The Organic Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

As I, like many, became more aware of what I was eating, and what was in it, I started eating more organic foods. My commitment to organics reached a peak a few years ago. But then I started seeing studies and articles that began to change my mind. A piece by Bjørn Lomborg in The Telegraph titled “Think organic food is better for you, animals, and the planet? Think again” (Mr. Lomborg also had a similar piece published in the NY Times), has convinced me to no longer waste my time, energy,—and especially my money—on organics. His well-written dismantling of organics (which he backs up with links to scientific studies) is the final nail in the coffin for me. In some cases I will still buy organic but if given the choice, I’m going to choose conventionally farmed food over organic, and I will no longer seek out organic alternatives to conventional foods.

Well before the Lomborg piece, I was becoming more and more skeptical of the advantages of organics and dismayed with the mendacious marketing tactics of many organic companies. I also hold contempt for the nasty radical environmentalists that advocate for organic. I don’t want to help them or their causes. Of course, they’re the extreme fringe and not the norm, and most of us just want to eat healthier and feel like we’re helping the environment. Feel is a key word here. It’s one thing to feel good; it’s another to do good.

Am I doing me, my family, and the world any good by buying organic foods?

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Bad Chain Restaurants VIII – A Lobster Rolls into McDonald’s

Lobster rolls are a unique thing. They’re the mating of shabby and chic. The melding together of expensive, fancy-schmancy, pinky-in-the-air lobster, with a cheap, blue collar hot dog roll. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? It’s crazy. Crazy good! Frankly, I’d much rather eat a great lobster roll standing up outside a lobster shack, than eat a whole lobster in a fine dining setting, and all the work it takes to de-shell the thing, all while wearing that silly bib.

Moreover, lobster rolls are pure genius in their simplicity. Just three components, lobster, hot dog roll, and mayo. Those three ingredients come together to make culinary magic. And its simplicity belies what an incredibly delicious thing it can be.

Back in March I had the pleasure of attending a preview for Troy Kitchen and came away very impressed with what Troy Lobster, one of the food stalls within, was doing. I finally made it back this past weekend and ordered Troy Lobster’s take on the classic Maine-style lobster roll.

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Pizza Pilgrimage IV – Dinosaur Pizza

Back in March, I stumbled on a Syracuse-based news article that profiled one of the owners of Dinosaur BBQ. The article focused on the new pizza place they were opening directly across the street from the original Dinosaur location; Apizza Regionale.

According to the article, they’re cooking the pizzas in a wood-fired oven imported from Naples. They claim to have cooked one thousand test pizzas before opening. They’re going for Neapolitan style pizza, made with ingredients sourced from New York State producers. The flour for the dough, for example, comes from a mill in Ithica.

Impressive.

I ‘m a sucker for Neapolitan style pizza, and it made for a great excuse to make a day trip out to Syracuse to try the pizza, and visit a couple of other iconic places since I’d be out that way. Wegman’s immediately came to mind as a must stop. And since I’d be passing through Utica, I thought it’d also be cool make a detour there and have chicken riggies and Utica greens for lunch.

Things didn’t quite work out as I had envisioned. It’s a day I won’t soon forget.

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Staycationaurant V – The Tap House at Catamount Glass

It’s been months since I wrote a Staycationaurant post on the blog. If you’ll remember, staycationaurant is the corny term I created by mashing together the words staycation and restaurant. I’ve defined it as a vacation day (or days), in which I while away the hours eating at interesting or unique places. For today’s post, I think I’ve found a business that qualifies as both the former and the latter.

This past Tuesday I had most of the day to myself, and it was beautiful; a drive was in order. I started thinking about which direction to head out of Albany. Vermont came to mind. Bennington is just one hour from Albany, and if you’ve been, you know what a lovely place it is. I decided to search for restaurants in the area. I discovered The Tap House at Catamount Glass.

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Pizza Pilgrimage III – Volturno

Currently, I’m a fan of Neopolitan style pizza. I’m fascinated with it mainly because I love its bubbly charred crust. When done right the crust is light and airy, with a delightfully soft and tender chew, but it still has crispness due to the super hot wood fired oven in which it’s cooked. Toppings are usually kept to a minimum and applied with a light hand because the crust is the star (though that’s not always the case of course).

It’s important that you call it Neopolitan style. Because to be a true Neopolitan pizza, the restaurant must be VPN certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana [link] which sets strict guidelines on ovens, ingredients, and techniques used for those claiming to serve true Neopolitan pies. Interestingly, there are surprisingly few VPN certified pizzerias in America, only about 75, and only two in NY State, both in NY City.

There’s controversy surrounding the VPN certification because it doesn’t necessarily ensure one makes great pizza, and it’s viewed as a marketing gimmick by some because there are many pizzerias that are not certified but are making fantastic Neopolitan style pizza. Serious Eats has a good piece on the subject if you’re interested in reading more about it.

Volturno is not VPN certified, but they are making top notch Neopolitan style pizza.

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The Pierogi at Chester’s Smokehouse

When I was little, one of the treats my father would make for us was fried spaghetti. Occasionally we’d have spaghetti and meatballs, and invariably there’d be extra pasta leftover. Instead of saucing it, he’d throw the plain pasta in a frying pan with some butter. He let the pasta sit in the pan until one side browned and crisped up, then flip the whole thing, and repeat. It was one of my favorite things as a kid. Crispy, crunchy, chewy, and full of flavor from the caramelized pasta and butter. It was always a treat for me.

Fast forward to my early twenties when I discovered pierogi. I forget the brand I would buy, but I’d get them in the freezer isle at the grocery store. And I loved them. I’d fry them up in a pan with butter, and the experience reminded me of the fried spaghetti I’d have as a kid, only better, due to the addition of the mashed potato filling. Carbs on carbs. Yum.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Muza the Eastern European restaurant in Troy. Everything we had was delicious (I especially recommend the potato pancakes), except one item, the pierogi. I didn’t care for them, nor did anyone in our group. The main downfall being the overly thick pasta shell, it was gummy, and there wasn’t enough filling. We tried some fried, and they lacked crispness and that wonderful caramelized pasta flavor I love so much.

About a month before Muza, I went to the Purple Pub in Watervliet. They had pierogis as a special on the menu “made by the church down the street”. They were fantastic, and that the local church made them, only added to their appeal.

Those two experiences reignited my interest in pierogi.

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Bad Chain Restaurants VII – Slouching Skirt

What do you get when you mix a Hooters ripoff with Applebees?

You get the Tilted Kilt. Just opened in Niskayuna, it’s a half-baked attempt to capitalize on Hooters’ unabashed glorification and playful mockery of Men’s primal desire to mingle with attractive women half their age, drink too much beer and eat fried foods.

I want to be clear, I am not disparaging Hooters, or the average Joe’s need to spend time with his buddies whilst ogling a cute waitress in a male-focused establishment. Rather, I am saddened that Tilted Kilt manages to water down the experience to the point of it being nothing more than bad chain food served by scantily clad women and men in skirts.

Hooters has been famously sued on more than one occasion because they refuse to hire men as waitstaff. Hooters argues that hiring only (young and attractive) women is a ‘bona fide occupational qualification’. In short, young, cute, female waitresses are essential to their business. (Hooters does hire men, but not as waitstaff or bartenders). And I agree with Hooters. It’s what makes them special. Trust me, no one is going to Hooters for the food (with the exception of the wings, which are quite good).

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The Shakshuka at Morgan & Company

Recently I’ve fallen in love with poached eggs. When made well, the whites are tender and creamy. The yolk should be runny and slowly ooze its golden goodness into, and onto, whatever it’s paired with when pierced. The combination of delicate albumen and rich vitellus, make for wonderful textural and flavor contrasts, and are but one reason why eggs are a cherished food the world over.

More and more I’m of the mindset that poached is a better way to eat an egg. As such, I’ve been seeking out dishes that incorporate poached eggs. The North African dish of Shakshuka—eggs poached in a spicy tomato based sauce—has become one of my favorites.

I’m also a big fan of the Italian corn porridge better known as polenta, similar to the southern staple grits, it’s hearty, homey, and comforting. When made by expert hands, it’s swoon-worthy.

Morgan & Company has combined shakshuka and polenta into a filling and flavorful dish. It’s an Italian-African mashup if you will, and on a recent trip to Glens Falls, I stopped in to try it.

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Yelp Makes My Life Better

I had not a single close friend during my teen years. Oh, I had acquaintances, and I would spend time with my two brothers and other family, but for the most part, I felt alone.

I was extremely shy when I was little. I don’t remember when it dawned on me that I was shy, but at some point I became aware of it and it caused me to withdraw further. I was a skinny kid, and not at all athletic. I wasn’t cool. I was geeky and dorky. As a result, I was picked on in school, and because I was shy I wouldn’t stand up for myself. I withdrew even more. By my early teens I was a loner. It’s better to be alone, than to be picked on. I felt I wasn’t likeable, so I was afraid to reach out to people and strike up friendships because I was convinced they wouldn’t like me. I deeply envied those who had a group of friends or were part of a clique. I desperately wanted to be a part of a group and spend time with others that have similar interests.

Thankfully, I quickly grew out of the shyness, and for the most part I’m now very outgoing. My personality has swung 180 degrees.

But a few years ago, I started to get frustrated with my social life. I was getting more and more into food, and there was no one among my friends or family that shared my passion for it. I wanted to share that passion with others who could appreciate it. I wanted to experience the camaraderie of being with birds of the same feather. But I had no idea how to make that happen.

That’s when I discovered Yelp.

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Bad Chain Restaurants VI – Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance as it’s described on the Simply Physcology website:

“Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.”

Am I feeling discomfort due to cognitive dissonance? Perhaps. But it does make me want to rethink some of my beliefs regarding casual restaurant chains. Some obviously are better than others and that makes it easy to justify eating there. Sometimes though there are places that shouldn’t be much better than the rest of the pack, yet I find myself eating there on occasion and actually enjoying the food, as well as the atmosphere.

Macaroni Grill is one of those that causes me to experience cognitive dissonance.

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