Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Local Tequila?

I guess it's not exactly local. But the company is based in Saratoga Springs.

Here's the story. I wander into Empire Wines during my lunch break to buy booze for Thanksgiving. On the list:

Bourbon - not sure which one I would purchase, it was either going to be something I never had before or Basil Hayden.

Rum - I wanted to get a bottle of 13 year old Plantation Rum. It's really good rum. I describe it as everything Captain Morgan wants to be but isn't.

Tequila - I get a bottle whenever my brother is going to visit. He likes sipping it on the rocks and he got me sipping it too (no rocks for me though). I usually get Milagro Anejo. I like it because I think it almost tastes like a margarita on its own. Truth be told, I was drawn to the brand by the name because it reminded me of the movie The Milagro BeanField War.

So there I am walking into Empire and it's pretty busy with pre-Thanksgiving booze buying. That place sure looks like it moves a ton of booze. There a woman with a table set up, lots of clear little plastic cups filled with something and a pitcher of mixer. As I started to walk by (I was shopping instead of eating lunch and was working on nothing but a cup of coffee so I wasn't thinking sampling) the woman politely offered me some Saratoga tequila. Wait, what? She had my attention.

(image from the One With Life Tequila website)

It's called One With Life Tequila. The company is based out of Saratoga but everything is made in Mexico. Each bottle comes with a little bracelet and a saying. I tasted the tequila on it's own first while she told me about the organic agave and how she travels to Mexico a few times a year. My first impression was surprise. I did not expect the tequila to be this good. I liked it a lot. It was similar to the Milagro in that it was kind of a margarita on it's own but it was better than I remember Milagro being (it's been awhile since I've had it). Then I tasted it with the mixer she had and it was still OK, not my favorite cocktail, but this tequila is for sipping. It's too good to mix.

Here's where assume made an ass of me. I've had stuff from a lot of small batch distilleries that seem to be popping up all over the place. I get that they are starting out, finding their way, and sometimes high quality ingredients are expensive.  But if you are going to make a bottle of whiskey and charge somewhere between $40 and $50, that bottle of whiskey HAS to be better than a $35 bottle of Basil Hayden. And many times it's not. I assumed the price of a bottle of was going to be in the $50 or more range.

I thanked her and continued into the store on my shopping trip. When I got to the tequila shelves, there were bottles of One With Life Tequila priced at $37.99 which is the same price as the Milagro Anejo. Solely on the first impression, I thought I liked the One With Life better so I left feeling like I was getting a little value, not much, but definitely not overpaying for something labeled artisan or organic.

On follow up tastings, I still really like this tequila and I think it is my new go-to tequila. I'm not alone. After his first sip, my brother declared it excellent tequila. He is much more into tequila than I am. He's got shelves of the stuff (no kids) and he was surprised by the price point too. And if you don't trust me or my brother, Wine Enthusiast gave it a 94. They gave the Milagro Anejo a 90.

If you are in the market for some tequila, give this One With Life Tequila a try.

For anyone interested in the rest of the shopping trip, I did get that Plantation rum and went with Tuthilltown Spirits Baby Bourbon I have wanted to try for awhile. It is also quite good.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Foster Fail

Just over two weeks ago, we met Bailey. Cute little shit, isn’t she?

I’m not 100% why we meet Bailey. Maybe it was fate. We’ve fostered dogs a few times through Help Orphan Puppies. The dogs were fine (except for Comet – Comet hated me) but none of them left me wanting to be responsible for a dog all the time. Don’t get me wrong. I like dogs. I used to really, really want one. Even had some names picked out. I had planned to get one in my 20s but it never happened. As I grew older, I came to like other people’s dogs. Kind of like a cool dog uncle. I’ll play with a dog until the dog wants to quit, and then the owners have to pick up poop in their yard while I slept late on Saturday. My in law’s dog Duke was perfect for that.

Anyhow, Help Orphan Puppies often transports puppies from over crowded, high kill shelters to our area. There’s a network of volunteers that drive the dogs here. After the trip, the dogs stay with a foster family for at least 2 weeks to make sure they are healthy, good with kids, other pets and that kind of stuff. A little over two weeks ago, there was a Facebook message about 4 puppies on their way and only 3 had foster homes. My wife asked me if I cared about hosting another dog. I remember my response:

I’d rather not. Thanksgiving is coming and what if we still have the dog with a houseful of people.

I was pretty much a hard pass and fine with never fostering puppies again. They are cute, but puppies can be a lot of work. I followed up with a, “but if YOU want to, go ahead.” Translation: I’m not getting up at 3 in the morning to let the dog out, but if you want handle that, have at it.

I didn’t even know the decision to foster “Tilda” was made when she came into the house. (Tilda is a terrible name. It makes me think of tilde. How about Comma which would be short for Oxford Comma, or Ampersand or Semicolon? But I understand you can’t name every dog Maggie or Jake when you are running an organization like this. The theme for these 4 siblings was T and somehow Tilda was picked which I guess is short for Matilda. After soliciting some suggestions, the kids settled on Bailey for a name.

Bailey is already basically accident free, really well behaved (when offered a tissue or a ball, she picked the ball) and very affectionate. She often sleeps with the kids (who seem to fight less with each other with Bailey around). She does occasionally grab blankets, socks and clothes to chew on and does like moving shoes around. And I don’t know why, but things like that used to drive me nuts with the other dogs just don’t bother me with Bailey.

A Foster Fail is when the foster family keeps the pet they are fostering. The idea is that the foster family takes in a dog, helps it and says goodbye making room for the next foster that needs help. I guess once a foster family fails, they are less likely to keep fostering.

This time we failed. Bigly.

We took the leap and adopted Bailey over the weekend. Bailey melted my icy cold “I don’t want a dog” heart. Maybe she reminds of Duke. Maybe she is kind of like what I imagine that dog I never got in my 20s to be. It doesn't matter because I am oddly smitten with this dog. I’m not sure if this will be the end of fostering for us. I bet Bailey will grow up to be a good rood role model for a foster dogs. We’ll see. Right now, we’ve got a good girl that needs a belly rub.

And a vet.

And a puppy class.

And all the things on the left side of a pet store.

I wonder how she feels about pizza. I bet she likes it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Solo Overnight Trip for Work = Pizza

Anyone that has spent some time poking around this site knows this, but if you’re new: I have a thing for pizza. And last week I was on the road for work. By myself. I ate a lot of pizza.

Traveling alone can get boring. For about a year I traveled with the same guy. We bounced between a very comfortable silence to personal stories to random dumb conversation to guessing which TV shows got good ratings because the ratings happened to be in the USA Today the hotel had in the morning. On my own, it was just podcast city. Some interesting, some dumb, some funny.

Back to the pizza. For a late lunch, I popped into the Hornell Wegman’s. I had a small salad and couple cookies (most Wegman’s have a bulk cookie section and I can’t walk past a snickerdoodle, it’s another thing I have). After that, for the next 30 or so hours, I only ate pizza.

Once or twice a year for probably a little over a decade, I find myself in Olean. It’s a little weird how well I know my way around town. I’ve had pizza there. For the most part, it is exactly what you’d expect. Fairly cheap puffy dough with no flavor topped with a purchased pizza sauce and a lot of cheese. This type of pizza is everywhere.

While I was doing a search for food online, I found the Brooklyn Bakery. It looked like it was mostly bread but they had a few pizzas and everything is cooked in a wood fired oven. At first I wasn’t sure how I had missed this place in my earlier travels (I think it has been open about 5 years). Then I tried to find it. I knew I was nearby, but still couldn’t find it. I parked nearby, and had to start walking using the GPS to find the small path lined with stacked firewood that led to the shop. I had a nice conversation with the owner/operator while he made my pepperoni pizza. I should have taken an oven picture but it was just the two of us in the shop and the idea of cell phone pictures felt a little weird. Instead, this pictures is from their Facebook page

The owner designed that oven. It’s a large rectangular oven with a door on the side for the fire. The light on the front of the oven (the next pizza stop had one too) is an idea I should have stolen. It might not be too late. Not sure I could find a similar light that would be OK outside. If not, I’ll just pick up a nice flashlight. Anyhow…the dough was already stretched out and placed on a screen before it was topped. When I saw that, my expectations dropped. But I was told the oven floor is in the mid 700s and that’s pretty hot for the amount of time the pizza baked. I’m guessing it was in there for about 5 minutes. I think the oven ceiling is a little high and the screen balances out the bake. Which is fine especially since it looks like a commercial bread oven first and a pizza oven second. The pizza spent the last minute directly on the oven floor without the screen. It looked good.

What I got was a very crispy thin crust pizza. The cheese, sauce and pepperoni were all good, but the crust was just texture – no flavor. So not a great pizza, but certainly not a bad pizza (over the course of the night I ate the whole damn pizza and I would rank it above many Albany pizza places). I would, and probably will, go again.

Oddly, I wasn’t hungry for breakfast. At lunchtime, I found myself north of Olean in East Aurora, home of the Elm Street Bakery. I had heard of the Elm Street Bakery from a few places. The pizza on their menu has made some “Best of” lists. I had been to the Eat Aurora area several times but I had never been.  Their oven has a similar look to the Brooklyn Bakery, similar lighting up front too. On their web page, I found out it is an Allen Scott oven which is interesting only because if I rushed into building my oven without years of reading and research, I would have built an Allen Scott oven as is describe in the book: The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens. I’m glad I didn’t. The ovens have a lot of mass and take a long time to heat up. Once they are hot and heat saturated, they stay hot a long time. Perfect for a place like a commercial bakery, not quite as good for firing up on a Saturday afternoon.

Enough blabbing, I got a pepperoni pizza for lunch.

This pizza was much softer than the night before but other than that they were pretty similar. Good sauce, good cheese, good pepperoni but the crust was kind of bland. Good, decent pizza, just not mind blowing or amazing. Again, better than a lot of pizza in the area. The best thing I got at the Elm Street Bakery was a change in perspective.

For the past two years, I have been trying to limit the pizza I eat to only my pizza or some place well known. I think I’m done with that. I’m going to try some more pizza. Probably not any and all pizza – I’d prefer to not gain any more weight. But I’m going to try more. Best case, I get fantastic pizza that I remember for years to come. Worst case, I get to walk away smugly thinking that my pizza is better.

I fired up my oven this weekend. The first 4 pizzas were less than spectacular. The dough fought me a little, the oven floor was a little too hot, I put too much cheese on one pie and it was totally out of balance. The next 4 came out much better. The oven had cooled a little and I cranked out some decent pizza. I brought a sausage pie over to our relatively new neighbors. I still get a kick out of delivering pizza. I'm also almost to where I'm going to stop any work on the oven for the year. After Thanksgiving I'm going to start a sourdough culture for some dough experiments. Time to stop building the damn thing and just use it.