Monday, February 28, 2011

Two seasons at Peebles Island State Park

Last summer, my sister Julie came to visit us before Olivia was born. We weren't able to do too much because I was so pregnant, but we did take her on several outings throughout upstate New York. On my due date, I decided we should go on a nature hike to try and get labor going. We went through my stack of day trip brochures and found one on Peebles Island State Park. It looked like it would be the perfect place for enjoying river views and having a picnic. It's also only about 20 minutes from Albany. The park is situated where the Mohawk River meets the Hudson and the scenery is spectacular. In July, the sun was really hot and the humidity was intense. We found a path down to the river so we could cool off. We discovered that it was actually really shallow, so Julie and Adam walked out quite a ways. Gavin and I watched, while throwing rocks into the water and soaking our feet. It was a great outing, but I had sort of forgotten about it until Adam mentioned it might be a great place for a winter hike.

Over the weekend, we got another foot of snow. This weather is starting to get depressing, but we made the most of it by getting outside. We decided to go check out Peebles Island again and invited our friend Toyin to join us. The views were even more impressive than our previous visit. The trees were heavily coated in fresh snow, which created archways to walk under. We have invited Toyin and her husband to join us out hiking many times this winter, but they have opted to enjoy the comfort of their heated home instead. I don't think Toyin expected it to be so beautiful. She said, "The next time you invite me to go hiking, and I say I'd rather stay in bed, please remind me of this day!" It was only a two hour hike, but I can say with confidence that it made all of our weekends. Sometimes you just have to leave your house to realize what all of the seasons have to offer. We now have two completely different memories of this park. I thought I'd include pictures from both hikes so you can see how much the landscape varies from season to season.
Peebles Island State Park, July 2010
Had to throw in a "big mama" photo- this was 5 days before Olivia was born
Julie and Adam wading in the river
Beautiful summer day
Peebles Island State Park, February 2011
Toyin and Gavin
Toyin making her way through the winter wonderland
Olivia is here! So much has changed since July!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Appreciating winter, while forcing spring

Spring is a little less than a month out and I am getting anxious. While I really do enjoy winters in the northeast, by the end of February I am ready to be warm. I am more than ready to see color outside. We have had snow on the ground for nearly two months. It's no longer that pretty, fluffy snow. That snow has become crusty and covered in filth kicked up by cars and snowplows. I am ready for it to melt completely and for the trees to bloom. As March gets closer, I am beginning to make plans for my gardens. I have been flipping through magazines and drawing up plans. While I was reading last month's issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I came across a couple of ideas. (If you don't subscribe to this mag, it's a great deal at $5.99 for 12 issues- it is packed with great information and not very many ads) Anyhow, one of the ideas was to make bouquets from branches that have berries on them. The other idea was to force branches to bloom inside for an early spring. I decided to try both. I have been using foliage from shrubs to compliment summer bouquets for a while, but hadn't thought to make a "winter bouquet." I really like how mine turned out. It's very simple, but appropriate. I do not have many evergreen plants in my yard. The ones I have planted over the past two years are still too young to take clippings from. My guess is that my Pacific Northwest readers have plenty of excellent shrubs in their yards to create stunning winter bouquets. Still, my bouquet is very New England and makes me happy. *PS- Pottery Barn would probably charge $20 for a similar arrangement.
Meanwhile, I clipped branches from some of my favorite flowering shrubs and trees. The article instructs you to immediately put them in a pail of water. Then, place the branches in the shower and soak them for a few minutes. Then, you wrap the branches in plastic and move the bucket to a cool and dimly lit place (mine are in our fabulously rustic basement) until the buds swell. This step can take a few days to a few weeks. Once the buds are ready to pop, you put the branches in a big vase. We shall see... I am four days into this experiment and see only a couple of buds. I will follow up in a couple of weeks to let you know how it turns out! It's a fun way to get through this transitional period of exhausting winter and welcoming spring. We are going to get out for another winter hike over the weekend. Maybe I'll find some cool branches to bring home...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cooperstown: A Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Last weekend we headed over to the town of Cooperstown to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. Adam had it on his list of things to do and we live relatively nearby, so we decided to check it out. Cooperstown is about 90 minutes west of Albany, located at the foothills of the northern Catskill Mountains. It's a small town, population just over 2000. Its slogan is "big city excitement, with small town charm." I don't know about the big city excitement, but it definitely delivers small town charm. The buildings and houses are all beautiful colonials. There is one traffic light through Main Street and all of the shops and cafes are baseball themed. We had lunch at Double Day Cafe, which was actually a pretty good place for a burger and a beer (or a coke, or a glass of milk). After lunch, we walked over to the Hall of Fame. It is a really cool museum, and I'm not even a fan of baseball. After visiting and seeing all the memorabilia, I definitely have a greater appreciation for the tradition of the game. I especially enjoyed seeing the collection of uniforms- I just can't believe they wore knit sweaters originally. I know- leave it to me to pay attention to the clothing instead of the baseball statistics! Hey, just pointing out that there is something for everybody!

After visiting the museum, we made our way through a mini-blizzard to check out Glimmerglass State Park for some snowshoeing. It was a further drive than we anticipated, and by the time we arrived, both kids were asleep. Everybody knows- you never wake a sleeping baby and you definitely don't wake a little boy who tends to get carsick. So, we snapped a few pictures and drove home. It was another fun outing through Upstate NY. Cooperstown has their own baseball team that plays at the original Double Day Field- might be a fun thing to check out in the future. Here are some photos, enjoy!
Main Street, Cooperstown, NY
Outside the Hall of Fame
Covered Bridge at Glimmerglass State Park

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Life with Olivia at 7 months

Little miss is 7 months old now. Her hair is beginning to come in and we're debating whether she'll be blonde or brunette. We still can't tell what color eyes she has- they are very dark. Sometimes they look green and other times they look blue. Olivia is getting so big and is chattering like crazy. We have taken to calling her our evil genius. She has a way of causing trouble. She likes to pinch at our skin and seems to think it's funny that it hurts. When we try to catch her rolling around on video, she sits still. Yet, when nobody is looking, she'll roll over and destroy the puzzle that Gavin is working on.

She is still not sleeping very well. Some nights are better than others. Just when I think we're turning the corner, she'll have a night where she is up four times. It's frustrating. But, aside from the sleeping issues, she really is an easy baby. She has a playful personality and continues to wear a big grin on her face. Gavin loves to play with her. They have their own little games where he shows her all the toys and she grabs them from him. He can't wait for her to get bigger so she can play in his bedroom. There is something really sweet about witnessing their interactions.

Liv is starting to scoot herself around but isn't crawling. I have a feeling that once she attempts it, she'll get it. I'm starting to think about what we'll need to do to get this place babyproof again. Amazing how time flies. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was writing similar things about Gavin. We moved to Albany when Gavin was 9 months old - crazy to think that not only is he almost 3 1/2, but we have a 7 month old too! Here are a few pictures of our evil genius from the past month.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hello Chicken- Let me cook you right! Review of Coriander Chicken and Fennel Tostadas

Over the past weekend, I realized that I have been in a serious culinary rut. So, I decided to mix things up and start selecting three new recipes each week. This is not that difficult- you'd gasp if you saw how many magazines I subscribe to. I also have a ridiculous cookbook fetish and the list of food blogs I follow is constantly growing. It's just a matter of stepping outside my comfort zone and executing. Viva! Or whatever...

On Saturday, I selected my three recipes and made out my shopping list. I did not anticipate blogging about any of these recipes, just simply listing the successful ones to the sidebar on the right. However, tonight's recipe was worthy of a blog post. I found the recipe for Coriander Chicken Tostadas with Refried Beans and Grilled Fennel in January's issue of Bon Appetit. We love Mexican food around here so this one caught my attention. I am making an effort to bring more vegetables into our diet and thought this was an interesting use of fennel. The recipe comes from Sue Torres, owner of Suenos restaurant in Manhattan. In the introduction to the recipe, she makes a commentary about how people constantly overcook chicken breasts in fear of salmonella. I am guilty of this, so I decided to follow her instructions and use an instant read thermometer, cooking the chicken to exactly 165 degrees. The result was moist and flavorful chicken. I had respected my chicken by not drying it out! It's amazing how the simplest adjustment to method can take one's cooking up several notches.

Now, to the specifics of the recipe- the flavor combination of the coriander rubbed chicken, the pinto bean puree with cumin and chipotle peppers, and the grilled fennel is subtly addictive. Coriander* really is a lovely seasoning for chicken, as she states in the recipe. It would work nicely in a salad. I really wasn't sure how fennel was going to taste on a tostada, but it had a nice texture and mild sweetness. The meal took me about 45 minutes to prepare, which included me frying up corn tortillas to use for the tostada shells. We served them with shredded iceberg lettuce, cilantro sprigs, and a little sour cream. Adam added a little shredded cheese to his, but they honestly don't need it. I skipped the radishes, but might try them once gardening season rolls around. Anyhow, even if you don't want to try the recipe, click on the link and read her comments about cooking chicken- made a huge difference for me.

*I did not have coriander seeds, only ground coriander. It worked fine, but I suppose was lacking some texture that you'd get using crushed seeds.