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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Cold Comfort Food

How to shake off the frigid weather from the inside out

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Cold weather is impressively thorough. We wrap ourselves in space-age synthetics, confident that we’ll move through the bluster in a cocoon of warmth—and then, during the short sprint from front door to car, a malicious wind finds its way past velcro and zippers and stabs like an icy dagger.

You can’t trust walkways and streets, sheeted as they may be with invisible ice; you can’t trust your car battery to yield enough cranking power. But it’s the wind that’ll get you, blasting your chest into such a frigid state that you’re aware of the size and location of each internal organ.

Hence the primal urge to warm them. They can only be thawed from within, which is why this is the time of year for thick lentil soup, spicy chili, creamy hot cocoa.

Food takes on a special urgency when the thermometer hovers at the single- digits end. “I’m going to need some real food when I get home tonight,” a friend offered earlier today. “Something my mom used to make.”

Which is why the Comfort Food category heads the list. It’s what warmed you in the morning before you trudged off to school, imprisoned in layers of old- dog-redolent wool. Excluding oatmeal, which shouldn’t be consumed in any form other than cookies, those breakfast and dinner items still pack a warming punch.

Flapjacks, for instance. Although more properly enshrined in the carbohydrates category (see below), they radiate their own breakfast mystique. A sweet, delicious tower of puffy pan-bread, the purpose of which is to offer maple syrup (real maple syrup, please) a toothsome conveyance mouthwards.

Corrupted over the years by such ghastly concepts as frozen pancakes, that horrific blend of corn syrup and fake butter called Mrs. Butterworth’s, and whatever it is that McDonald’s puts on a plate, real, made-from-scratch pancakes survive, their only competition coming from real, made-from-scratch waffles.

What else did your mother plunk in front of you? Meatloaf would be the archetype, though mine may be the last generation during which moms actually made the stuff; still, meatloaf carries a “comfort food” designation in its DNA. But it’s not the meatloaf: It’s the gravy.

Which brings us to our next category: Thick Food. Which only makes sense. Thick food coats the palate, prolonging the flavor. Cold weather senses are dulled and can use the help. Thick food that’s warm, like soup, changes viscosity, like good 10-40 oil, and begins its hot-from-the-pot journey with an eager flow that slows as the foodstuff cools and congeals en route to your gullet.

By the time that split-pea soup, or mushroom gravy, or chicken-and-biscuits reaches your belly, it’s doing business, burnishing the space with its remaining warmth, offering a satisfying sense of fullness.

And there’s no better end-of-the-day treat than a mug of hot cocoa, the real thing, a 50/50 mix of chocolate and cocoa, sweetened only to the near edge of bitterness, thickened with an egg yolk, topped with whipped cream. A drink that’s versatile enough even to serve as breakfast when necessary.

As noted above, Big Carbohydrates are the third major category. Though not necessarily as instantly warming as Thick Food, they promote a sense of fullness. Toss some tagliatelle in garlic oil, flake it with asiago cheese, and your stomach will thank you. Make it a carbonara and I guarantee the warmth will wander to the rest of your torso. For a sense of snowbound superfetation, roast some potatoes to go with it.

Fourth on the list: Booze. This is the time of year when you crave warm drinks, but certain alcoholic beverages do their temperature-raising work at room temperature: cognac, for example. Better still, aquavit or grappa, which even warm the extreme ends of your fingers and toes.

Mulled wine seems to diminish the pleasure of the grape—maybe its because I can practically see all that good alcohol burning off—so I offer a cold-weather classic as substitute: hot buttered rum. A character in Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage has a splendid description of the effect of the stuff, properly prepared:

“It ain’t a temporary drink, like most drinks. That’s on account of the butter. No matter how much you drink of anything else, it’ll wear off in a day or so; but you take enough hot buttered rum and it’ll last you pretty near as long as a coonskin cap.”

Although the accompanying recipe was for rum by the bucketful, I’ve worked it down to these by-the-glass proportions:

2 oz. good dark rum

8 oz. cider

1 clove

1 shard of a cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon butter

lemon twist

Set the cider to boil. Throw everything else into a large, sturdy mug. Pour the boiling cider on top. Drink quickly.

Drink it quickly enough—and refill your mug—and suddenly you won’t feel so compelled to deal with the frozen pipes or the drafts whistling in beneath the doors. Pace yourself correctly and you can make otherwise endless-seeming February go by in a buttery blur.

If none of the above seems to make sense, there’s another alternative. Find yourself a table in restaurant with a fireplace and a friendly menu, and settle in.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Chameleon on the Lake (251 Stafford Bridge Road, Saratoga Springs) is hosting its third annual “Married with Singles” pre-Valentine’s Day party at 8 PM on Feb. 9. Married couples are invited to bring their single friends, and new friendships are, of course, encouraged. With belly dancers and a tarot card reader on hand, how can you miss? Stations of the restaurant’s signature food will be provided, along with entertainment by the band Groove Syndicate—all for $30 per person. Reservations are required, so call 581-3928 or visit www.cha meleononthelake.com. . . . What better way to celebrate your special someone than with a wine-tasting event paired with aphrodisiac foods? That’s the theme of the Feb. 5 dinner at Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady), with a five-course meal and an international selection of wines. Oysters, of course, with a sparkler, as well as braised lobster, espresso-cured beef tenderloin and a finale of a chocolate ménage a trois. Reservations are required. The dinner starts at 7 PM and costs $55 plus tax and tip; for more info, call 374-0100. . . . Ready for a trip into hell? Ric Orlando, chef-owner of the New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties, announces the first-ever Hell Night at 6:30 PM on Feb. 2. It’s a hot-luck wine dinner in which each course is hotter than the last, with added hot sauce available if your eyeballs aren’t perspiring yet. And the wines are presented in reverse order, with the biggest reds to start and sweet whites to ease the pain at the end of it all. Courses include smoked duck and sausage gumbo, lamb vindaloo and Trinidad oxtails from hell with a red hot habanero mash; to finish, hottest of all, a dessert of passion fruit-habanero jiggle. Dinner is $49 per person plus tax and tip; reserve seats by calling (845) 246-0900. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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