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A Manly Cup of Coffee

April 22, 2019

It’s Monday! The weekend was long. There was lots of eating. Perhaps there was some drinking in there too. 4/20 happened to fall on Saturday, and now that recreational marijuana is legal just across the border in Massachusetts, maybe more people took part in the day’s festivities. Actually, I saw a fascinating promotion of 4/20 from Ben & Jerry’s which was rather unexpected, but very important to think about.

While weekends are theoretically a chance to relax and catch up on the sleep missed over the course of the week, more often than not, I find them to be exhausting. Not only did we have a Passover seder on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday I was the parent on duty to accompany our son to the cubing competition at the Albany Capital Center.

Thank god for coffee.

I grabbed a cortado from Stacks on Saturday, which helped restore my will to live. On Sunday the coffee at the City Beer Hall brunch helped to balance out the free mimosa that came with the spring omelet. Actually, that coffee was so potent that after a second mug of it I considered having a full glass of the dark and stormy Nine Pin Cider just to help bring me back down.

Coffee is necessary for a lot of people, of all stripes, to help make it through the day. And today, I wanted to talk a little bit more about that.

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The Holiday Spirit

April 19, 2019

The weekend is almost here, and it’s a big one. We’ve got Passover starting tonight, and that’s here all week. Then Easter is on Sunday, and I understand that a few people might be going out for brunch? For many people, brunch seems to be just another reason to drink during the day. But I’m not judging. During the Passover seder, we are instructed to drink four cups of wine. Spring festivals are a time for festive drinking!

Of course, one of the challenging things about drinking during Passover is that we’re supposed to avoid the five chametz grains: wheat, barely, oats, rye, and spelt.

People often ask, but isn’t matzoh made from wheat? And it is. However, it’s made under strict supervision, under a set of explicit guidelines to make sure when the grain is added to water it doesn’t have a chance to rise. Technically, the prohibition is against leavened bread. You can read the text here. All of rules that have been created over the centuries are what we call “fences around the Torah.” These are set up as protections to make sure nobody can even get close to violating the rule at the heart of the matter.

I say this, because next week I’ll be participating in Wednesday Drink Night at Speakeasy 518 and I’m okay with that. My hope is you’ll join me. The fun starts at 6pm with an education session and free tasting. Then two bartenders go head to head at 8pm with a secret ingredient from earlier that evening. You just have to call ahead (518.449.2332) and let them know you plan to attend.

While I absolutely respect and admire those more observant members of the tribe who go all out for Passover, that level of observance just is not for me. Still, I do my best. At home, I’m even going to give up beer and whiskey for the week. I’ve also picked up a few special spirits to help get me through the holiday. While there are plenty that qualify, one is definitely my chosen bottle.

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The Lamb, The Ham, and The Plan

April 18, 2019

You know, this weekend isn’t just about Passover, there’s also another holiday going on too. It’s hard to miss since all the stores are filled with chocolate, egg themed doodads, and all kinds of rabbit based merchandise.

It’s Easter.

And nothing puts Passover in context as much as Easter. Because as I’m preparing for a long week intended to recall the suffering of slavery, those who celebrate Easter are getting ready to delight their children with baskets full of colorful sweets in a joyful festival of spring. Although I suppose that comes at the finish line of the lenten season. So while I’m facing the prospects of giving up bread, pasta, and granola for a week, there are others who have given up more for longer.

Still, so much attention is paid to the “December dilemma” when Jewish kids miss out on the joys of Christmas. But where’s the sympathy for this spring situation? Hey, I love brisket just as much as the next guy. But lamb? Ham? These are my jam.

Let’s take a moment and discuss these festive holiday joints, including some critical information for those who might be celebrating Easter with a very special meal.

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The Passover Panic

April 17, 2019

Don’t Panic! It’s good advice, but it’s hard. Because sometimes panicking seems to be the only logical recourse.

Passover is coming. It begins on Friday night, and once it starts, bread and beer become forbidden foods. We avoid the five grains that are considered to be hametz, and those are wheat, oat, barley, rye, and spelt.

It’s a hard week, and it causes a lot of people to panic for all kinds of different reasons. The most observant members of the Jewish community take this opportunity to engage in a ritual purification ritual of the home. Every speck of hametz has to be cleaned out, and it’s a major ordeal. Some folks decide to go away for the week instead of facing the task.

We don’t do that. Heck, we barely give up hametz. Don’t tell the kids, but I’ll be judging a cocktail competition at Speakeasy 518 on the Wednesday during passover. A little hametz isn’t going to be the end of the world.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t anything to panic over, because I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

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Crossing Over

April 16, 2019

There are all kinds of food communities within the Capital Region, and I try to keep a toe in as many of them as possible. There is the blogging community, which has been shrinking and shrinking. There is the instagramming community, which has been growing and getting more vibrant. Of course, there is also the Yelp community, and working with that group has been my primary focus over the past few years.

We have specialized communities around certain diets and cuisines. Naturally, there are thriving vegan and natural foods communities. There is a sushi meetup group. A friend had been running a periodic brunch bunch. We have cookbook clubs, cooking schools, and more. On top of it all, every great establishment has a klatch of regulars who are a community in and of themselves.

Last night, I got to spend some time in real life with a few local members of the Tell Me What You Are Eating Facebook group at New World Bistro Bar. As far as I’m concerned, TMWYAE is the only good thing about FB. It’s a positive place where members are encouraged to share their pics of whatever they are about to eat. Good or bad. Fancy or humble. Beautifully plated or thrown together.

It’s really an amazing assemblage of pictures across the food spectrum.

One of the things I learned about Albany long ago is that the region itself is pretty large, but socially it’s quite small. And as such, there were people who I knew from various food communities around the table. Randy, who is one of the TMWYAE moderators, even went toe to toe with me in a cooking competition years and years ago. Bloggers, Instagrammers, and Yelpers made up a good portion of the table.

However, I also got to meet some new faces, and that’s always a thrill. Additionally we got to meet over wave after wave of chef Ric’s chicken wings, which may be another crossover that warrants some attention.

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Taxing

April 15, 2019

This weekend the Fussies did our taxes. Yeah. We could have done some yard work, or engaged in cooking projects. But instead we paid a bunch of money to some tax software company, and spent hours answering inane questions about our finances over the past year.

Despite all the changes to the tax code, and all the hand wringing, this year was pretty much exactly like last year. Taxes weren’t simpler to prepare. While some things went up, other things went down, and we ended up pretty much in the same place as we were a year ago.

I guess that makes us lucky.

Some people took a hit. Others, I assume, ended up in a better position. I’ll take being financially unaffected by the madness to be a financial win. But really, it feels like we’re all losing.

There was something else that was taxing about this weekend, unlike the story of my actual taxes, this one has a food component to it.

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The Capital Region’s Best Bartenders

April 12, 2019

How do you know what’s best? Well, one way is asking 24,000 people and going with their collective wisdom. But we know how that goes. Another is having a dedicated panel of thoughtful tasters work their way around the region, and evaluate things based on a set of specific criteria.

The second, is how the FLB works its tours. It was also the methodology for All Over Albany’s Tournament of Pizza. And it’s also how I approached finding the best dozen donuts for AOA.

Is the process flawless? Hardly. But in going through the evaluation, a lot more is revealed than merely what brand has the most unaided or aided recognition within the community. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s one driven by tasting, and ideally is never just the opinion of one evaluator.

Which is why I was thrilled to be invited to judge the 3rd Annual Albany Distilling Company Cocktail Contest. It took up a month of Mondays just to get to the finals. And just last weekend, Seth Brannock representing Flatbread Social and the city of Saratoga Springs took the prize back to Spa City.

But that’s not the whole story. How did he win, and what else was revealed? That’s where things get even more interesting.

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