First CSA – “Lovage” It

As a sick little boy slumbered for his nap upstairs, I anxiously awaited Dave with the arrival of our first CSA share. What would that little box contain? The farm had sent an email stating the bounty of seedlings they had recently planted, but given the recent cold snaps in the weather, I was doubtful we’d have much to show for it this first week.

Winston was immediately interested in the overflowing, larger-than-expected waxy box. Of course, it smelled like “outside”; his favorite smell. (He loves us when we spend the day outside doing yard work and gets upset when we shower. Strange to us, normal to him.)

The first time through this box was a little of an emotional rollercoaster for this pregnant lady. I noticed a few flower buds and grew excited, “Flowers?? Or, no…wait!” Yup, I knew what it was: chives. They were bundled with a small handful of an unfamiliar herb. It looked like parsley with huge leaves, but upon smelling I knew it couldn’t be. Celery? What herb smells like celery?

Upon further inspection, we found lettuce of all sorts, which admittedly sank my heart a bit. This pregnancy, I have had zero appetite for salads (or much of anything that’s super healthy, honestly), so I thought, “Dave’ll be having lots and lots of salads…or I’d better find an awesome new dressing or vinaigrette recipe to make them palatable.” Keeping positive, this is my plan.

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Aside from the overabundance of salad greens, we got 5-6 potatoes, a bunch of radishes, some scallions, and some Swiss chard (another “never cooked with that” item). Overall, I’m super happy with the take, and was surprised at just how much we got, all things considered.

So, this week I’ll be on the lookout for a recipe that the family will actually endure for Swiss chard and a dressing that will help ME endure all the salad in our futures (I had a warm bacon one years ago that I may need to revisit).

As far as the “mystery herb” is concerned, I’ve already done my research (Mother Earth News gave the best information). Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of “lovage”. Needless to say, I never had before. It was apparently a very popular herb, up there with parsley and dill, until just a few generations ago. Funny how an ingredient can be well-known for literally centuries only to lose popularity and become practically unknown in modernity. It definitely says something for the narrowing of our collective taste buds. Hmph.

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So, anyway, the facts. Lovage has traditionally had both culinary and medicinal uses, dating back to…well, nobody knows where or when specifically it first originated, but it’s said that the Romans first brought it to England, where it was grown at medieval monasteries. (It could very well have started its life in Asia, for all we know.) It was used to treat rheumatism, and was even brought by the American colonists to consume in tea form in order to ward off the inevitable aches and pains of the New World.

Smelling strongly of celery, it can actually be used any place that celery generally is. However, it is much stronger in flavor, so should be about halved. (Note to self.)

That said, we’re keeping it, along with the chives and their pretty buds, in a bit of water until I can track down some more ingredients. If it’s not too warm over the weekend, a chicken soup would take care of it nicely, as would stuffing (in June? Really, Dellecese?). The leaves also add a bit of celery flavor to salads, so I may have to remember to use them when we’re making our inevitable salads feasts.


Any suggestions for making a food (salads, in general) that has seemed completely disgusting and inedible to a pregnant lady more appetizing? I’ve eaten maaaaaybe one a week. Tops. And it hasn’t been fun. (My husband, who could absolutely live on them, looks at me strangely and, I’m guessing, doesn’t get it.)

I’m thinking BLTs (I don’t eat tomatoes, but I’m down with this…maybe with avocado, yay healthy fat!), using it as a lettuce wrap (Had may be down for this…not sure it’ll help me at all), or just shoot the moon and do taco dip piled high with lettuce. Maybe. Any other ideas??

5 Reasons I’m Okay Spending $100 on a Dinner

Depending on the time of year, we go out maybe every 1-2 months and get a pizza every, eh, 2-3 weeks. Compared to the old days when pizza was weekly and going out was, well, probably also a weekly thing (plus any fast food stops, especially back when we were first dating and acting in shows), this is pretty stellar. 

So, I thought I’d talk about briefly about why it’s totally cool with me that Dave’s taking me out for my birthday for what’s undoubtedly going to cost probably $100…give or take. 

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via Trip Advisor

Special Occasion – I don’t usually give into the “it’s my birthday, I deserve it” sort of thing. However, we often decide that we’d rather take advantage of a super rare date night (seriously, if we get four a year, we’re doing something) than to actually buy gifts for the other person. This year, I don’t find myself “in need” of anything, so an incredible meal it is. (We often do something similar for our anniversary or Valentine’s Day.) Plus, any time we can eat without the little one is pretty much a special occasion. 😉 Thanks to the sitters (grandparents) of the world!!!

Insane Food – I know you probably already assume that insanity has to come into play when it comes to spending over $100 on dinner, but it’s not our insanity; it’s the INSANELY AWESOME thought put into the cuisine at our favorite restaurant. I’ve chatted about what an incredible spot The Tailor and the Cook is in the past, but yeah. I’ll repeat it again, it’s just. That. Good. The word “delicious” doesn’t describe it well enough. Also, the fact that we eat out less than the “good ol’ days” makes us really enjoy this style of food more, even if we do it only a couple of times a year. 

Locavore’s Paradise – We obviously wouldn’t be willing to spend the big bucks at a regular, local restaurant (or chain) that serves the usual fare. But, much of the food served here is based on the local ingredients they’ve sourced. The care in the menu alone shows the thought put into the season and proper preparation of the food (hello, fiddleheads and ramps!). Plus, knowing (and often seeing at our local farmers’ markets) the farms and food producers displayed in a totally proud, transparent way? We have to get behind that. 

The Anticipation – Okay. I haven’t had a huge appetite lately, but when I found out we’d be going to T&C, I couldn’t help but check out the menu. Seriously, I can’t decide what to get, but it doesn’t matter! Just look at that menu! And the things that sound strange are what end up being your favorite, so I put my faith into the hands of the chef(s). 

It’s an Investment – People consider all sorts of things investments. Saving for college. (Okay, we do that.) Buying cars. Collecting dolls. All sorts of things. For us, food like this is an important investment. We care about the food’s treatment before it even gets to the restaurant, we care that the chef(s) give it the best possible flavor profile, and the experience of the entire evening fulfills us to no end. So, yeah. It’s an investment we’ll gladly make.   

Why NYS is the Best Place for Fall Living

Happy Columbus Day! If you’re looking for something to do today, this post is for you! I’ve mentioned some of the stuff I can’t WAIT to do this fall with the fam. Some of them were great “general” ideas that anyone can do anywhere. Others are totally area specific. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Upstate/Central New York autumn must-do’s.

Side note: Upstate? It ain’t Westchester. Just sayin’. Just try ‘n fight me on this one.

I’m a fan of lots of places. We’ve got BFFs in Western Mass, and love visiting the place; there’s SO much to do! We hit up Vermont practically every fall. I’ve enjoyed visiting Maine and Pennsylvania and tons of other New Englandy-type places over the years. I even sway city-lover, thanks to Boston, NYC & Philly (hard to pick a favorite…).

So, what’s so great about NYS/CNY?

Strangely, there are points that Dave and I are sick of the place. Our opinions have bounced around about where to live, and we’ve considered relocating, but the ultimate fact still remains: Family is #1 to both of us, followed closely by those rare lifelong friends (the ones we can easily visit or who have decided to move back “home”). So, this is where our hearts remain.

So, we know the bad (depressing) facts of “here.” But, because of our lifelong experiences, we also can recognize the awesomeness. In the fall, the place is freaking BRIMMING with it.

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Leaf peeping at its finest. You can say yours is the best, but seriously…ours is. 😉 If it’s early in the season, pack the car and head up north to the Adirondacks (stop for a bite to eat in Old Forge, or one of the “rustic” diners hidden in the deep woods). If it’s mid-season, hit anywhere south of the Adirondacks. Seriously, throw a dart and go there. Just check out this map first.   

The food be kicking. (<– Clear evidence that I am far from an urbanite. Or cool.) Okay, the food can be pretty great here all year 'round, but when the comfort food season hits (yes, it's a season unto itself), this is the place to be. Two words: Chicken riggies. Two more words: Utica greens. A couple more: half moons. Plus, the seasonal produce is insane and this is our favorite season to hit up our locavore restaurants. The chefs are amazing to begin with, but the flavors of the season just sing under their expertise.

You can pick all ya want. *giggles* Pick. Like nose. Ha! But, no, really, I’m talking about apples and pumpkins (and sometimes autumn berries, if you’re lucky). Apples are king here in NYS, so whether you just want to grab some at a farmers’ market or pick your own, this is the site to find out where. And it just isn’t fall without a pumpkin (or 12), so check this site and click on the region you’re interested in, or just check out my neck of the woods at this site. And, yes, those websites suck, visually. I agree. 😉 

We’re a boozy state. Okay. Iffin’ you’re into such fun, upstate is rife with breweries, cider mills (ahem, the HARD stuff), and wineries. You can spend a day touring a path of wineries, or just hit up one brewery to test their wares. Dave and I enjoy NYS wines, even though he enjoys drier stuff and I’m perfect for the sweet-leaning NYS grapes. And while I should admit for all the world to hear that the Utica Brewery is the best in the world (it’s good…it really is), I actually prefer Brewery Ommegang. Apparently I’m into the Belgian stuff. Who knew? Seriously, there isn’t a flavor I DON’T LOVE. And if you’re going to visit their just-outside-Cooperstown spot, you MUST hit up their munchies. Far more sophisticated than traditional pub fare; I highly suggest the fries. (No, really. Fries. With a combination of dipping friends. A party in your mouth!)

Speaking of cider… If you’re into the kid-friendly stuff, our cider mills are sure to make you happy. We’ve got simple cideries that provide just some basic cider, and maybe donuts on the weekends. We’ve also got huge mills that show you how the stuff’s made and sell gifts, specialty foods, pies, fudge, anything in a jar (you think I’m kidding), and, sure, cider. (I’m talkin’ about you, Fly Creek Cider Mill!) Check out this search (yes, I’m sending you to a Google search since they’re not all in listed on the same website) to find your new favorite! Seriously, I didn’t even know Clinton had a cider mill until a short while ago.

Hayrides and corn mazes and farmers’ markets, oh my! In case you haven’t already noticed, there’s a $%&#load to do throughout upstate. While locals often complain about the sheer lack of anything to do, much like a lazy, bored teenager, it’s actually pretty untrue. I guess it depends on what you’re interested in. Like, Dave and I aren’t huge winter people. We have a few activities that we do, but for the most part it’s “hunkering down with some homemade cocoa and an old movie” season. Others come alive in the winter, with snowmobiling or snowshoeing or skiing galore.

Autumn, however, is THE time to enjoy whatever you like. Search for a farmers’ market to visit and make some roasted root veggies. Like to get freaked out? Take your pick. Want a hayride or corn maze for the kiddos? See if any of these will fit your needs. Honestly, if you just search for activities in whatever area you’ll be visiting, you’ll find something.

Here are our own favorites, in no particular order:

Fly Creek Cider Mill — two words: duck pond. Two more words: Free samples.
Oneida County Public Market — we do this year ’round, actually
Cooperstown Farmers’ Market — one of the few “indoors” markets (and if you’re heading to Cooperstown, enjoy the leaf peeping along the way and wander the town. If you haven’t been, plan to stay a day and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if you’re not into baseball, head over to the Farmers Museum and/or the Fenimore Cooper Museum nearby. 
– ANY Finger Lake wineries (pick lake, grab a map and just go!)
North Star Orchards for some apple pickin’
Beardslee Castle or The Tailor and the Cook for some impeccable locavore grub
Cullen Pumpkin Farm — We may get our pumpkins here this year… Corn maze and wagon rides, too!

What are your favorite fall activities? Got any places that you’d like to share in the comments? Feel free to link!

Chobani vs. Stonyfield

I’ve stated my love for Chobani Greek yogurt here a long, long time ago. I’ve used it in tons of recipes (especially as a thick replacement for sour cream and in dips/dressings) and used to eat it religiously everyday as a snack. Since it’s a local business doing huge things, I’ve generally been proud of the work they’ve done.

Since we’ve gone mostly organic, however, and now that Hadman’s a toddler (ie it’s cheapest/easiest to buy generally the same products), all of our milk products are made of organic milk. Any time I’m cooking with a yogurt, I’d rather it be whole milk since he’ll be eating it, too (and there are plusses to whole vs. lowfat), although we “adults” still eat Greek.

So, we had to do some soul-searching on our yogurt choices.

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That said, Chobani isn’t the best in the world as far as its ingredient transparency. While I try not to be down about such things, especially when they’re providing so many opportunities for local workers (although I have heard mixed reviews on working there), the fact that their cows are fed GMO ingredients (and, for that matter, are raised in the “traditional” less than humane way), I had mixed feelings about feeding the stuff to my son. Plus, Greek yogurt, by nature, is lowfat or 0% fat. Not the greatest thing for a youngin’.

So, we made a jump to Stonyfield. We were already buying their milk (since it’s from humanely-treated, mostly grassfed cows), so it was an easy decision…once I let the guilt of not purchasing Chobani fall off my shoulders.

Stonyfield makes all kinds of yogurts, but we purchase the regular (plain is always in the fridge; once in awhile vanilla, but since it has added organic sugar, I limit this), the Greek cups for work (I love the “super fruits” flavor with pomegranate and Dave’s a blueberry guy), and half the time I either buy Hadley the baby cups (way less ingredients than the toddler or kid versions, and less sugar) or make little take-along cups with my small Ball jars. Apparently we eat a lot of yogurt. 😉

Oh, and let’s just say we were shopping at a different store last week in a hurry and I found our Greek cups for $1 apiece. Let’s just say I literally jumped back a couple of feet and squealed amidst the very busy dairy area, I was just that excited. Yes, folks. A proud moment for my husband, I’m sure.

Yes, it’s usually kind of expensive, but not by much. Almost every week, I go onto Stonyfield’s website (that’s actually a link to sign up for special offers) to see if there are any printable coupons, and I receive the occasional email offer to print. Let’s just say that I had a coupon that was expiring the next day and I didn’t have use for the item, so when I saw a woman picking up that very item I stopped her and handed the coupon over. She couldn’t believe it and kept saying “Are you sure? Are you sure??” Yep. I’m sure. Spread the organic love, folks.

Oh, and if, by rare chance, I find organic no-name yogurt at Aldi, you know I grab every last carton I can find. Cheap + organic = gold. (Probably why that lady was so shocked I was handing her a coupon.)

I feel super happy, though, knowing that the cows that have made our yogurt aren’t pumping GMOs (through their corn-based feed…naughty corn), antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides into our milk products. The fact that they’re generally grassfed also helps me to sleep soundly (as soundly as one can with a toddler nearby). 

What about you? Are you a yogurt eater? Whole milk? Or Greek? What brand wins your own yogurt showdown?   

Food Revolution Day — Again

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It’s that time again! Rollin’ right around the corner, May 16th is Food Revolution Day (#frd2014), hooray!!

What’s this? Well, simply, it’s a way to engage with food in a public way. This can mean a bunch of things and can be achieved a kazillion ways, but in essence it’s meant to bring attention to the fact that eating responsibly-grown and -raised foods is a) healthier, b) more beneficial to the local economy, and c) way better for the environment. All awesome things. It’s also about learning how to cook from scratch, which tends to be a bit cheaper and healthier for all of us.

(Side note: Clearly, hittin’ up McDonald’s and calling it a day won’t cut it. Sorry!)

Last year, I had high hopes of making an awesome meal, but the fact that Dave was out of town and I was feeling crappy took it down a peg. Luckily, I still found my own way to celebrate — even if in a pretty private way.

This year, I’m hoping to celebrate a little more as a family since, well, Hadley eats regular food now and Dave should be home. So, while we may just do one or two of these things, it may help you get your mental juices flowing (ew) if you decide to take part, too. Here are a few ideas I’ve got for our family (there are a ton more to check out here, and I’m sure you could come up with a ton more far better than mine):

Go out for a lovely dinner. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t this all about making your own food?” Yes, and I know what you mean. However, we have a handful of kick-arse locavore joints that we’re dying to try out. It’d be nice to have a date night with the hubby and know that the food we’re eating is Besides, we hardly ever get formal dates, so when we do we tend to try new places or old favorites (which, ahem, tend to be slightly more expensive places; we don’t eat out much normally, so we put more value in what we’re eating when it’s locally-grown and well-prepared).

Try something new. I’m thinking it’d be fun to trek out to the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market, buy a new ingredient (plus any other “needs” we might have), then try a new recipe. My meals lately have been pretty one-note, so this might help kick-start me into getting back into the swing of preparing summer-type meals (which tend to be more creative…or to me, at least).

Plant our garden. We’ve already drawn out (literally) a simple plan for our veggies (and one fruit), and one of my biggest issues is usually not planting early enough. Given that our frosts are gone for the season — which they may NOT be, given our crazy weather patterns — this would be the perfect weekend to buy our plants (I don’t think I’m growing anything from seed this year; I’m taking the lazy mama’s way out) and get ’em in the ground.

You may notice that these ideas are ones you really can’t complete in one day…er, at least, not at our house! I tend to look at Food Revolution Day as more of a weekend celebration than a one-day thing, especially since it generally lands on a Friday (a work day). It’s kind of like how some celebrate the whole weekend of Memorial Day, y’know?

So, you’ve got a little over a month. Are you planning on doing anything for FRD? (Or FRD weekend, as it were?) If so, what? I’d love to hear! 

I’m a Ham

Yes, yes. We all know I’m a bit of a ham — at least when I get on stage. Probably the reason Dave and I work well together. I don’t think I know anyone else who commands a stage (at times while admittedly overacting) quite like he does. His special talent, though, is for people to fully realize that he’s hamming it up — but to enjoy it and fall in love with him, regardless. Now, THAT’S talent, people.

But, I digress. This post isn’t really about how hammy we (and, so it seems, our son is). It’s actually about a ham dinner I made recently.

(crickets chirping)

Yeah, it doesn’t get much lamer than that. (And, yeah, it’s another “recipe” post. Neener neener. ;-)) But for those of you who wonder what our meals look like — you know, the GOOD, I had a little time and energy to put into them meals vs. the after-school-meal-grind meals — here’s an example.

We’re still doing pretty well with the weekday vegetarian thing, although we don’t beat ourselves up if we end up taking a turkey sandwich (because it’s all we have in the house for the “main”) for lunch or have the occasion meat-inclusive dinner on a random Tuesday. All things in moderation, people, especially moderation. 😉 But, yeah, for us, we’re doing pretty well with it.

However, this particular meal was made on a Saturday, so I felt I had a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I had also thawed a pound of ground beef (grassfed, local) and a thicker-than-I-realized ham steak (also grassfed, local), so no matter what, meat was on the menu. (Needless to say, the beef was used that Sunday.)

All I had to do for the ham was heat it up (in this case using a grill pan) and maybe throw on a maple mustard glaze; quick and easy. It took far more time to prepare the sides, truth be told. You don’t need much direction on the rice — it was just regular, long-grain (non-instant) rice which we cooked while the broccoli was roasting. I’m trying to retrain my patience since I haven’t found any organic instant rice. ANYhoo…

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Roasted Broccoli with Garlic

2 heads of broccoli (or 1 large head of broccoli) {side note: ours was organic}
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
Drizzle of olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon (depending on your taste)
Sprinkle or two of red pepper chili flakes (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the broccoli to uniform sizes (as close as you can; don’t obsess) and place on baking sheet. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon, and salt & pepper and toss well.

Roast in oven for ~20 minutes. (The garlic may brown quite a bit; that’s okay.) Taste and season with more S&P if needed, and add some chili flakes, if using. (We didn’t because any vegetables I make these days go into the baby’s mouth — a good thing — and I’d rather not pain him. ;-)) This is also yummy with some Parmesan cheese.

Maple Glazed Ham Steak

1 ham steak (size doesn’t really matter; make more of the glaze if you need, make less if you don’t seem to need it; cooking’s an art, not a science)
2 – 4 Tbsp. REAL maple syrup (not the “pancake syrup” stuff, please, for the love of God!!!)
1 – 3 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 – 1 tsp. brown sugar (if you have it on hand; I didn’t and it was still fine)
Sprinkle or two each of ground clove and nutmeg

Heat your pan (grill or regular) to medium high. Prepare glaze using all the ingredients but the ham. You can either glaze the ham prior to cooking or while cooking (glazing both sides after each is cooked; this creates less burning and more “glazey” flavor than “hammy” flavor).

Either way, since this is a ham steak, you really only want to put a little color on the meat and heat it through (it’s already cooked, yay!), so use your judgement. It may need 4 minutes on each side…it may need 6 on the first and less on the second…or five on each. Just be sure to keep an eye on it that the glaze doesn’t burn (turn to medium if you’re worried about this happening).

* I also did a teensy drizzle of maple syrup over my rice and ham when finished. As Ado Annie says, I CAN’T SAY NO!

So, there you have it. One example of a Saturday evening meal in the ol’ hammed-up household. I try to keep it simple these days (since the moment the lil’ guy sees me cooking, he starts whining and fussing — he wants food, and he wants it IMMEDIATELY. We’re lucky to have such a great eater, but…), and it’s the little things — Dave loves (…wait for it…) rice. Rice with a meal (or, yes, even AS a meal) and salads, his two favorite things. Well, and maybe a wife who makes them for him without having to ask.

Reset Button

Since Dave started his wonderful new job in the world of PR (and, more recently, after having a health scare with Hadley), his perspective has changed…which means that our family perspective, too, has shifted. While I wish my schedule was more conducive to accommodating his new ideas, I’m generally ecstatic to see the changes.

His mind is far freer to explore the parts of life he had grown out-of-touch with. He’s able to put his time and energy into his writing, but also researching healthy living ideas (sometimes even happening upon articles or websites that I had showed him a year or two ago that he didn’t have the time or mental astuteness to look into), decor for his awesome new office, family activities, and more.

I’ve always loved my husband (obviously…well, maybe not obviously, but I’m saying it here — I’ve always loved my husband!), but I hate, hate, hated what his previous job did to him. I didn’t necessarily hate the job itself, but the fact that he was always beat, always on-call to fix problems or post to the web (or getting called in), always experiencing weird chest pains, always full of stress and anger and anxiety, rarely able to help out around the house (I tried my best to juggle cooking, cleaning, baby-bathing…his one joy of the day that I was glad for him to do was reading the baby his bedtime stories), rarely able to enjoy life…that, I hated.

But, with his new job, even if he tries to stay late, his co-workers will call him out and say that it’s time to go home. *clouds part, angels sing* There’s practically no way for him to over-work. It’s beyond lovely.

So, with this newly-freed mind, here are a few ideas that he has happened upon…

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These are all part of one topic in our conversation. The Chipotle commercial to which we’re referring is this “Scarecrow” vid (which even has its own game app…yes, I downloaded it, although I simply lack the coordination to play games with a phone. It’s a fact.) which evokes almost every emotion a person can have. Don’t believe me? Check out this article. The guilt, anger and sadness is horrible…the ending, a little uplifting and inspiring that we can, possibly, make a difference in what we eat.

If only we had a Chipotle restaurant in our area. From there, we discussed other things that we can do since any chain restaurants (and a vast majority of the locally-owned ones) have deplorable ingredient sourcing practices. We also recently made the realization that the only places that are 24-hour around our joint are Wal-Mart (we don’t go there) and McDonald’s. When we needed a last-minute prescription for the baby, Dave had to drive 45 minutes away to finally get the stuff (all the local pharmacies closed EARLY…E-A-R-L-Y)!

The local eating website he shared was okay, but I still prefer (it’s easier to search, has more information, and is just cleaner-looking). That’s just how I feel. 🙂

So, what’s the take-away here? We’re going to work on eating better…TOGETHER. It’s not as much of an “I’ll go grocery shopping and try to figure this thing out on my own because my husband’s got more on his mind than bananas” situation (although there are crazy times of the week that I will head there on my own for a few of the essentials). Instead, he’s going to help…and even *gasp* cook from time to time. *clouds part, angels sing*

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Yaaaay, score! We didn’t have much vacation-age going on over the summer since Dave was (all together now) leaving his job (and needed to give them numerous weeks, no vacation time to be used, to help out…worth it in the end, but the summer kinda sucked because of it for him). We usually take one Friday off to go visit Old Forge. They have an awesome farmers’ market, then we hang out by the lake and walk around town doing touristy things, then finally eat at “The Old Mill” (or some other place like that).

So, while we’ve officially missed that train for the year, knowing that we can head up north to take in the autumn scenery (the Adirondacks ROCK for that) and have a casual time of it (read: if the baby melts down, it won’t be in the middle of a nice restaurant or something) sounds like heaven to me.

(I’m also hoping that may be a gateway to finding some family-friendly hiking up north. *fingers crossed* Man, I hope the hubby’s reading.)

Needless to say, I’m very much enjoying this new job situation. 🙂

They’re Aliiiiive!!!

About a week and a half ago, I *finally* got around to planting my seeds for the year. Yes, I’m starting from seed — what can I say, 2013 must be the year of bravery. (Or stupidity. Anyone’s guess.) And, unfortunately, between the craziness of life and the craziness of our weather, I was much later than I would’ve liked. Oh, well! If it doesn’t work, there’s always next year.

So, going into it with a can-do attitude, yet not expecting too much, imagine my delight when I saw these little babies spurting up in less than a week —

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The rows look crooked, but it’s the angle…I should’ve rotated the pic. Just turn your head to the right.
See? Straighter. And raise your hand if you actually tilted your head.
Hey, there’s no shame! I’m doing it right now!

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We’ve got several herbs in planters on the back deck (which I have yet to “deck out” for summer, mostly because I’m hoping to scrape, sand and paint the floor…with what time, I have no idea), and both raised boxes are full. If things don’t work out in the boxes, I’m considering trying for some late season veggies. 

Oh, and my mom was kind enough to give me a hanging planter (with dirt, wahoo!) to transplant my crazy strawberries. I know it’s a tad late (or early, depending on your zone) to transplant, but I’ll try it out. We’ve got crazy chipmunks and other little creatures who like to steal the berries before I get to them, so it might be worthwhile to hang ’em out of reach.

We were also gifted a Meyer lemon tree by Dave’s parents. We all ooooed and aaaahhhhhed over it when we saw it in a local nursery, but Dave and I decided not to purchase it after hearing (from a man who works there) that it’s a bit of a scam since they’re not meant to be grown in our area. Oops. Oh, well! Like with the rest of the plants, we’ll give it a try! I hate to say that the fruit is already shriveling in comparison to this picture (they ship them from Florida when the fruit’s starting to grow…man, what a racket), while all of the other plants seem to be thriving with our TONS of moisture followed by a random hot, sunny day or two, back to rain again.

It’ll be neat to see if it can handle our wackadoo weather patterns! And, I’m not gonna lie, I’d use the heck outta those lemons.

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Oh, and one simple “note to self” (and any other newbies out there) when it comes to planting: WRITE $%&# DOWN!!! I planted after school one day and was only about 3/4 done before Dave came sauntering out back holding our little munchkin, so while I did get to finish, I then had to go into Mommy Mode, washing us up (the kid eats dirt — I’m one proud mama!), making dinner, and going through the rest of the motions. This meant that I, of course, totally forgot what I planted and where. Whoops. Doy.

I swear my intentions were there! I brought out my “handy-dandy…note-book!” (I miss Steve…the pre-I’ve-gotta-shed-my-squeaky-clean-image-Steve), ready to jot it down and everything. All I know is that I planted a few rows of radishes in the front box, between a few other vegetables, because they’re good for the soil (and I fondly remember eating them right out of my grandfather’s garden as a child). Now that I’m getting more sprouts (way more than the above photo), I’ll start figuring out what’s what and matching them to my packaging and my prior note-taking on what plants go with which other plants. And at least I have a pretty good eye for identifying seedlings. Whew!

So, once school is over and I’m able to breathe again, out to thin-thin-thin I go! And I was wicked relieved when Dave recently told me that, during a conversation with my stepdad (who’s pretty into his garden, along with my mom…we’re lucky, though, they get deer up the wazoo), he seemed genuinely, kindly impressed that we were starting by seed. I always thought they’d think, “That crazy daughter of mine…” Oh, and they had a friend who started his late and it was the best crop he’d ever had. Fingers crossed that it’s one of those kinds of summers.

And for those of you who haven’t already seen my favorite picture (as of late) plastered on Instagram and Facebook, here’s a shot of that night o’ digging (yes, I garden barefoot/with flip flops) —
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Aaaaand proof of dirt-eating. That’s my boy.

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Is it just me, or is that the cutest. Picture. EVER!?! Eh, I’m biased.

Anyone else hard at work trying to grow something — anything?! Do tell!

A Tailor-made Meal, Cooked Perfectly

See what I did there? “Tailor…” “…Cook(ed)”? Yeah, you know this is gonna be good.

This year for my “birthday dinner” (observed the Saturday after my birthday), I opted for something a little different. Usually, our go-to meal would involve Beardslee Castle, a venue that acted as the sight of our wedding reception (delicious food — can’t wait to get back there and offer up a review!). Actually, Dave even said, “Want me to make reservations at Beardslee?” I had to stop him with a different suggestion.

The Tailor and the Cook is a Utica restaurant that’s been open shy of one year. It’s a unique place in more ways than one; not only does it feel like an eating experience straight out of a larger (more modern) city, but many of the ingredients used by the talented chefs are locally sourced. We’ve heard nothing but good about the place, so I’ve been itching to get there. It’s one of those “demands reservations” joints, so Dave hooked us up, and our mouths were watering and minds were wandering in anticipation.

Upon entering, one can tell that the experience would be special. Located in a newly up-and-coming area of the city, the bare brick walls are accentuated by local art and reclaimed wood trim. Edison-style bulbs dangle precariously above tables with mixed long, shared booth-style seating (which creates an intimate, yet still open and private atmosphere). Three large barrels (wine or whisky? Does it matter which?) have been repurposed into light fixtures for the front bar, which double as conversation pieces. The mix of modern and earthy is well-executed from front door to back bathrooms (which, before I even get to the food, I must say were incredible. The ladies’ room held an antique Singer sewing machine with vintage cookbooks, stark black-and-white industrial photography on the walls, a plethora of lotions and a sink that could double as an art installation. Yes, it was THAT worth mentioning).

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After being politely seated and informed of jaw-dropping specials, we were offered sparkling spring water or tap water. We shot the moon (don’t usually drink sparkling), but I was equally as impressed that they reuse (cleaned) wine bottles filled with chilled tap water which stay at the table. It sounds simple, but the efforts to reuse items and the simple air of class that the stylish bottles gave to each table struck a sweet chord with us.

It took some doing, but we finally decided upon our meals (I considered going vegetarian, but this was a special occasion and it was a Saturday, so…I went for it): mine, a glass of Newman’s Own organic Chardonnay and the pork chop meal; Dave, a glass of Ommegang’s Three Philosophers brew and the hanger steak (which his curiosity taught us that this is the cut that butchers used to bring home to their own families without offering them to customers). We opted to share a cheese platter, and our entrees came with salads.

Okay. Let me stop right here. Saying “Dave got steak, I got pork” sounds mundane, boring, average. This was anything but. The meals were served as courses; not dumped in our laps while our waiter juggled a dinerful of other patrons. We were brought each item in a royal fashion, each plate constructed lovingly as if by a doting father. It was far from your average experience. Even our bread was brought to us by a guy carrying a basketful of the stuff (from Old Forge), doling it out one at a time on our plates with a delicious honey butter.

The cheese platter was one of the specials (which usually means you’re paying more for it), but it was reminiscent of a cheese platter that we shared during our Vermont honeymoon and anniversary trips. Only better. There were five cheeses, each from local farms — a bleu cheese, a smoked gouda, a goat’s milk chevre, a cheddar, and I totally forgot the last. (Sorry!) Alongside these were a couple of dried fruits, apple slivers, honeycomb (yes, on the comb…how do you even EAT that? Who cares, we had fun with it), grainy spicy mustard, cornichons (baby gherkins!) and rustic crackers. They were all impeccable and we had a blast sharing combination of flavors and choosing our favorites. Rather, I chose my favorite (that gouda was da bomb); Dave couldn’t choose. Oh, and we clearly didn’t get a picture.

Even our salads were impressive. Everyone had the same molasses vinaigrette (it wasn’t that sweet or heavy-tasting, really) and local hydroponic greens topped with sunflower seeds and beans. It was the first time that we realized how salt (and pepper) can heighten the flavors of a dish SO MUCH. I’m pretty sure it was a fancy schmancy type of salt, but a sprinkling brought out a taste that we couldn’t devour fast enough.

Here’s where things get embarrassing. Have you ever eaten something so good that you make noises you wouldn’t normally make in public, no apologies? Yeah. It happened. I should also say that we were the only folks in the place losing our cool enough to do this. Still not apologizing. We don’t go to a restaurant like this for the “scene”, or to BE “SEEN”. It’s for sharing in a special experience and, in this case, the best meal we’ve ever had in the Mohawk Valley. Onlookers be damned.

So, Dave’s meal was actually the pan roasted hanger steak with fingerling fries, fresh arugula, Gorgonzola butter and a red wine demi glace. Yeah. It was insane. (C’mon, steak with bleu cheese AND fingerlings? Shut the front door. One good thing about humans is that they’ve come up with seemingly CRAZY food combinations that can change a person’s thinking.)

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I got the pan roasted pork rib chop (medium) with braised local ramps and celery, hazelnut and barley risotto, and rainier cherry gastrique.

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***I had gastrique and I liiiiiked iiiiiit…the taste of that cherry saaau-aaauce…”

Even after trying a bite of Dave’s meal, I had to declare mine the winner. (Not sure he agreed.) Man, do these folks know the meaning of “complementary flavors.” The impeccably cooked chop, the excitement of the first ramps of the season (and the surprise of the evening: braised celery as a side vegetable? Delish!), creamy nutty risotto with a sweet-but-slightly-bitter cherry sauce to pull it all together? Doubly insane. Seriously, all I could tell the waiter when he checked on us was “Insane. Just insane.”

Since we were shooting the moon, we grabbed dessert — Dave enjoyed the Jones Family Farm cheesecake (we LOVE their cheeses, and I just happen to have their daughters in school; it’s awesome to know that it wasn’t a 100% selfish act in eating here; we were also supporting local farms who deserve the heck out of it!) and a Utica Roasting Company’s Drip coffee (they just happen to be TTATC’s neighbor; talk about local!) while I got buttermilk panna cotta with a blueberry sauce and DELICIOUS graham-style cookie, plus a decaf cappuccino (also courtesy Utica Roasting Company).

Ultimately, one of my favorite parts about this meal (aside from the flavors, the execution, the incredible service, the local sourcing) was the conversation it brought up. Since this meal was obviously costlier than most (like, a once a year sort of meal), we discussed what we were actually paying for. Simply put, it’s costlier to ensure that your ingredients (all the way down to the herbs) are quality and responsibly sourced. The lives of the animals that we eat have value beyond that of a dollar value menu. The food deserves to be respected as it’s grown, as it’s prepared, and as it’s eaten.

That being said, we’d give this joint a 5 out of 5 possible spoons. It was THAT GOOD. (Maybe we could take off half a spoon for price, but we think it was worth the splurge.) We even told the hostess (whom Dave knows from work) and our knowledgeable waiter that it was the best meal we’ve ever had in the valley. Makes some of the usual local fare seem like heavy loads o’ crap. (Yes. Yes, I said that.)

If you’re interested in visiting “The Tailor and the Cook”, find out more at their website. You can see their menus (and cost) as well as their sourcing practices. Oh, and as for one of those challenges that folks face more than we’d like to admit: Dave wore jeans with a button-down shirt (he brought a blazer along but didn’t wear it) and I wore a nylon skirt, top and 3/4 sleeve sweater, although we saw a complete range in clothing — from shorts to preppy orange/coral/pink slacks (on a gentleman) to dressy. So, I guess anything goes, but keep it classy, folks. Not that I have to tell you that. 😉

Locavore Challenges

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I only wish we could eat and live as locavores, knowing that what we consume comes from within a 50-mile radius. Wouldn’t that be great? In theory, better for the environment, better for our wallets, better for our health (and, often, taste buds). Heck, the dream would be to grow and raise 90% of our food.

But we’re living with limitations. Not saying this as an excuse; just stating a fact. Time, money, space, and happiness (ie raising Hadley, loving on the kitties) are all important factors. Y’know. What they call “reality.” Damn you, Reality.

So, instead, we try to find locavore haunts whenever possible; restaurants that serve locally-grown and/or -raised food. Even those that just serve SOME locally-sourced foods works for us. We’re not picky.

It was pleasantly surprising to see how easy it was to eat almost completely locally when we were in Vermont (I heart the Vermont Fresh Network!). And it’s awesome to see more places that do serve local fare and support farmers and other local providers. But, in our neck of the woods, things are still…um…lacking. So, there’s one “challenge” as referenced by this post’s title. Clever, eh?

That being said, this makes it easier to “challenge” myself to try to review what locavore joints we DO have in the Mohawk Valley and surrounding areas. We eat out so infrequently, don’t expect this to be a weekly thing, but this should be a good way to push us to try out some establishments that we’ve heard about but haven’t put on our “go here next” list.

Plus, you know we love supporting places that follow this trend when traveling, too, so you never know what joint we’ll try next. Be sure to “like” Meg, Acting Out on Facebook if you have any suggestions of places we should try, be they in Utica or Cooperstown, Burlington or Boston.

Oh, and one cool point of my reviews? The hubs and I always order different entrees. You know I always steal a bite…or two.

Speaking of hubs, check out his blog about our little one’s night terrors lately. They’re no joke (but I like to think that he won’t be psychologically damaged in the long run…I hope, at least).