Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunny Asian Restaurant

In Utica, New York, near the courthouse, there is this little asian restaurant called Sunny. They serve various thai, vietnamese and various pan-asian cuisine.

Now y'all know how much I love Pho, so when the opportunity presented itself to pay a visit to Sunny's, well, was there really any choice?

I wasn't disappointed.

Sunny is in a small, nondescript building on the corner of Albany and Elizabeth Streets. If driving from Genessee Street, you can follow Elizabeth Street all the way to the end; Sunny is on the left. We parked on Albany St, though they do have a small lot (entrance on Elizabeth Street only). Inside, it's clean and tidy--even the bathrooms were impressively clean.

At 11:30am mid-week, we were surprised to be the only customers. Undeterred, we sat down and ordered. The wait staff were attentive to our every wish, and hot tea and water arrived quickly. Our order didn't take long--and wow, just look at this:

Beef pho with sliced brisket.

Here is chicken pho, or Pho Ga.

Our partially-devoured plate of accoutrements. (We already had used all the lime wedges.)

It was good. Really, really good. And shortly after we began our meal, more customers arrived--obviously on their lunch break from work.

Here's a blurry photo of my brother chowing down.

The soup broth was delectable, the portions very generous, and the availability of condiments was fantastic. We like our pho hot, so the waittress brought little bowls of diced chilis in oil. That did the trick! (Though be warned--that stuff is hot!)

So if you love pho as much as I do, enjoy Thai and various pan-asian cuisine, or just want to try something new and you're in the Utica area, visit Sunny. And if you want a lunch partner, just let me know--I'd be glad to meet you there!

Sunny Asian Restaurant

530 Albany Street
Utica, NY 13501

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Different Kind of Recipe: DIY Laundry Detergent

I know that this technically does not belong on a food blog--but this is for home/kitchen use any way, and I felt that this is too valuable to not share with you.

In an effort to remain always frugal, stretching my dollar as far as it will go, I have been making my own laundry detergent.

What a difference.

I start with four ingredients:

- 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap. Zote is another brand that could be used. I've heard about people using an Ivory bar, but I think a laundry bar is better for this purpose.

- 20 Mule Team Borax

- Washing Soda. This is different from baking soda, but also made by Arm & Hammer. I'm sure there are other brands.

- Optional: Baking Soda. This is an additive that I particularly like as a deodorizer.

Simply grate the bar of soap. I use the smallest holes on my box grater by hand. For me, this is a therapeutic process done while watching television. You could, of course, use your food processor for a quicker effect.

One bar of soap yields three cups of grated soap. To this I add 1-1/2 cups each Borax and Washing Soda, and an entire 16-ounce box of baking soda.

Mix it all up, and you have a great laundry detergent. But the best thing is this:


That's right. 1 or 2 tablespoons. You'll have to try it and see for yourself what measure will be right for your family. But it is low-sudsing, which means you'll see no suds (safer for the environment and better for your septic tank), and although the fels naptha bar does have a fragrance, it does not come through in the finished laundry. At all. And I quite like that. I'd rather smell like my lotion or purfume--not the laundry detergent.

Oh, and before I close, I must give credit where credit is due. I first read about this over at Frugal Upstate--thanks, Jenn!

So if this has any interest to you whatsoever, give it a try. It's changed my life!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time for Chili!

I don't know about you, but it's been downright cold here the last several days. Even today is warmer, but the early autumn drizzle makes it feel colder.

And that makes me want chili.

Mr.W is particularly fond of chili with black beans. I like whatever beans are around--kidney, black, pinto... whatever. Sometimes I like to add hominy to mine, but don't always.

I even occasionally go the cheating route and buy one of those pre-packaged spice blends. They're actually quite good!

So if you're as cold as I am these days, whip you up a big crock pot of chili. It's quick to fix and warms up the whole family.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's Up?

Greetings, my friends!

It's been an interesting week here--a few doctor's appointments have kept me occupied, and we've been eating grab-as-you-go meals.

My Hebrew friends celebrated Rosh Hashana on Friday; a sweet new year to you!

We've been eating a giant bag of NY State ginger gold apples almost non-stop! They are so delicious--but their texture is perfect for only so long; they must be eaten quickly!

But the biggest news of the weekend is that Meathead met up with the business-end of a skunk! Fortunately it was not a direct blast--but the stench was enough to drive us mad. The outside of the house smelled, as did the inside. The dog was crying, and a bath didn't help--it just added wet dog stink. It was too late to do much about it, so we satisfied ourselves with burying our faces in our pillows to avoid the odor as much as possible.

Needless to say it interrupted my sleep habits!

What else? We are rearranging the house again--this time switching the living room with the dining room. I suppose that sounds odd, but the configuration of my home is strange enough. The larger room--what we have been using as the living room--is directly off the kitchen, and the dining room beyond it. But we are moving things around to take better advantage of the flow of rooms. Our new living room will be smaller, but cozier, and adding a pair of french doors to the doorway will help with the heat in the winter.

The nights are getting pretty cold here--40s F / 4 C--and the house gets downright chilly! The crock pot has been a central element for me, with either a big batch of spaghetti sauce or a pot of soup ready for a warming meal. Last night I boiled turkey legs with vegetables and a slice of salt pork for a lovely broth, and mixed in some cooked white beans. It made for a delicious soup, but nothing really recipe-worthy.

So that's been my week... terribly uninteresting, I'm afraid! What have you been doing?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's Apple Season in New York

The trees are full of delicious, ripe & ripening apple harvests... and that means pies, crumbles, crisps, crispy delicious apples for eating out-of-hand, and the best of all: cider.

Our favorite place to visit this time of year is the Clinton Cider Mill in Clinton, NY.

It's an awesome place to visit--you can watch them pressing fresh cider, or just order and enjoy your favorite treats. Cider is available cold, frozen (like a slushie) or, my personal favorite, hot.

They also sell fresh cider donuts (plain and cinnamon-sugar) which are to. die. for.

Don't you just love apple season?

I'll tell you why I prefer to drink my cider hot: it controls my portions. If you are diabetic or otherwise insulin-challenged, fruit juices will really mess with your blood sugar--so by getting a small cup of hot, you're more likely to sip it, rather than guzzle it down. Mmm...

So if you're in NY state, get you some apples and a jug of cider--it's time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Biscuits & Gravy

If you've never had biscuits & gravy, it's time.

I didn't grow up eating this southern staple. No, I learned of it's existence when I was in my early-20s visiting folks in Pennsylvania. A stop at Cracker Barrel along the way was my introduction into the world of creamy sausage-filled gravy over hot buttermilk biscuits.

I was hooked.

And if you can learn to make it for yourself, it will work wonders in your life. It can even find you a husband.

I kid you not. I met my husband because of biscuits and gravy. Oh, yes, it's true!

The Petty Officer who came to my office every Tuesday at Naval Air Station Key West to collect recyclables was a southern boy from Alabama. We'd known each other for a year or so already, but had only just started flirting. Of course my conversations always turn to food eventually, and he made a statement that I'll never forget.

"No Yankee girl can make good biscuits and gravy."

Oh, that got my dander up! So I invited him to my house for a dinner of biscuits and gravy. Show up he did--and he brought along his roommate, my Mr.W.

So ladies, if you're single, learn how to make biscuits and gravy. It's okay if the biscuits are canned--it's the gravy that he'll ask for again and again. I promise.

Southern-Style Sausage Gravy
serves 4

1 pound roll pork breakfast sausage, any kind desired (some people like it hot; I like regular)
5 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
about 4 cups milk
salt and pepper

Fry sausage in a large dutch oven until browned; remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Measure the fat remaining in your pan; you want 5 tablespoons. If you don't have that much (I only usually come up with around 3), add butter to make up the difference. Stir in flour to make a thick paste. The rule for milk gravy is 1 T fat : 1 T flour : 1 cup milk, but I just eyeball it.

Add milk a cup at a time, stirring in completely before the next, until desired consistency is reached. Return sausage to pan and taste; season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve hot over buttermilk biscuits.

Remembering 9/11

Has it already been 8 years?

I think we can all remember that day... where we were, what we were doing, the thoughts that ran through our heads and the conversations we had with people.

I was working at the CDC in Atlanta at the time, getting ready to send a team of volunteers on their various international assignments to work on polio eradication and routine childhood immunizations when we got the news. As a U.S. federal agency, we were considered a target and sent home early; the volunteer assignments for that cycle were canceled altogether.

So I went home and worried about my friends who worked at the Pentagon--fortunately, they were safely away at a golf tournament when the Navy wing was struck.

But my dear friend--the woman who helped me through my divorce, the one who fed me when I had no money and invited me to her kids' high school graduations, the keeper of my secrets and my shoulder to cry on--lost her sister in the World Trade Center collapse.

The days that followed brought a strangeness to life itself; no one knew if war was about to break out, if events would repeat themselves, or if things would ever be the same. And I received literally hundreds of emails from colleagues around the globe offering their sympathy and expressing their horror that anyone would do such a thing.

I think that's what touched me the most. Ethiopians and Somali, Egyptians and Indians, Bangladeshi and Kyrgyz--they all took the time, typed the words, thought particularly of me, enough to send a note.

We can all agree that the world has changed since then, whether or not for the better is up for debate. I do know this: the generosity and kind-heartedness of people all over the globe make up for the sins of the few.

That's my two cents for today... would love to read your recollections or other thoughts for today.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Onion Soup

Onions. They're the basis of many cuisines worldwide. They're yummy, plentiful and delicious, not to mention inexpensive.

I've recently discovered quite a bit of information on the potential health benefits of onions. I was previously under the impression that, for the diabetic patient, onions should be eaten in moderation (since they break down into simple sugars), but this website suggests otherwise--that onions help regulate blood sugar. Go figure!

From cancer prevention to the onion's anti-inflammatory properties, onions seem to be the vegetable of choice. I even read once--I'm afraid I don't remember where, though--that onions help you during allergy season, acting as a natural anti-histamine. Whatever it's health benefits, however, I eat them for one reason only: they taste good.

Mind you I don't* eat them raw. Blech. Gross. Yucky.

Cooked down, a pile of onions become a mahagony-colored sweet treat. The stronger the onion, the sweeter they caramelize. And I don't mess with a pinch of sugar like some foodbloggers would lead you to do--it's completely, utterly unnecessary.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The weather here in Central New York has been interesting. Overnights are cold, but the days get hot, hot, HOT! If we hadn't already drained the pool it would be good swimmin' weather, it's that hot.

Which makes it uncomfortably hot indoors when I want to cook--so I do the next best thing. I recently made a beef rump roast overnight at 250*F in a tightly sealed pot with water, salt and pepper. It didn't heat up the house and made a lovely broth in the pot that I couldn't resist.

That's what made me think of onion soup.

So I caramelized down some onions in butter with just salt and pepper. I prefer plain old yellow onions. You could use red or any other kind of onion you like, though the milder onions don't get as sweet. Once they were brown, I added broth and beef drippings (that yummy gelatin saved from a previous beef-cooking extravaganza) for a quick simmer. Soy sauce helped add salt and color, and I finished the seasoning with a little extra salt and pepper. Ladled into a crock and topped with stale baguette and a thick slice of provolone, I sent it under the broiler for five minutes.

Onion Soup
serves 2 as large lunch portions

2 to 3 large yellow (or variety of choice) onions, peeled and sliced thinly
3 tablespoons butter
pinch salt
several grinds freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons beef drippings (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
leftover stale baguette slices
gruyere, swiss or provolone cheese slices (gruyere would be more traditional; I used provolone because I keep it on-hand)

Saute onions in butter with salt and pepper, stirring often, until dark brown and caramelized. Add beef broth and drippings and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with soy sauce and additional salt and pepper as needed. Serve topped with baguette slices and cheese, broiled until cheese is bubbly but not burned.

*There is one exception to my no-raw-onion rule: when they're sliced thin and marinated in Mojo Criollo to the point of no longer tasting like onions, I find them irresistible as a garnish on Cuban roast pork.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Watermelon Cooler

I bought what I considered a small-ish watermelon at the Farmer's Market Friday, and that was a mistake. When I made the purchase, I hadn't thought about lugging it all the way back to my car.

That was a bit of a struggle. Plus I couldn't do any more shopping once the watermelon was purchased.

It was delicious, though--we munched on it for two days! Even so--and this is always the case--no matter how hard Mr.W and I try, we simply cannot eat an entire watermelon by ourselves.

Instead of letting it go bad and throwing it out, I decided to try making it into a beverage. All the remaining flesh went into a large bowl and I whirled it around with my hand blender. After pouring everything through wire mesh, I was left with five cups of glorious watermelon juice.

This is what I'll be doing from now on. It's that freaking brilliant. It could be used hundreds of ways--I'm thinking a future batch of watermelon margaritas--but I started with a simple cooler, mixed with a cup of orange juice and a generous squeeze of lime.

Yum--it was a perfect sipper for my Labor Day weekend.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pixley Falls, August 2009

A short drive from our home is New York's Pixley Falls State Park.

We took a drive recently to visit. I'd been there several times as a child, but had never showed the place to my husband.

I'd forgotten how gorgeous it really is. The day was spectacular. We visited the falls and walked along hiking trails for miles.

It's one of those hidden gems. So if you're in the area, pack a picnic basket and go... or, do like we did. Go in the afternoon and stop for ice cream in Boonville, NY afterwards!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You Butter My Bread, Baby

During my early-20s I had the great fortune of knowing a lovely elderly couple who, at first glance seemed to be simply existing in their twilight years. After getting to know them, however, I saw that they had achieved the dream: a peaceful, easy coexistence with someone you love and trust, who knows you better than anyone else and will be there through thick or thin.

I remember sitting at their kitchen table in Hendersonville, Pennsylvania as the lady of the house rambled around with difficulty, pulling together a snack for her husband and guests. She rebuffed all offers of help, commanding me to simply sit and be her company. It was the middle of the afternoon--too late for lunch and too early for supper, but she declared that we all needed a nibble.

She decided on cucumber sandwiches and iced tea. This kind woman--grandmother and great-grandmother to dozens by that time--set to work peeling and slicing her cucumber, deftly working that knife to achieve paper-thin slices. When she got to the bread, however, her chatter turned to more serious things.

"Some people," she said, "just slap the butter on the bread. That's not how you do it. If you really love someone you spread the butter carefully--don't tear the bread--all the way to the edges."

And spread she did. She buttered those slices of white sandwich bread slowly and with care, ensuring even coverage over the entire slice. She assembled the sandwiches one at a time, removed their crusts and cut them into triangles.

By that time she was ready for me to help, so together we piled the sandwiches on a plate, poured iced tea and carried them to the parlor. Her husband smiled, delighted when she returned, bringing his portion to him where he sat.

Now that's love.

Recently I found myself reading about cucumber sandwiches and acquired a hankering for them, myself. With a bumper crop of cukes calling me from the crisper, I decided to introduce this special treat to Mr.W.

When I began to spread softened, unsalted butter on slices of whole wheat sandwich bread, I remembered that couple from so many years ago, now long dead. I recalled the lady's face, her kind manner, and her words, and I glanced at that ugly teddy bear cookie jar she had given me back then. I've never been able to bring myself to part with it.

So I slowed down. I buttered the bread carefully, evenly, and all the way to the edges. I carefully applied the cucumbers in a single layer, careful not to overlap them. I sliced off the crusts and cut them into triangles, just like she taught me.

Mr.W was delighted when I brought him some.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Eggplant & Zucchini Curry with Rice Noodles

Where there is pressure--from too much going on, various disappointments, frustrations in life--inspiration tends to disappear.

My announcement that I was taking August off from foodblogging was my way of releasing some of that life pressure. I can't do a whole lot more to try to force my body to conceive, and I can't do anything when the break line on our pickup breaks--but when the heat is on, you have to look at other ways to simplify life so that those bigger stressors don't weight quite as much.

Thanks for understanding my need for a hiatus.

It only took a few days after that announcement for foodie inspiration to return.

First there was the friend, on her yearly visit from the U.A.E., who brought me a gift of gorgeous almond-stuffed medjool dates. Nothing could have been more perfect--and I'm saving them for just the right moment to break into them. (If only because when I do I'm certain I will snarf them in record time--it would be better to share them with friends!)

Then another dear, generous friend, having found irrisistible sales at a farm stand while on a road trip, showed up with bags and bags of veggies to share. Corn on the cob, zucchini and local cucumbers were in abundance at my house--and such things just c
an't be ignored, can they? You have to use them up before they go to waste.

You know how much I detest food waste.

Finally, my own farmer's market gave me more lovely produce to round out what I already had: slender Japanese eggplants, stalks of lemongrass and tomatoes still warm from the vine. Who could resist? And what could I do but make a vegetarian curry?

Now I was going to call this "Thai-Inspired," because that's what I was going for--but I discovered that my brother's Lao/Thai sister-in-law tasted my curry (I send leftovers over there when it's something I know Mr.W won't eat) and pronounced it more Indian in flavor. Perhaps it's because I used curry powder instead of a proper curry paste. Whatever the reason, it was good, and my brother--and even his sister-in-law--enjoyed it. I hope you will, too.

Eggplant & Zucchini Curry with Rice Noodles
serves 2

In a large saute pan or "chicken fryer" pan set over a medium flame, saute in olive oil:

2 japanese eggplant, chopped (I left the peel on)

1 zucchini, chopped (again, peel on)
salt and pepper

When the veggies start to get soft, add:

4-inch piece of lemongrass

2 or 3 slices of ginger (straight from my freezer; I didn't bother to peel it)

2 teaspoons curry powder (I purchase this from my local asian market)

14-ounce can lite coconut milk

1/3 cup vegetable broth (made from my favorite bullion/base paste... yes, I cheated)

Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Taste broth and correct seasoning as needed with more salt, curry powder and cayenne if desired. (I added 1/4 teaspoon cayenne here.) Simmer on low until veggies are very tender; add:

1 chopped tomato

about 2-1/2 ounces dry rice noodles (you may elect to follow package directions and pre-soak the noodles, but I just tossed them in--it worked fine, and fewer steps for me)

Simmer until noodles are soft. Serve hot.

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