Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pizza Town, USA

Wouldn't you want to live there?

This past weekend My daughter Allison and I ventured to Staten Island for my nephew's birthday party. This was only half the family as my younger daughter Casey was running a fever. Before we left Staten Island for the return trip home, I asked Allison if she was up for a pizza adventure. She was game and off we went trusting a GPS on the dashboard to get us there.

It was a little disappointing to watch the "Arrival Time" on the GPS get later and later as we sat in some Jersey traffic. But the traffic lights seemed to get further and further apart and then the road turned into an actual highway. The GPS did it's job and we pulled into the parking lot of Pizza Town, USA.

I had first heard of Pizza Town, USA on the forums of pizzamaking.com. Then I read about it on the Slice portion of Serious Eats. And then I posted this video of pizza being made at Pizza Town, USA a little over a year ago. I really wanted to check this place out and was pretty happy my daughter was willing to go for the trip.

Before we got there, I had decided I was going to have everything in the Serious Eats write up. I wasn't sure I was going to make it back and I wasn't going to leave with regrets. I started out with 4 slices for the two of us. Two slices on per plate.

I'm really not sure how they do it. The crust had a definite crunch to it, but it was tender. How can something be crunchy and tender? Apparently there's a way. The crust had a great flavor too. I was so-so on the pizza sauce. It seemed a little sweet to me. But that didn't stop me from eating 3 of the 4 slices we ordered. Next up was the small calzone...which is fried, and pretty tasty.

After the calzone, we still had some room for pizza, so we ordered two more slices, one for each of us.

We could leave without dessert. Pizza Town makes zeppole, so we got a dozen. We couldn't come close to finishing them. Probably should have gotten half a dozen.

Like our local cider doughnuts, the zeppole would be better fresh. You could see they had a bunch made that the reheated in the fryers and topped with sugar. They we OK, but nothing extraordinary. If you could get them fresh when they are making the big batch of zeppole, I bet they are amazing.

For a slice joint, they had a handful of subs on the menu too...meatball, sausage, pepper&egg, eggplant and few cold subs too. A lot of people came and went while we were enjoying our dinner. Only one person got a sub to go with their slices. Looks like pizza is the king in Pizza Town.

Should you want to visit Pizza Town, USA it is at 89 US Highway 46 in Elmwood Park, NJ. pretty close to Garden State Parkway Exit 157. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Crate & Barrel Pop Up Store in Crossgates

Every so often, I get invited to a store opening. Not sure why I am extended the offer, but I try to go when I can make it. This morning, I was invited to preview the Crate & Barrel shop opening today in Crossgates. The store is called The Tree Lot and is next door to Williams Sonoma at the JC Penny and Pottery Barn end of the mall.

This place is seriously decked out for the holiday season and I actually appreciate them not opening before Halloween.


 At the front of the store, there is a little photo opportunity area complete with some props.

Now this shop isn't exactly what I think of when I think about Crate & Barrel. I think about their Boston store (which has apparently moved out of Copley Plaza since my last visit years ago). There where tons of kitchen gadgets, plates, glassware, pots, pans...basically a food nuts dream. But this store isn't trying to be that and there is no way they would be able to fit that kind of store in this space. This place is more about holiday entertaining and gifts. Want some holiday themed serving dishes, they've got them. Fancy glass ornaments, tons of them. And mixed in with the holiday gifts are a few things that are still gifts, but not necessarily only holiday gifts.

This is the first year Crate and Barrel is trying out the concept. I suspect the store will be packed in December. The Tree Lot opens today at 10 and will be open until December 31.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Cost of a Thanksgiving Turkey

I get email from Farmie Market. Never bought anything from them, but I poke around their site once in awhile. The last time I looked at the site the were advertising nitrate free bacon. I sent in an inquiry to see if it was actually nitrate free (most things labeled nitrate free or no nitrates added have nitrates in the form of celery salt). The reply indicated that this bacon was in fact nitrate free. The ingredient list was pork, water, sea salt and brown sugar. The downside to this bacon was that it priced out at $18 a pound. A little to steep for me. I'd post a link to the bacon but it is currently sold out so the price wasn't too steep for everyone.

Yesterday, I got an email from Farmie Market outlining the true cost of raising a pastured turkey. Here it is.

It basically says that a farmer has $53 plus labor into a farm raised turkey. These turkeys are selling for $6.25 a pound and are delivered frozen. At that price, and 18 pound turkey costs $112. That just seems excessive to me. While it is true that meat labeling has become increasingly deceptive - organic, natural, and humane all have USDA definitions that don't necessarily match Webster's - The Co Op is selling  Local, Natural, Pasture Raised turkeys from Misty Knolls at $2.99 a pound. If you want to add organic from Jaindl it is $4.99 a pound. Comparing these farms isn't apples to apples especially with vague definitions of "pastured." Certainly a farmer needs to make a profit, but the price of a turkey breaking $100 just seems high. Although they must not be too high for everyone. They sold out last year. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I got accepted to Harvard

Well, kind of…it’s an online class and everyone that wants to take it gets accepted.

The course is being run through edX and is titled: Science and Cooking From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science. Each week there are about 90 minutes of lectures to watch, recommended reading out of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, a homework assignment, and a lab to do.

I did the first homework assignment. It was real homework. Nothing too difficult, but time consuming. A lot of it was centered around a Toll House cookie recipe. Based on the questions that come up in between video lectures, I thought the homework was going to be a breeze. But instead of questions like “Do you like to drink milk while you eat chocolate chip cookies?” it was more like: Glutenin (molecular weight 75,000 amu) makes up about 60% of the protein in all-purpose flour. Assuming all purpose flour is 10% protein by weight, about how many molecules of glutenin are in this recipe? 

Certainly doable for a nerd like myself. I’ve never thought of ingredients as molecules so that aspect is interesting, but I haven’t done this kind of chemistry homework since the early 90’s. It was a little bit of a shock to the system. In case you were wondering, I came up with 130,600,000,000,000,000,000 molecules also known as a shit-ton. I hope to get to do the lab tomorrow. In the lab, you calibrate your oven using the phase change of sugar. Since the melting point of sugar is 366 deg F, when set to 350 the sugar shouldn’t melt. I’m interested to see how the new kitchen oven does.

If you are interested, you can sign up and join the course. The tuition is free and to allow people more time to join, the first assignments aren't due until mid-November.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Not a local sign

Back in August, we took a family vacation to Vermont. A more detailed post of the trip never happened because while driving to Vermont, we agreed on a purchase price for the house we are currently moving into. So basically since we got into the car on August 10, everything has been and continues to be chaotic.

I was moving some files around on the computer and I stumbled across this sign I saw at a gas station just outside Killington, VT. I've only seen the opposite of this sign locally.

To erase any doubt I was in the Capital District, the mini-mart at this gas station had a surprisingly good wine selection at reasonable prices.

And here's a picture of me trying to fly at Okemo.

I would describe the leap as "whiplash-y." A friend's daughter that also made the leap showed wisdom beyond her years when she told me, "I'm glad I did the jump to experience it, but I don't need to do it again." Couldn't agree more.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ripped from the pages of an old notebook

In preparing to move a mile up the street, we are purging stuff that has been residing in the corner of our basement. Among the things being recycled are lots of old college notebooks, tests and homework assignments. I pretty much scrapped anything I did at RPI. Haven't looked at any of that stuff since I finished a grad degree about 7 years ago. I had a bunch of stuff from Northeastern and UCONN too. I started my lengthy college career (Sophomore year of college...best 3 years of my life) in Boston as a business major. It didn't take. Especially economics.

I hated economics class. Hated the professor. This guy was a jerk. Once, while I was giving a presentation, he left the room. On his way out the door, he told me to keep going. It was awkward to say the least. I didn't want to give the presentation and the class had no interest in hearing it. Everyone's presentation was a useless circus show for him.

Following the professor's "blow off the class" example, I used to write bizarre SAT style multiple choice questions where horrible things happened to horrible economists instead of taking notes or paying attention to a lecture.

So here, you go...a circa 1990 page from the only college notebook I'm keeping:

See if you can answer this...

Two Economists, A and B, decide to take skydiving lesons. Neither A nor B recognize their Skydiving Instructor, C. At one time, C was a student in A's class and B was C's TA while C was in A's class at College D which is located in the northern part of State E in Country F. A and B have finished their lessons and are ready for their first jump out of Plane G. G is now cruising at Speed H and at an Altitude I. If C pushes A and B out of G without parachutes, how long will it take A and B to make a dent in the ground of E in F?

1) A and B will survive by making a parachute out of their clothes.
2) 27.6 seconds
3) Does it really matter?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Unofficial End

Back at the end of June, the slide went out into the Sacandaga Lake signifying the unofficial start of summer. If the local apple harvest isn't a big enough clue that summer is gone, there's this too.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Curling Open Houses

Want to give curling a try? Maybe saw it in the Olympics and thought curling could be fun? 

As I type, the ice is being made. Next weekend, all the lines and houses get painted. Hard to believe that the curling season is coming. Especially since it was so hot and humid earlier this week.

The Schenectady Curling Club is inviting anyone that want to try the sport to attend an open house. At the open you'll learn a few rules, got over how to make a shot and then head out onto the ice to give it a whirl. All you'll need to bring is clean sneakers and maybe a few layers of comfortable clothes. Even if it is warm outside, the air temperature is below 40 out on the ice.

Did I mention it's free?

Stop by the Schenectady Curling Club on Balltown Road (not too far off of Union Street) on:

Friday, October 4 between 6:30 and 9:30 PM   or
Saturday, October 5 between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM

You can check out the details at curling club website.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Earlier today, the world lost a really great dog. He will be missed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On the Move

The past few weeks have been nuts. The night before we left for a Vermont vacation, we submitted a bid on a house. As we were packing to leave, we received an email rejecting our offer. I replied saying that this was as high as we were going to bid, think about, show the house some more, we're leaving for vacation and we'll check in when we get back.

About a hour later, my phone chimed and we received an email accepting our offer. The day we came home, we went to contract. Since then it has been meetings at the bank for a mortgage application, trying to get rid of stuff to avoid packing it, packing stuff up, an inspection, another meeting at the bank, and school started too...hectic.

During the chaos, we're preparing our current house so it can get sold once we are out (someone please buy it). Two walls of the basement have been prepped for painting (I almost did the final wall tonight, but laziness got the better of me), this past weekend we painted the deck, pictures are coming down and the holes are getting filled with joint compound. The to-do list is fairly over whelming, especially since the next month of Sundays include 5 to 6 hours centered around softball double headers.

This past Saturday afternoon, after painting the deck we attended a neighborhood block party. IT was really nice. Felt a little stupid meeting some neighbors for the first time while expecting to close on a house a mile away any day now. The event was a smaller version of one that occurred annually in the neighborhood of my youth.

Someone painted bases on the road and there was a lively kickball game going being played. One of my neighbors commented about how that brought them back. There didn't used to be nearly as much organization to after school activities for kids. This was a neighborhood full of kids playing kickball on a dead end street. Happened everyday for years and years and I can't remember the last time I saw it. One neighbor recalled SPUD. I remember playing SPUD but for the life of me can't remember what the game was. I recall a ball and lots of running as the ball got thrown up in the air. What the hell was SPUD? The event made me want to organize something similar in the new neighborhood. Maybe...talk is cheap. Writing something on a blog is even cheaper.

So as I look forward to many aspects of moving into a new space, there are many things I will miss about our current house. Trying to answer, "What if I miss our old house?" isn't easy. Hopefully the kids will handle the change well. We tried to minimize the impact on them. They'll be going to the same school, just on a different bus.

Change is coming...just as soon as the lawyers and bankers can pull it together.

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    Bored on a Wednesday In Buffalo?

    It's always nice if you know someone that lives where you are traveling. They know the ins and outs. Good spots. Things only a local can know. On my last trip to Buffalo, my friend Kevin took us to the local speedway. On Wednesdays during the summer, you can drag race anything you want for 5 bucks.

    For five bucks you get to heat up your tires by spinning them on some water, then you pull up to the starting line, the lights flash down to green, and then you gun it up the 1/8 mile long track. A radar gun/timer combo displays speeds and times. There were some pretty loaded cars there. A white Camero flew up the track. But you could race anything. People raced pickup trucks, old cars, new cars, there were a few Ford vs. Chevy races. We even saw an old Honda Hatchback go squealing by. I don't remember the make of the car, but I'm pretty sure we saw a teenager destroy his father's transmission.

    There were guys on motorcycles that got up to 110 mph and did the 1/8 mile in under 7 seconds.  These two blurs...they're motorcycles.

    They also had a tire smoking competition. I was familiar with drag racing, but had never heard of this. A vehicle backs into a little cage, locks up the breaks and destroys the rear tires to the delight of the crowd. Seriously, not making it up. This guy insisted on spinning the tires until they popped. Now you see the truck...

    Now you don't. 

    The smell is not good and there were people just sitting in the smoke. Here's what a completely destroyed tire looks like.

    No cost to walk around and see what's going on. It was a fun change of pace. I'd go again to who's racing.

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Pros & Cons

    Some recent pros and cons, in no particular order:

    Pro: To date, I believe I am winning the 2013 Battle of the Lawn.
    Con: I fully expect the lawn to die tomorrow now that I have jinxed it.
    We are in negotiations to buy a house.
    Pro: I really like the house
    Con: Thinking about moving and mortgages gives me a stomach ache.

    Pro: The wok I ordered was delivered today
    Con: I'm on the road this week and off on a vacation next week. I won't get to use the wok for at least two weeks.

    A friend text messaged me on Friday night from my favorite bar.
    Pro: The bartender was disappointed I wasn't there.
    Con: I wasn't there.
    Even more Con: The bar is about 300 miles away.
    Rebound Pro: I should be visiting in mid September.

    Pro: I'm really enjoying Twitter.
    Con: I've wasted hours and hours screwing around on Twitter

    Pro: There's a stupid motorcycle game on my phone and I'm pretty good at it.
    Con: I'm fairly confident that all of the random opponents I have played are kids messing around on their parents' phone.

    Pro: My daughter will begin trumpet lessons this year and there's a good chance she will use the same horn I played at her age.
    Con: I'm going to hear Hot Crossed Buns a million times.

    I wonder how sound proofed the basement is in that other house....

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013


    C'mon, Jimmy....how much margarita money is enough? I wish you still put this kind of energy into your music.

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    Vacation, all I ever wanted

    Took a family trip last week. Some people summer at the Vineyard. Others prefer the Hamptons. I summered in Utica.

    Tell someone you are going to Utica for vacation and wait for the confused look followed by one of the following questions:
    “Seriously, Utica?”
    “On purpose?”

    Yes, Utica. While it might not be in its historic prime, Utica has a lot to offer a family. Here’s what we did.

    Day 1: With lunches packed and the family truckster loaded, we got on the Thruway and headed out to Herkimer. Gems Along the Mohawk is right off NYS Thruway Exit 30. I had pre-bought Erie Canal tour tickets online ($19 for adults, $12 for kids ages 3-10). You might be able to find a cheaper deal if time an online coupon deal right.

    We boarded the Lil Diamond 2 and cruised East on the Mohawk. Portions of the cruise tour are pre-recorded but the boat captain also provides a lot of the tour over a small PA system. In the middle of the tour, the boat goes up and down Lock 18 of the Erie Canal. If you have never gone through a lock on a boat, it's pretty freakin' cool. This lock provides about 20 feet of elevation change and made me want to take a Panama Canal cruise.

    You start up here...
     and start sinking...
    and sinking...
    and sinking...

     and then cruise out the other end...

    Then you do the whole thing in reverse. Fresh off the boat, we set off to our hotel which had an indoor pool. Universal truth: kids love pools. After a swim we headed out to dinner. I had always wanted to try Chesterfield Restaurant.

    It was too dark inside to get good food pictures. Strangely, my family is starting to get used to me snapping food pictures. I went with Utica greens and chicken riggies and enjoyed both. They recently added a pizza oven. Our waiter said it was a few days old. The kids tore into a large cheese pizza and ate the leftover slices the next day. From the taste I had, Chesterfield’s is onto something very good pizza-wise. I’d definitely come back. We went back to the hotel and the kids pretty much passed out.

    Day 2: I got up with the kids and brought them downstairs for breakfast (the hotel had a buffet). To sports fans, two-a-days means two workouts a day during pre-season training. When you’re on vacation with me in a hotel, it means kids go swimming twice a day. After breakfast, we changed into bathing suits and hit the pool. I remembered to bring these little sinking fish. The kids had a lot of fun diving for them. We woke up my wife, dried off and sunscreened up and then we were off to the Utica Zoo (found an online pass - $15.50 for a family of 4). Nice enough zoo. I thought the zoo in Syracuse was a little nicer, but we had a good time going around. The kids got to see a Gibbon take a piss and then a dump (they are 7 and 9 so this was quite hilarious to them). That whole Jurassic Park dinosaurs are birds theory...this crane made me a believer. It's creepy and makes it makes noises you wouldn't want to hear in the dark.

    Somewhere at the zoo, we picked up Passport Coupon Flyer that had some coupons for places we were planning to visit. After our day at the zoo, we headed back for the second swim of the day and then we were off to the Franklin Hotel for dinner. I still really like this place. As recommended by Mr. Dave, I tried the fried hot pepper appetizer with a beer.

    I really enjoyed the peppers and I’ll offer up this advice: When Mr. Dave endorses something, give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m still putting this rub he recommended on everything. We stopped at the pharmacy next door to the Franklin to pick up a few things. Most importantly, Birthday Cake Oreo Cookies. I don’t know why, but the kinds are under the impression that when you eat those cookies while watching a TV show in a hotel, that’s “a party.” Our room had two TVs. Putting them on the same channel was also mandatory at the party.

    Day 3: We had to skip swimming and headed to the Utica train station after breakfast. We got on the Adirondack Railroad and headed north to Thendara. The ride was nice and the kids were excited to be on a train. The train had two passenger cars (I thought they were nicer than the Polar Express cars running out of Saratoga), a baggage car and a snack car. The baggage car was pretty cool. The doors were open to the air, but blocked off by a gate. A steady 40 mile an hour wind was flowing in and at times, you were close enough to touch the trees.

    Once in Thendara, two school buses take you into Old Forge. We walked over to a place called Walt’s Diner. I wish this place was closer. Just a great, friendly little joint with good food. There’s a pretty big water park in Old Forge, but the layover wasn’t long enough to make it worthwhile. Next door to the park is a place called Calypso Cove. They have an arcade where you play games to win tickets that can be cashed in for little prizes. A handful of games including several rounds of skeeball netted us 142 tickets that got traded in for a slinky, a bracelet and a little plastic flip thingy. Calypso Cove has a few other things. There’s no entry fee. You buy $5 tickets that can be used for a zipline ridge, go karts, mini golf or bumper boats. That Passport had Buy 1, Get 1 Calypso Cove tickets.

    After Calypso Cove, we headed back to town and did a little souvenir shopping. Then the busses took us back to the train. The train returned to Utica around 6:30 and the kids were a wiped out. We headed back to the hotel and had Franklin Hotel leftovers for dinner, followed by a quick Oreo party.

    Day 4: We packed up and checked out of the hotel. Then we drove over to the Children’s Museum next door to the train station. (The Passport had an admit one child free coupon. Entry was $22 for a family of 4 with the coupon) It is a nice, quirky museum with some funky hours (make sure it is going to be open when you want to go) but it is all not-for-profit and run by volunteers. They had a plane the kids could sit in and move the flaps plus a lot of other nice exhibits.

    From the museum, we headed to the FX Matt Brewery. There is also a Passport buy 1 adult, get 1 adult free coupon for the brewery and the kids were free. Each tour ticket comes with a voucher for 2 drinks in the tasting room.

    I don’t think the tour guides really care about the drink tickets. So for $5, we got an interesting tour for 4 people, 4 pints of their soda, and 4 pints of beer. I’m not sure there is a better deal anywhere and the kids really liked having a soda tasting. Interesting little fact: The extra carbon dioxide generated during the beer brewing operation is captured and then used to carbonate the sodas.

    On the way out, you can pose with Schultz and Dooley.

    After the tour, we grabbed a few slices of tomato pie on the way out of town. We were off to my in-laws for an annual family picnic. And that was a good time too - except for shoveling out a barn, cutting down a tree and weed whacking a ditch, but you won't have to schedule that into your Utica trip.

    Bottom line, if you’re looking for a relatively cheap mini vacation that doesn't require a ton of car time, check out Utica. You’d be surprised what the city has to offer.