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Funday: Trick or Treat

October 31, 2014

This is Halloween. Tomorrow isn’t Halloween. Hopefully this year we can take care of all the revelry in just one day instead of needing most of the week. If you like to dress up in costumes at work, you can do that today. If you like to dress up in costumes at parties, you can do that today too, as late as you like, since Saturday’s a holiday.

Saturday is also the Fifth Annual Tour de Cider Donut. But if you don’t already have your ticket, it’s likely too late. Sales close at noon on Friday. Results from the tour will be posted early next week, so those who will be sleeping off tonight’s festivities tomorrow will be spared the hard work of eating a day’s worth of calories in donut form before noon.

For those who are wondering, we’ve got our candy. I did manage to avoid the PGPR. You know what’s extra insidious about an undesirable ingredient that’s only four letters long? It’s really hard to see it on the back of the package, even if you’re looking closely. Although it could just mean I’m in dire need of reading glasses.

Regardless, this holiday is all about strangers knocking on your door, and you giving them what they want. Well I’m going to do that with the blog today. Because you’ll never guess who showed up on my doorstep looking for candy.

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Why We Do What We Do

October 30, 2014

These races we’ve run were not for glory,
No moral to this story, we run for peace of mind.
But the race we’re running now is never ending,
Space and time upending, there’s no finish line.
~Chris Smither

There hasn’t been a song of the day for a while. I’ve been hearing this on the radio recently. Probably because he’s got a gig coming up locally at Helsinki Hudson on November 14. Anyhow, it really speaks to me and I can’t get it out of my head.

Like the singer of the song, those who work in food aren’t in it for the money or the fame. Most chefs aren’t on television. Most don’t get out to the farmers market. Instead, they spend countless hours on their feet in cramped hot kitchens far removed from any face to face contact with those who are eating their food. Good chefs will put a ton of work into each and every dish. Much of their labor goes either unappreciated by both those who shovel food into their faces without taking time to taste what was so painstakingly crafted, or is slighted by those who are so fastidious as to find room for improvement in almost every detail.

But the world of people who care about good food goes beyond the cooks, farmers, and craftspeople. It includes importers, distributors, merchants, and yes, even writers.

Why am I rambling on about all this? Well, I’ve got a big idea that I want to share with you all.

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Tricky Treats

October 29, 2014

Life is hard. Vices make it better.

My life is easier than most. I’m very very lucky. But that doesn’t mean it’s without countless daily struggles. And sometimes after a battle over homework, or an unexpectedly difficult trip to the shoe store, it feels good to sit down with a cocktail.

I don’t begrudge people their vices. If cigarettes make it better, so be it. You want to bury your feelings under an avalanche of food at The Cheesecake Factory, go right ahead. Roll a joint. Pop a pill. Run a marathon. It’s your body. Your rules.

Last week TC Paris hosted a one year anniversary party for their Saratoga shop. It was my first time in this new space. I shudder to think how much fat, sugar, carbs and calories I consumed in the form of mini eclairs, mini Paris-Brest, slices of chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream, prosciutto and cheese sandwiches, and cheese and jam canapés. Chef Paul sent me off with a few treats to go including his toffee, a bag of duchilly hazelnuts, and a couple of black olive sablé cookies.

Dammit, I’m an adult. If I want to gorge on fat and sweets, that’s my right. Kids only get a handful of days each year when this kind of self-destructive binge eating is acceptable. One of them is coming up on Friday.

I have no problem with sugar. Candy is dandy. But these days it’s more tricky.

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The 5th Annual Tour de Donut

October 28, 2014

The Tour de Donut has been a rite of fall since 2010. That was when Stanford Steph encouraged me to lead a group of eaters out into the wilderness in order to sample some of the better apple cider donuts in the region. Our goal was to find the very best.

While the inaugural turn out was modest, the event was even more fun that I had expected. Hanging out with a bunch of like-minded strangers, eating donut after donut after donut, and discussing the properties of each one, is just not something you get to experience every day.

Not only did I decide to continue the Tour de Donut, but that event was the catalyst that spawned several other regional food tours over the years. The Tour de Donut even continued in my absence last year thanks to Steph stepping up and volunteering to lead the group.

This year I’ve let things slip. I’m out of my regular rhythms. So instead of going on tour in September, this year we’re going on Saturday. Amazingly, that’s already November 1. I can’t believe it. As a result, the tour is going to be just a little bit different than it has been in years past.

But I think it’s going to make a lot of people happy.

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AskTP – Raked

October 27, 2014

Late fall hurts. It’s great to get back into the swing of really cooking. Simmering stocks. Stewing beans. Slow roasting end-of-season tomatoes. The raking, I could do without. Still, it’s good practice for the snow shoveling that’s coming. I wouldn’t want to suffer a heart attack because I’m so out of shape.

Complaining aside, the blog has been doing gangbusters lately. It’s likely we have some new readers this week who are not familiar with the semi-regular feature I like to call Ask the Profussor.

Here’s how it works. A long time ago, I committed to answering every single question that was asked in the comments section of the blog. But there’s a catch. The question has to use proper punctuation. What I never committed to was a time frame for providing the answer.

Sometimes I’ll answer questions immediately. Other times I’ll save them for these regular Q&A posts. Questions are separated by the mysterious link of the day. So don’t be shy. If you ever have a question, ask away. You’ll get an answer. Eventually.

The best way to see how this works is to get on to the questions. Read more…

Smarter Restaurant Philanthropy

October 24, 2014

Restaurants have it tough. I’ve heard it said that owning a restaurant is a great way to turn a large fortune into a small one. It’s a brutal business.

What makes it even more brutal in the Capital Region are the demands local charities put on our eating places. This is, after all, a small town with a lot of restaurants. The last thing an owner wants to do is to piss off well-connected regulars. As it turns out, many of those regulars are also involved with philanthropy.

Signing on to attend one of these wine and food events isn’t that bad. Restaurants can get suppliers to donate food and take it as a write off. It gets the chefs out of the kitchen for a few hours and puts them face to face with an adoring public. It’s good exposure for the restaurant, as it helps to keep their name fresh in consumers mind. Plus it provides an opportunity to entice prospective guests with a taste of the restaurant’s food.

Participating restaurant come off as being generous. Generous is the opposite of cheap. And in this town, “cheap” is like the worst possible thing imaginable.

The problem is that it’s never just one event. These things go on all the time. And a chef could be away from the kitchen several nights in one week just covering these affairs. Affairs which never truly do a good job at putting the restaurant’s food in the best light. Affairs which effectively replace a dining out occasion for those in attendance. Affairs which may not be geographically proximate to the restaurant and may draw a lot of people who will never consider making a reservation.

I need to dig more deeply into all of this, and I hope to in the near future. For now, I’m pleased to report that one restaurant group seems to have found a better way.

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Small, Cheap & Unique

October 23, 2014

Perhaps a few people today will help these words break out of the echo chamber.

The growing readership of the FLB is humbling. I’m amazed that the site has hundreds of subscribers and that thousands come to these pages regularly to read my thoughts on food. But even regular readers don’t read every post every day. So it’s very possible that one of you reading this right now has no knowledge of the Capital Region’s culinary treasures.

I’m amazed at how many people I meet from Albany, whose families have lived in the region for generations, know nothing about its culinary heritage. Some have never tried a Capital Region Fish Fry, our signature mini dogs, or the idiosyncratic mozzarella sticks with melba sauce.

Perhaps it’s foolish, but given how much I and others have written about some of the region’s more exciting ethnic restaurants, I assume that most people are at least aware of their existence. But like the region’s edible oddities, far too many of our residents have never heard of them.

Take, for example, a recent question posted by a reader of the Table Hopping food blog.

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