Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pretzel and Wings and Sandwich

I stopped at L. and M.'s on the way out of town to see how much their pup had grown since I saw them over the summer. It wasn't too long a visit because I wanted to stop at the farm and get on the road, but as I left I was gifted a jar of their garden's salsa, a bar of handmade soap, and this pretzel that M. made at the bakery. I thoroughly enjoyed it after my brief farm stop.
And then on the following Tuesday there were darts at McCrossen's, and with those darts came the traditional plate of wings.
Then for my lunch the day after darts, I went with a ham/turkey etc combo from Primo's. Tasty treats.

Parting Scenes From Suminski Innski

After bidding J. adieu in Hudson I drove back south to Tivoli and Suminski Innski. It was still relatively early in the night and I plopped down on the front porch with a glass of wine and a book, content to spend the rest of the evening reading and sipping. But Tim, the proprietor, asked me if I might like to join him and his two friends in a game of Scrabble, which of course I did because Scrabble is one of my favorite things. We sat at one end of a lovely long table in the dining room. Tim showed us some kind of crazy flashlight, and I ran and got my camera so I could take a few photographs of the flashlight's effect on this here chandelier.

Pretty things.
We ended up playing two games. I lost won one and lost one. Good competition. Good night.
The next morning I went back to the river for a few parting shots.
Then went back to the house to enjoy coffee and breakfast. That second night there were other guests, so breakfast was a communal experience. The other folks were up from the city. They had a blog or website, but I can't remember the name of it.
Breakfast was a marvelous mess of egg, cheese, tomatoes, broccoli and I don't know what else. Dill. Tasty.
Oh and sausage too. And bread. And jam.
After I filled myself with breakfast I made my goodbyes to Tim and the others, took one last photograph and headed out of town. I've said it once, but I"ll say it again, this was a really great place to stay for the weekend. The location and views were perfect for me. Tim was a great host. The bed was extremely comfortable and cozy. Oh man, it was just lovely.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cocktails, Deviled Eggs and Jerk Chicken c/o New World Home Cooking

During my planning stages for the weekend, I also got into touch with J. to see if she might like to meet up for a meal or a drink. She responded in the affirmative, so once I was in the area I gave her a call to bandy about ideas for a time and place to meet. J. lives in Hudson, which is about 30 minutes north of Tivoli. So there was talk of her coming to me, or me coming to her. I hesitantly mentioned a desire to perhaps go to New World Home Cooking. I was hesitant just because it's on the other side of the river and I didn't know if J. was that committed to hanging out. But, triumph of triumphs, she was down for the cross-river journey. So I drove up to Hudson, which involved a six car police stop at 4 PM to check the sobriety of drivers (it was St. Patty's day after all). The trooper who spoke to me checked my plates (which are Tennessee) and asked me what I was doing so far north. I responded sheep shearing. He looked confused and didn't seem to believe I drove all the way from Tennessee for such a day. I said I was actually from Philly. He didn't see the logic but seemed confident that I wasn't drunk and let me through. I met up with J. in her lovely apartment on the main strip of Hudson and then we piled into her car and drove across the river and through the woods - mountains looming even closer on the west side of the Hudson - and to New World Home Cooking we went. This spot wasn't an overly frequent place for me to go during my college and post-college years. Though the exboyfriend and I went there I think twice or three times for fancy birthday meals that I recalled with some gusto. Oysters. Maybe a steak with chimichurri?
We arrived on the earlier side, somewhere around 5. So the place wasn't completely hopping, though most tables were already filled. We quietly railed against the Irish band that was playing, as it made it quite difficult to hear or talk. Thankfully the band turned out to be practicing for a later set, so that wasn't a constant through the meal. We both started with cocktails. I chose the Ginger Citrus Fresca with organic cucumber vodka, citrus, and crystalized ginger. I believe J. went with a Greyhound. Our server was quite friendly, had a curly waxed mustache and looked vaguely like a balding slightly less attractive Peter Saarsgaard. They brought warm focaccia-like bread and white bean spread to the table.
I had some tough choices to make about my meal, but ultimately went with a little starter of wasabi deviled eggs. They were good, but frankly they could have been ratcheted up a bit more in the wasabi department. This is kind of funny considering my main course.
I chose the half jerk chicken. The restaurant has a spice scale and our server said that 6 was about the heat/spice of tabasco, so when asked how spicy I wanted my chicken, I said 5. This turned out to be a bit more heat than I really liked. I should have said 3. That said, it wasn't all spice and no taste. There was some subtlety to it, and the meat itself was perfectly cooked. I was thankful for the pineapple rice, which cut down on the burning, as well as the accompanying greens.
This place wasn't quite as magical or amazing as I remembered it. Whether that's a matter of poor menu decisions on my part, the fact that I'm no longer 22 and in a relationship, or a reflection of the chef's attentions being drawn elsewhere, is anyone's guess. I think the next time I'm in the area I might try another new place instead of revisiting a favorite haunt. Exception: Le Petit Bistro and Osaka.

Fried Pickles c/o The Red Hook Diner

Once shearing was complete I hustled on over to the Red Hook Diner for a quick bite or four of their fried pickles. They were just as hot and tangy as they ever were, though the sauce was different than the one I remember enjoying the first ever time I tried the dish as a 17 year old. The place with hopping and awash in St. Patrick's Day decorations and food specials. I sat at the funny half booth right behind the cash register and enjoyed every moment of it.

Danish Magic c/o Tivoli Bread & Baking

Like I said yesterday, my shearing day actually began with a stop at Tivoli Bread & Baking Co. I made myself a cup of coffee, breached the counter and hung out with M. the Baker in the back for a while. He showed me some of his new creations, such as these lovely not-yet-baked blueberry cheesey danishes. M. was looking quite trim after a summer, fall and winter of taking better care of himself, so we discussed his workout regime a little bit, as well as something science-y that I only barely understood.
Soon it became time to leave the always cozy and companionable bakery and wend my way through the curvaceous backroads of the Red Hook/Tivoli area. As I drove I bit into this danish and each time I actually moaned over how good it was. Go there. Eat it.
And here are a few shots I took before the shearing got down to business. This is a sheep that has learned that if you're friendly with the humans, they may give you treats.

And even if you don't have treats, she'll give you multiple opportunities to think twice or pat her on her head.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Shearing Day at Homestead Farm

Saturday morning I woke up on the early side and made my way to Tivoli Bread & Baking Co. (which will have its own non-chronological post mainly because I thought I had uploaded the photos, but clearly I didn't). After enjoying the company and baked goods of M. the baker, I drove on over to Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool aka Homestead Farm/The Yarn Shop. As I have mentioned at other times, I spent about two years working at the farm. My main responsibilities were centered around processing wool more than working the sheep, though during my time there I baled hay, helped with drilling new fence post holes, cleaned wool, dyed yarn, cleaned garlic, put up and took down storm windows (a truly laborious task), helped herd sheep, gathered up new baby lambs and enticed their mothers back to the barn (an extremely tedious task), milk fed sickly lambs, chased down lost work dogs, painted walls, organized shelving, took responsibility for a composting toilet and, I'm sure, a few other things. I arrived around 8:45 and went down to the barn where all the action was going down. At this point it was still in the planning stage. Gates were arranged to corral and separate sheep, plastic bags and index cards were unearthed (each fleece goes into its own bag with a tag that identifies what kind of sheep it was and the year), Ranger the dog (I think it was Ranger?) checked out the scene as well. I hadn't been back to the farm for a proper visit since 2008, so I was sad to see that two dogs and one cat from my era on the farm had died. RIP Jake, Morelli and Cheerios.
The barn space was divided into three sections: the shearing area with the two shearing platforms, the sheep waiting room for the shearing space, and the larger area where the ladies could hang out and munch on food and generally be their sheepy selves. When I arrived I imagined that, like on past shearing days, I would be more of a third tier helper, mainly carting wool from the sheep barn to the wool room (where the sinks and machines that help wool become yarn live). But I was quickly enlisted to be a member of the second string. If the two shearers were the quarterbacks, then I was one of their waterboys. I'm not sure sports analogies are really the way to go here. I was responsible for trying to keep the shearing platform clean and clear of rambling sheep, to bag the wool that was sheared - separating the belly wool and skirting (dirty, dirty, not long enough wool to spin) - and to haul a new sheep up to the platform thus saving the shearer some time and effort. I had never been a sheep hauler on my shearing days and, sadly, there was quite a learning curve there for me. I'm not as strong as I'd like to be and lifting/dragging a sheep even four feet is not a task one can complete without a modicum of strength, confidence and effort. I think I improved over time, and without me it would have taken longer, so even if I feel like I could have been of more use, I also feel like I wasn't just in the way. Or I'd like to hope that's true. These shearers, whom I had met so many years past, have been in the biz for 25 years so they definitely knew what they were doing. The ladies, still with their winter coats, in the shearing area.
And so starts the shearing.

It's funny, when they're lambs some of them have the cutest 'freckles,' sometimes resembling the patterns of cows. But as their fleece grows in, those spots are blurred and you wouldn't really know exactly what a mix of fiber colors they're growing until they get their hair cut and lo! spots.
So in the foreground is the shearing area, then a fence, then the waiting area, and to the right the main lounging area where the freshly coiffed ladies went once the process was complete.
Once the first lot was all sheared, they were turned out back to the lounging area...but one at a time, as we needed to count how many had been sheared. This was a three person job. I wasn't one of the three. Basically two people have to control the flow of sheep through the one gate or else the sheep would just run in one big group and counting would be near impossible. Sheep are really incredibly dumb, so if one starts moving then they all have a pressing need to do the same, no matter what the obstacles. So one person has the gate and is blocking it, a second person helps stem the flow of pressing sheep flesh, and the third is a backup counter in case sheep slip through the lines of defense. You might notice the purple chalk marks on some of their backs - the shearing day also is a day where all the sheep get a dose of medicine. I'll have to ask M. what it is exactly, as I don't know on my own. Update: "CD/T vaccine to guard against overeating disease and tetanus." We took a quick break after the first 50 sheep were done and I took a brief stroll around the main barn area.
Ranger. His brother died of some kind of tumorous mass, and I was sad to learn that Ranger, too, was stricken by the same thing. M. seemed to think he wouldn't make it too many more months. That said, he was still in fine spirits on this day coming up for pats on the head and bites of bagel, if with a severe limp. I remember when M. brought him and his brother to the farm, they were such little fluff balls. As they grew they went through a very troublesome adolescence. The point of the dogs is to scare off coyotes/to protect the flock. But the brothers at first weren't sure that they were all that interested in coexisting with sheep. At times they were put in a separate fenced in area, which they escaped no less than six times - at least twice getting so far off the farm as to require a 20 minute drive to Tivoli to pick them up.
Handsome son of a gun.
And then it was back to shearing. It's literally backbreaking work. Sheep who have been through the process a few times can learn that once they've been positioned for ultimate shearing accessibility it's really much easier to stay still...but sheep, as I may have mentioned, are really dumb animals, so sometimes they squirm and kick and throw their heads. This means that the shearer not only has to be controlling the blades of the clippers, but also has to have complete control of the animal and its various legs and horns. The alternative is a fleece that is poorly cut, which would result in less fiber actually making it to the yarn stage. The other, more pressing alternative, is the likelihood of a kick to the head, knees, arms or any other body part you can think of.
This sheep got the drill and was moderately still during the process.
Me, looking a bit more like Mickey Rooney than I usually do.

All newly nude. It's amazing how much smaller they look once their fleece has been removed. They take up less space, that's for sure.
One day this fleece will be washed, picked and turned into wonderful wool. M.'s flock consists of Icelandic and Shetland sheep.

I think the whole thing was completed by around 1 or 2. A total of 99 sheep were sheared. M. always makes a lunch after shearing for those who have participated, and while I wanted to stay, there were fried pickles and a trip to Hudson in my future and, frankly, I needed a shower. It was great to see M. and P. and the rest of the crew. And the actual work. The physicality of it, was a refreshing change of pace from my regular work-life. A great thanks goes to M. for welcoming me back onto the farm after such a long time had passed; it was really great to see her and spend some time there.

Dinner in Tivoli c/o Panzur

After enjoying the afternoon and early evening down by the river, I departed the Inn(ski) and walked the half mile or so up to Tivoli's small business district along Broadway. There I met up with L., a former professor, for dinner at Panzur. Panzur is a relatively new establishment in the neighborhood. Its building has hosted a series of restaurants since before my time in the area, the most memorable and sorely missed being Cafe Pongo. I thought it proper to start the meal with a glass of bubbly. And oh how it sparkle bubbled.
After our handsome waiter told us a little bit about the specials, the chef, and the restaurant itself, we got down to the nitty gritty of figuring out what to enjoy. L's appetite wasn't quite as limitless as my own, but I think that we managed to put together a series of dishes that she could enjoy. This series started with a selection of olives and and peppers. Nice and brined. I still wonder what olives taste like before they're cured. Anybody know? Inedible? The peppers that also accompanied the olives were particularly delightful to me.
Next up a very generous plate of jamon. I think it was of the serrano variety. At $13 or $14 this was actually a good deal. I think. I had expected a rather minimal amount of meat, but this was really a plate overflowing with fatty cured meat, which in fact had been sliced fresh at the jamon etc. table along the back of the restaurant's main room, right below its chalkboard of specials. We also ordered a Valdeon blue cheese, which came with slice of baguette.
I was drawn to two specials that evening. The first lobster glazed pork belly with a poached oyster and arugula salad. The belly was succulent and its glaze a nice addition. I don't know what I expected from the oyster, but I was a bit taken back by the fact that it was 100% cold, but cooked. I think. It was kind of confusing in my mouth, part of me liked the taste, but the temperature and texture weirded me out slightly. And you know I love oysters, so it's not a matter of being unfamiliar with their 'milieu.'
The other special that caught my fancy were these foie gras croquette type things. A crispy shell contained a rather 'molten' foie gras inside. Like liquid foie gras cut with something, but I wasn't quite sure what. I liked this very much, especially my first bite as it was still piping hot.
We did the ultimate of splurges and ordered their dessert cocktail, which was a mix of sherry from 1985, two or three other liqueurs and topped with a slice of baguette spread liberally with a salty caramel sauce. At $15, it was an order of some largesse and perhaps failed a bit under the expectations and weight that price tag can lend to its intended ware.
The next morning, which I'll get to soon enough, M. the Baker asked me what I thought about the restaurant and its prices. Having come from Philly, the prices didn't shock me too terribly, though if I were to really think about my time in the area, I do acknowledge that their price points may make business a struggle. Not every dish was off the charts, but it was clear that there was a knowledgeable and creative chef in the back, one who may very well be having a lot of fun and he tries out new dishes. I would go back for the cured meat alone, and perhaps try one or two other of the hot tapas options. It was great to see L., whom I had last seen this past summer when I stopped by for a job interview that went nowhere. We caught up about our shared acquaintances as well as the goings-on in our own lives and have a pleasant time doing so.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Suminski Innski in Tivoli

During the first years of my post-college existence, I remained in the Hudson Valley. I worked a short while as an assistant manager/bartender at a failing inn before ultimately leaving that job in favor of working at a nearby sheep farm. This was one of my more inspired decisions, even if it didn't actually allow me to make ends meet. I worked at the farm/yarn shop for about two years and really loved the combination of rather mindless/zen body work that processing wool entails and the more action-packed activities, like herding loose sheep, dealing with newly-born lambs, mending fences, and either putting up or taking down my boss' storm windows. I haven't been back to the farm in a while and recently contacted my former boss, M., to see what the schedule was for shearing and lambing. She replied, and it turned out that shearing was the following weekend. I decided I wanted to go up and at least take some photographs and lend a bit of a helping hand. The only slight obstacle was where to stay. The Red Hook/Tivoli area is entirely free of chain establishments and some of the cheaper motels are a bit too seedy/long-term residency for me. I reached out to L. to ask her if she had any ideas and she came back with the Suminski Innski. And what a good call that was. I contacted Tim, the owner, who turned out to be a former bartender of mine during the halcyon days of my last year or so of college (I was, to put it mildly, a frequent patron). The Inn(ski) is located at the bottom of a long hill off the main road of Tivoli. Other than a gravel road, the only thing between it and the Hudson is a set of still-active railroad tracks.
I had requested one of the cheaper rooms with a view of the river and a bathroom shared with four other rooms...but upon my arrival I was bumped up to the one room with a private bath, as I was the only person staying that night. This was a boon for me, as the room was beautifully laid out and eclectically decorated and its bed extremely comfortable. And while I was totally fine with sharing a bathroom with strangers, it was also nice to have the privacy of taking a shower without worrying that someone was desperately in need of relieving themselves and held back solely by my penchant for long showers.
I arrived around 2 or 3 on Friday and spent the majority of my afternoon sitting on this porch reading Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle Fire. I also, from time to time, would venture to the river and back to the room. The weather even three hours north was still quite lovely, mid-60s and sunny. Perfect, really.
Tim has done a whole heck of a lot of renovation to the building. I'd never been down to it in its former state, but from the photos and the stories it's clear that the establishment as I saw it was a marked improvement to what it had been like ten years prior. Seriously, it was gorgeous and I didn't take nearly enough photographs of the interior parlors and dining areas, with their great variety of art on the walls.
A venture to the tracks. I loved the trains going by. Perhaps for some this would have been a distraction or too much of an interruption from the otherwise extremely quiet and peaceful setting. But for me, having grown up with tracks just about the same distance from my own front porch, it really just made me feel right at home. As I sat two young men (I assume Bard students) drove up to the tracks and got out. One had a camera, the other a trumpet. And for about 40 minutes I had the pleasure of reading on a sunny porch with a well played trumpet and the occasional rumble of a train as my soundtrack.
The view from one of the room's windows. When you live in these parts, as I did for six years, you almost become accustomed to the sheer beauty of the place. From rolling farms and well maintained old houses to the river itself and the Catskill mountains looming ever-present across that expanse of water.
Another window caught in mirror as sun sets photo.

This was a great home base for my Friday and Saturday. I'll share a few more photos once I get through with some meals and other activities.