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AskTP – Wandering Jew

August 13, 2013

There’s apparently a plant called the Wandering Jew. Even though the word Jew isn’t offensive on its face, whenever I call myself the Wandering Jew, people laugh uncomfortably. Maybe it has something to do with the troubling story from 13th century Christian mythology. But that’s what I am. At least right now. I’m a wanderer roaming around the northeast.

Fortunately for all concerned, I have no intentions of changing the name of the blog. I’m not going to take a vote whether I should change it or not. Primarily because one day I hope to settle down, and I can see that the day isn’t too far in the distance. September is getting closer all the time, which is when I’ll make New Jersey my new home. But also, why would I want to call this blog something that would make even a handful of potential readers uncomfortable?

For now, I’ve carved out enough time to play a little bit of catch up. I’ve already removed the call to action for Capital Region chefs at the top of the blog. And now I’m going to answer all of the accumulated questions from the past few weeks.

Even if I’m not in Albany, I’m still me. And my commitments still hold. I will eventually answer any question posted in the comments section of the blog. It may not be a good answer, it may not be right, and it may not be timely. But dammit, it’s an answer.

Now without further ado, onto the questions.

Mr. Dave is a true believer:
I find it funny… Didn’ you, in your early days locally, act all aghast at my love for Stewart’s? Now you are a true believer just like me. The world could learn a lot from concept of Stewart’s.

Aghast I was. The eggs won me over. It is hard to beat their super freshness unless you have your own chickens. And then as a father, it’s hard not to lean heavily on their ice cream when you need a treat for the kids. I’ve also found that the milk is good in a pinch when I unexpectedly run out and don’t want to make the drive for the good stuff.

Now that I’m converted over to the joys of Stewart’s, I feel like I’ve turned a corner to being a true Capital Region resident and not some displaced Californian. It was a long time coming. And just as the transformation was happening, my family was ripped from the bosom of Albany. Surely Stewart’s will still be there when we get back, and I can stock back up on Philly Vanilla ice cream.

Jamie on the other hand can hardly believe it:
How do you not weigh 500lbs?! :)

I figure coffee helps to speed my metabolism. But my real secret is that I weigh myself every day. And when I see the scale start to tilt, I dial back my unhealthy ways. Besides that, I also am mindful of portion sizes, consider refined grains the equivalent of candy, limit my candy consumption to almost zero, avoid non-caloric sweeteners like poison, except for mint gum which I enjoy tremendously, otherwise stick to healthy snacks (like fruit, nuts, and kimchi), and try not to snack late at night. That’s normal, right?

Jon E is a very very patient fellow, but that’s not always a good thing:
I have an early bottle of Rare Pear (may be first batch, I’ll have to look). I have not cracked it open yet. Any advantage to letting this age in the bottle?

Nope. With rare exception, spirits don’t age in the bottle. The ones that do have been infused with botanicals, so there are actually non-distilled things suspended in the spirit. Two good examples are chartreuse and absinthe. Spirits age and can improve in a barrel up to a point. The difference between spirits in a barrel and spirits in a bottle is air. Wooden barrels allow for oxidation and evaporation, also the wood itself can add some tasty notes in and of itself. So crack that baby open today and enjoy the heck out of it. Depending on how they are stored, spirits can actually decline with age in the bottle, especially after it has been opened.

Jessica R. needs a little bit of help reading between the lines:
What is your choice for best Greek in the area? It’s not noted on your recommendations tab. I think Athos is a good choice.

The more I look at the recommendations tab, the more I think other categories should be eliminated too. There is no Greek on the list because there is no Greek restaurant that I think is particularly noteworthy. Athos has a few good things. But man, serving everything with the same vegetable medley, and their meat-plus-starch-plus-veggie style of dining is completely unacceptable at a joint with such premium prices. On the other end of the spectrum, Anton’s isn’t bad. I actually like a lot of what they do. However, I don’t think it’s quite notable enough to earn a spot on the list.

Bill Dowd could use a little bit of handholding, but that’s okay:
Oh, by the way Daniel, since I wrote that the Capital Region has no signature dish of the sort recognized in other areas (spiedies in Binghamton, chicken riggies in Syracuse/Utica, Buffalo wings in … well, you know) you say it does. However, you don’t specify. What, exactly, is our signature dish, in your view?

I really thought I pointed Bill to the recommendations tab of the blog where this is all laid out in its own category. When it comes to our signature dish, my number one pick would be our unique foot-long fish fry sandwich. More so than anything else, because it’s available everywhere in the region. Our mini hot dogs with meat sauce are really a micro-regional food centered on Troy and Watervliet. Mozzarella and melba is also a contender, but that’s a harder one for people to swallow. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that many mozzarella sticks are made with an Italian herb coating, and if you were to dunk one of those in raspberry sauce, it would be a truly unpleasant experience. But the un-herbed coating makes for a glorious treat.

If you expanded the region a little bit, I think apple cider donuts is a great one to claim as our own, but that extends a bit into western Massachusetts. And if you went into the past, you could try to resurrect Mike’s NEBA. Further back is “Albany Beef” but until we can start eating sturgeon from the Hudson river again, that’s off the menu.

Josh K has identified one of the tragedies of my life:
Do you have a personal favorite pizza place in NEPA?

No. Family is such a mixed bag. We drive through NEPA four times a year at the very least. And we have been doing this drive for several years. Do you know how many times I’ve successfully convinced the family to stop in NEPA? Three. Only one of which involved pizza. They just want to get to the farm or get home. Seriously, I’m the worst food lover ever. Perhaps I need to start getting political about it and getting the kids on my side in advance of the trip.

Tonia has identified one of the tragedies of capitalism:
This happens to me all the time. So frustrating. You can always tell to, when a smaller natural and/or organic company has been bought out. They always change the packaging and make it more flashy, no?

Can you? I wouldn’t be so sure. Kashi is now owned by Kellogg. Coleman Natural has been purchased by Purdue. Coca Cola owns Honest Tea. General Mills owns LaraBar. In fact, there are precious few independent companies left in the natural and organic food market. You can see all the depressing mergers, acquisitions and buyouts in this relatively recent article from Forbes. The landscape is pretty bleak.

Todd bemoans the profit seeking brand managers:
WHY can’t these companies leave stuff alone? I understand from a profit standpoint mega-companies are always looking to squeeze a few pennies more. But seriously, was there somebody out there crying that there just ‘wasn’t enough protein’ in that bowl of cereal?

Oooh. Oooh. I know this one! Burnt My Fingers will agree. Nothing sells better than “New and improved.” So blame us ad guys. We’ve poisoned the minds of brand managers and they believe the hype. But we’re not the only ones culpable. You can also blame Wall Street that pushes publicly traded companies to not just run successful businesses, but by defining successful businesses as those that make increasingly more money year after year.

Grape Nuts is a successful product. The manufacturer can take simple inexpensive ingredients, combine them into a tasty product, package it, distribute it, and sell it for a profit. Sadly there are only going to be so many people who will ever eat Grape Nuts more than once. However their core audience will sustain the business indefinitely. But that’s not good enough for the money managers. A lack of growth equals death. Sadly this drive for growth causes some brands to fall of course, and they end up dying anyway. You bastards, you killed my breakfast!

Burnt My Fingers may or may not be the kind of guy who orders just one piece of bacon:
I saw your Waffle House was in Carlisle, PA. My kid was attending a summer program at Dickinson so you may well have been there at the same time. He would have been the one ordering all the bacon. Do they still allow you to order a single piece, by the way? (That is a question.)

I did see them bringing out an entire flat of bacon to replenish the supply by the griddle. Perhaps I just missed your son. I’m fairly certain that one piece of bacon isn’t on the menu. One waffle still is, although I was discouraged from ordering that as the kids meal with meat and a soda is just a few cents more. However since my kids didn’t want meat or liquid candy, I politely told our waiter that one waffle would be sufficient.

-R didn’t ask a question, but I did want to acknowledge his comment:
Nice article this week in the NY Times regarding La Querica.

Thanks for sharing this. I know I should keep up better with the Times Dining section than I actually do, and I had totally missed this. I first tried the La Quercia at The Cheese Traveler, and brought some to Thanksgiving. It was the tastiest thing on our cheese and charcuterie plate, and it continues to be my favorite cured meat. I also just found out they have it at Lucy’s Whey in East Hampton. If you can get your hands on a few slices of this stuff, do it. It’s a bit expensive–not nearly as much as Iberico–but worth every penny.

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