this, but it certainly helped me move from a plateau.
  • Do not take it at the same time you take echinacea/goldenseal. Oh my gosh, this will give you such horrible, burning burps.

Any way, I hope this may help you in your quest for looking and feeling great in the new year, and giving you a bit more insight on this supplement and my experiences with it. Other than the horrible burps I get when I take it at the same time as echinacea/goldenseal I have experience no negative effects when taking this supplement.

Have you tried any supplements that have made a difference in your life? Raspberry ketones? Green tea extract? African mango? I think whey protein has also helped my body, so that might be another later post.

Sandor’s Party

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When this is the face that greets you as you walk into Sandor’s home, it’s gonna be an awesome night. As I was licking the grease off of my fingers, I couldn’t stop thinking how insanely awesome Sandor is, and how lucky I am that the internet brought our pork-centric minds (and bellies) together.

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This was an End-Of-The-World/Saturnalia party Sandor threw. Cookies ’round a crackling fire and peat make for a cozy and happy Albany Jane.
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One of Sandor’s pals was busy carving up the pig for the beginning of the night. I did my best to help reduce the amount of skin crackling. Like, 4 square feet at least. Sadly, my efforts did little good as there were leftovers. Many. Yum. Oh, but there was more than pork.

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Cured gravlox!

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Oysters! With treacherous styrofoam packaging. Hehe, I forgot their origin.

DSCF5084Sandor in action, shucking oysters. What a host. He and his lovely lady had been cooking all day, and so many more foods entered all of our bellies. So many cheeses. So many cookies. So many desserts. So much awesome.

Evelyn’s Cafe at EMPAC Expanding Hours

EMPAC‘s Evelyn’s Cafe will be expanding hours to serve lunch every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm this coming Tuesday, January 22nd.
I can’t wait – previously they only served lunch on Thursdays. It’s always nice to have another lunch option in Troy.

Press Release & more deets below:

The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) and Hospitality Services at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announce the expansion of hours for Evelyn’s Café. Beginning Tuesday, January 22, the café will be open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 AM–2 PM, in addition to supporting public events. The menu will be seasonal and will focus on locally sourced items.

“This expansion of café hours makes EMPAC an exceptional gathering space, providing opportunities for a meal with colleagues or a snack before or after a performance in the special atmosphere of the building. We hope to continue the expansion into the morning and evening hours in the future. And we are pleased that the daily offerings include “eating local,” a unique menu on campus,” said Johannes Goebel, director of EMPAC.

“We are committed to showcasing local and sustainable ingredients to create a seasonal contemporary menu for our guests,” said Elaine Reynolds, Hospitality Services marketing director.

Evelyn’s Café opened in 2008. The café will continue to be open one hour before all curated events as well as during intermissions and after most performances. Rensselaer’s student run and sustainability focused Terra Café will be serving lunch on Wednesdays.

Vectors of Research—Circles of Art

EMPAC—The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center—is where the arts, sciences, and technology interact with and influence each other by using the same facilities, technologies, and by breathing the same air.

Situated on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, EMPAC is dedicated to building bridges between our human senses, to modes of perception and experience, to creating meaning in a physical environment, and to the intangible world of digital technology.

Four discrete venues are designed with unique technical infrastructure to enable audiences to see, hear, and move in space in endlessly different ways. EMPAC hosts artists and researchers to create new work and presents events which ask audiences to join the quest for new perspectives.

Hospitality Services at Rensselaer is a passionate, dynamic, and fun-loving team striving to satisfy diverse tastes and appetites on the Rensselaer campus. With an emphasis on convenience and flexibility, Hospitality Services provides a variety of menu choices that reflect a commitment at Evelyn’s Café to local and sustainable offerings.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological university. The school offers degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the social sciences and humanities. For over 30 years, the Institute has been a leader in interdisciplinary creative research, especially in the electronic arts. In addition to its MFA and PhD programs in electronic arts, Rensselaer offers bachelor degrees in electronic arts, and in electronic media, arts, and communication — one of the first undergraduate programs of its kind in the United States. The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and EMPAC are two major research platforms that Rensselaer established at the beginning of the 21st century.

Hungarian Night

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Dining Club meal Round: Hungarian. Albany John had a Hungarian cookbook and made these stuffed zucchinis. They were great.

Quick & Dirty recipe:
Bunch of zucchini – peel and poach so they’re slightly pliable, but still firm. (You can hollow out with a melon baller – way easy)
Stuff with a mixture of ground meat and soaked/par-cooked rice, onions, and spices
Slather with sour cream & lemon & dill mixture.
Bake something like 45 minutes. Maybe less.

Albany John used fresh dill. Overall, the dish was a little more expensive than I thought it would be – something like $15-$20 for the whole tray when all was said and done.

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My friend made a goulash. I made the picture all orange-y. Ezekiel bread toast points to dip/slather/mow.

DSCF5036Another person brought some wines. I really liked this one – Chateau St Jean de la Gineste, 2008. Some rather interesting and complex different flavor notes going on, and a warm, lingering flavors. This was quite a while ago, so that’s the best description I’ve got, but I look forward to imbibing this again.

 

Sciortino’s

Sciortino's meatballs

Went to Sciortino’s with Garnish Marketing for a quick snack. Meatballs were not too bad, if a bit more dense than my tastes tend to prefer. $5.95 – The plating made them seem a bit meager.

Sciortino's PizzaBBQ chicken pizza! $5 for a slice, which might sound like a lot, but this slice is gigantic! It hung off of the edges of the paper plate, and it comes sliced into six daintier squares, which makes for easier handling. The crust is thicker, but still quite poofy and soft while maintaining height.

Cash only, very friendly service. The interior seating is the same as it was when it was Miss Albany, and there are jugs of Carlo Rossi all over. My kinda place.

Sickly Sweet

I like candy. I like desserts. I love sweets. I like being able to chose the sweets I eat, and when I eat a massive amount of sugar.

I don’t like all of the sugar in so many of the foods on our shelves now. Albany John already has me reading ingredient labels for high-fructose corn syrup (a no-no in our household on his request). I have some foods I don’t consider “sweet” (nut butters, yogurt, cottage cheese…), so I’ve been checking the labels for their sugar content lately, too. I’ve found I don’t really like to eat too much sugar at night (at least not regularly) because I process it way quickly, get a ton of unnecessary energy (the “sugar high”) and have trouble getting to sleep when I want to. Well, scratch that. I like to eat that much sugar, especially at night, but the after effects lately have made me not want to deal with it. Is this what aging is like?
I generally have trouble sleeping/staying asleep, and the nights I sleep entirely through the night without waking or getting up are few and far between (like, maybe 10 days a year, tops). The past few months I’ve been fairly decent about not snacking at night, and not eating foods that are quickly processed. I’ve noticed that when I do eat highly-processed and/or sugary foods at night, ugh, it is just not that great for me.

So, in the desire to eat a bit healthier, while nodding to my after-dinner snacking tendencies, I try to eat foods that digest slowly overnight instead of foods that the body processes quickly. Think: sweet potatoes, yogurt, cottage cheese. The diary is great for casein, which will feed your muscles slowly overnight and potentially help curb massive hunger cravings in the morning. Sweet potatoes are also great for slowly feeding the body, and have a fantastic amount of potassium to help keep muscle cramps at bay.

This brings me to yogurt. I was at Hannaford one night (thank goodness they are open 24/7, ’cause it’s great for my anti-crowd self), perusing their store-brand greek yogurt section. I like greek yogurt at night because it feels fairly substantial, but also really creamy, so I can barely eat a pot of greek yogurt at a time. I usually opt for plain yogurt, but on this night I was thinking “Hey, why not get one of the flavors. Go a little crazy.” (har har)

Well, crazy is the sugar content of the flavored yogurts. Hannaford’s plain greek yogurt has a sugar content of 4 grams. That’s respectable. Dairy does have some sugar in it, after all. Hmm, maybe Raspberry would be good. Not with 19 grams of sugar, it’s not. Peach? 20 grams. Honey came in with a respectable 15 grams of sugar. For some reason I thought honey would have topped the sugar content.

So, skip the flavors, go for plain. And top it with some pecans from Hannaford’s bulk/Organic aisle which retail for $7.99/lb, one of the lowest prices in the area (if not the lowest).