Category Archives: travel

We’re Moving!

Our little In the Making is all grown up, and we are moving to a bigger and better space to see what we can do!

Please bookmark www.thegourmandandthepeasant.com – its our new home!

Right now, the content is in both places, but as of May 15th, we will only be posting new stuff to The Gourmand & the Peasant. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should click over and see what we’ve done with the place. Slick new design, fun food photography and tutorial videos are a few of the changes, along with new curtains. Also, sign up for the email or RSS feed at the new site, because if you are getting this message in your inbox, these too will stop on May 15th.

Thank you for all the support over the last year and we hope you enjoy the new Gourmand & the Peasant.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

whiskey barrelby Mark Peterson

We met Stranahan’s Whiskey at the IACP opening night Gala at the Denver Art Museum. They were there, on the first floor, right when you walked in the door serving up something called a Colorado Cooler, a local mint julep of sorts, cold and refreshing. We were told that the museum frowned upon serving what it saw as shots of whiskey, so samples were available upstairs, straight from the barrel. So that’s where we went and were served a small pour from the spout of a large oak barrel with just a few drops of water to bring out the nuance. In that moment, Emily decided she liked whiskey.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is made in downtown Denver. We wanted a bottle to take home as a souvenir and so we found the distillery on a map and walked over. Ben, one of the distillers, met us at the door and seemed a little surprised to have any visitors. But, after hearing our story of why we were there and how we had found him, he poured us a sample of single barrel and invited us farther in to see the distillery.

whiskey still

The Stranahan’s use a custom made combination pot-and-column still. Ben described the mash as being produced with selected yeasts for flavor, as opposed to the open fermentation used by others. He gave us a sample of the mash to try. It tastes tastes like a full-bodied ale, without the carbonation. Then he explains the distillation process and gives a sample of the full-strength alcohol before it is blended with water and barrel aged. It is clear and strong, no doubt,  but has a surprising amount of flavor and depth. Into the barrels it goes for the aging process and is numbered and racked in the adjoining aging room.

aging room

Ben led us to the aging room full of barrels and explained how the distillers select and blend barrels for each bottling run, which basically means a bunch of folks tasting from an assortment of barrels that are ready and blending the percentages so that what comes to the consumer in the bottle is just how they meant it to taste.

Back in the front room we sampled the blended whiskey. It is smooth and flavorful and everything that you could want from a superior spirit, made by hand with care. Each bottle you purchase is signed by the distiller that made it what they were listening to at the time. Distiller Jake was listening to Ry Cooder.

Ben from Stranahan's

Next time you are in Denver, go down and visit the fine people at Stranahan’s, like Ben here. And, ask your local shop to stock the hand-crafted whiskey so that you don’t have to travel to far to get some. Better still.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
2405 Blake Street
Denver, CO 80205
303-296-7440
www.stranahans.com

IACP Conference in Denver, Colorado

ColoradoMark & I have just returned from the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference and I am profoundly moved, inspired and changed by the people and plates that I met along the way. From the Denver’s mayor to fellow bloggers, cookbook authors, teachers and travelers that I had lunch with everyday, from as far away as Sweden and as near as Hoboken, each person I met was kind, committed and fascinated by the food we all eat.

This year’s theme was “Sustainability” and many of the speakers that I was audience to took their approach to a definition. The one I found most compelling was “Finding a way to live off the Earth’s interest, and not its capital,” as defined by Fred Kirschenmann, Ph. D., President of Stone Barns, organic farmer, Distinguished Fellow of the Leopold Center at Iowa State university and IACP scholar-in-residence. 

I had the priveldge of hearing Dan Barber, chef/owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, speak lovingly of Eduardo Souza, a natural foie gras producer in southwestern Spain. Souza produces foie gras by allow the ducks to follow the natural gorging instinct initiated by the migration cycle, but his geese never evacuate. In fact, they attract wild geese to come and stay. Eduardo electrifies only the outside of the fences, to keep predators out. The geese are free to go, but they don’t. To hear Mr. Barber tell the story of passion, love and sacrifice brought tears to my eyes, like a perfect musical chord or the happy ending of a romantic story.

Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, also from Spain, said “The new exotic is what’s local.” Through his translator, he talked about the global commitment we all must make – and that shopping at the farmer’s market isn’t enough, albeit a good start.

Whole Foods co-president and COO Walter Robb cited the Great Law of the Iroquois: “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

There was some rumbling of perceived hypocrisy in the audience, but if we are realistic, isn’t mainstream America’s choice to buy from Whole Foods better than any non-sustainable, non-organic counterpart? According to this report from the Hartman Group, 67% of consumers buy products based on concerns about the environment or social well being, at least some of the time, although I heard that the latest figure is as high as 80%.

So change is afoot and we can be very academic about it. (Seriously, did I just quote a statistic??) Or, we can enjoy the fruits of labor of like-minded farmers, chefs and vintners. 

For instance, “green” wine is readily available in every price point from every wine-producing country, and I had the pleasure of tasting several, at 8:30 in the morning with Marguerite Thomas, travel editor at The Wine News and who writes a monthly column called The Intrepid Gastronome for the LA Times International Syndicate. A few nights before, we had dinner together and Marguerite lamented the archaic blue laws that prevent wine delivery to a hotel. Dinner was at the fabulous Lola Mexican Bistro in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver. 

Interesting how a group of like-minded individuals gathered for dinner could be so vastly different in temperament and manners. The very proper Marguerite, world-traveling gastonome and member of Les Dames d’Escoffier among other highly refined accolades, seated next to a effervescent turkey marketer from Saskatoon who knew how to have a good time and choose the perfect breast.

Also, I have to thank Chef Jen Jasinski and her general manager Beth Gruitch-Verucchi at Rioja Restaurant. Our dining experience was so flawless, I am planning an entire post dedicated to an interview with these two icons of sustainability and passionate palate.

Look forward also to Mark’s account of our tour of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Distillery. (Ben: Watch your mailbox! We didn’t forget!!)

Thank you to Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks.com and to Kathleen Flinn. You are both an inspiration to the world of food writing.

If you are new to the site, sign up to receive email updates by clicking the link on the top right so you’ll never miss another post, and comment often so I know what you’re thinking!

Finally, there are going to be some technical upgrades to the site and if you want me to geek out, drop me an email and I’ll let you know what I have planned post-graduation from culinary school which is on May 5th.

Keep cooking and keep reading and remember that our planet and our palate’s futures are in the making, so choose your ingredients accordingly.

Weekend Diary of the G&P

Mark & I are antsy for spring. We’ve got all of our seed catalogues and spend evenings pouring over heirloom herbs and vegetables to soon be planted in our backyard. Until the 50 degree days are here to stay (and turn into 70, 80, 90 degree days after that) we’ve been working hard to keep ourselves busy through late winter weekends. Here’s a recap of two days of food and exploration both close and far from home.

Saturday at Chelsea Market

I am a little embarrassed to say, as a New Yorker, foodie and aspiring chef, that I’ve only been to Chelsea Market once, and I didn’t “get it.” That was years ago and I was a different person, so forgive me for looking right through the culinary wonderland that lives on 9th Avenue in New York City.

The space is like I imagine Pike Place, a sort of indoor mall of food and kitchen purveyors. There were lots of tourists taking pictures, which leads me to believe that the Market is listed in guidebooks. It’s a block long and houses about 15 shops, some super unique, some selling the same stuff as the guys next door.

What brought me here, and Mark, and our friends Aleka and George, was a presentation done in my and Aleka’s culinary class on a product called Nduja. Chris, who gave the presentation, was very humble and self-effacing about her history with this stuff. Her elderly great aunt smuggled it into this country on visits from Calabria before just one purveyor started to make their own in this country. Chris gave a dubious explanation as to why it can’t be imported, but like many tales of elder relatives, it was lost in translation. No worries though if you live in or near New York City. 

Nduja (ahn-DOO-yah) is a spreadable pork salami whose proper production relies on 1/3 of the weight of the sausage be hot peppers, pepperoncino, in italiano. Traditionally, the pork, lots of pork fat and peppers are ground so that the emulsion is creamy and spreadable, but still chunky and recognizable as meat, fat and pepper. Its stuffed into a pig’s bladder and smoked. Once you bring it home, it has an indefinite shelf life, upwards of a year, but I dare you to make it last a week. We bought this, a hunk of fresh asiago, and peach tea from San Marzano from Buon Italia. Its on the left, about two-thirds deep into the market. Walk all the way to the back of the store and talk to the butcher.

After buying Nduja, we realized we needed bread, and Amy’s Bread, was right down the way. Its odd in this day to find a bakery that does both bread and sweets, and from the looks of the display, equally well. We passed on the chocolate ganache tarts, however and just got a baguette. A perfect crunchy crust protecting a yeasty soft core that, spread with salami and topped with a creamy slice of asiago, made for a lovely Valentine’s Day carpet picnic.

After an unremarkable lunch at Hale & Hearty Soup, we ventured into the Bowery Kitchen Supply and I could get married all over again, just to register there. The prices were perfect and the tools on sale were both practical and weird – who needs a carrot curler, anyway? They had funky knife bags from Yak Pak and if you bring your knives in on Saturdays or Wednesdays, a surly woman, perhaps of eastern European descent will sharpen them for you. I asked her what she thought it would cost for a 10″ chef’s knife that’s not in too bad shape, but could use a professional hand. “Perhaps $6. I have not seen it, but from what you told me, $6. But don’t quote me.” 

Housed in the same store is L’Arte Del Gelato. Mark and I split two scoops, one of chocolate chile pepper and one of banana chocolate chip. More on this in a bit…

After filling up with freebie chocolates we left, full and happy, and thoroughly enjoyed our Valentine’s Day.

Sunday in Camden, Philadelphia and Princeton

 

Peasant & Shark

Peasant & Shark

We didn’t exactly know how today was going to unfold, except that we made the decision to go to Adventure Aquarium before reading that President’s Day weekend was the busiest weekend of the year. Normally around this time, we throw a couple of bathing suits and our snorkeling gear into a backpack and go camping in the National Park on St. John. This year, I’m in school and jeez plane tickets have gotten expensive! So we decided that the Caribbean Currents exhibit would have to suffice for Winter ’09. 

In my estimation, we were the only people there without kids. Mark claims he saw another couple who had yet to populate the earth, but there were literally thousands of families with mostly little kids, though there were some sour-looking teenagers trying not to enjoy the lucite tube through the sharks’ tank. The place smelled like baby wipes and cheerios. 

Adventure Aquarium is pretty true to its name. The sign should read “ADVENTURE aquarium” and “Warning: Spongebob Squarepants will be piped into every exhibit” which he was, god love him. Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!

Enough!

About the aquarium: its located in Camden, NJ which Mark described as potentially the most violent city in the US, after we took a wrong turn and the detour found us in what looked like a movie set of generic, broken down neighborhood. White Cadillac straddling the double yellow line? Check. Broken pavement littered with broken glass? Check. Eerie lack of pedestrians, and boarded up buildings surrounded by empty lots, check, check and check. 

The intention of the Aquarium was to “revitalize” the Camden waterfront and is a failure at that. It’s more like they’ve built an aquarium-themed park outside of the “bad” part of town, and charge twenty bucks a head to keep the riffraff out. The displays are cute, Spongebob abounds, but they are big on adventure and small on aquarium. If you are going for science, try Boston. 

By 2pm we were starving and I had googled “gastropub philadelphia” before we left Jersey City. Two promising results were returned and after looking at their websites, we had settled on the Kite & Key. I’m going to be really critical of them because its clear that they really care about their place and I want them to do just a little bit better because they are so close to being awesome.

Pros:
Extensive, eclectic beer menu
Cool laid back ambiance
Perfect price point

Cons:
The food. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination bad, in fact, it was really good, but it would be so easy to make some simple changes to make it great. For instance, list what comes with entrées. Maybe we are just jaded New York eaters, but when a menu doesn’t specify that a sandwich comes with fries, it means that it doesn’t. Especially when fries are listed as a side dish. We ended up with 2 orders of fries, one on Mark’s plate, next to the pulled pork sandwich, and one in a big bowl on the side. My fish tacos didn’t come with fries, and I couldn’t figure out why not.

We ordered the “cajun fries” as a side, but the seasoning was prepackaged, and was BBQ flavor – not cajun. Also, tossing the fries with the spice before plating would ensure an even coating. BUT the spicy (was it chipotle?) mayo was delicious.

Finally, avocados are cheap in the winter! Its a sin to use mass-produced guacamole in a tub when just a little extra time, and perhaps a huge savings in food cost, would mean housemade guac. Its worth the effort. If not, pull it from the menu because the store bought stuff sucks.

I loved the Kite & Key because it looks a lot like the place I hope to open someday. A couple of passionate people on a DIY budget – just fix the details and you’ll be awesome.

We departed Philly and headed, slightly out of the way, for Princeton, where we knew The Bent Spoon would revive us mid-roadtrip home. If you read Hanging Out With Farmers, you’ll know we got free samples at the NOFA conference a few weeks ago. I hadn’t forgotten the mascarpone-lavender flavor and when we got to the teeny, adorable storefront, the place was packed. It was freezing cold, yet artisan ice cream knows no temperature. Amazingly, for $7 we got four generous scoops of ice cream in two small cups. In mine, Honey and Earl Grey; in Mark’s, Coffee with Cocoa Nibs and Dark Chocolate. 

How do you say heaven on a spoon? Seriously. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would give up bad ice cream and periodically drive 40 miles to eat at The Bent Spoon. I wish I was kidding because all ice cream will forever pale in comparison. Ok, maybe not all. There’s Taylor’s in Chester, NJ. That’s many miles in the opposite direction. There’s the gelataria outside Paestum in Italy that I’ll forever remember. And the gelataria, oddly in Placencia, Belize.

Then there’s the difference between gelato and ice cream. I am planning a detailed research project. PLEASE recommend your favorite makers, who either ship or are within a day’s drive of New Jersey and I’ll report the sweet results in time for summer.

All right, I’ve chewed your ear off enough. I’m off to grill some burgers. Enjoy the long weekend and remember that all your stories are in the making. xo.

Authentic Japanese at Village Yokocho

Ok, so perhaps the use of “authentic” isn’t exactly fair because I’ve never actually eaten in Japan, but having watched lots of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmer tells me that this place is the real deal in New York City.

Yokocho’s entrance is at 8 Stuyvesant Street, between 3rd Avenue & 9th Street, next to St. Mark’s Bookstore. However, its on the second floor and there’s another Japanese restaurant on the ground floor, so make sure you head up the stairs.

Inside feels like what I imagine the Tokyo equivalent to Brooklyn might be. Its filled with hand-drawn flags advertising the food options. Sadly, they are in Japanese and so I could only guess at things based on the accompanying drawing, if there was one.

Additionally, there is an extensive English-language menu with lots of tapas style choices, including a kind of Japanese BBQ skwere called yakitori, fresh salads, soups, noodle dishes and so on, but no sushi, so if that’s what you’re in the mood for, you won’t find it here.

What you will find are unique selections on every page, including on the sake menu – oh and did I mention its affordable?

For starters, we ordered a Junmai Daiginjo sake, a large carafe for $16. This grade of sake is considered high end. A minimum of 50% of the rice must be polished away before fermentation and no additional alcohol can be added. The result is clean, floral and light, without any morning-after side effects.

Then, we ordered lots of little plates of interesting sounding things off the menu, and by pointing to other patron’s plates and saying “one of those, please.” I had octopus salad, steamed green beans with black sesame sauce, and deep-fried squid legs. We also shared a plate of Japanese pickles, a barbecued rice caked filled with pickled plum, dumplings, chicken liver yakitori and quail egg yakitori.

By the time I ordered the quail eggs, I was full and really didn’t need anymore food. However, when something like BBQ eggs is on the menu, and I know that yakitori involves skewering something, I can’t suppress my curiosity. Three perfect little eggs appeared, skewered through the poles and tea-colored. The eggs had been hard-boiled and brushed with the BBQ sauce before grilling and were a blend of custard and chalk mouthfeel; familiar, yet utterly unlike any preparation I could have imagined for the humble egg. Oh, and the skewer cost $3.00.

The only thing that wasn’t stellar were the chicken livers, not because they weren’t good, but they were unadorned. I might have liked a brush of plum sauce or something to cut the minerality with some sweetness.

We ended with mochi ice cream. Mochi is glutenous rice that is pounded out into a gummy circle or square and wrapped around a filling, like red bean or ice cream. We had chocolate and black sesame and they were awesome, except that you had to order two pieces and when the server told us that only the chocolate and black sesame were available (from a list that also included strawberry and green tea) one of us asked if she could only order one, as her second choice was sold out, and she was refused. I found that slightly annoying but perhaps the byproduct of a complex, computerized ordering and inventory system. 

I will certainly be back and am looking forward to being a little more adventurous in my ordering (beef tongue yakitori!) and also dipping in to the adjoining Angel’s Share bar that is known for an extensive list of specialty cocktails, but was to swanky for my jeans and t-shirt of choice.

Channing Daughters Winery & Townline BBQ

Now that the summer is over *sniff* I thought I’d give you an idea for a day trip to the Hamptons that is cheap, fun, and will leave you full and warm. 

First let me say that the Long Island Railroad advertises itself as a way to see the Hamptons while leaving your car at home. They have pretty pictures in the subway cars of Manhattan showing pictures of Jones Beach, the Fire Island Light House, and another that says something like “Market Hopping.” Something that gives the impression that you can get on the train, get off at your destination and walk around and see stuff. This is absolutely untrue. The best case scenario is that you get left off in the middle of a town, not a pumpkin patch, or “market.” This happens east of the Hampton Bays stop on the Montauk line. West of HB, however, you’re basically dropped off in the woods with a couple of cabbies looking to make some money off a tourist who fell for a poster. Sure, I’ll take you to a pumpkin patch. That’ll be 50 bucks.

So? Drive. Take your car, or a zipcar, or borrow a car. You’ll have more fun because you’ll actually be able to see some of those pumpkins from the pictures.

Assuming you have a car, head to the east end of Long Island aiming for Route 27, also known as Sunrise Highway. Route 27 starts in Brooklyn, though and it will be a really long drive if you get on there. I take Southern Parkway to the Robert Moses Causeway, south, and that will meet up with Sunrise.

Head east through the lovely Pine Barrens, Southampton, and Water Mill. Drive through the quaint town of Bridgehampton, and at the light on the east side of town, turn left onto the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike. Turn left again onto Scuttlehole Road, about 2.5 miles. You’ll see the sign for Channing Daughters Winery out on the road. Turn left into the driveway and slowly roll up the driveway through the grapevines, which are immaculately groomed by hand and depending on the season offer a beautiful view of the origin of Bacchus’ favorite drink.

Leave your cell phone and dog in the car and head in to the tasting room, admiring the wood sculptures along the way. Out in the vineyard beyond the parking lot are the upside-down trees you’ll recognize on some of the wine labels inside, that make you think “how did they do that?” There’s whimsical sculptures (look for the asparagus, the pencil and the octopus) sensual ones, and one of hanging grapes that again will make you wonder how they did that.

At the counter work the most friendly, knowledgeable and approachable wine lovers around. Let anyone of them walk you through a flight of tastings, and provide detailed information on the heritage of each bottle. Want to know which grapes from the driveway are now in your mouth? They can tell you. Why should you love the funkiness of the Blaufrankish grape, renamed by my mother Frau Blankish? They can tell you something about that too. Make sure you get a taste of the Mosaico. This is the Gourmand’s favorite wine, ever, from anywhere. I think its the lilac gentleness of Muscat Ottonel, but the folks at Channing will let you come to your own decision. Just remember to let someone draw the short straw and drive you home safely.

In addition to the tastings, you can purchase a glass of wine and sit outside on the patio and watch the sun set off to the west of the vines. You can also join their Wine Club. In exchange for permission to charge your credit card, you’ll receive 2-bottle shipments six times a year, have access to purchase new releases before the general public (especially important when the tre rosati are released in the spring,) invitations to members-only events, like the annual sculpture garden walk, and best of all, you get to do the wine tastings for free, and so do your guests. Non-wine club members pay a small fee.

Feeling warmed up? Head to your car, designated driver in place and listen to your palate. Did you like the whites or the reds? The tart or the sweet? The oaked or the minerally? Have a zen moment of reflection. This is how you start to learn how to taste wine. Resist the urge to talk out loud and spend a moment meditating with your tastebuds. Enjoy the view while you are chauffeured to Townline BBQ

Let me preface my review by saying that I just ate at Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester (yes, yes, I know I promised a review) and that place for me is the barometer of good ‘que. However, Rochester is far cry from Sagaponack and while its no Dinosaur, its worth the drive. To get there, leave Channing Daughters, turn right out of the driveway, head back south on the Turnpike. When you get back Route 27, turn left. You’ll see Townline on the right about a mile east.

The building is new and the restaurant is part of an East End eatery dynasty that includes Nick & Toni’s and La Fondita. The architecture is classic Hamptons rustic. You feel like your in a BBQ shack, but its a million-dollar shack. 

There is no table service so you have to decide if you want to order from the food counter first, or should you go to the next room to get a drink over which to contemplate your meal options. At first this was fine. We got our drinks, then went back to order food. About halfway through the meal though, when another round was in order, a cocktail waitress would have been awesome so that those who remained at the table didn’t feel obligated to stop eating while the others went to procure drinks.

About those drinks, I broke up with tequila a long time ago, but I hear that the margaritas are delicious. The key to a great margarita is no sour mix. (I once went to a bar in NYC and asked the bartender if she used sour mix in her margaritas. She said, “How else would I make a margarita?” Doh! With lime juice and a splash of simple syrup. Sour mix is chemically goodness at best and should be consumed only at… I was going to say sorority keggers, but even then, I’d stick to beer.) I had an MTO glass of sangria. That’s what it says on the menu and you get, for $9, a tall, Made To Order cocktail that I swear had a splash of Duckwalk Vineyards Blueberry Port in it, but I can’t be sure.

Drinks in hand, we returned to the main room to order food from a menu that the Gourmand described as “limited, without missing anything.” There are sandwich classics (pulled pork, brisket,) ribs (either 1 short rib, or rack or 1/2 rack of pork ribs) house-made keilbasa, (which I will order next time) and an array of sides that are the stars of the meal. Prepare your arteries for a serving of deep fried macaroni and cheese, collard greens braised with pickled peppers, fried onions (reminiscent of the onion rings served at the now-defunct Shnack in Brooklyn) and baked beans that inspired me to buy a bean pot at a nearby garage sale on the drive home, in order to try to recreate the flavor. Was it sorgum that offered that caramel sweetness and color?

Finally, dessert. Normally, I skip dessert. I consider the calories from the aforementioned meal to be quite plentiful and since exercise isn’t my favorite past time, I survive on small tastes of other people’s sweets and finish my drink. When something called “Deep Fried Cherry Pie” is on the menu though, all bets are off. And since there was five of us, one dessert wouldn’t be enough, of course, so we got the Ice Box cake as well. 

Unlike the mac & cheese, the pie wasn’t breaded. Instead, a round of pastry was piled with the cherry filling, folded over, edges crimped and dropped into the fryer. Then, the finished pie was dusted generously, on both sides with confectioner’s sugar. The Ice Box cake was a plastic cup filled with a chocolate pudding and graham cracker parfait, topped with fresh whipped cream. If you should know anything about me, it is that I am powerless against graham crackers. Especially when they are paired with chocolate.

All of this food, drinks all around, at a restaurant in the Hamptons for the grand total of about $140 for five people! No need to wait for restaurant week to enjoy this joint. If you’re looking for three-star service and tablecloths, you won’t find them here. However, if its paper boats of fried things and smoked meats, and lots of sticky fingers you seek, look no further.

Lucky for you both Channing Daughters and Townline are open year round. Don’t wait for Memorial Day to spend hours on the road in a long line of cars. Go off season and enjoy having the Hamptons virtually to yourself.

How to Tour the Finger Lakes of New York

The Gourmand & I are home from a brilliant six day tour of our home state. (Yes, yes, we know we live in New Jersey, but we will forever be New Yorkers!) So, how do you do it well? A little bit of nature, a little bit of food, wine and good friends, that’s how! If you don’t know anybody out there willing to show you around their beautiful lake house (Love to Nancy!) you have plenty of options for enjoying Western New York in all its splendor. Here are some tips for eating, drinking, cooking and living in a most enjoyable way:

Day 1
Arrive in Ithaca. I love it here. If I could magically wake up a Cornell Professor, I could imagine spending more than just a vacation exploring this hiccup of a city, home to hippies and hypothesists, snowshoeing and hiking and poetry reading listening-to, but in the meantime, here’s how to visit. Bring your tent and camp at Buttermilk Falls or Taughannock Falls campgrounds. (Pronounced tah-GON-ic) Both are state-owed and cheap, 14 bucks for a bare site. Arrive, set up camp, and head back into town for dinner at Just a Taste, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever enjoyed. 

Just a Taste is American tapas. But to say that, while categorically true, does not do this restaurant justice. Truly, I would eat here once a week if time travel allowed. The kitchen prepares the food as though we were old friends, and she knew exactly how I like my brussel sprouts cooked. Sincerely, Mark and I dream of this place between the times we can get there. Its perfectly priced, unlike Manhattan tapas, which has become some weird status symbol. Of course I can afford 6 twenty-five dollar plates! At Just a Taste, you get to feel like you are in your best cooking-friend’s kitchen and can drink wine served, by the taste (of course) or glass or, if you prefer, which I do, tasting flight. Sample as many as you want and marry a man willing to be your designated driver.

Back at camp. Go to sleep.

Day 2
Awake, and head back to town for breakfast at The State Diner. The blueberry pancakes are divine, the waitresses are perfectly surly and sweet and the coffee flow prepares you for a day of hiking and wine drinking.

Drive to Buttermilk Falls, even if you haven’t stayed there. There is a figure-eight hike that starts just off the parking lot and you get to appreciate all that Mother Nature had in store some billions of years ago. I know that there are all sorts of names for the eras of rock and stone, but what I see is moss and dripping water on my face from skyward overhangs and beautiful birds enjoying brunch from the crystal clear river that feeds the falls.

Lunch! After taking in your share of nature, head up 89N to Glenwood Pines Restaurant. Its really best if you get there on a Tuesday or Friday because they make a Reuben sandwich that is the stuff of dreams. Maybe its because you slept in a tent or whatever, but the sandwich is awesome. The last time M and I were there, we both had Reubens. This time, I ventured off into the specials and ended up eating more than my fair share of his lunch. I hear and read that the burgers are award-winning, but trust me. Get the Reuben. 

Now, time to taste some wines! I have a forthcoming entry planned on exactly what it means to “taste wine.” Even I think it sounds a little pretentious, but the truth is, if you know what you are doing, the experience is way better that “yeah, its good!” New York State wineries are working very hard to shed the reputation of mediocrity and in that spirit, I am going to leave your palate without my very personal tasting notes. But, I will tell you that on Cayuga Lake, on which Ithaca is the most southerly point, there are a few you should visit.

Cayuga Ridge Estate is housed in a beautiful old barn with vaulted ceilings and employ young wine conneiseurs to pour a flight of delightful, young, drinkable wines. 

Hosmer Estate makes a tasty, grapey sparkling that goes well with a cribbage game back at camp. Their Fireside Red went great on our couch on the night we got back home.

Sheldrake Point Pinot Gris is served at Just a Taste. It has the quintessential taste of powdery flowers. In the words of my good friend Willie Gluckstern, the bottom of an old lady’s handbag. In a good way.

Time for dinner? Back in Ithaca, Wegman’s grocery offers lots of prepared-for-camping meals to take away. We bought a honey-mustard marinated pork tenderloin to grill on our campfire and some salads from the salad bar. 

Day 3
Head back north on 89 and turn at Interlaken to find Lively Run Goat Dairy Farm. Yummy chevre, wild blue goat cheese and creamy, perfectly funky feta. 

The Finger Lakes region is called so because, viewed from space, the lakes look very much like someone’s fingers. So that means you have to drive around them. From Interlaken, head to Watkins Glen. I have to put a plug here for a GPS system. You could find your way with a map, for sure, but you can also turn your GPS to silent and follow any east-west farm road you come across and enjoy the view.

From Watkins Glen, find Dundee, New York. You’ll see signs on any major road for McGregor Winery. They have some pricey and impressive reds and delightful whites that are worth their price in conversation. You got that in New York?!

Right down the hill is Ravines. Ah, Ravines. I know I said I wouldn’t taint your palate but this place is it. I’d buy a cellar full if I could afford it. Sadly, Robert Parker found them and increasingly, I cannot. BUT! Go for the view for the full tasting and enjoy the storytellers and wine-inspired art on the walls. Its kitschy in the best way and the quality of the wine more than make up of the price tag. Their’s is the stuff of legend in our house because their riesling has such bracing acidity… but I said I wouldn’t do that! What the heck does “bracing” mean anyway?

Ok, so, now where? If you are without friend, you are kind of one your own to find a dwelling for the night. There are lots of small hamlets to drive through. Naples, NY gotten to by something called the Italy Turnpike, is home of Grape Pie, made out of any number of upstate grapes. The lake views are just gorgeous. Really I hate the word “gorgeous” from a storyteller’s standpoint, but if it was reserved for something, it would be for the Finger Lakes during the turning of the leaves.

I.O.U. one review of Dinosaur BBQ in Rochester, but otherwise, get out your map, and plan your spring tour, because unless you are among the very brave, its a little to chilly to camp now!