Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rochester Pizza Tour

I was on my own in an unfamiliar city. I vaguely remembered hearing about good Neapolitan place awhile back on Twitter.  So I tweeted off to OG Woodfired Pizza in Buffalo for his recommendations. He suggested Fiamma e Vino but he also passed on my suggestion request to some people he knows in Rochester. Here's the list (in order of strength of recommendation) I got.

1. Fiamma e Vino
2. Fiorella
3. Branca
4. Amore (but that recommendation came from word of mouth, no visit)

Fiorella is closed on Tuesdays so I was left with 3 places. Looking at the map, the easiest order would be Fiamma, Amore, then Branca. This route would give me about a 15 minute drive between places to recuperate.

Fiamma looks like a nice neighborhood restaurant. It's a little bit dark inside but nicely decorated and has an open kitchen. I asked for whatever pizza they thought was best that had sauce. I could see the waitress punch in the order at the servers stand and then the ticket came up at the pizza station. Then my waitress disappeared. The place wasn't crowded so the server should have known that the pizza was going to be ready within 5 minutes of placing the order. The pizza came out of the oven, the pizza maker rang the bell and then went off to do something else.

The pizza sat...I wasn't timing it, but it felt like at least 3 minutes.
I almost went to get it myself but thought that would be pushing it.
The pizza maker came out, saw the pizza, rang the bell and went away. The waitress still wasn't in the room.
This happened one more time. Still not there.
Then she appeared, gave me some bread and cleared another table still not realizing the order was up.
The pizza maker called over another server and told him to let her know and put the pizza in back.

He wasn't going to serve it. It sat too long. He made me another.

This time she was waiting for the pizza when it was plated. It was the Capricossa - sauce, parma cotto, mixed mushrooms, mixed olives, mozzarella,  basil and olive oil. I thought the dough could have used a little more flavor but the topping combination was really good (going to steal it) and I inhaled the whole pizza. I liked the way the pizza was served too, uncut on a plate with a pizza cutter tucked under the pie. I'd sow you a picture but the restaurant was too dark and I'm not brave/stupid enough to take flash pictures in a dark restaurant.

I figured I'd try one of their white pies too. I got the San Danielle - mozzerella, cherry tomato, baby arugula, San Danielle prosciutto, shaved parmigiano reggiano and a balsamic cream. Now this pizza maker clearly isn't screwing around...when he was brought the freshly sliced prosciutto he showed the person that did the slicing what was wrong with it (I couldn't ell what he said but he held up a slice and pulled) and then sent him back to slice more. If he's not happy with a pizza, it's not going out. This pie was also very good. I liked the way the crust was cooked a little better on this pizza - less (but still some) char on the crust and more of an even browning. I only ate half of this one and took the rest to go. I'd like to come back with 10 people and try a lot of the menu. A few items look really delicious. But there was more pizza to try and I was on the clock. Amore closed at 9:00 and it was almost 8:00.

When I looked up Amore, I saw the full name was really Amore Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar, by Wegmans. Are you kidding me? A Wegmans restaurant. What I didn't realize is that Amore is tucked in the corner of a really big Wegmans grocery store. But once you are inside, you are in an Italian restaurant. No idea that a produce section is 50 feet away on the other side of the wall. And it's nice inside too. And at 8:00 on a Tuesday night, the place was jumping. The food being served around me looked good. The guy to my left had a steak and there was a pork chop special with speck and pancetta. This looked like a decent restaurant.


I considered going with their prosciutto/arugula pizza to compare but went with house made sausage instead. I was served this in a freakin' Wegmans.
 


And it was good too. Not great but good. I've paid more for worse. The sausage was flavorful and salty in a good way. A few spots went past char to burnt. So now there are two restaurants in Rochester that I want to go to with 10 people so I can try everything. I considered popping into the grocery side for a bottle of seltzer to help with the quest, but at this rate I was going to get to Branca around 9:30 and they closed at 10. Back into the car and off I went.

Branca is in kind of a fancy looking building. I think there was a salon there too. I could see a bunch of people still sitting at the outside tables as I walked in hoping I wasn't too late for a pie. Turns out I wasn't so I sat down at the bar. The bartender recommended The Branca - mozzarella, basil, house made spicy pork sausage, pecorino romano and San Marzano tomato sauce. Once the order was sent in I started talking to the bartender and bar manager, both really nice guys. We talked booze and pizza. They both like the idea of a pizza quest to kill a night alone in a strange city. Here's The Branca:


I feel a little bad comparing this one to the other two. It definitely had some good qualities. The topping were good. The sausage had good flavor with a little bit of zip. The texture of the sausage seemed like it was braised Bolognese style which was unexpected. But the crust was crunchy and felt a little oily. I don't mean to imply there's something wrong with a crunchy crust, it's just not the same style of pizza. For what it was, it was OK, not great. Branca had a fancier, special occasion dinner feel to it. I was told the chef that opened Branca left for Amore and took his pizza with him. Then Branca's pizza evolved to its current form based on customer preferences.

After Branca, I went back to the hotel to pass out. I had a bar recommendation and they were even running a PBR and PB&J special with trivia - how could that not be interesting? But I was on my own and this bar was not within walking distance of the hotel - technically I guess it is but I was not up for a 12 mile round trip walk although I probably could have used it. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Oven Project Continues


At the end of July, I had the oven stand pretty much laid out. Time to work in august was a little hard to find but eventually every other core was filled with concrete



the form for the slab that will support the oven was built





I put in some rebar


and concrete was poured


Yeah...i probably over paid a little for the concrete, but I know my back appreciates it. The right amount of concrete in 50 pound bags from Lowes on sale right now would have cost a little over $100. But, to get that back to the house in my van would have required at least 6 trips and a lot of handling of 2500 pounds of dry mix concrete - put the bags on a cart, wheel the cart to the van, load the van, unload the van to a dry spot, move each bag to the oven, lift and empty each bag into the mixer (which is a little of a balancing act), empty the mixer to buckets, lift buckets into the form.

Instead, for $250, I got more concrete than I needed delivered off a little mixer from Clifton Park Concrete. Plus the owner/operator of the company is incredibly nice and on time...actually a few minutes early.

I bought a cart at tractor supply. My idea was to put six, 5 gallon buckets half filled with concrete and wagon them over to the oven. It worked out great, the pour went pretty smoothly and we only lifted concrete once. If I get I chance tomorrow, I want to take down the rest of the form work. Hopefully the bottom face of the slab looks good. If not, I'll crawl in there and pretty it up. And big thanks to Ryan who showed up after work to help with the pour.




Then this weekend I poured the base insulation. It is a 5 to 1 mixture of perlite and Portland cement. You add enough water to make it look a little like oatmeal. After 12 hours of curing, I was starting to wonder if it would ever harden up. It was still pretty flaky. After 24 hours, the perlcrete was starting to feel solid.


I've got a few more things to run down. I was planning to get everything from Grimm in Green Island but the don't have a supplier for fire clay anymore. I think I found another place to get some. But while I was at Grimm I did pick up Round 1 of bricks and a bag of high temperature mortar. I still have another question or two to ask the forum guys about the build but it's almost time to stop drawing sketches and start cutting bricks.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lake Placid Trip

If you should happen to have a used bobsled (that would probably go for about 50 grand), 3 very crazy friends and a spare 35 bucks, you could hurl yourself down the bobsled track in Lake Placid. I found out on the tour that each run down the incredibly well maintained mile long ice course costs a team $35.

Or if you are more of a spectator kind of person, for $35 you can get the Olympic Passport which gets you into an Olympic museum, to the top of the big ski jump, a bobsled course tour (and in the summer you can walk down the mile long track) and two ways to visit Whiteface Mountain.

As a last minute summer trip we headed up to Lake Placid for two nights. We started in the village and the Olympic museum and ice rinks. There a lot of cool Olympic history in a relatively small museum. The US outfits from all the winter game, one of every torch, THE 1980 hockey game basically played on loop with a lot of memorabilia...that kind of stuff. There was even a super old school Albany bobsled.



They also had a scavenger hunt for the kids. It was a nice museum to look around. Then we poked in on the ice arenas. There was some figure skating thing that had just wrapped up. There was also a big pile of snow out front. Not sure where they got the snow but the kids got a kick out of it.


We stayed at the Golden Arrow right in town on Mirror Lake. Nice enough place, but the parking situation there is kind of crazy. And now I know too much about pool water...I didn't go in their pool. You can tell if a quarter is heads or tails at the bottom of the deep end in my pool, you can't see your foot in two feet of water in this pool. Eww. But really other than that it was a pretty nice place. Right on the lake with a little swimming area, kayaks and stand up paddle boards you can use, little docks to jump from and the location is right in town too.

In the morning we set out for the Olympic Sports Complex which is a short drive south of the town. I wish I caught the tour guide's name. Really nice guy. He was 25 in 1980 when the Olympics were last in Lake Placid (they were also there in 1932). In 2000 when then new combined course (bobsled, luge and skeleton) was built, he started working there. He maintains the piping system that keeps the ice on the course frozen. They'll start getting the course ready in September and it will be up and running in October. In the summer, he gives tours, "because I'm the only one with a bus license." Really nice guy that knows a lot about Lake Placid, the entire Olympic Sports complex and HVAC. The tour ends at the top and you are given the option of riding back down or walking the course. We walked the course. Didn't really get any "How much further?" questions until the last couple hundred feet.

For some extra money (I think $75 - less a 20% passport discount), you can go down in a wheeled bobsled. But that ride is on the old 1932 course. In the winter, you can go in a real bobsled but only on weekends because athletes are training during the week. These were fun to watch, but if I'm paying that much for the bobsled ride, it's going to be on ice.

From there we stopped at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. John Brown and basically his entire family were abolitionists so there was some history combined with daily life in the 1800s. The farm is directly behind the ski jumps....which are super cool and way bigger than they look on TV.

Hell yeah we went to the ski jumps. It's part of the passport. For ski jumping, I mainly have two memories. First, you have the Agony of Defeat guy from the old ABC's Wide World of Sports. That kind of imagery was fairly rare in the 70s and stuck with you. It's probably average for the type of injury causing fail that goes viral today.  And then you have Eddie the Eagle. The way I remember the story was that no one in England was doing the ski jump. So Eddie did. He finished last in both the 70 and 90 meter jumping competitions in the 88 Olympics. And he had these big coke bottle glasses and just never gave up. Everybody loved him. It's the kind of 80s phenomenon that will be featured in an episode of The Goldbergs when Barry takes up ski jumping. And at the top of the Lake Placid ski jumps, there is Eddie modeling the ski jumpers outfit.


After looking down from the top of the jump in it's lowest position, I have a new found respect for Eddie the Eagle. I've taken lessons and still can't stand up on skis. This guy flew down a jump like this and even landed. We were too late in the season for the summer training jumpers. I think they start making snow in October and the jumpers will be back.


There were also a bunch of guys doing aerial ski jumps into pools. For a few of them, it was good they were landing on water. There were definitely a few flops.


After we checked out we still spent a lot of the day in the area. We went to High Falls Gorge which isn't part of the passport and probably a little over priced for what it is ($14/adult, $10/12 and under), but it was still nice walk with some very cool views. We enjoyed it.


From there we headed up The Veterans Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface (part of the passport). The drive is steep and the views are beautiful. When you park at the top you can take an elevator or walk up. With 20/20 hindsight, I recommend taking the elevator up and walking down. Having walked down, I am glad I did not try to walk up.


The last thing on the passport was a gondola ride up Little Whiteface, just one mountain over. After going up to the top of Whiteface (which is significantly higher and cooler), the gondola ride was fun but slightly anticlimactic. Do the gondola then the Veteran's Memorial Highway. 

Nice trip. I'd do most of it again. I think we might head up for just a day to see some real bobsled action once the ice has been made. I think it would be fun to fake speed skate on the oval too.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The end of an era - No more steers

I am no longer a pretend part time cattle rancher.

This past spring was the last go around with the butcher - who jokingly complained he wouldn't be able to take a vacation without our business.

But now it is finalized - all of the fence is down and most of it is for sale.

I still believe the experience - even with its unintended impacts on my wife, my sister-in-law and my mother-in law - was a positive one. I wrote about the experience a few times, probably most extensively here at All Over Albany.

Like Rome, this fence was not built in a day. It look a long time. Way too long if you asked my father-in-law. Other than the pipe that was used as fence post, all of the locust fence post was cut and stripped. There was an auger that went on the back of the tractor but there was plenty of post hole digger work (I have actually become pretty good with a post hole digger). And the back filling...my fore arms hurt just thinking about tamping dirt back in the holes around the posts. Father's day was for all day weed whacking, a tradition like no other. But the fence held. We never had a breakout.


The fence was sheep and cattle fence stapled or wire tied to fence posts. Corners were mostly large pipe braced up with more fence posts. About 2 feet above the ground there was a line of electric fence and at the top, there was a single row of barbed wire. The field was about 5 acres. The red line is for the most part what came down this weekend.
 


My brother-in-law had last week off, so I took Thursday and Friday and the fence got taken down. Most of the electric was already down so each section started with the barbed wire which meant cutting a staple at each post and the very carefully coiling up the barbed wire. We got poked a few times, but no one was cut badly. The El Cheapo 3 pack of Harbor Freight welding gloves eventually fell apart, but they served their purpose of protecting hands and forearms. With the barbed wire down, it was time to really start cutting staples to free up the metal fence. There were a lot of freaking staples. It was easy to tell which sections of fence were built first be cause we went a little crazy with the staple gun. The gun has kind of a hair pin trigger and one could easily put 5 staples where one meant to put a single staple. Once the fence was off the posts, it needed to be rolled up. A full roll is 330 feet. The fence got pulled straight with the tractor and then it got rolled up. To get a tight roll on the fence, we started on our knees, slowly inching forward until there was enough fence to hunch over. I think rolling the fence was the worst part. There was also post removal, bringing the broken post to the dump and a final cleaning of the barn.

It was the kind of weekend that proved I was just a farming tourist. No where close to the real farming deal. Those men and women are hardcore.

And a huge thank you to the two wives who were reluctantly dragged into this. They were a tremendous help this weekend.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Building a Castle


At about 10:00 in the morning on Father’s Day, I was wheeling a dozen concrete blocks out of Home Depot on one of those flat carts they have there. Those carts are a little exciting to steer with the just over 300 pounds of block on them. Well, probably more exciting to stop once you get rolling. Anyhow, as I was leaving, another dad I know was on his way in.

“Building a Father’s Day castle?” he asked.
“Nah. I’m a little bit of a pizza nut and I'm building the base for a wood oven.”
“Alright…have with that.”

So far I am.

Here’s where we are: Last year, the foundation slab was poured.


Relatively recently after a lot of flip flopping on the design, I got going on the project. I opted for slightly modified version of the stand I had settled on this spring. I’m skipping two little bump outs that I think would just be in the way long term. The inside of the stand will be wide open.Turns out a dozen concrete blocks fit very nicely on a 2’x4’ piece of plywood in the back of a minivan.


A handful of trips spaced out at random times I happened to be driving past a Home Depot and I had all of the block I needed. I drilled seven holes in the foundation slab at the middle and ends of the walls. I put some construction adhesive in the hole followed by a piece of rebar. It’s surprising how quickly that stuff sets up and how strong it is. Then I started stacking block. The first four courses were pretty easy. The only cuts I had to make were to split a few blocks in half to get a running bond (meaning there is no spot where a block is just directly stacked on top of another block) in the wall. The wet saw works like a champ. A very loud champ. I’m glad I invested in some hearing protection. The dark gray/wet half blocks in the picture are the ones I cut. Everything was pretty level and flush.






Next up was the firth and final course. This was going to be a little harder and require more cutting. To span the openings, I am using 2”x2”x3/8” pieces of angle. The angles are a nice and shiny white because I put three coats of Rustoleum on them. To get the blocks to fit, I had to shave some off the sides and bottom of the blocks that sit in the pairs of angles. Originally, I had just shaved it off the sides and was quite prod of myself because I did a very nice job….only to realize I needed cuts on the bottom too. I considered using mortar to raise the rest of the blocks up 3/8th of an inch but decided I could do nicer work with the saw than trying to level half the stand with mortar. After a bunch more cutting, I ended up with a bunch of blocks like this.


There was also one corner that required some custom cutting to sit nicely with the angles. If I had to do it again, the front angles would be about 6 inches shorter and I could have saved an hour. Once everything fit nicely, I still had a little more cutting to do. I want to put some reinforcing steel in the blocks over the angles and fill them with concrete at the same time I pour the concrete slab that will support the oven. To do this, two 4 inch deep cuts were made in the block walls. Once the cuts were made, a light tap of the hammer knocked out a chunk of concrete. The blocks over the angles now look like this.


Next up is a consultation from a friend on the best way to run some conduit then I’ll start filling some block cells with concrete. Then it’s time to form and pour the concrete slab. I have a few ideas to test to see if I can make that a little easier on the back. Once I test the idea out I can decide between bags of Quickcrete for the slab or should I have premixed concrete delivered from on a truck. Today, I'm leaning to mixing it myself. That is very subject to change. Probably daily.

In other oven news, I have completely redesigned the oven hearth. I’m going to go for the best of both worlds. I want to be able to cook Neapolitan style but I also really want to be able to chase down the New York-ish wood oven style I ate as a kid. So here’s the plan: Italian Saputo Biscotto floor on one side and American brick on the other. Build a fire on the right for Neapolitan style or build the fire on the left for a more American style pie.


I put some drawings up on the pizza forum and no one came out and said it was a stupid idea so I’m going for it. I already ordered the Italian Biscotto. The last I looked they were in Tennessee and due to arrive in Albany on Thursday…All 160 pounds of them. Yes, I basically mail ordered a large box of rocks.

I’ve been enjoying the build. one of my favorite parts was when I was checking the fit of a few blocks over those angles and my daughter Allison asked if she could help. Geared up with hearing and eye protection, she helped cut and tap out a few of the knock outs. I wonder if she’ll want to stack some bricks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tour de Soft Serve



Saturday was a little overcast and threatening to rain, but it didn’t mater to the group of people that went to FIVE soft serve ice cream places to see which spot they like the best. For the most part. I am just going to be the reporter here. In looking over my notes, my comments were generic like “nice texture” or “good.” And I’m also cheap so whenever we get soft serve, I think to myself, “we could have gotten 3 half gallon’s from Stewart’s for the same price and I would have like it better.”

But putting that aside, I will start you off with these two things that I think are worth mentioning. First, I liked the ice cream at each and every one of these places more than all the places we visited in the Saratoga County tour we did last year. And second, I have always been a vanilla soft serve guy. Comparing all the vanilla soft serve last year showed how mediocre soft serve vanilla can be. Often with a weird metallic after taste too. So this year, I went with a chocolate/vanilla twist so I could taste both the chocolate and the vanilla soft serve. I think the twist actually covers up some of the sins of each flavor. The vanilla mellows some of the overly sweet chocolate, and the chocolate overwhelms the weaker vanilla flavor, but it wasn’t that good to begin with and it seemed to eliminate the weird aftertaste. I only noticed the weird aftertaste when eating the vanilla alone.

Here’s how I’m handling our score sheets. The categories (each worth up to 5 points) were: Vanilla, Chocolate, Toppings, Texture, Value, and Overall. And here’s what we ordered:
Jon: Kiddy Chocolate/Vanilla Twist in a dish
Amy: Kiddy Chocolate/Vanilla Twist with caramel in a dish
Allison: Kiddy Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles in a cone
Casey: Kiddy Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles in a dish

At the first stop, Allison and Casey were accidentally given twists so they have sores for chocolate at Mac’s. I dropped the chocolate from their scores. I didn’t rate any toppings and Amy only wrote in 3 of the 5 overalls when I took a picture of her score sheet (Daniel caught the error and I think she fixed it, but that was after my photo) so I dropped the Overall from her scoring. Also Allison and I each put an enthusiastic "6" in a box - those were reduced back down to the upper limit of 5. That left 100 available total points for any ice cream stand to score. One other note, Casey was filling up so we stopped ordering an ice cream just for her. She still tasted vanilla and rainbow sprinkles at every stop though. Except the last one because the shop ran out of sprinkles.

From here on out the commentary is from the notes of my wife Amy and daughter Allison. Casey kept score but didn’t do much of a write up.

Mac’s Drive In, Watervliet
Allison: Very creamy texture, vanilla got lost. It turned into mostly chocolate. Chocolate was too flavorful. I asked for vanilla but the lady gave me a twist. Sizes were really big.
Amy: Very creamy ice cream, soft texture, melted nicely on tongue, nice heft to ice cream, chocolate over powered vanilla, caramel was soft and smooth, sweet, very good.


Lickity Split, East Greenbush
Allison: Wasn’t as creamy as Mac’s. Kept melting easily. Vanilla needed more flavor. Value was great!
Amy: Amazing value, caramel sauce very thick and stretchy, not easily in each bite, vanilla/chocolate more balanced with each other, good smooth texture, creamy.


Big Dipper, Wynantskill
Allison: It wasn’t very creamy which made it hard to eat off the cone. Sprinkles had a little less flavor than they did at other places. I think I like it better that way. Vanilla ice cream barely had any flavor.
Amy: Just OK, nice and creamy and nice texture but lacked taste, caramel very super-sweet and thick.


Snowman, Troy
Allison: The texture was really creamy. The sprinkles still taste the same. The vanilla was really rich in flavor. I think it was definitely worth what we paid for.
Amy: did not like the caramel sauce, tastes sweet with depth to flavor, vanilla had stronger flavor but with an after taste.


Chrissy’s, Schaghticoke
Allison: The texture was not creamy at all. The vanilla was alright. They ran out of rainbow sprinkles so I didn’t get to try those. I don’t think it was worth what you paid for.
Amy: It was butterscotch and not caramel-so yuk, they were out of sprinkles, ice cream was creamy and tasty, nice heft, but overall value not as good as Lickity Split.



So the way our family scored it, Lickity Split was the best by three points over Mac’s and third place went to the Snowman. Chrissy’s took a hit for running out of sprinkles. Had they had the sprinkles, I’m pretty sure they would have edged out the Big Dipper for 4th place. I'm curious to see how much our family skewed the overall results. We're kind of a voting block or probably not quite a third of the entire tour group.
 
The tour was a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. If you get the chance, try to make one of the Profussor’s Tours. Trying several versions of the same thing back-back is interesting and you might learn something about your preferences. I got twists on the tour just to try both flavors. In the future, it will probably be what I order...unless I can talk everyone into going to Stewarts and getting 3 half gallons.

Also, if Rochelle offers you some of her fermented papaya, take it. It's delicious.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

12 Quick Years

My oldest daughter turned 12 today. So I'm flipping though some old pictures on the computer and sipping Scotch poured from the bottle I got for Father's Day.

Twelve years ago, she fit in a basket. She's taller than a lot of adults now.



Look at those itty bitty toes. That foot fits into a cleats and plays softball now. She made some really good plays this season.


Over the past few months, there have been two occasions centered around Allison that made me overcome with emotion. The first was was a red hot rage that I didn't know I was capable of feeling - and none of it wasn't her fault. I had a whole post written about it but decided to let it go. Mostly let it go. Let's just say I wanted something done for my kid who was in orthodontic pain, was flatly told "NO" and then I almost completely lost my shit. I felt my pulse go up, my cheeks got hot, that forehead vein was probably throbbing and I was rapidly blinking in disbelief. I don't remember if I clenched a fist but I was a single deep breath away from throwing a lengthy F-bomb laden tantrum. I knew there was a parental "you mess with my kid, you mess with me" protective instinct in me, I just had no idea how quickly, and possibly out of control, it could wash over me. I still get worked up thinking about that morning.

The second, much happier emotion, was how proud I was of Allison. At the elementary school graduation ceremony last week, a few awards were given out to the 5th graders. My daughter was presented with one of the awards. No one was told about the awards before the ceremony so it was a complete surprise. There was a 6th grade picnic after graduation and other parents congratulated me on her award. I thanked them, but it was all her.

Alright, I've gone on enough. Time to go make some pizza dough for a sleepover party she's hosting.