Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Other than the 4th of July, it is the only non-secular holiday that is REALLY celebrated in this country. Yes, I know there are other holidays that fit the non-secular bill, but are they really celebrated? Have you ever seen a kid excited for a month, bursting with anticipation and counting the days until Washington's Birthday? The sales are good, but c'mon. 

My love of Halloween must have had something to do with growing up in the same house as "The Snickers Lady." That is what my mother became known as. In a pre-warehouse club era, my father had a client that owned a news stand. Every October, the order would go in and we would get boxes of full sized Snickers bars. A box of 36 candy bars at a reasonable price is much easier to get now. Costco, BJ's or Sam's will have them. My parents house in on a corner. If you come up the driveway, you go to what our family calls "the back door." If you walk up the path from the other street, you are at, you guessed it, "the front door." Pretty creative, eh? It is not uncommon for both doorbells to be ringing at the same time on Halloween. As a kid at the awkward "I shouldn't be wearing a costume" age, I can remember answering the door my mother wasn't at and handing out these full sized candy bars to kids. When you hand a kid a old enough to know the difference between fun-size and full-sized candy bars, the expression of sheer glee on their face is really fun to see. Perhaps I over analyzing or projecting, but for that specific moment in time all is good in that kid's corner of the universe.

That excitement stuck with me. The street I live one doesn't get much trick or treat traffic. I always overbuy candy with dumb optimism. This year I bought a box Nestle Crunch bars and another box of Kit Kats (I wanted Twix but BJ's only sells them in a combo pack now).  Of the 20 or so we handed out to trick-or-treaters, I'd guess 8 of them had OMFG expressions on their faces when they saw their choices. Two of the 8 were even kind of bouncing. The extra candy goes to the mailman, the kid's teacher's, people at work, and a collection for soldiers. I guess some of The Snickers Lady rubbed off on me.

The big change in our 2010 Halloween was the pumpkin carving. For at least 15 years, I have annually carved the same face into a pumpkin. Here's my buddy Boofus:

This year, I had two pumpkins and two aspiring jack-o-lantern designers. I still did the carving working off of drawings the girls made. I came pretty close. They were happy with the finished product. Maybe next year, Boofus.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So much going on

I ordered some salami making supplies last night. Spending $50 on starter cultures and beef middles should not make a grown man this excited. I don't think it is healthy. All 3 will get used next week in a batch of Tuscan Salami as preparations for Thanksgiving start. I can't believe I am already thinking about Thanksgiving. This year will be the 10th that I host. I keep expecting people to start finding other plans. Things change. Stuff happens. And through it all, the guest list is pretty much the same. In fact, probably half the crowd has been to every one of them. A very nice tradition.

I went out of town for work last week. I kind of dread this trip. Every fall, the squad I am in goes to check out the same site on the other side of the state. We went as far as you can possible go from Albany and still be in New York. There is only so much small talk a group of guys in a car can make. The round trip was just under 1000 miles of driving with breaks for work. I grew up in the burbs. I live in the burbs. I think I kind of need the burbs. Too much wide open space tends to freak me out. It is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I don't think I would make out there.

This was the first year I actually enjoyed the trip. Got up and left early Tuesday morning. Drove to the site. Worked until 4. Put in a good day of work on Wednesday. Everything went well. We went out to dinner to this kind of...well it was almost out of the movie Roadhouse. Burger was nothing special but the wings were good. Three of the 5 of the squad went back to the hotel. I stayed with a co-worker to see what kind of happenings happened as it got later in this place. The crowd was a total mix. College seniors, farmers, guys from a basketball league, few couples. Our waitress/bartender was amazing and unique to say the least. Very energetic, very sarcastic and just plain fun. Did I mention the wad of tobacco behind her lower lip? No shit. She got a little tipsy as the night wore on (Southern Comfort and Red Bull), but she never stopped the dip. She always had some chew going.  She's telling us stories about stuff that's gone on there - wow by the way (Phairhead if someone is throwing you a bachlorette party, I have a good game for you guys) - and she's got chew and a plastic spit cup the whole time. My cheap Scotch brand of choice is J&B and I drank it all night there for $25. That price included soda for my partner in crime. He doesn't drink - more for me. And then just when you thought the scenery couldn't get better, someone starts setting up a Karaoke.

I've only been drunk enough to stand up there once. And sing backup. Barely. And I was in Wisconsin, with several hundreds of miles between me and anyone I knew that wasn't standing next to me. Never again. No one should have to hear me sing. Not even the soap in the shower. Only a few bar patrons sang. It was mostly the people that set it up. They were decent. There was one guy that only sang Elvis songs. A lot of country. But it wasn't very loud. You could still have a conversation. The whole night was just a good time. I definitely couldn't do it every night. It looked like there were people that did.

Getting up the following morning was a little harder. But I got by, got the next job done and checked into the next hotel. It was close to a casino. Around 10:30, my partner in crime (same one from the bar) hit the poker tables. At a little after midnight, I left with $203 more than I walked in carrying. What a rush.

And so, for the first time, I actually enjoyed my visit to the Southern Tier. I was actually a little sorry to leave. I can't imagine what kind of trouble I'd get into if I lived near that bar. I'll stick with the safety of making salami in the basement and just head out that way for an annual visit.

One last thing if you are still reading this...there's a guy in Southern California that is very active on the wood fired oven site. He is essentially my online hero that may or may not remember I exist. Do you have an online hero like that? We exchanged a few emails about 6 months ago. He just posted about curing his own olives because apparently in Southern California, you can walk up to an olive tree in a public park and pick all the olives you want. Last time I checked, that was not an option at The Crossings. Anyhow, he later posted about making his first batch of sauerkraut. I told him that homemade sauerkraut makes kick ass Reubens. He replied very exited about making a Reuben. Props from my online hero...I'm having a good week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Reuben-ed

Today seemed like the only day to have Ruebens. The kids are getting into more and more stuff. Tuesday was gymnastics. Wednesday was a meeting for Girl Scouts. And Friday is Family Fun Night at the school. So here's what I did with my Reuben window of opportunity. During lunch today, I ran over to Nino's just off Central to get a loaf of rye bread. I think their rye is one of the best locally. You can do better closer to the city though. Then I ran home and put a store bought corned beef in the crock pot filled with water to simmer (making my own corned beef is on the to-do list). Then I ran back to work. The stage was set.

I came home to a house smelling of corned beef. Ladies, you might want to think about bottling that - screw new car smell. I took a bunch of the homemade sauerkraut and put it in a pot with some of the bring, a little water and some cider vinegar to simmer. Once cooked, it tasted like good sauerkraut. Uncooked, it is still tasty, but more like a sauerkraut slaw if that makes any sense. Another rotated picture - no idea why.

I took the corned beef out of the water to rest a little and started to whip up a Russian dressing. Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, pepper, granulated garlic and relish got mixed up. Mayo and ketchup were then whisked in. Sliced some Jarlsberg and the corned beef and it was go time. I took most of the crust off of one for the kids.

They were good. Damn good. It might have to Reuben again some time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dinner With the Girls

On Thursday, my wife had to work late so it was just me and the kids for dinner. Earlier in the day, I had flipped through a recent Metroland Dining Guide and being the nerd that I am, I circled a lot of places that I want to try. (Wine and Diner, New World Bistro Bar and Garden Bistro 24 - I hope to see you and a few others soon.) Ali Baba in Troy caught my eye. I hadn't been there in years. We didn't have kids, so it is at least 7 years. Truth be told, I did some grad work at RPI, just a few blocks up the street. Well, let's just say my relationship with RPI did not end well. Feelings were hurt...things were said...I try to avoid the area, because I might accidentally bump into the campus and say something I'll regret. I think Ben Folds summed it up when he sang, "Give me my money back, you bitch."

Anyhow, I picked the girls up from their schools and headed across the river to Ali Baba. My youngest daughter, Casey, is a little picky. Allison, she's my food nut. We all sat on the same side of a 4-top table so we could watch the oven. There is a fire in the oven, but it isn't wood burning. The thing I remember most about Ali Baba was the pre-meal bread and yogurt dip. A flat dough is put in the oven and as the steam builds up, the dough inflates. I'm not talking a little poofy. I'm talking bigger than a soccer ball. Then it gets a little brushing of oil and some seeds get thrown on top. Freaking delicious. Kids would have had that for a meal.

Pretty sure their mother would have frowned on just bread for dinner, so I order a chicken shish plate and a adana kabob for the 3 of us to share. Casey was just so-so on the chicken and the kabab was too seasoned for her tastes. Allison and I didn't have any problem finishing it though. She ate most of it. I ate most of the chicken- it was good, not fantastic but I was going for something relatively mild- and Casey just picked here and there. They had lollipops up by the register. The girls enjoyed them in the car ride home.

All in all, a very nice night out with the girls.