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

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I’ve managed to pick up just about every bug out there this winter, and evidently what I tend to do when I can’t do much of anything else is bake. I’m home-bound. Nothing else to do. Small burst of energy to normal levels. It does feel cozy and satisfying to be baking things in my own little place throughout the winter, but I’d gladly change out my immune system so I could try snowboarding this season (I’ve gotten sick every time I planned on going!).

Any way, here is some bread. I’ve been baking bread like crazy. Not eating all of it, but putting a good dent in it (the Latham birds grudgingly accept stale bread and will eat it within a few days). The loaf above was a simple artisan bread in 5 type recipe, but I’ve been playing with pain a l’ancienne and some baguettes as well, with decent results.

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King Arthur Flour Hermit bars as a breakfast treat for the husbear one morning. They hit all of his old man flavor favorites – molasses, golden raisins, and lots of chew.

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These froze up quite nicely, too.

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Venison turned into jerky. My uncle was nice enough to give me some venison (quite a lot of it, actually), and I haven’t been all that into it lately, but I have been all about jerky. Flavored that up with some soy sauce and other random spices at home, let it sit for a day in the fridge.

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Then put the convection oven on its lowest setting, which is about 170F.

P1040143Final product after a few hours in the oven. Pretty decent jerky, had me wishing I’d written down what I put in the jerky marinade.

Any way, I’m at least glad for some sort of productivity during my winter funks. Although I would much rather swap it for a better immune system. I’ve been stubbornly trying to keep up with my normal activities all winter long, but I am finally resigning to the reality of my weakened immune system this winter. Still, I remain upbeat – spring will be here soon and the warmer weather will do me good. I choose to find joy in the small things instead of defeat (I will never be defeated!). I can still bake, I have friends to share my baking with, and I am warm and cozy in my very own little house this winter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this Ghostbusters marathon isn’t going to watch itself.

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I’ve been playing with ganache lately. Red macaron shells with raspberry-flavored chocolate ganache seemed like a good idea. I used finely ground almond flour for the first time in a while. I usually opt for almond meal, which is coarser, but generally about half the price of finely ground almond flour. I also bought some piping bags, and man, with those two little changes, I was surprised at how much easier I made the process on myself.

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We all know the deal – (almond flour + powdered sugar) + (whipped eggs whites + coarse sugar + food coloring) = batter.  As long as you cut the tip of the bag in a straight line, you don’t even need to use a tip, you’ll get nicely rounded, even macaron shells.

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I had some extra raspberry-flavored ganache, so I made small balls and rolled them in some powdered sugar and shredded coconut (unsweetened).

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Snow can’t stop me from bringing the heat! I shoveled out the grill, cleaned her off, and smoked up some pork shoulder and ribs. As you can see, one of her wheels got lost in all of this snow somewhere along the way.

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The night before I’d picked up some baby back ribs at Roma. Just a bit over $5 for a half rack. Not too shabby. Sure beats restaurant prices.

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And I also can’t say no to $2.99/lb pork shoulder.

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I made my own rib rub up. A little spicy kick, but nothing outrageous.

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Rubbed liberally on both pieces of pork, and let them sit over night.

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Here they are after a night in the fridge.
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Coals got all nice & toasty.
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Dumped the coals over half of the bottom of the grill with some applewood chips in tin foil on top of the coals.. Put a pan on the other side to catch any meat drips.

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The porky duo hangs out above the pan, and then I cover the grill, shaking the bottom occasionally to release the dead ashes which clog up air flow. Wound up putting another chimney of coals on here.
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Ribs smoked for about 5 hours before hunger set in. Good amount of smoke, I probably could have let them go another 30 minutes with some sauce, but overall I’m happy with how they came out.
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The pork shoulder I let go for about 7 hours. Nice bark formation on the outside. Planning on using some of the fattier bits for split pea soup

 

Pork rib recipe here:

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I was invited to check out Price Chopper’s newest endeavor – the Market Bistro in the Latham Price Chopper. It’s been close to a decade since I’ve set foot into a Price Chopper, but I suppose a combination of age, time, and curiosity got the best of me, so I went.

So the Market Bistro is interesting. Fast casual dining/take out in a grocery store, kind of like a mall food court, but with somewhat better food and a centralized check out, so you can grab food from a few different kiosks and pay in one central location.

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The checkout register is located in the center of the Market Bistro underneath this tree sculpture, which I found to be rather aesthetically appealing.

Right, so here are some quick thoughts and impressions from the stalls we sampled. Other awesome local bloggers have posted their own opinions, check it out to make your own:

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This was from the Giving-Chiptole-and-Moe’s-a-Run-For-Their-Money stall. Buffalo chicken quesadilla. On the oily/greasy side for me, and the chicken flavor was pretty mild. I’ll probably stick with Chipotle for my tex-mex needs.

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Chicken stall has smoked meats and fried chicken. We didn’t try any of the fried chicken, but we did try some smoked meat.

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Ribs and brisket. Brisket is smoked ~12 hours, ribs smoked ~3-4 hours. Good amount of smoke on it. They said they brought in Tennessee hickory for a more authentic smoked flavor. Brisket was fine. The rib was pretty damn good, I’ve gotta give them that. Flavorful rub, good texture, nice penetration of smoke.

A full rack of ribs will set you back $18.99, so a little less than you’d pay in a restaurant, and I can’t really think of any place in Latham where you can walk in and out with a hot rack of ribs within 5 minutes. So that is pretty cool. It would be even better if this was with locally raised meat, but I realize that would likely not be logistically possible.

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Burgers & dogs. Burgers are cooked to 165 F. The Golubs were very proud of their buns, and it’s pretty awesome to see the head of a corporation beaming while talking about a product. They were proud of engineering a bun that they felt enhanced the flavor of the burgers they were serving. I tried some of the buns, and my first thought was “I wonder what kind of dough conditioners they use?”. It was very pleasantly soft, and had a bit of a Wonder-Bread aftertaste. Not really my jam, but I assume this is fairly popular with kids.

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Fish Fry counter, which they designed to evoke that “seaside” feeling. Pick your seaside – Jersey Shore, Cape Cod, Maine. Beachy seafood was the vibe they were going for.

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We tried their lobster roll, which uses the claws and tail of 2-1lb hard shell lobsters. They plan on using hard shell lobsers when they have them in store, but otherwise bringing the parts in. These are very generously sized. This is half of a sample sized roll. The mayo was on the (blessedly) light side, and overall I found this to be pretty enjoyable.

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The sushi stall is an independent operator in the Market Bistro, meaning it is not run or by Price Chopper employees and the fish is all brought in by the operating company. You can skip this stall, and I kind of wish Price Chopper had because it seems like it brings down their Market Bistro brand. But we are American consumers and evidently we demand sushi in all grocery stores.

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It’s not that it’s especially bad, but it’s also not especially good. It’s generic supermarket sushi with overly vinegared, chilled rice and bland fish. The flavor really paled in comparison to Price Chopper’s lobster roll.

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Then it was back to the cheese counter! Hello cheese. Tasty stuff. There’s also a beer counter. All of the staff we encountered really seemed to be enjoying their jobs.

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Fresh pasta available by the pound. This is an especially neat concept. I wouldn’t mind giving this a whirl in the future.

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Ben & Bill’s is now also in Latham. I know many folks who really like this deli, and many of the other attendees were also excited at this counter.

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Sandwiches.

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Pizza counter. They have their usual Price Chopper hot pizza, but also have a thinner NY-style crust.

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These were a lighter alternative to the original Price Chopper pies. Very crackery-thin crust.

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We finished off at Scoops & Smiles, the ice cream shop.

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Hot Fudge Sundaes and the “World’s Best” Strawberry milkshake, which uses fresh strawberries.

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As we left, I couldn’t help but grab another snap of the tree sculpture at the center of the bistro. There is something fairly calming about it, lending to a relaxed feeling. It felt both cozy and open at the same time. Despite the large space and seating it wasn’t cacophonous or hectic. They definitely managed to design this to feel relaxing and welcoming, which is a pretty impressive engineering feat given all of the metal materials in the area.

“Magnificent” was a word that was used a lot on the tour, and that is what Price Chopper is striving to have their customers thinking when they leave the Market Bistro. Props for aiming high, guys. They said they welcomed customer feedback and one of the things they felt that distinguished the Market Bistro was their dedicated detail to small aspects of production, like cold plates for salads (kept chilled), and finely shredded lettuce they shredded in-store because they thought the textural difference made a better product.

I haven’t been a Chopper Shopper for almost a decade now, but this tour may have just turned me back in to one. The Latham store will be a “trial” store where they test out new ideas before implementing them (or not) in other Price Chopper stores. I wasn’t able to check out the rest of the store before I had to leave, but I will likely return for a bit of local grocery store tourism.

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Gluten, who eats it, right? While I don’t have a gluten issue, a bunch of my friends seem to have some sort of gluten sensitivity. I’ve personally been eating less gluteny things just because my body hasn’t been craving it, so when it was time to bring something to a Shabbat potluck (or Shabbatluck as I’ve dubbed it), I was scratching my head trying to come up with something gluten free and Kosher. Kosher is kind of difficult for me personally because I have to stop and think about what I’m combining in a dish (like, meat + dairy is a no-no, and pork is out of the question). But toss in gluten-free and Sherlock Jane is on the case! So I figured I’d take a page from the Paleo/Primal cookbook and use sweet potatoes as the crust. I kind of hate labeling foods as paleo, but it’s an easy tag to generally figure out something is crap-free in terms of ingredients. So this is paleoish. or Paleish.

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Start with a tart pan and a shredded sweet potato mixed with some eggs and whatever other seasonings you want to toss in there. I bought this Fox Run 10″ tart pan off of Amazon. It’s a pretty crappy tart pan – doesn’t conduct heat very well for baking, so make sure you’ve got a pizza stone underneath it for true tarts to have even levels of heat through the center. For stuff like this it doesn’t really matter, though. We’re not making anything temperamental here

Any way, press your shredded sweet potato into the pan and bake it at 350F until it looks like this:

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Something like 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven and the amount of sweet potato shreds you’ve got going on. I went pretty sparse, and that became evident when they dried out while cooking (which is good, we want to remove some of that moisture to make a crust. But whatever, because only a psycho flips over their quiche to inspect the crust during a pot luck.

Any way, get out your eggs and milk (or cream), whisk them together, then shred some cheese (see, this is where Albany Jane checks out from Paleo-ville) and pour all of that over the crust. If it looks low in the pan, mix up a little more. Then blop some pesto on top. I had some pesto in the freezer from the summer. Man, it was nice to get a little blast of summer in the pan.

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Cook it at 350F until it sets in the center, somewhere in the 35-45 minute range. If you’re worried about leakage, flip over a baking sheet to catch any drips.

This was a potluck HIT! I was happily surprised. Usually the healthier/gluten-free/paleo dishes at a potluck get picked over, but I heard people asking for slices of this at dinner, so it was neat to see the “healthyish” dish have to get cut into smaller slices not because people wanted to be polite and try it, but because everyone really wanted a bite and liked it.

I’m not such an egg-as-a-main/quiche person myself, so I’d like to play around with this sweet potato crust concept with other savory “pie” type dishes, and sweet dishes.

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The Capital Region Coffee Collective had a brew method exploration at the end of January at the Learning Center of the Healthy Living Market. It was a great event in a great space, and \was a fun, educational way to see (and more importantly, taste) a few different brewing methods and find what your preferences were in a cup.

I forget the coffee we tried, but it was a freshly roasted blend from Gimmie Coffee.
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The first method was a simple pour-over with a filter. This is how I’ve enjoyed my Blue Bottle coffees, and I figured this would be my favorite for the day, but I was surprised that it was not! It was good, but wow, let me tell you, the differences between brewing methods were very noticeable.

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The second demonstration was the Chemex. This was one of my favorite ways of brewing. It cut a lot of the acidity and was a really smooth, rounded cup of coffee. Being able to try the Chemex method immediately after the pour-over method was great, as I was able to see how much smoother the Chemex was compared to the pour-over (which ordinarily I’d think was just dandy)
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French press was next. This was a bolder cup of coffee in terms of flavor and acidity.

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The Aeropress was next.
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The aeropress is probably the easiest coffee making method of the bunch, and is best for single serve cups of coffee.

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PUSH the water through the coffee. I thought this lent a lot of acidity and bitterness to the coffee, which I didn’t care for. Other people really liked it, so it was a fantastic learning experience to be able to have different opinions on brewing methods and open up dialog with other attendees about what you liked or didn’t like and why.
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The Moka Pot. I think of this as the espresso coffee maker because a few friends use these to make, well, espresso. Also a pretty easy and compact brewing system to use.

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The Syphon. This was the most impressive looking brewing method, for sure. It’s a 2-stage coffee brewing system. you put the water in the bottom pot, and the coffee + filter in the top pot (which also has a glass tube that leads into the glass pot below. Once it comes to a boil, the water is siphoned into the top pot to brew, then goes back into the lower pot when done.
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Wow. That was really awesome to watch. And it also made a great cup of coffee for me. Tied with the Chemex due to its rounded flavors and low acidity/bitterness.
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Now here is the only down side – my two favorite methods of brewing were also the two largest and most difficult to clean if I want them at home. Chemex = big glass vase that the cat will probably declare a mortal enemy and try to break, takes up a lot of space and will need to be stored somewhere to protect it from the cat and my own clumsiness. Syphon = TWO pots to clean, and that pot with the siphon tube will need to be cleaned almost immediately after brewing; plus protective storage from Rambo cat and clumsy oaf owner. I’ve decided to order these out when I see them, like at Tierra coffee roasters (they have Chemex for $4 a pot).

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P1030858Thanks to the 518 Coffee Collective for putting together this educational public event! It was truly fantastic to be able to compare different brew methods side-by-side. I’d likely never really be able to tell the differences (or seek them out) otherwise. It was energizing to be in a room full of passionate people sharing their craft.

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