Fried Smelts

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Is there really any better way to eat smelts other than fried? If so, please tell me, because as far as I know, deep frying smelts is THE best way to eat them.

I bought some smelts that were already cleaned and gutted. Most grocery stores will sell them in the frozen section cleaned and gutted or whole.

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Salty, fishy, crispy little fish are one of life’s delicious little pleasures. The bones and fins all fry up into these crisp, crunchy, salty bites of awesome.

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Smelts are one of those foods I don’t think I ever had growing up. I think they’ve become easier to purchase now. I can’t imagine Grand Union having these in stock when I was a kid.

I like to use cornstarch over flour when I fry foods that I want to stay crunchy. Cornstarch stays crisp after frying, but flour has a very short life before going from crisp to limp and soggy. I also like to add kosher salt, because it adds a buttery salinity. And boy, do I like my fish salty. Paprika also adds an extra buttery, rich depth.

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Fried Smelts

Raw smelts, gutted and beheaded.
Cornstarch
Paprika
Kosher Salt
Oil

Mix together cornstarch with paprika & kosher salt. You want a plateful of cornstarch, and enough paprika to add some color. Add in a few generous pinches of kosher salt, then mix it all up.

Roll a smelt around in the cornstarch mixture so all surfaces are covered. Cover all of your smelts at once, then fry in batches. They fry quickly, so having them all coated before you start frying makes it easier.

Fry them in some hot oil. You’ll know the right temperature. Somewhere in the medium-high range. Let a few smelts fry for 2-3 minutes for some nice and crispy smelts. And make sure you eat the fins and bones – they’ll be nice and crispy!

Sushi Tei

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The New Year is almost here and I’m ready for it. 2013 had a few ups, a whole lotta downs, and well, let’s just get on with it, right? But with all the downs, I firmly believe we must continue to believe in the power of positivity, and striving to better our own selves.

It was nice to be able to grab some Sushi Tei when I was out in Guilderland this month. One last fix before the year is out. Two roll lunch special ($8.50) for me with salmon + avocado as one roll, and spicy tuna as the other. Plus two orders of ika. I am loving salmon roe lately. The pop of the briny little bubbles. So satisfying and pungent.

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Albany John went with a 3-roll special ($11.50). Salmon, Eel + Avocado, and Yellowtail + Scallion. Both of the specials also come with a can of soda if you want it. I personally just pass on the soda.

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But that sushi is something else.

Maytag Aqualift Electric Oven From Home Depot

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So you may have read my first take on my monster oven from Montgomery Ward.
This is the oven that came with the house, and while it was nice to save a few bucks during closing and have something to use, I quickly found out that I needed a new oven for my cooking needs.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t planning on a kitchen renovation quite so soon, so I opted to look for another electric range that wouldn’t drive me crazy until I can renovate the kitchen entirely and get a commercial gas range (Hey, I can dream).

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Here’s the oven I pulled from the wall because when I went to Sears they told me I had to tell them the cord type. I found a model I liked at Sear’s, but I found their pricing structure to be annoying. Here’s the price, but then find a coupon online. Oh, but then we add delivery fees and extra fees for this and that, and all of the savings from Sears seemed to get negated with all of the little extras.

Home Depot was having a Black Friday sale in November for the entire month (yeah, I didn’t really get it, but okay) and they had the convection model of the Maytag Aqualift 6.2 cu ft electric oven & range that Sears had. And for a lot less. It wound up being about $777.56 with tax at the end of the day with delivery and removal included. Really decent sale. And my mom helped me cover close to 40% of the cost of the new oven as a housewarming present, so that was pretty sweet.

I went to Home Depot a few times to gawk, and different sales reps each time gushed about how great this model was and how happy customers were with it when I asked them about it. The Sears rep was pretty blase in comparison.

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The younger delivery guy’s first reaction was “Oh my god.” The older delivery guy told me he’d moved tons of these exact Montgomery Ward beasts up and down 2nd, 3rd, and higher walkups in the city when he was younger.

It was cool watching them remove it – they both wore harnesses and had a strap that went under the range and on both of their harnesses. They also told me that the Sears sales rep shouldn’t have told me to move the oven and specify outlet type because they always have both models on hand, and their company delivers/installs ovens and ranges for Home Depot, Sears, and pretty much all of the big box stores in the area. Nice to know.

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Behind the scenes. I had time to grab the shopvac and clean up all of that before the new oven got installed.

They were really focused on getting the trip guard installed, which I found a little pointless for me, but maybe it was their company really pushing it. They mentioned it several times during setup, and even had to call and verify that it was set up, and I had to confirm.

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Ahh, all nice and shiny and new. The delivery guy said I should take the protective coatings off within an hour, otherwise it could damage the oven cosmetically and leave residue. All of my other Asians out there know how much we hate removing the protective film! I didn’t want to, but for the cosmetic beauty of the oven, I did it, hahaha.
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Tada! All shiny and new! The 6.2 cu ft interior of the oven has been such a huge improvement over the old teensy interior of the Montgomery Ward oven. I’ve had it about a month, and overall I’m happy with my purchase.

I wasn’t too crazy about the glass stove top range, but it’s nice not having “pockets” to clean or collect grime. It came with a special cleaning product that helps keep it shiny and new looking. I’ve put some marks on the burner lines, likely from stuff baked/cooked into the bottom of my older pans. But so far I haven’t really noticed any scratches.

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The Aqualift technology makes it easier to clean the oven interior on the fly. One of the things I really like about this oven is that there is no heating coil on the bottom. It’s porcelain interior, so I can  only scrub with special pads, and mainly use Mr. Clean magic sponges to clean it. Sometimes it can take a while to clean, but most of the stuff does get cleaned off. But sadly I’ve defiled it recently and have baked turkey wing grease into one corner that 30 minutes of scrubbing/rubbing couldn’t get off.

But overall, using the convection setting is great – I just lower my temperature about 25-30F for baked goods and shorten the cooking time. Cookies have been turning out wonderfully – crumbly shortbread with almost NO browning on the bottom, woo hoo! Roasted chicken comes out amazingly moist and evenly cooked. I am a convection convert – it really does cook food more evenly and faster.

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The cat was even a fan of the oven when it first came in. Here’s a shot of her jumping on to the oven door… :X Kitty, nooooo. I’m not that guy!

My Montgomery Ward Beasty Oven-Microwave-Range Doozy

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Meet the old micowave-oven-range combo that came with the house. I thought I’d save a few bucks by requesting the oven with house, which did work to a marginal degree – I managed to put off buying a new cooking unit for a few months and let me toss some money into other household projects in the meanwhile. Any way, this post is about the oven that was. It was epically beasty.

When I was looking around for new ovens, Sears told me that I had to tell them the outlet style, so I pulled the oven out of the wall to check. Which was a major tough one, since the previous owner had the newer pergo flooring (why, gosh, why?!) installed around the oven, which meant there was a slight lip on the ground. Combine that with the almost ZERO amount of wiggle room around the cabinets, I had to lift and pull creatively. I managed to employ a crowbar and some cardboard as a lever, but holy cow, it took me about 30 minutes just to get the oven as you see pictured above.

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This is why I wanted to hustle on getting a new oven. It was clean when I moved in, and then I kept noticing metal shaving-type things on the floor of the oven. And when I looked up, oh, it turns out they WERE metal shavings. Because the ceiling of the oven was deteriorating.

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Yay, free iron in my food. The electric coils also moved like crazy, and I was pretty sure I was going to accidentally snap one off when cleaning.
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Another funny thing about this oven – the range was a normal size, but it turns out the oven itself was micro-sized. I found that one out when I went to bake some cookies and the sheet wouldn’t fit one way!

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Each level only had room for one cookie sheet. How crazy, right? And just everything inside was so delicate. I’m impressed that they had this oven for as long as they did, as the previous owners had 7 kids. I think this is a good two-or-three person oven, but maybe that’s a sign of how times and eating habits have changed. Still couldn’t see much of a turkey fitting in there, though.

So after I discovered the metal deteriorating issues, I figured I’d just bake stuff on the top range coils. And one of the big coils had broken. Argh.

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Oh well, a burden to bear, right? So here’s what I ate a lot of leading up to getting a new oven. Steaks from Roma (and let me tell you, I love their discount section! I can just pop in every day, see what meats are nearing their end, and my dinner selection is all set. These NY strips were like $6.99/lb!)

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Boiled potatoes for…

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Duck fat potatoes with steak and microwaved asparagus (don’t judge me, homeownership has made me such a frozen-veggie eater lately. Okay, you can judge me).

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Pan fried swai with dumplings

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Mackerel from the fish monger at the Schenectady greenmarket. These two little fillets wound up only being $3.00.

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And they seared up nicely, and were tasty with mashed parsnips.

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Ricotta cavitelli with broccoli raab and romano.

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But srsly, fish.

Parivar Chaat

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Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.

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Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!

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Closer shot

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DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.

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Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.

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And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).

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And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

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We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

Thanksgiving

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I went to my mom’s for Thanksgiving this year. 2013 has given me a lot of time to reflect. How about you? Some years just breeze by, others crawl. I feel like this year has been one of those years that makes me realize exactly how much time has passed.

Like Buddy, above there – I was in 9th grade when he joined the family. My mom mentioned his age, and I really couldn’t believe he was over 10, much less 14 years old. Sometimes you just don’t notice little changes. Like all of my aunts and uncles are now in their 50s. My own memory of them kind of hovers in the 90s, when everyone was in their 30s. When did everyone get so old? (Me included)

Thanksgiving with mom was nice. She had turkey wings for us gals made, and unlike childhood I didn’t get told to eat all of the food on my plate 🙂 (which made have had something to do with the stomach bug I had).

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2013 has been a bunch of things for me, mainly all in the form of lessons, and the biggest one I’ve taken away is probably easily summed up with the following acronym:

IDGAF

When stuff gets you down, or gets other people down; relax, assess it, and if it really doesn’t bother you, don’t let the little voice in the back of your head or others’ opinions make you think you *need* to do something and just be happy with yourself.

My health gave me a bunch of trouble this year. But you know what? I dealt with the issues as they arose, and did my best to deal with ’em. So I can’t lift things as heavy as I want to in the gym? IDGAF I will still be an awesome little she-beast and lift lighter things until I am better. Lower back and hips give me problems? Guess what, we’re stretching more.

Power of sisterhood: This year also made me really realize how important the ladies in my life are. There are some things only your lady friends can really understand.

So if the holidays are a time of stress, just think to yourself: IDGAF.

If the house is still standing, you’re good!

Green Tea Bread Pudding

P1030032I usually suck at making bread pudding. But for some reason I lucked out with this iteration. Something like 2 cups of milk, 3 eggs, splash of vanilla extract and about 1/2 c of sugar all whisked together. Then toss in some unsweetened shredded coconut, and pour all over your cubed bread.

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I let them all sit together overnight, then popped it in the oven until it all set. About 350F for something like 30 minutes (covered).

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I think the overnight soak is what helped nail this. It gave the bread enough time to absorb all of the liquid. Also, use a lot of liquid. I think in the past I’ve been skimpy with the liquid, which resulted in not-really-bread-pudding crunchy results.

The loaf I used was a green tea swirled tea cake. It was okay as it was, but better as bread pudding.

Mask at New World Mall Food Court

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After my 24 hours in NJ, I headed to Flushing to see my Uncle. We hung out for a bit, and then headed to the food court at the New World Mall for a bite to eat. Flushing mall food courts are freaking awesome – they’re stalls for single businesses. Which means a huge selection of cheap eats! Mask is one of the newest restaurants in the food court, and they are running a special – $9.99 for your own personal hot pot (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable) plus a drink. That is so crazy cheap.

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Mask has their own special hot pot tables set up near their stall at the food court. Here’s what they look like before you get your hot pot set up.

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And here’s what they look like after. Woah food. I got the lamb slices on the left, and a huge basket of veggies on the right. The lamb slices were frozen. I’m wondering if they pre-portioned them out. The lamb flavor itself was a little on the gamey side, but added nice flavor to the weak bone broth my Uncle and I both got. They also had a spicy kim chee based broth and one other broth I forget at the moment. I didn’t feel like being all that adventurous with soup flavor with the drive home looming in front of me.

There were so many veggies in that basket – a bunch of crunchy green lettuce leaves, sweet potato slices, tofu, one weird wedge of tomato, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, and tons of bok choy quarters. It was a great way to cap a weekend of dietary indulgence.

There’s also a make your own sauce bar. My uncle made me his blend, which was way on the garlicky side and something my sister would have loved. I mean, if she ate meat or any of the other components of the sauce.

But this was an awesome find in Flushing. If you pay in cash they don’t charge sales tax. Cheap, super filling dinner for $10. This is especially good for the people who don’t like sharing food, germs, or both with traditional hot pot.

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Dessert time! This place had a bunch of mango desserts, and was definitely a younger type of place. They even had dine-in where you tipped inside. Interesting, and lots of young people on dates here.

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I got a mango pancake. It’s an eggy pancakey wrapper over whipped cream and mango. Super yum. Something like $4-5 for two big squares.

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My uncle got this mango soupy pudding thing for dessert. Something like $6 for a big bowl. This is probably one of the pricier places in the food court, if that tells you anything.

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Mango pancake interior. So full of yes.

What a good weekend filled with food, friends, and family. I really like solo road trips every now and then. Not every weekend, but once every month or two they’re great for clearing my head. The freedom of the open road, driving my very own car, blasting my favorite crappy tunes, going off to have edible adventures and seeing people I care about that bring me joy.

Princeton, NJ

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Sometimes you need to get away from it all. Sometimes the location is important, but sometimes it’s the people that help you reset. Fall 2013 has been one heck of a doozy for me. Being an adult is a wonderful thing, but sometimes responsibilities and things like that toss in a few complications. I’d been planning on visiting Daniel in Princeton, NJ for a few weeks, and by the time I got there it was exactly the mental reset I needed. You can read his account of our adventures here.

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I left Albany Saturday morning, and by the time I got through all of the craptacular NJ traffic (seriously, it was smooth sailing until exit 17 on 87S, then a bunch of eye rolling until I got to Princeton) it was time for lunch. Greasy and so-bad-but-so-good sounded good to me, so Hoagie Haven it was!

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I loved the interior – one big open space with a menu and chips on the left, and the ordering line up front. You could customize any order you wanted, and they had a cute menu of their own custom sandwich combos.
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Daniel suggested we go with sandwich halves, which was a good call. Like, a really good call. Each half was about the size of my forearm. Dan and I split a Sanchez (fries, chicken cutlet, mozzarella sticks, cheese, special sauce) and a Wakeup Call, which is more of a breakfast sandwich that Dan customized as eggs, bacon, cheese, pork roll, .hash browns, and mozzarella sticks (mozz sticks in place of their “steak” slices). And we also got fried mac and cheese. The kiddos split a half sub which was a Sanchez, but with marinara sauce in place of the sweet sauce we got.

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Overall, the kids deemed the mac & cheese better than their sub, which I have to agree with. Those were freakin awesome fried triangles of mac and cheese. Just the right amount of crunch exterior and creamy interior. Get the mac and cheese bites from Hoagie Haven.
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We paired the subs with River Horse Hop Hazard beer.
The Sanchez. Meh. Not my thing. The sauce was way too sweet, and the fries were too heavy and didn’t add anything to the sub. The chicken cutlet was okay because it was meat, and how do you not like meat? But overall, just “meh” in terms of sub. Thank goodness Dan also got the wakeup call so I wouldn’t forever judge his select sub shop with a raised eyebrow. The wakeup call was pretty freaking awesome. Hash browns are a way better sandwich choice than fries at Hoagie Haven. If you see fries, just swap them for hash browns. But no, the pork roll, bacon, and eggs were pretty tasty. I didn’t think the mozzarella sticks added much flavor on either sandwich, which was pretty disappointing and weird that they didn’t add much flavor.
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After lunch, the food coma started to set in, so Dan made some of his super sugary Cuban coffee for me.
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The mixing of the espresso with some sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff of sorts.
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The pour

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Bam, energy shot in a glass
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And then, get this, we went for a WALK after coffee time! I know! The Veal of People wanted to go for a walk. I am so happy for the exercise addition in his life!

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Princeton’s grounds are beautiful.

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Okay, enough of walkies, let’s get back to food. We went for two dinners, because that’s how we roll. The first place was Papa’s Tomato Pies.

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There was a magician at Papa’s, which the kiddos enjoyed, and was a nice distraction from the relatively short wait until our plain cheese pie came out. From what I can tell from this brief experience, Tomato Pie is kind of like a really thin (crackery) crust pizza with chunky tomato sauce, or chunks of sweet tomato sharing the spotlight with cheese.

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Papa’s crust was nicely thin. Not quite crackery, but quite ephemeral on its own. Papa’s tomato pie had a very short half-life in terms of enjoyability. The first slice was great. The second slice just a few minutes later was firmer and less enjoyable than the first as it cooled off. Still enjoyable, but just not as good as the first slice.
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Our second stop was DeLorenzo’s, which had one hell of a wait, and one hell of an inefficient hostess. The waiters were all taking peoples names and putting them on her list, telling her to seat people quicker. Yikes. And for some reason, she just kept telling the servers to wait, and slowly seating people. It was a weird experience. I’ve never seen waiters so openly tell the hostess they could handle more tables, and to seat more people.

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DeLorenzo’s pie was more of a crackery-crisp crust, which Dan and I preferred. The kids deemed Papa’s pie to be their preference of the two.

Compared to Papa’s the atmosphere at DeLorenzo’s was more chaotic – lots of TVs, bright lights, and not much in the way of noise control. It was a little overwhelming for me. BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD SOUNDS, AND PEOPLE EVERYWHERE. Bit the pie was a nice crackery crust, and the tomatoes shone through.

Prices for both of the pies were in the $13 range. Not expensive, but I could see an adult eating a whole pie with ease.

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Then we were off for two desserts for our two dinners. First up was The Halo Pub, which is an ice creamery and not a pub.

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I got a scoop of peanut and cashew praline. The cashew was really good. The peanut, eh. This was only like, $2.50 for the ice cream, though!

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Then it was off to the Bent Spoon. I suppose you could call the Halo Pub an old school institution. Lots of wood everywhere. The Bent Spoon would be like the hipster child of the Bent Spoon. They had banana “ice cream” and more non-traditional flavors than the Halo Pub (but Halo Pub had more selection).

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Wall of hard to read flavors (for old people. I could read them just fine).
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Flavors for the sampling! These seemed more like gelato than ice cream by how they had them displayed.

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I got their Wild Turkey & caramel flavored ice cream, along with the very locally sourced NJ pumpkin and NJ mascrapone ice cream. They were both so good. Expensive, but so good. Something like $4 for this small ice cream. But really good. Like, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They just nailed those flavors.

One of my favorite moments here was when Little Miss Fussy almost started crying. Why? Because she was full and sad that she couldn’t finish her ice cream. So freaking cute.

So then we went and slept off our foodings. To prepare for more foodings the next morning:

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Nino’s Pastry Shoppe for their icing filled donut. Which Dan said was more of a frosting sandwich, so of course I was all in.

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Their portions were enormous. Every good here was gigantic.
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Then it was off to the Eet Gud Bakery. Love those signs.
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Also very large portions.
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Here are the sweets we got from Nino’s: frosting-FILLED donuts, cream puffs, and cookies for the kids. The cream puffs were pre-filled, but maintained crisp exteriors. Nice job.
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We may have gone a little crazy at Eet Gud. So many things just looked so gud, though.
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So here is Nino’s frosting-filled donut on the left, and Eet Gud’s frosting-filled donut stick on the right. Nino’s frosting had more of a buttery feel to the filling, but it wasn’t great butter, so it had a bit of a greasy lingering thing going on in your mouth after you ate it. Not too sweet, either.

Eet Gud’s donut stick was my favorite of the two similar donuts. A slight shell of an exterior on the donut, cushy interior, and a sweet, thick frosting inside. Nice textural differences. Dan preferred Nino’s to Eet Gud’s for those same reasons, haha. He liked the softness of the whole dougnut and wasn’t a fan of the different textures of Eet Gud’s donut.

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Raspberry filled donut on the left, “mango” on the right. I say “mango” because that filling seriously tasted like Pez. There was no mango in there, but a whole lotta Pez.

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Pumpkin filled on the left, custard on the right. The pumpkin was awesome. Mixing the pumpkin with their frosting, Eet Gud churned out a donut with a great pumpkin flavor and a mousse-like texture filling. The custard on the right was like a Boston cream, but without the chocolate.

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the custard. It was kind of weak in the flavor department, so this was my wee dreg of donut.

And then I drank an entire pot of coffee, filled up with some cheap NJ gas and was on my way to Flushing, NY to see my uncle.

8th Annual Santa Speedo Sprint

This Saturday marks the 8th Annual Santa Speedo Sprint on Lark street here in Albany, NY. The proceeds from the Speedo Sprint go to the Albany Damien Center, which suffered a fire this year and could especially use the help this year. They’ve been helping others and creating a sense of community within those suffering from HIV/AIDS in the Capitol Region for years – I want to see them around for many more years to come.

I’ll be registering the day of the event , paying the $25.00 entry fee, and donning something skimpy to trot up and down Lark Street. If you’d like to make a donation with my name as a sponsored runner, feel free, but I think the most important thing is to donate to the Damien Center so that they can continue to help others.