And to You, Your Wassail, Too

It's my favorite time of year, Hungries! Sanctioned shopping season! I'm already well into it, having purchased my first gifts sometime last spring, but this is the feverish, frenzied time when all that delicious consumerism really amps up. I love shopping of any kind, but finding that perfect item for someone on my Christmas list, especially if it's a food item, really crisps my bacon.

And just like every year, I have a few ideas for the food fanatic on your shopping list this holiday season. BHS would never let you down, lest you start calling me a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.

First up, I got this really cool catalogue this year that I really have no practical use for, as I can't bake to save my biscuits, but if you have a loved one who churns out breads and cookies with the best, check out www.kingarthurflour.com. The catalogue could absolutely outfit the pantry and cupboards of a baker's dream kitchen, with sourdough starter, cool bread crocks and brotforms, every hard to find flour, mix, grain, and flavoring you could imagine, plus fun canisters, utensils and accoutrements to pimp out someone's home bakery - at a fraction of the prices at Williams-Sonoma. I don't bake, but this catalogue kind of made me want to try! 

I think I send you guys to Napastyle every year. I'll be scooping up their Parmesan dip and gray salt again this year for a couple food baskets on my list, but I think you need to check out their piggy plates and bowls. I have two of the small yellow bowls, and they were the hit of Thanksgiving weekend at our house last year. As pigs are my spirit animal, how fun to serve in these colorful crockeries? I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't mind expanding my collection of these myself. You plunk a ball of burratta down in the middle of that little piggy, and your guests will go wild.

I haven't tried this next item yet, but I'm ordering a few bottles stat. It's honey from the Hudson Valley of NY, kidnapped by some Brooklyn hipsters and infused with chile peppers. I'm dubious at best about hipsters, as you well know, but Mixed Made's Bees Knees could change my mind. Imagine spicy honey to balance the sweetness of homemade granola! Dream about it drizzled across savory bacon and Brie waffles! Fantasize about a hearty spoonful mixed into mango salsa on some fish tacos. I know, I know. I'm ordering mine tonight!

I'm not a vegan, but I do enjoy chewing on a colorful turn of phrase that could get me into trouble. Enter Thug Kitchen, its new cookbook, which is full of fun profanity and vegan grub, as well as a really fun grocery bag I'd love to find under my Christmas tree. It will prove to everybody at Wegmans just how irreverent you can be about vegetables.

I bought this tank top for my two college BFFs earlier this year, and it's now my go-to workout shirt. I like to wear something listing most of my vices while I sweat and do moaning. But I don't know your life. Maybe you'll wear it with a sequin skirt and go to the ball with the prince or something. You'll appreciate, in any case, its roomy fit and soft material. Find it at skreened.com.

So, here's something weird: I decorate a small Christmas tree that I put in our kitchen each year with food ornaments and popcorn garland. Shawn thinks it's crazy, while I utterly love it. I think I would actually enjoy the holiday less without my food tree in my home. Most of the ornaments are from Sur La Table. Naturally, the porcine-related ones are my favorites, but if there's a coffee lover or croissant nut on your list, check 'em out! 

This next one is out of season, and I don't care. You shouldn't either. This hibiscus iced tea would make a great stocking stuffer. It's pink and therefore perfect for a girlie gift basket, and the pitchers of bright, hibiscus  refreshment it creates will knock your friends' socks off. I drank it all summer, and bought about eight canisters of it before it sold out for the season, but you can grab a couple cans online. It is straight up my favorite iced tea ever. Share the yum.

So there you go, folks. The holiday line up. I'm thinking a lot of these would make the foodies on your list squeal, well, like kids on Christmas morning. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


Soup for You

It's getting colder out, people. For most of the folks I know on Facebook, fall weather seems to trigger cravings for pumpkin spice lattes, but I'm not basic. I want soup. And there are no soup nazis around these parts to shoo me away.

What we do have, on Nanticoke Ave in Endicott, which is just about smack dab between my work and my house, is Corbin's Cafe. This breakfast and lunch spot is coming correct with in-house baked breads, house made sausage and desserts, but it's the soups you need to try.

There are two soup specials each day, from corn chowder with shrimp to lobster bisque, and organic split pea to ultimate tomato. You can get a cup for $3.50 (!) or a bowl for $3.95. Honestly, I don't even know how that covers their food costs, but I don't know their life. 

The flavors are simple, home style, and satisfying. There are no chipotles or truffle oil or gourmet nonsense in these bowls, just sweet corn, red bell peppers perking up an earthy, thick pool of green peas, and homemade broths. 

The soups are the star of the show, but you might need a little more sustenance. There, there, BHS understands. Your workdays are long! Don't be scared to sink your teeth into a hearty grilled cheese with bacon and tomato:

Or a smoked turkey sandwich on thick, homemade pumpernickel:

I like that they give you a decent amount of meat, because two lousy slices would get lost between that plump, tender bread. And the bread is good, don't mistake me. But it's soup season, and they have lobster bisque this week! Lobster bisque!!

Corbin's is kind of a retiree haven - definitely an older crowd - but I think things pick up a bit more on the weekends for breakfast. Their breakfast specials are intriguing as well with specialty French toasts, biscuits and gravy, and crepes. If I could manage to both stay in town for a weekend and get dressed before noon on such a rare day, I'd really like to try it.

You won't find cutting edge cuisine at Corbin's, but for a weekday soup and sandwich craving in Western Broome County, this place is it. So check it out! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Corbin's Cafe on Urbanspoon


Ranking Rabbit Food

Here's a post I never though I'd write! I confess, salads are not my jam. I've always been a girl who prefers a hot meal, and while I love vegetables, the caramelized, sweet and salty carrot will always lure me away from its raw counterpart. As my idol, Ron Swanson, says:

That being said, I was recommending a restaurant to someone recently purely based on a terrific salad it serves, and it got me thinking: what if I ranked my favorite NY salads? Woman cannot live by bacon alone, amiright?

While there are hundreds of run of the mill iceberg with a cherry tomato and a curl of carrot house salads being hurled at tables all over our state daily, there are also a few chefs giving a little more love and attention to rabbit food. Let's take a tour...

5. 1st Thai Basil in Endicott - side salad with peanut dressing. I suppose this is not an Earth-shattering dressing. It is, however, the single salad I ingest most often, and it's one of my favorite things on the menu at Thai Basil. The peanut dressing is both sweet and savory, and I suspect this one is made not with commercial peanut butter, but with fresh ground peanuts, maybe some palm sugar, plus soy and probably a little rice vinegar. It's also served warm on the cold salad greens with wedges of tomato and  discs of carrot - so the temperature differential is a little confusing (in a good way) on the palate. I like a lot of the dressings served on Asian salads around town, but this is my favorite.

4. Art's Jug in Watertown - antipasto. This is not the most authentic Italiano antipasto you'll find, but Art's has a balanced, not-too-acidic vinaigrette that really sings when paired with mild genoa salami, provolone cheese, and roasted red peppers. That dressing is just a wee bit sweet while also punching through garlic and salt - it's fabulous. They don't try to get too fancy with mixed greens, because anything more delicate than iceberg and romaine would collapse under its hearty ingredients. I don't go for the cherry peppers or pepperoncini, but that's what my Dad's there for. This is an Italian-American masterpiece, not even a little gourmet, and totally a taste of my childhood home.

3. Enoteca Maria in Staten Island - insalata di finocchi. Here's your authenticity, folks. This salad was a complimentary amuse bouche our nonna in residence brought us the second time we dined at Enoteca Maria this year. Comprised of thinly sliced raw fennel, which is crunchy, astringent, and just slightly sweet, with grapes and supremed orange segments all dressed in a refreshing citrus vinaigrette. We were all nuts about it, and I've recreated it at home with a dressing made with orange juice, lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of honey, and a fruity, light olive oil. This isn't your typical salad, but it is a taste of summer on a plate, and a wonderful accompaniment to heavier Italian foods.

This is the nonna who brought us the wonderful fennel insalata

2. PS Restaurant in Vestal - wedge salad. First off, I love a wedge salad. No matter how en vogue all your leafy greens may be, nutrition naysayers be damned, I remain loyal to the crunchy, watery blandness of iceberg lettuce. Don't judge me. At PS, Chef Rick takes the de rigeur blue cheese dressing a wedge demands and he upgrades it to a homemade, chunky Gorgonzola dream, just a bit sweeter than pungent, domestic blue. He also candies walnuts and throws them on top, with tomato wedges and real bacon crumbles - no measley bits 'round these parts. The result, especially due to the richness of those walnuts, is sublime. It's not a salad, it's a symphony. You should go there tonight and try it. Seriously. Get this thing in your mouth and then make fun of my iceberg penchant. I dare you. 

1. BC Restaurant in Syracuse - lobster salad. Maybe I'm cheating to list all these salads topped with decidedly non-virtuous delights. I don't care, because this salad is so good, it actually protects me from anything mean people might say to me. Lobster, goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and lemon cayenne vinaigrette are a list of really weird things. But this silky salad is like a stay at a fancy spa - you actually feel pampered while eating it. The lobster is buttery and tender, the goat cheese creamy and mild, and the citrus dressing has a subtle heat that doesn't challenge the delicate seafood, but balances its inherent sweetness perfectly. The mushrooms have a similar texture to the shellfish, so they add earthiness without breaking up the lush feeling of each heavenly bite, and the cheese rounds out those rich and acidic flavors in the most brilliant way. If there's a better salad in the state, I've missed it so far.
bc Restaurant on Urbanspoon

You could be argumentative and claim that these salads are too far from the standard side to count, but if it's formed from an amalgamation of raw fruits or veggies, I think it counts. And if a person needs a little salami or lobster with her lettuce, why judge? 

With the long slide into New Year's Eve that's about to be upon us - the season of decadence when you drink everything you can get your hands on and canapés become dinner, who couldn't stand to lighten up with a really great salad right now? So make your way up and down the 81 corridor and grab one of these plates of rabbit food this weekend - and let me know your faves! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


On Brunch

There was an op ed recently in the New York Times Sunday Review maligning the brunch craze in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn and beyond, as well as its spread from a Sunday occasion to a Saturday habit. The article concluded brunch, the delicious combo of breakfast and lunch, was by nature adolescent, a contrivance of young urbanites attempting to bring the fantasy of Sex and The City to life.

I object to looking down one’s nose at any meal, frankly. In fact, I find brunch to be a delightful repast, a chance to enjoy the kind of fellowship once found only at holiday gatherings and church services, escaping the potential familial controversies or religious implications. This hybrid meal provides an opportunity for a different type of communion, between you and the loved ones with whom you choose to dine, and it just so happens to come built in with food that brings the best of sweet and savory to the table.

But while our metropolises and tourist villages in Upstate NY have embraced brunch culture, Northern New York and the Southern Tier have seemingly missed the memo. Yes, we have a few good choices – Tin Pan Galley, in Sackets Harbor, has held court as the grand dame in that region for years, more recently joined by upstarts The Hops Spot and Skewed Brewing, Gram’s Diner, and Tug Hill Vineyards. In Ithaca, Booker's Backyard, Agava, and a few others offer tomato juice and pork-laden jollies. But both Syracuse and Binghamton are wanting. In Salt City, Empire Brewing has a jazz brunch, and here in Binghamton, Loft at 99 and Tranquil do brunch. But that's about all, folks. So again, I'm left wondering at our lack of ability to get our brunch on.

As if the limited selections weren’t enough of an afront to the sensibilities of would-be brunch enthusiasts, some of New York’s rather archaic on-site consumption laws prohibit the serving of alcohol before noon on Sundays, curtailing the bruncheon joy of mimosas and bloody marys for early risers, the truly festive way to kick off any proper Sunday funday.

I’ve blogged before on my breakfast and brunch favorites in NNY, which include Clayton’s venerable Koffee Kove Restaurant, Gram’sDiner in Adams and humble stalwart The Clubhouse, on Outer Washington Street in Watertown. Of these, Gram’s is the only one offering a special brunch menu on the weekends to augment its more typical diner-style day starters.

At Gram’s, you’ll find some inventive options such as pumpkin pancakes, butternut squash casserole, macaroni and cheese omelets and buffalo chicken eggs benedict, as well as those most coveted brunch time cocktails, mimosa and mary, both. I wouldn’t dare mask my bald affection for this warm, casual café nor its hearty, adventurous food. I just wish there were more like it!

I know most folks are happy enough with our ordinary breakfast choices – the diners, hotels and chains serving up eggs, pancakes, bacon and the like –  but I can’t help but wish we could import a bit more of that brunch savoir fare to our communities. To be sure, Upstate New Yorkers are hardworking, salt of the Earth folk, likely to spend a Sunday morning hunting or a Saturday mid-day escorting the kids to various sporting events. But I suggest that creating a brunch tradition here can work. The meal serves as an invitation to linger with friends and family over many mugs of steaming coffee, savoring a hearty feast and repartee – couldn’t we use a little more of that in our community?

While Manhattan may already be pronouncing the craze of brunch a has-been, I wouldn’t mind us picking up the trend a bit late. If I were an Upstate restaurateur, you better believe I’d be coming up with a creative benedict, a savory waffle, a dynamite seasonal pancake and fruit stack, sourcing a great New York State pork purveyor for bacon, sausage and ham, and starting a brunch service.

The nice thing about brunch, from a business standpoint, is that you can probably charge double what you would your standard breakfast dishes, because your customers are combing two meals out into one. So chill the Prosecco, grate the horseradish, and watch the brunch hordes roll in! What New York City may consider passé will pass just fine for us, thanks. Let’s embrace brunch! It’s not just for Easter anymore!