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Hey cool cats – check out what’s in store for the Soul Cafe (Albany Edition) tomorrow night!

Soul Café Albany
Monday, September 29, 6-8 PM
Westminster Presbyterian Church
parking lot access at 85 Chestnut Street
Albany, NY
$3 suggested donation
Pizza! Why read any further?
The Soul Café Albany community meal is at it again on Monday, September 29 from 6-8 PM at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (parking lot entrance at 85 Chestnut Street) in Albany. There is a suggested donation of $3 for this volunteer-run dinner (no one will be turned away). The Honest Weight Food Co-op and other generous area businesses donate culled produce for the cooks to prepare. Vegan and vegetarian options will be available.
All are welcome! We are looking forward to working together to break bread in the community.
+ For more information, contact soulcafealbany@gmail.com.
+ More information can also be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/soulcafealbanyny

Check it out, Soul Cafe is expanding from Troy to Albany. Their first shinding is next Monday, June 30th! I went to the planning potluck, and this is sure to be an awesome time (plus there’s parking!).

-AJ

Soul Café Albany
Cuban Night with Chris Faraci (Carmen’s Café, Troy)
Monday, June 30, 6-8 PM
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Albany, NY
$3 suggested donation
The first Soul Café Albany community meal will take place on Monday, June 30 from 6-8 PM at the Westminster Presbyterian Church on 262 State Street (parking lot entrance at 85 Chestnut Street) in Albany. There is a suggested base donation of $3 for this volunteer-run dinner (no one will be turned away). Denison Farm, the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Placid Baker, and other businesses donate culled produce for the cooks to prepare.
This month’s theme is Cuban Night, with a menu created by Chris Faraci of Carmen’s Café in Troy.
We are looking forward to working together to break bread in the community.
For more information, contact soulcafealbany@gmail.com.
More information can also be found on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/soulcafealbanyny
Carmen’s Café: http://carmenscafetroy.com/
Honest Weight Food Co-op: http://www.hwfc.com

The Cheese Traveler to Host Friday Night Cookouts

Where: The Cheese Traveler, 540, Delaware Ave, Albany

When: May 30th, and subsequent Friday evenings

Cost: Priced according to menu between $4-$10

The Cheese Traveler, a cheese shop which opened in Albany in September 2012 and was recently named Best New Specialty Food Shop in Hudson Valley Magazine, will host Friday Night Cookouts over the summer beginning May 30th.

The menu will rotate every few weeks and feature locally raised meat, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. The Cheese Traveler sells organic beef and pork from Tilldale Farm, Fish from Fin, and developed many relationships with great producers when they sold their cheeses at farmers markets over the last three years.

We want to consistently host events in the neighborhood to bring people together. We couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy summer than with the grill. It gives us an opportunity to feature Tilldale Farm and other small producers of local meats, some of the great products we sell, and Ryan Skrabalak, our chef, whose talent we believe is one of the gems of our shop.” said proprietor Eric Paul.

***Squee! I’m so excited for this! I love being able to grab a casual burger in the Del So and just hang out. I’m not much of a burger-making gal myself, but I will totally swing by when someone else is making them.– Albany Jane***

Vent Fitness is a local chain of 4 gyms which used to be Gold’s Gym franchises. I’ve been a member since I moved to Latham last fall, and my overall take this far is that I am happy with my level two membership for $29.99/month.

The Level 1 membership just gets you access to the equipment at one gym, but it is significantly cheaper, so if you know you’re only going to go to one location and never take a class, then this is probably the deal for you.

The Level 2 & 3 membership grants you access to all 4 locations, group classes, tanning, a towel, and free coffee. The Level 3 is a whopping $80 now (I think it was $50 or $60 last year, but prices went up in the new year) and really the only difference for me is that you take more “exclusive”/smaller group classes/training sessions (IMO these seem primarily more like paying in to having a group trainer). You can read more about the memberships and benefits to each one, although most of the level 2-3 benefits currently listed are primarily at the Guilderland location (more on this later).

What I like about Level 2:
Flexibility. I can be all over the place, so it’s sweet to be able to pack a gym bag in my car everyday and being able to pick which Vent I want to go to. I also like the group classes for forced relaxation and stretching. I tend to do a yoga or bodyflow, and having the level 2 membership makes me at least try to get in one of those more restorative workouts a week. It’s also nice to change things up every now and then and try something new.
Free coffee is awesome. I don’t use any pre-workout supplements and am fairly distrustful of thermogenic pre-workouts as a whole. I’m also fairly sensitive to caffeine on its own, so a cup of coffee before a workout is usually all I need to really get in the swing of things.
Towel. I used to just sweat all over the place, but it’s nice to have something to mop your brow/neck before things get to a crazy-sweaty level.
Showers! All of the showers are clean and enjoyable to use.
Sauna. The good sweat. It was awesome to have somewhere to go where I could break a sweat in the icy cold winter.
I can bring a guest with me on the weekends to any location.

My customer service experience has been fantastic so far. Management is quick to address any issues, and everyone is generally very friendly and helpful. No “that’s not my job” and everyone on staff appear to be team players. This is probably one of the big draws for me. I really value good, effective customer service, and Vent excels at making the customer feel welcome without being overbearing or inattentive. Locations are also very clean and generally well maintained.

The locations! I have been to Latham, Clifton Park, and Guilderland. Can’t seem to get to the Niskayuna one. At least, not yet.

Latham Vent
This is the gym I go to most often since it’s close to home. The showers are fine, but probably the least private of the three Vents I’ve been to in that there is just a shower curtain and not another private little entry way before entering the shower in the stall to change and keep your stuff. So you either bring everything in the shower and maybe your bag gets wet, or you hang it on the hook outside the shower and occasionally flash a little boob or butt when you’re reaching in to your bag to grab clean clothes/ditch the dirty ones. This is more of an issue for anyone else in the locker room with me as I have almost zero shame about my body, but other ladies seem more squemish about seeing a boob. Whatever.
Equipment: They have a nice selection of ab machines. Probably my favorite of the three. This is also probably the most spacious Vent, and I also like that. I like my space. I don’t like equipment crammed next to each other. Cardio machines are on the 2nd floor and to the left when you walk in, so you can people watch your heart out at the folks lifting weights.
I really hope this is the next gym they renovate.

Clifton Park Vent
Surprisingly close to Latham. My secret confession is that the main draw for me here is the spray tanning, which I still have yet to master. I don’t do UV tanning, but hey, it’s included, and I want to try and get all coconutty every now and then. This is the only Vent location with spray (non-UV) tanning. I do pretty well until my knees. Below the knees it becomes splotch central with a hearty dose of Cheeto-colored soles of my feet. I wish I could tell you why I like doing the spray tanning, but I have no logical reason for liking it, especially since I kind of suck at it. I am like a moth drawn to the flame.
Showers have a little privacy screen/antechamber (?)  before the main shower. Any way, it’s nice to lotion up when you get out of the shower and change in one place. The actual lockers in this locker room are kind of oddly shaped. They can be up high, and I’m pretty tall, so that’s saying something. The lockers also seem too skinny, so it’s hard to fit a backpack in them.
The weights here are a little cramped for my liking and everything seems kind of circular. The cardio equipment is on the 2nd floor, and it’s shaped like a track/donut, which is an interesting way to peer at the people lifting weights below. They also have a punching bag upstairs near the stretching mats.

Guilderland VentThis is the flagship location – the one they are eventually going to use as the mold for remodeling the other Vents in the area. Holy cow, this place is awesome. Every time I go here I tell Albany John I’m going for a spa day and I’ll be there for at least three hours (BTW, their wifi kicks you off after 4 hours and you have to sign back in. Ask me how I know…). It’s got all of the bells and whistles. They have a hydro massage table, and while it won’t make me trade out my monthly massages, it’s a nice way to relax and soothe sore muscles ASAP.
Pool/hot tub. Albany John likes going here with me on the weekends for the pool He is a water guy. Meanwhile, I just look at a pool and get swimmer’s ear. I like hot tub. It’s another great way to try to ease out any kinks and stiffness after a long workout. It’s got a timed bubbler on it, too, or just go in without bubbles.
Sauna/steam room – there’s a steam room in addition to the sauna here, and it’s located in the same area as the pool/hot tub. At first I was psyched to have co-ed sauna/steam room because I thought it would be nice to have sauna time with Albany John. I don’t think we’ve ever been in it at the same time now that this is an option (of course, right?). And then I realized how used to a gender-specific sauna I got. But no one here really bothers you. I had an old guy letch on me (nothing bad, but he kept awkwardly interjecting how beautiful I was when we were chatting), but he was respectful once I told him what’s what and really, he was so old it was one of those “I’m so old, I’m going to say what I want,” moments. It was like seeing Albany John in the future.
Oxygen therapy. I don’t know if this really does anything, but you get to smell nice smells for a few minutes.

Overall, I like Vent. Peak times seem to be the after work crowd, M-F after 5 PM (people central). As with all social situations, I try to avoid this as often as possible. Mornings are pretty empty, as are Friday nights. There are plenty of things for me to lift at each location, and I can shower after every workout. I’m not much of a relaxer by nature, so having a membership with group classes included is great as an incentive to TRY to relax and stretch out.

Any way, this is just my brief synopsis of my experience to date. I know other folks who go for an entirely different experience, and there are bound to be annoyances at any gym location (for the love of goodness, don’t deadlift in the squat rack), but overall the pros at Vent far outweigh the cons. It hits me on price, perceived quality, and customer service.

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The Good Morning Cafe is expanding to become Good Night Noodle, a pho-centric Vietnamese restaurant.

They had a gathering of local bloggers one night to try out some of the the dishes that Good Night Noodle would feature.

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I’ve been following Good Morning Cafe for a while, but never managed to get up there (as I am a horribly late person and I just don’t leave my house early enough to get to breakfast places). This was also an awesome chance to learn more about GMC and their commitment to buying locally, easily summed up by their motto of “eat good * do good * feel good”.

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It’s a clean, open space with plenty of tables. Now, breakfast is always problematic for me, but dinner is much easier to add to my calendar. Good Night Noodle is projected to open in April 2014.

The Capital Region as a whole doesn’t have too many Vietnamese places – there’s Kim’s, & Van’s in Albany (and I know, I know so are My Linh and Pho Yum, but both of sit on the high side of menu pricing), Saigon Spring in Clifton Park, and soon Good Night Noodle in Ballston Spa. And it’s worth the drive.

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Shrimp Summer Rolls – with the addition of red bell pepper for a textural crunch.

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Vegetarian summer rolls also with red bell pepper. Good Night Noodle prepares Vietnamese food a little bit differently than most traditional Vietnamese restaurants. There is more of a focus toward using local produce and meats, and 95% of the menu will be gluten-free (and that 5% will mainly be dessert).

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Perfectly wrapped spring rolls!

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Pho condiment platter of hoisin sauce, Thai basil, cilantro, limes, jalapenos, and bean sprouts.

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Quick pickled veggies in apple cider vinegar.

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Chicken meatball pho. This was an awesome broth. Actually, all of the Good Night Noodle broths are awesome. Full bodied and warming but not too rich or heavy, which tends to be my broth preference. This was rich with chicken flavor. This bowl would be considered a small and will retail for about $7 per bowl. There will be large options available as well for $10-12.

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The bowls from the Good Morning Cafe were a bit on the shallow side, and Good Night Noodle has an indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the start-up and initial operating costs of setting up Good Night Noodle. This will include deeper bowls for more broth in their pho, among other kitchen upgrades/purchases.

The chicken meatballs use toasted rice flour, coconut oil, and aminos (aminos in place of soy sauce). It’s a great spongy texture – kind of like a fish cake, but chicken-y. It’s an awesome addition to pho – delicious on its own, but also great for soaking up a bit of pho broth. Once Good Night Noodle is open there are also plans of a chicken meatball sandwich.

Ok, more on the broths – the veggie broth is SO rich, thick, and delicious I’m going to have a hard time picking which soup I’d want – veggie, chicken, or beef. Normally I’d just brush off the vegetarian broth and likely go for beef, but this vegetarian broth really gives the other broths a run for their money.

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Dessert! Orange Blossom Cupcakes, and the best vegan cookies I’ve ever had.

From the desk of Albany John:

The Capital District Community Gardens has long provided agricultural and

nutritional resources to our area, delivering more than 333 tons of fresh produce

in the past year alone. This past week the CDCG celebrated the opening of a 2.5

million dollar project (in the first phase alone) at 594 River Street in Troy designed

to quadruple their capacity to provide access to local farmers and consumers.

The community presence and overwhelming support of the local government and

business leaders for the project shows the importance of this project to Albany,

Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga counties as well as farmers from 10 local counties.

I was introduced to the CDCG by their mobile produce project, which strives to

deliver produce to under-served communities. The cities of our region are full of

neighborhoods with little to no access to fresh produce, and the CDCG helps to

reduce the impact of poor nutrition by delivering produce along routes with the

“Veggie Mobile” a truck selling fruits and vegetables. They also have a smaller

“sprout” vehicle, and have introduced sales space in local convenience stores.

Where most convenience stores stock highly processed, high calorie food with long

shelf lives – local produce is now available through the healthy convenience store

initiative. I planted a community garden in Troy (one of nearly 50 in the region) and

the support of the staff was amazing – with seeds, education, and seedlings available

at very low cost.

 

The Urban Grow Center has transformed a 100 year old former light industrial

building into a warehousing and office space. The staff and volunteers transformed

the first floor (once crowded by safety equipment and pipes) into a space where

they will be able to not only stock and distribute much more produce to the area

but also act as an incubator for local businesses. The grow center will feature a

commercial kitchen for nutrition education and food based micro-enterprises. The

project will also include an acre of greenhouses for year round urban agriculture

programming. Green technology will be a major factor, with a “green roof”, solar

power, water reuse and porous pavement reducing over 300,000 estimated gallons

of runoff.

Political support from the communities that the CDCG serves was incredible, with

mayors from Albany, Troy, and Schenectady speaking about their experience with

the CDCG and praising the project and pledging their support in the years to come.

Assemblyman John McDonald III, and Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy The

business community stood behind the project as well, not only with their words, but

with their wallets. E. Stewart Jones, (co-chair of the grow center campaign with his

wife Kimberly Sanger Jones) SEFCU, First Niagara, and MVP Health Care pledged

their support with SEFCU promising a contribution of $500,000 towards the first

phase of the project. They still need our support, and charitable contributors are

needed at all levels. The grand opening presentation ended with the CDCG interns

demonstrating with produce the level of funding the project has already received

(more than 50%), and how much more contributions they have to raise for the first

phase of the project.

Food ties our communities together. That’s one thing I know for sure, and farmers

and consumers in urban areas are often separated by more than distance. The CDCG

has demonstrated its commitment to fighting poor nutrition from farm to table. The

growth of the CDCG also means opportunity for farmers to open up to under-served

markets, and for at-risk youth and adults to receive job training and education

about how food matters, how it reaches the table, and the importance of small scale,

local healthy farming. The program is a model I hope is replicated in urban centers

worldwide, mindful of the needs of consumers and farmers, implementing green

technology.

For more information on this exciting venture, contact Amy Klein, executive

director of the CDCG amy@cdgc.org or (518) 274-8685

This Saturday marks the 8th Annual Santa Speedo Sprint on Lark street here in Albany, NY. The proceeds from the Speedo Sprint go to the Albany Damien Center, which suffered a fire this year and could especially use the help this year. They’ve been helping others and creating a sense of community within those suffering from HIV/AIDS in the Capitol Region for years – I want to see them around for many more years to come.

I’ll be registering the day of the event , paying the $25.00 entry fee, and donning something skimpy to trot up and down Lark Street. If you’d like to make a donation with my name as a sponsored runner, feel free, but I think the most important thing is to donate to the Damien Center so that they can continue to help others.

 

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