Friday Night Cookouts at The Cheese Traveler

The Cheese Traveler to Host Friday Night Cookouts

Where: The Cheese Traveler, 540, Delaware Ave, Albany

When: May 30th, and subsequent Friday evenings

Cost: Priced according to menu between $4-$10

The Cheese Traveler, a cheese shop which opened in Albany in September 2012 and was recently named Best New Specialty Food Shop in Hudson Valley Magazine, will host Friday Night Cookouts over the summer beginning May 30th.

The menu will rotate every few weeks and feature locally raised meat, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. The Cheese Traveler sells organic beef and pork from Tilldale Farm, Fish from Fin, and developed many relationships with great producers when they sold their cheeses at farmers markets over the last three years.

We want to consistently host events in the neighborhood to bring people together. We couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy summer than with the grill. It gives us an opportunity to feature Tilldale Farm and other small producers of local meats, some of the great products we sell, and Ryan Skrabalak, our chef, whose talent we believe is one of the gems of our shop.” said proprietor Eric Paul.

***Squee! I’m so excited for this! I love being able to grab a casual burger in the Del So and just hang out. I’m not much of a burger-making gal myself, but I will totally swing by when someone else is making them.– Albany Jane***

Vent Fitness – Location Review & My Experience

Vent Fitness is a local chain of 4 gyms which used to be Gold’s Gym franchises. I’ve been a member since I moved to Latham last fall, and my overall take this far is that I am happy with my level two membership for $29.99/month.

The Level 1 membership just gets you access to the equipment at one gym, but it is significantly cheaper, so if you know you’re only going to go to one location and never take a class, then this is probably the deal for you.

The Level 2 & 3 membership grants you access to all 4 locations, group classes, tanning, a towel, and free coffee. The Level 3 is a whopping $80 now (I think it was $50 or $60 last year, but prices went up in the new year) and really the only difference for me is that you take more “exclusive”/smaller group classes/training sessions (IMO these seem primarily more like paying in to having a group trainer). You can read more about the memberships and benefits to each one, although most of the level 2-3 benefits currently listed are primarily at the Guilderland location (more on this later).

What I like about Level 2:
Flexibility. I can be all over the place, so it’s sweet to be able to pack a gym bag in my car everyday and being able to pick which Vent I want to go to. I also like the group classes for forced relaxation and stretching. I tend to do a yoga or bodyflow, and having the level 2 membership makes me at least try to get in one of those more restorative workouts a week. It’s also nice to change things up every now and then and try something new.
Free coffee is awesome. I don’t use any pre-workout supplements and am fairly distrustful of thermogenic pre-workouts as a whole. I’m also fairly sensitive to caffeine on its own, so a cup of coffee before a workout is usually all I need to really get in the swing of things.
Towel. I used to just sweat all over the place, but it’s nice to have something to mop your brow/neck before things get to a crazy-sweaty level.
Showers! All of the showers are clean and enjoyable to use.
Sauna. The good sweat. It was awesome to have somewhere to go where I could break a sweat in the icy cold winter.
I can bring a guest with me on the weekends to any location.

My customer service experience has been fantastic so far. Management is quick to address any issues, and everyone is generally very friendly and helpful. No “that’s not my job” and everyone on staff appear to be team players. This is probably one of the big draws for me. I really value good, effective customer service, and Vent excels at making the customer feel welcome without being overbearing or inattentive. Locations are also very clean and generally well maintained.

The locations! I have been to Latham, Clifton Park, and Guilderland. Can’t seem to get to the Niskayuna one. At least, not yet.

Latham Vent
This is the gym I go to most often since it’s close to home. The showers are fine, but probably the least private of the three Vents I’ve been to in that there is just a shower curtain and not another private little entry way before entering the shower in the stall to change and keep your stuff. So you either bring everything in the shower and maybe your bag gets wet, or you hang it on the hook outside the shower and occasionally flash a little boob or butt when you’re reaching in to your bag to grab clean clothes/ditch the dirty ones. This is more of an issue for anyone else in the locker room with me as I have almost zero shame about my body, but other ladies seem more squemish about seeing a boob. Whatever.
Equipment: They have a nice selection of ab machines. Probably my favorite of the three. This is also probably the most spacious Vent, and I also like that. I like my space. I don’t like equipment crammed next to each other. Cardio machines are on the 2nd floor and to the left when you walk in, so you can people watch your heart out at the folks lifting weights.
I really hope this is the next gym they renovate.

Clifton Park Vent
Surprisingly close to Latham. My secret confession is that the main draw for me here is the spray tanning, which I still have yet to master. I don’t do UV tanning, but hey, it’s included, and I want to try and get all coconutty every now and then. This is the only Vent location with spray (non-UV) tanning. I do pretty well until my knees. Below the knees it becomes splotch central with a hearty dose of Cheeto-colored soles of my feet. I wish I could tell you why I like doing the spray tanning, but I have no logical reason for liking it, especially since I kind of suck at it. I am like a moth drawn to the flame.
Showers have a little privacy screen/antechamber (?)  before the main shower. Any way, it’s nice to lotion up when you get out of the shower and change in one place. The actual lockers in this locker room are kind of oddly shaped. They can be up high, and I’m pretty tall, so that’s saying something. The lockers also seem too skinny, so it’s hard to fit a backpack in them.
The weights here are a little cramped for my liking and everything seems kind of circular. The cardio equipment is on the 2nd floor, and it’s shaped like a track/donut, which is an interesting way to peer at the people lifting weights below. They also have a punching bag upstairs near the stretching mats.

Guilderland VentThis is the flagship location – the one they are eventually going to use as the mold for remodeling the other Vents in the area. Holy cow, this place is awesome. Every time I go here I tell Albany John I’m going for a spa day and I’ll be there for at least three hours (BTW, their wifi kicks you off after 4 hours and you have to sign back in. Ask me how I know…). It’s got all of the bells and whistles. They have a hydro massage table, and while it won’t make me trade out my monthly massages, it’s a nice way to relax and soothe sore muscles ASAP.
Pool/hot tub. Albany John likes going here with me on the weekends for the pool He is a water guy. Meanwhile, I just look at a pool and get swimmer’s ear. I like hot tub. It’s another great way to try to ease out any kinks and stiffness after a long workout. It’s got a timed bubbler on it, too, or just go in without bubbles.
Sauna/steam room – there’s a steam room in addition to the sauna here, and it’s located in the same area as the pool/hot tub. At first I was psyched to have co-ed sauna/steam room because I thought it would be nice to have sauna time with Albany John. I don’t think we’ve ever been in it at the same time now that this is an option (of course, right?). And then I realized how used to a gender-specific sauna I got. But no one here really bothers you. I had an old guy letch on me (nothing bad, but he kept awkwardly interjecting how beautiful I was when we were chatting), but he was respectful once I told him what’s what and really, he was so old it was one of those “I’m so old, I’m going to say what I want,” moments. It was like seeing Albany John in the future.
Oxygen therapy. I don’t know if this really does anything, but you get to smell nice smells for a few minutes.

Overall, I like Vent. Peak times seem to be the after work crowd, M-F after 5 PM (people central). As with all social situations, I try to avoid this as often as possible. Mornings are pretty empty, as are Friday nights. There are plenty of things for me to lift at each location, and I can shower after every workout. I’m not much of a relaxer by nature, so having a membership with group classes included is great as an incentive to TRY to relax and stretch out.

Any way, this is just my brief synopsis of my experience to date. I know other folks who go for an entirely different experience, and there are bound to be annoyances at any gym location (for the love of goodness, don’t deadlift in the squat rack), but overall the pros at Vent far outweigh the cons. It hits me on price, perceived quality, and customer service.

Dry Aged Australian Ribeye

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Adventure in Food had a rockin’ special in April for a full Australian grassfed ribeye roast for $5.99/lb. Yes. So yes. We grilled it up for Albany John’s birthday in May. It was an awesome and affordable way to go all out for any occasion.
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Here’s what the full roast looked like unfrozen and out of the vac bag. Yep, that’s one whole ribeye roast alright. This was a hefty guy, something close to 15 lbs, if I recall.

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Underside. I wanted to try dry aging this in our fridge. Salted the outside liberally, and tucked it in the fridge as pictured on cooling racks, turning every few days.
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Mr. Beefers after a few days in the fridge shortly before go-time. It took up about half of a row in my fridge, and after a few days I started talking to it and calling it Mr. Beefers. “Good morning, Mr. Beefers,” and “My, you’re looking well today, Mr. Beefers!”

At this point I wasn’t sure how well the experiment would turn out. Would Mr. Beefers acquire an off flavor from the fridge? Would it make any difference?

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A few hours over indirect heat on the grill (and covered on occasion). I didn’t carve anything off before slapping it on the grill. Once it hit rare, it came off the grill. And as you can see from the first image, I didn’t screw it up and cook it well done!
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And then we play the waiting game.
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It was an intensely beefy flavor, to be sure, although I’m not sure how much was from the dry aging or the grilling. However, I did slice off two large hunks so Mr. Beefers would fit on the grill, so I’ll give you a heads up if I notice something spiritual going on when it’s not kissed with smoky goodness. Overall, it was an awesome way to feed a crowd of 15+ people (with leftovers for seemingly EVER) for under $100. Definitely check out Adventure in Food’s specials page for deals like this when they come up.

Awash Ethiopian Restaurant

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I love Ethiopian food. It’s something that we have absolutely NONE of in Albany, so whenever I’m near a place with Ethiopian food, I will always choose Ethiopian. Whenever I’m in NYC I can never manage to get away to Manhattan for Ethiopian food. But on my most recent visit I managed to convince my Dad, his girlfriend, and uncle to try Ethiopian food at Awash on the Upper West Side.

We drove there from Flushing in about a half hour, found (free) street parking after paying for parking (of course), and were seated immediately. The interior is gorgeous. Very romantic and lots of low lighting.
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Here’s the injera and freebie sides that came with what we ordered. Since we were so many people they spread out our meals across two plates.
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Plate two.
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So what did we order?

Starting at the red stuff on the left, we got:
Key Sir Afcha (carrots, beets, and potato)
Awash Tibs (grilled beef)
More Key Sir Afcha
Gomen Besiga (lamb, collards, onions)
Free cabbage and carrot dish
Free lentil dish
Shiro (chickpeas and split peas with tomato and onion)
Center: Awash Chicken

We all LOVED the Gomen Besiga. That was just a fantastic combination of flavors. Lamby goodness, collards, and onions with delicious Ethiopian butter and false cardamom. Mmm. Just fantastic. It was all good, but this was a standout dish.

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I also had to order the kitfo (raw beef), which was also good, if a bit heavy on the butter.

The injera was soft and spongy, but not too moist or sour. It was definitely a good intro injera to folks new to Ethiopian food. I’ve had it more sour than this preparation, but really it’s all about the texture for me and this was great. Soft with a little bit of chewy pliancy to it, but not tough or hard.

We had a few leftovers that we took with us. Their menu is a bit out of date. Prices are a few dollars higher per item than listed, and their physical menu touts a vegan meal available as well.

All that plus three glasses of Ethiopian wine was $160 with 20% post-tax gratuity included.

Ching Ming (Chinese Tombsweeping Ceremony)

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Two weekends ago I went down to Flushing to spend the weekend with my family for Ching Ming, which is a Chinese Tombsweeping Ceremony. I don’t remember ever doing one before with my family, but I saw it on my Google Calendar for Chinese Holidays and asked my Dad if we could celebrate it. My dad talked with my aunts and uncle and settled for the first weekend in May when we’d all actually be able to do it together. Our take on it was simple and didn’t involve anything super elaborate. Just lots of food offerings (things the deceased enjoyed when they were with us) and paper offerings to burn.
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We burned this money with gold or silver on it. I remembered folding them into ingots at the funeral and asked my dad if we were supposed to fold them. “Oh, god no. We’ll be here all day.”

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And burned some hell money to Yeh-Yeh and Mah-Mah.

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Very official poking stick.
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My uncle went all out and bought a ton of stuff to burn to Yeh-Yeh. The paper offerings can get quite elaborate, like this paper roast pig.
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And this paper set of treats.

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We even burned a paper mansion.

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Treats go in the fire. Yeh-Yeh loved burning things. I remember we had a burn tub in the backyard of my childhood house in Washingtonville, and he loved coming up for a visit and burning things.

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Then it was time for lunch, so we went to Jin Cheng since they’re never that busy for lunch on Saturdays and they have a parking lot. Free tofu & beef soup to start. This was welcome for me since I’d had dental surgery the Thursday before we drove down and couldn’t do a ton of chewing. (Yeah, that was a really crappy week. Our beloved cat passed, I had dental surgery, and then a weekend of travel (thank goodness for Albany John, bc I couldn’t drive down).
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Chicken strips. Kind of like sweet and sour, but not gloppy.
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One of the perks of dental surgery was that I could beg off of rice without anyone going “Really??”. It was awesome.
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Squid, fish, and veggie pot.
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Fish, and shrimp and eggs. Oh man, the shrimp and eggs were right up my alley, both in terms of texture and flavor. There was sesame oil and a bit of white pepper in the eggs, and they were so tender and fluffy.

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Beef chow fun. A family favorite.

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Then Albany John and I went off for a walk to Sunrise Kitchen Supplies on Main Street. THEY WERE OPEN THIS TIME! YESSSS. When we went for Chinese New Year they were closed. I love this store. It’s small, but open to the public, and they have some great purchases and take credit cards for $15+. I wish we had something like this near us in Albany, but ah well.

Fun fact, this is also where Albany John got to put his Mandarin skills to use and tell off an annoying customer. She was yelling at the staff about everything under the sun and complaining about their service, etc. But for some reason she veered into “Why do you sell to foreigners?”  in her ranting and they said “We like the foreigners because they spend money,” to which Albany John retorted “Some foreigners speak Chinese!” which was the only thing that got this lady to be quiet and leave. The employees had a slight smirk on their faces and seemed pleased she stopped shouting, and her daughter looked extremely embarrassed. Meanwhile I had no idea what she was saying because my Mandarin is just that good.
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Any way, here are the AWESOME goodies we got for just shy of $80! A big proofing container for me in the back left. 3 different Hello Kitty ceramic food storage containers, tongs, a whisk, big spatula, big chopsticks (for grilling or stove-top cooking), wood chopsticks, tiki cups, a hot pot straining spoon, and a full size sheet tray.

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So many awesome goodies. If you click on the pictures you can see the crazy awesome prices.

After this we rested for a bit, and then I convinced my Dad, Dad’s Lady, and Uncle to try Ethiopian food (next post).

Chocolate Coconut Flour Cake

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Happy Birthday, D! D entered the very end of her twenties, and I wanted to bake her a cake. She’s not doing gluten lately and loves chocolate, so I thought hey, gluten-free chocolate cake made with coconut flour! This is an ultra-decadent and delicious cake. This was an especially special birthday to me, as D also shared it with my belated kitty, who turned 10 (everyone fed her as many treats as she wanted).
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She went out for a wine tasting and nibbles before cake time. Albany John and I had plans earlier in the evening, so we met at our place for cakey good times. I used this nut-free recipe for the cake.

Chocolate Coconut Flour Cake Recipe

2 C coconut flour
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
0.5 t baking powder
2 sticks of butter (1 C) at room temp
1 3/4 C sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 3/4 C milk (or milk sub, I used buttermilk. Drop your baking soda to 1.5 t if you’re using regular milk)
1/4 C melted coconut oil
9 eggs

And here’s how I make every recipe so it’s only one dish that gets dirty:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla extract. Then add in the milk. Scoop in the coconut flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix the dry stuff on the top a bit to combine, then mix it all in with the wet ingredients on the bottom. Then add in the melted coconut oil. Stir until well combined. The coconut flour will absorb the liquid while you’re mixing and seem like it’s drying out.

Bake in two 8 or 9 inch buttered cake pans at 350F until a toothpick comes out clean. About 30+ minutes.

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Here’s what your batter looks like when it’s ready to be moved into the cake pans. Kind of looks like frosting, or maybe playdoh.

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You’ll have to pat the batter into the pan. Coconut flour batters are vastly different than their wheat flour brethren.

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Seriously. It doesn’t fall or anything. You just plop it in…
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And smooth it out.

This made a little more than two 9-inch cake pans for me (my pans were shallow, though) so I baked the remaining batter in a little pan. It was good out of the oven. Kind of like a cakey brownie texture.

So, after we bake it, we let them cool. You can cut them in half if you want and make a 4 layer cake, but I’m not that delicate and didn’t want to mess this up for the birthday girl.

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I made a whipped chocolate ganache frosting and frosted the cake the night before. You can see the holes in the cake where I put skewers to then wrap in plastic wrap. Or as Albany John called it “I thought you were creating a protective force field to keep me out of it,”.

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I wasn’t super jazzed with my frosting skills or how the ganache came out (it was more like buttercream).
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Then I slathered the frosted cake in more liquid chocolate ganache.

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More chocolate ganache fixes everything, right?

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Well, come cake time, we had a cozy little set up going (this is as close to decorating as I’ll ever get).
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Happy Birthday, to an awesome friend.

On Mourning

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There are so many things in the world to be happy for. To be grateful for. Left to see and accomplish. We can spend our lives comparing. I think that’s how I spent a lot of my early twenties. How am I doing against my peers? Where am I? Am I keeping up? Oh gosh, I’m a complete failure because I’m not _______. Am I ever going to make it?

My mid to late twenties, I’m less concerned with these things. I don’t see the point of arguments, I’ve always tried to avoid those (with a variable success rate). But I see the merit of having uncomfortable conversations and moments without sweeping things under the rug. Mostly, I’ve been more concerned with living in the moment (while still planning for the future and appreciating the past) and enjoying as much of any given day as possible.

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One of my main joys in life is food. Albany John made these potato patties – mashed potato with overly smoked ham and mozzarella cheese. Holy crap, these were amazing. He is so creative in the kitchen.
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Even our cat was intrigued by the hammy smells. Sadly, she will no longer run through the house. She suffered a few seizures starting and ending in April. I’m getting used to her being gone. I secretly hope the creaks on the second floor are her rustling through the attic crawlspace and bedroom closets. I hope she’ll just slink out from underneath the futon, or from around a couch. It seems like she was with us so briefly, and yet for so long. 10 years is a long time for someone my age, and yet it still feels like the blink of an eye.

Once we moved into the house last fall she really took a shine to me. Before that, she was always more of Albany John’s girl. She’d follow me everywhere, and every night I went to bed she’d follow me and gently paw at the blanket to be let under the covers and snuggle up with me. Nearer to the end, she affected a the most adorable way of hinting that she wanted to crawl under the covers – two fake sneezes while standing around my head. I didn’t even know cats could fake sneezing, but she quickly learned what got her attention and what she wanted.

But I realize that there was nothing more we could have done, and she lived a fantastic life. After moving in the house, she also started showing an interest in human food. I’m glad that I spoiled her and gave her food basically whenever she showed interest.

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Like pieces of ribeye steak. I still have my sad moments, but they are out-shined by the years of memories of her that bring a smile to my face. From skittish, shy, sneaky feral kitten to snuggly shadow. I’ll miss that nub-tacular kitty.