December 30, 2009

Don't call it a Fat Bag's a pizza roll!

After a short trip into Canton to visit the Brewer Bookstore and one of the few remaining Hacketts stores, we found ourselves back in Potsdam at lunchtime. LSB suggested Sergi's, an Italian restaurant on Main Street famous for their pizza rolls--basically a pepperoni pizza folded into a pouch, with the cheese and toppings on the inside (calzone-like), and then deep fried. Apparently, these things--colloquially known as "Fat Bags"-- are the food of choice for the late-night, post-bar crowd. I guess that's pretty obvious based on the description.

I've craved a Fat Bag for years, but for some reason I've never been able to check this off my North Country Experiences list--which also includes the aforementioned Hacketts, Lounge (a tiny dive bar, aka "The Lounge," next to a Chinese restaurant in a rapidly fading shopping plaza), the Birch Bark (I'll get to this in a future post), CJ's (where you can pick out individual beer bottles to create your own ad hoc sixpack), DeKalb Junction, the Co-op, the Hoot Owl (no checkmark, yet), Stone Valley, and a few others.

Fat Bag: check!

It was the early afternoon of Christmas Eve, and Sergi's was pretty quiet. We ordered a pizza roll to share (I was warned repeatedly not to refer to it as a "Fat Bag" once inside the restaurant, as apparently the family that runs the place is sensative about that). It was greasy. It was heavy. It was really, really good.

The List just got shorter. Anything else I should add?

December 25, 2009

Christmas Mash-up

While I'm in the NoCo currently celebrating Christmas, I thought I'd share a few photos from a recent pre-Christmas, post-dinner (we had the chili and deep-fried hotdogs) walk around our snow-covered neighborhood back in Massachussetts.

Inman Square, straddling the border between Cambridge and Somerville, is home to many Portuguese and Italian immigrant families who have fully embraced the Christmas spirit, taking it to bright, colorful, and tacky new levels.

Season's Greetings from Prancer, Mary
on the half-shell, Mrs. Claus, and Blitzen.

Somerville is a magical land. I wonder what Mrs. Claus and Mary talk about. Do you think there is any resentment between them?

December 23, 2009

Frohe Weihnachten!

What do you give someone who has everything?


You can buy one in Berlin.

December 22, 2009

Crock of Love

It began with the shoulder...

I'm rather fond of my crockpot. It was a gift from LSB last Christmas and we've put it to good, slow use this year. We've made a variety of pulled-meats (mostly pork) in it--including this mango-bourbon-chipotle masterpiece--a few soups, stews, stocks, and, of course, the delicious slow moose.

Filled to capacity with goodness

Recently, LSB documented our latest adventure in slow-cooking: Cassoulet. This remarkable dish somehow manages to incorporate most of my favorite things: pork (in three forms: shoulder, bacon, and sausage), wine, and beans (specifically, these magnificent bastards); not to mention it comes from one of my favorite places--the mountains of Southern France where I tasted my first cassoulet and nearly wept.

Next up, Bigos!

December 12, 2009

Cider Donut Nostalgia

Much easier to pick than the fast ones

Soon after this post, autumn took a bit of a downturn. Now, it is December, the temperature is 31 degrees, the wind is starting to blow, I'm fighting a cold, the Christmas tree is decorated, and The Handel and Haydn Society has taken over our stereo. Before I fully embrace the holiday season, it seems like a good time to look back at one fine day in October, when fried clams and cider donuts--specifically, these cider donuts--were on my mind.

Who doesn't love an old red truck full of pumpkins?
Don't even think about touching it, though.

If I recall correctly, we were looking to get out of town and pick-our-own apples (or at least buy already picked apples from a pick-your-own apples orchard). There are a ton of PYO places around these parts and everyone has their own opinion about the best place to go. Do they have hayrides? Pumpkin patches? Corn mazes? We really didn't care about any of that--we just wanted apples, cider donuts, and the beauty of rural New England. We chose this place, mainly for the delicious cider donuts and the proximity to the ocean.

After several fresh, hot donuts and mulled cider, we selected our pre-picked apples (a mixed bag of big/small, green/red, sweet/tart) and left in search of clam shacks. We drove around Ipswitch and Essex before settling on a small shack sitting on the edge of a marsh.

On the Great Salt Marsh

We ordered waaaay too many clams (my fault) and a couple of Fisherman's Brews, paid by check (they didn't take credit cards and we had about $7.12 between us--not nearly enough for the quantity of clams we intended to order), and sat at the counter. A bit sluggish from overindulging on crispy fried bivalves, we stepped outside and lingered by the a picnic table, gazing out at the Great Salt Marsh.

Now back to December. The RealFeel temperature is 19 degrees....

December 06, 2009

How much for the cute little grey one?

Just up the street and on the gritty side of the Cambridge/Somerville border (that would be Somerville), there is a place where old radiators go to die--or perhaps just hang out until they are adopted by some new family. There they sit--some with badly chipped coats of paint, and others with no paint at all--rusting on the side of Prospect Street. It's a hard knock life for old heating units.

To passersby, A1 New and Used Plumbing and Heating Supplies, near Union Square, is an odd sight. Part supply store, part orphanage, part zoo, and part plumbing museum--hundreds of radiators of all different shapes, sizes, and colors, sit crowded together behind a fence, as if they might escape and take out their vengence on neighborhood residents for upgrading to more modern means of keeping warm through the cold New England winters.

Apparently, they sell replacement toilet tank lids, too. They must keep those inside. Perhaps this is a topic for a future post as fascinating as this one.

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November 30, 2009

From the Bayou to the Stars

We found this on the side of the road...

Well, sort of. After emerging from the swamp, safe and sound, we boarded our bus for the return trip home. On the way, our driver took a slight detour, stopping by NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, which had a giant rocket in front of it, specifically, the first stage of this one.

We read a plaque about the Saturn V, LSB took photos of me standing in front of it while I imagined myself as an astronaut, and then we boarded our bus and headed back to NOLA to continue the culinary onslaught.

November 22, 2009


It wasn't like this. It was actually a pretty serene daytrip out of New Orleans to the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, otherwise known as the Honey Island Swamp. We picked up some cafe au lait (LSB) and coffee with chicory (me), and boarded the tour bus in front of our hotel. The bus drove through the still devastated 9th Ward and over Lake Ponchartrain, rows of shotgun houses in various states of disrepair eventually giving way to an immense expanse of fresh and brackish water on either side.

Our bus driver showed us where flooding from Hurricane Katrina had washed a boat into the brush. The boat was never reclaimed by its owner, but it was quickly being reclaimed by nature--becoming less visable with the passing of time. Things grow quickly down here.

A few miles from the Mississippi border, we were dropped off near the riverbank. We boarded a flat-bottomed boat with about 15 people and set off down the river and into the swamp.

There a river under all of that green

Though it was sunny and well over 70 degrees, it was winter in Southern Louisiana, and Captain Mike told us that most of the larger alligators were hibernating (LSB sighed longingly at the thought of hibernating through the winter months), while the smaller ones tended tough out the cold. He also told us we were Yankees and considered it some kind of punishment to have Yankees on his boat. He warmed up to us once he discovered we had only been in town for a couple of days and had already eaten nearly ever Louisiana delicacy imaginable--more than everyone else on the boat combined.

One of the tough little critters

We spent close to two-hours in the peaceful swamp, motoring through cypress trees draped with spanish moss and slowly passing egrets, herons, turtles of various shapes and sizes, and alligators relaxing on logs. Captain Mike pointed out where Katrina had changed the geography of the river and swept a poorly built fishing camp way down stream, while the well-built one next door held fast. Much to LSB's dismay, we did not see any nutria.

Did you hear something? Could it be...

We were deep in the swamp, when a dark shape emerged from the cypress trees. For a split second, he/it looked at me with terrifying bloodshot eyes. LSB screamed and he disappeared into the dark green nothingness...

November 17, 2009

A Streetcar To The Underworld

The Underworld is apparently closed on Sundays

We decided to get out of the French Quarter for a few hours and walk the streets of the Garden District. For all of the romance and nostalgia associated with the St. Charles Streetcar, it was slow, crowded, rickety, and loud. Then again, it was game day for the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the black and gold, fleur de lis-clad masses had to get to the Superdome somehow.

We started at the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1—the setting for many of Anne Rice’s vampire classics and featured in the film Interview With A Vampire. Strangely enough for a cemetery, it was closed on Sunday. After circling the high cement walls looking for a way in, we gave up and wandered through the streets--all historic mansions, magnolia trees, and wrought iron gates.

Ghosts of Mardi Gras Past

We had forgotten to write down the address for Anne Rice’s house, but passed a couple with a digital camera and guide book and figured they were probably looking for the same thing. It turns out that they had already been there and gave us the street number. We continued down the residential streets and stopped in front of her enormous mansion to take pictures. It was impressive, ornate, and, well, come to find out, not actually Anne Rice’s.

Anne doesn't live here (though I kind of wished she did)

After double-checking the house numbers, we realized that Anne’s house was on the other corner—smaller, more modest, and surrounded by a tangle of slightly overgrown trees and brush. Still, you could imagine Ms. Rice looking down from her glass and wrought iron balcony and imagining blood-thirsty vampires roaming around the neighborhood after dark. Either that or her bloodlust was fueled by envy of her neighbor's more impressive house.

She lives here, I think

November 13, 2009

The Ghost of Ignatius

Clap your hands for Dixieland!

We slipped on down to the Big Easy for a long weekend full of jazz, obscenely giant oysters, Sazeracs, cemeteries, etouffee, and the swamp. Keeping with my admittedly contrived habit of trying to read on theme, I, of course, brought a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces with me on the plane. This happened to be the same copy I purchased for LSB several years ago--probably declaring it "one of the best books ever!"--which still had her bookmark in it on page one-hundred-and-something. For those of you who haven't read it, it's really good. Don't listen to LSB.

"When my brain begins to reel from my literary
labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
- Ignatius J. Reilly
(John Kennedy Toole)

I'll get to the reptiles and dead people (and maybe a rocket, too), in a later post but for now, I'll touch upon my quest for the perfect Sazerac and a few other minor details, including the consumption of a massive amount of regional food. First, though, a confession. In spite of the fact that I developed a minor obsession with this drink over the past year or so, I don't think I had ever had a true Sazerac coctail prior to the trip. Upon arriving at the hotel, I headed to the rooftop bar and made up for lost time while waiting for LSB. My first authentic New Orleans Sazerac experience came in a small plastic cup that a gust of wind almost blew off the bar. My subsequent experiences here, here, and here, were better. How can you go wrong ordering a Sazerac at Sazerac Bar? You can't. I didn't.

The view after my Sazerac rooftop experience
nearly ended badly

And the food? Lawdy, what didn't we eat? We had alligator sausage (LSB had it fried, too), oysters on the half-shell, fried oysters, an oyster po-boy, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee, Crawfish O'Conner, a Ferdi Special, a muffaletta, and delicious powdery beignets.

A dozen and a half freshly-shucked oysters later...

Seems like we washed quite a bit of it down with Abita Turbodogs. Gosh, these people know how to eat. The one light, healthy thing we ordered--room-service oatmeal one morning--never made it our room for some reason. We blamed the loud, drunk people in the hotel room next to us.

Home of the Famous Ferdi Special

We heard some Dixieland at Fritzel's--down Bourbon Street a bit, past the strip clubs and loud 3-for-1 bars--and a mix of everything else wandering down Frenchmen Street in The Marigny, before settling in at the Spotted Cat to watch a band whose music was inspired by two of my favorite directions, the South and the East.

October 31, 2009

All together ooky

Altered Pumpkins (Ipswitch, MA)

Before LSB and I hit the haunted streets of Beacon Hill, I thought I would pull together some of the Halloweeniest images from the past year or so. Enjoy...

Union Square (Somerville, MA)

Menacing Towel Bunny (from a hotel in Houston, TX)

A Very Creepy Saint (Talloires, France)

If you had a B&B, wouldn't you hang
this in a guest room? (Woodstock, VT)

Christians & Pagans (Union Sq, Somerville, MA)

You don't get any ookier (Atlanta, GA)

Basement level with a view (Concord, MA)

Raw Meat + Bandaid = Gross

Their eyes are glowing!

I have lamb for hands! Muuuhahahaaa!

Happy Halloween.

October 27, 2009

Slaw Dogs on the Midnight Train

On my most recent trip to ATL, I actually left the airport.

After checking into my hotel--situated somewhere in the limbo between Midtown and Downtown--I ventured into the greasy heart of the city. I started with a polarizing landmark perched above a massive highway: The Varsity. Everyone I met in the Atlanta area was adamant that I either "must go" or "must avoid" the place. Apparently, it is known equally for the greasy food (as one person mentioned, even the soda has an oily film on it) and the curt service (What'll ya have!?). I went, promptly ordered the two slaw dog combo meal, and sat in a large, nearly empty room with rows of desks situated like a classroom facing a large-screen TV tuned to ESPN. My meal was a bit heavy on the slaw and light on the dog, but I didn't notice any grease in my cola.

Midnight Train (photo credit: Gladys & Ron)

The next stop on my slog through the Southern Belly involved chicken & waffles. Specifically, Gladys Knight and Ron Winans' Chicken & Waffles. I had the "Midnight Train" (4 large, fried chicken wings and one waffle) while Gladys Knight interviews and performances flashed on the various television screens around the room. Somehow the odd combination of sweet and savory, greasy and syrupy seemed to do the trick.

Step off

We spent an afternoon wandering through crowds of people repeatedly trying to take flash photos of fish at the aquarium. If the picture-taking behavior of the aquarium masses are any indication of the human race's inability to learn and adapt, then we are all doomed. We were also reminded by a well-placed sign to step off the (slow-) moving walkway at the Atlanta Aquarium lest our brains be dashed on the fake rocks ahead. That said, it was a pretty cool aquarium and I took a lot of dark, blurry pictures of fish.

Turner Field made funky by Picasa

LSB and I were in town for a friend's wedding, and were generously invited to an Atlanta Brave's game the day before the ceremony and reception. Unfortunately, the Brave's had just fallen short a few days earlier in their attempt to land a wild card spot in the playoffs, so there was a touch of melancholy at Turner Field that afternoon. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the afternoon at the ballpark, drank tall boys of lawnmower beers in the upper deck, and Tomahawk Chopped away any guilt we felt about supporting a racial stereotype. The game went to extra innings.

I walked through this gate and
have regretted it ever since

October 13, 2009

Bjartur of Heart Rock Farm

half a flock (the ladies)

A few years ago, I came across a book that piqued my curiousity. It was published in 1946, helped its auther win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and then quickly disappeared from print for several decades before being rediscovered by the literary world...and eventually me.

The setting

Independent People tells the bleak and beautiful (but mostly bleak) story of Bjartur of Summerhouses, a sheep farmer, poet, and father stubbornly trying to eke out a life for himself in early 20th-century Iceland--self-sufficient and beholden to no man. To be honest, reading this book was a bit like Bjartur's life--an endless slog through a rough, snow and ice-covered landscape. Though, in a good way, if that's possible.

A handful of sheep snacks makes
for one
photogenic ewe.

Which brings me to the topic of today's post: my brother, who lives with his family in his own tiny little Iceland, in Erie County, just Southeast of Buffalo, NY. He, too, lives on a farm of sorts (dubbed Heart Rock Farm), has sheep of the Icelandic variety, is independently-minded, strives for self-sufficiency, and lives in a really cold and snowy part of the world. However, as my brother--who is not actually named Bjartur--is neither brutally stubborn nor an epic poet (his wife is the writer), that's about as far as I can carry the comparison with the fictional Bjartur.

In addition to the 5 human residents (my brother, sister-in-law, two nieces, and a nephew), Heart Rock Farm is home to about a dozen of the wooly buggers, with names such as Nora, Thunder, Cassie, and Rainbow, in addition to a whole bunch of chickens, a couple of cats, a rabbit, a dog, an old fashioned tractor, and a wooden cider press. There is a small stream, full of salamanders, that runs through a forest on the hill just beyond the barn and sheep pasture.

Scary, evil-looking rams (made possible by
cool special effects on Picasa)

I don't recall there being salamanders at Summerhouses.