Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! I spent today getting my frizzy, gray hair dyed so I look much less like a Halloween witch now. Then mom and I went to lunch at Downey's House. I actually ordered something besides the meatball hoagie: the steak hoagie with onion rings for a side. Yum! It's odd, but my stomach, which has been struggling with digestive distress all week, feels much better after a huge helping of greasy, fried, fatty food.

Best of all, it has not yet rained too hard where I've been, just a drizzle/mist so far. Hopefully it'll stay that way for the trick-or-treaters. I've resisted the call of the candy in the pumpkin, but after 8 pm tonight, those Hershey's bars are fair game for snacks!

Have a safe and fun Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. My billing issue with UPMC is still not resolved.

2. Tomorrow is Halloween! We bought a bag of Hershey's milk chocolate bars to give out to the usual one to three trick-or-treaters. There are only 3 houses on our side of the street, and it's a pretty darn busy street, plus our neighbors are hardly ever home (in 6 Halloweens I've never seen their lights on) so we do not get many trick-or-treaters. No one wants to cross the busy street for one house that's not even/barely visible from the street because the previous owners planted a gazillion trees and shrubs. I guess after 8 pm tomorrow I'll have lots of chocolate bars to eat!

3. We made a huge batch of vegetable soup in the crock pot last Sunday. It's good but after we ate it on Monday, my stomach felt odd. I told SP he has to finish the soup. I think my stomach is bothered by canned tomatoes every so often.

4. I've been sticking with the leftover macaroni & cheese, beer braised pork, sauteed green beans, and pureed cauliflower.

5. I thought I had a lot of thoughts, but right this moment I feel thought-less, so that's it for this week's Thursday Thoughts!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hazelnut Kitchen

When we started researching restaurants for our vacation, we felt like we were going to have a difficult time finding places we would enjoy. There were 2 places we definitely wanted to try and figured we'd enjoy: Stonecat Cafe (which I wrote about yesterday) and Hazelnut Kitchen. We made reservations at Hazelnut Kitchen for Saturday evening.
Hazelnut Kitchen is in Trumansburg, which was about a 25-30 minute drive for us from our hotel in Ithaca. Trumansburg is another cute and quaint town in the Finger Lakes area. We parked and walked about a block to the restaurant. It's cheery and cozy inside. I loved the bread plates and the cloth napkins - SP had a different design on his bread plate and every table had different napkin designs.

The menu is pretty limited, with 5-6 first courses and 5-6 second courses, and frequently changes. The evening we dined there, they featured a special 3 course prix fixe menu with an optional cider pairing. SP Chose the prix fixe plus cider while I ordered off the printed menu.
As usual, I felt slightly disappointed with bottled, not fresh brewed, iced tea, but at least it was a good brand and unsweetened.
SP's first cider was served in a champagne flute. Eve's Cidery-Northern Spy. I didn't taste any of them because I don't like ciders, but he enjoyed all three of them.
We were served warm, hearty, brown bread served with a tomato butter. This was delicious!
I usually do not butter my bread/rolls, but when it's a flavored butter, I do. The butter melted into the bread.
SP's first course was Sweet Potato & Apple Soup with Toasted Marshmallow and Pistachios. I tried his marshmallow and it was so soft and gooey and delicious! He likes soup more than I do and he likes these flavors more than I do, so he thought the soup was fantastic if a bit too hearty and filling for him as a first course. But, earlier in the day, we ended up with a larger and more filling brunch than intended, so we both were not as hungry as we could have/should have been.
My first course was a huge salad: Honeycrisp Apple Salad with grilled endive, concord grapes, shaved white chocolate, pistachios, basil vinaigrette.
It was a different choice for me, and I really enjoyed the crisp, crunch of the apple sticks. The tiny grapes were purple and popped in your mouth. I have not had concord grapes in years - they are the grape flavor from my childhood. There was lime juice as part of the dressing and it was a nice compliment to the fruit. It was a large first course for me, and SP helped me eat some.
SP's second course: Grilled Pork Loin with Smoked Apple Butter, Blue Corn Grits, and Braised Collards. It was paired with Red Byrd Orchard Cider-Workman Semi Dry. He said the pork was perfectly cooked and juicy and flavorful. He loves apple butter so that was a nice accompaniment, and he likes the collards and grits but he couldn't finish everything so he took some back to the hotel and ate it for breakfast the next day. He said it was a great autumn dish.
I ordered gnocchi with seasonal vegetables. There were a lot of vegetables: tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, onions, carrots. The gnocchi were seared on the side. This was delicious! And big. I kept eating and eating and eating but I just couldn't finish it even though I wanted to. I took my leftovers back to the hotel and SP finished them for breakfast the next day along with his pork.
I looked at the dessert menu, but nothing really caught my attention, plus we both were pretty darn stuffed, so I decided to help SP finish his third course: Apple Cider Flan with Cider Caramel, Walnuts, and Oatmeal Cookie. It was served with Black Diamond Cider - Slate Stone in a tiny jelly jar.

SP ate the cookie since I think oatmeal cookies are gross. I also could have done without the walnuts (my preference for nut-free desserts) but the flan was light and custardy and delicious and lightly flavored with apple cider (not overpowering).

Hazelnut Kitchen was our favorite meal of the entire trip. The exposed brick wall, mustard yellow walls, mix & match bread plates and napkins on the tables, tiny pumpkins on the table, being able to glimpse the hustle & bustle of the kitchen area from our table  - it was homey and cozy and inviting and cheery. Our server was friendly and checked on garlic for me, the meal was nicely paced. A lovely vacation dinner date. We would definitely return and next time, we'll be sure to not eat a big brunch beforehand.

Hazelnut Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stonecat Cafe

Several friends/co-workers, when they found out we were going to visit the Finger Lakes area, suggested Stonecat Cafe for dinner. The reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon were pretty darn favorable, so we took the advice to make reservations. Ours were for Friday evening. We were staying in Ithaca that night and it was about a 40 minute drive to Hector, NY. So it's a bit out of the way. It seemed pretty darn far as we were driving because of the twisty, rural roads with no traffic.

We eventually arrived. There's a fantastic view of the lake, but sadly, aside form not being seated near the window, it's the time of year when the sun sets earlier and earlier so it was dark by the time we were dining. Stonecat Cafe is wheelchair accessible, but once inside, there is a pretty steep ramp to get up to the dining area.

We didn't order wine or cocktails, just iced teas. We started with a salad:
Organic Field Greens Salad with caramelized walnuts, dried sour cherries, and instead of roasted garlic vinaigrette, they brought balsamic and olive oil. We also added the chevre to the salad. I don't know what's happening to me lately, but in Portland the salads were amazing, the salads we had in the Finger Lakes area were amazing, and some of the salads we've had recently here in Pittsburgh have been amazing. I don't know if my tastes are changing or if restaurants are really stepping up their salad game, but this was another delicious salad. Just a few ingredients but so well executed.
SP really wanted the Pub Plate, so we ordered it. Grilled maple-juniper sausage, cheese, pickled onions, a marmalade (the menu online says strawberry-onion, but I'm not sure that's what we had). and bread:
To my surprise, I really liked the sausage. And the cheese, of course. Pickled onions are one of SP's new obsessions so he really enjoyed these.
I order the Scallops special of the day. I think it was a fig sauce, barley (and spelt?) with apple and walnuts, and green beans. The green beans were terrific - a nice crunch but not raw. The scallops were cooked nicely. The barley salad was good, but it's not really my thing, so I ate just a bit of it. SP loved it so he ate a lot of it off my plate!
His entree was Duck. I can't remember if it was the duck on the menu or a special duck of the day. It came with roasted fingerlings and green beans. He said his duck was cooked perfectly, he loved the green beans, and he liked his potatoes, but he much prefers barley to potato so he had a few bites of potato and then focused on my barley salad.
We shared an Upside Down Pear Cake for dessert. It was very tasty, although I could have done without the almonds (personal reference, I don't like nuts in my desserts) but SP likes nuts a lot.

Stonecat Cafe is a casual, relaxed place for a meal. The food is quite good and I like that they use a lot of local ingredients and change the menu frequently. Our server was friendly and happy to answer questions but at times we felt service was a wee bit slow. SP's iced tea refills were quite slow so it's a good thing there was a carafe of water on the table. It was crowded, so definitely make a reservation.

Stonecat Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 27, 2014

Havarti~Apple~Ham Tart

Pumpkin spice anything and everything seems to get all the attention in autumn, but personally, I prefer apple, with or without spice. In this case apple with cheese and ham in tart form.
Initially I wanted to make this Epoisses, Ham, and Apple Tart. I figured we'd have to go to Whole Foods for epoisses but with any luck our Market District would have it. Of course I wasn't sure what epoisses cheese really is. So I did research.
It's a pungent, cows milk cheese. It's a soft red-orange color. And it's very, very soft. The word pungent worried me. I like to think I am a lover of cheese, but truthfully, I do not, in fact, love all cheese. Like that appenzeller cheese SP once brought home. The smell was a huge turn off and the taste was... well, not to my liking. So I started to have second thoughts about making this tart. Stinky cheese tart didn't sound appealing.
Next I looked up epoisses substitutes. One suggestion is muenster, but I am not a huge fan of muenster. The other suggested substitutes are also stinky cheeses. So I put this dinner idea on the back burner. Then, my October Food Network Magazine (finally!) showed up and inside was a pizza suggestion: apple, havarti, ham, onion, and thyme pizza. Huh. So I re-suggested this tart to SP for dinner but using havarti instead of a stinky cheese.
I'm so happy we ended up making this. It's delicious. It's also rich. We ate it with a spring mix salad, which is a great side because you need something to balance the rich tart. The havarti melts nicely and is so creamy and smooth. Salty bite of ham. The sweet apple. Flaky tart crust. 
Here's our version:

Make the tart as directed in the Epoisses, Ham, & Apple Tart recipe.

8 oz havarti, cubed
1/4 lb sliced rosemary ham, cut into small pieces
one apple, peeled & thinly sliced (we used Fuji)

For egg-cream filling, make as directed in the Epoisses, Ham, & Apple Tart recipe. We omitted the salt. We happen to have white pepper but if we hadn't, we would have used black pepper.

We only have a 9 inch tart pan, so that's what we used. At first we scaled down the filling because the recipe is for an 11 inch tart pan, but it didn't seem to be enough filling when we started pouring it into the shell, so we ended up making & using the full amount. Somehow, it all fit inside the tart. Of course, our shell cracked when it baked, and some of our liquid filling was lost when it seeped out the tart crack and then out the bottom of the tart pan since it has a removable bottom. So maybe that's why it all fit!

We didn't use all of our apple slices because we didn't think they would fit but next time, we would use them all. 

Since we used rosemary ham , we didn't use any other herb/seasoning (other than nutmeg & pepper). We get our rosemary ham at Market District but not at the deli counter, at the counter where the cheeses and prosciutto are. If we used a plain ham, we would sprinkle thyme in with the filling.

Next time I would add a wee bit of diced onion.

Next time we might also try it as a pizza - the crust should be tasty but really it's just a vehicle for the havarti-ham-apple combination that is so darn delicious!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cellar in Corning

For our second, and last, dinner in Corning, we decided to try The Cellar. After our disastrous meal at MSBC, I was really hesitant to try another brew pub/family restaurant in the area, so we decided to try this "modern, fusion restaurant." We made reservations using OpenTable. Inside, it's dimly lit. Upscale. When we were seated, the hostess left us with a tablet to explore all the wine options as well as beers and cocktails. You could search the wine by white/rose/red, by region, by grape - we got a little geeked out by it, exploring all the possible search approaches and such. I think we played, I mean, thought about what to order for about 10 minutes.
SP chose a Sazerac (rye, absinthe, bitters, simple syrup, orange peel) and I chose a glass of 2012 Steltzner Bordeaux Blend. We both liked our choices and stuck to one alcoholic beverage each.

The menu is comprised of tapas (small plates), salads, flatbreads, and entrees. We ordered several dishes and shared everything. We also ate everything.
SP chose Pickles - an assortment of seasonal vegetables. I'm not a fan of pickled veggies, so he got to keep this all for himself. He loves pickled veggies, so this was a big hit.
Lamb Lollipops with chevre, fig demi-glace, crispy prosciutto, and mint. For me, these were the highlight of the meal. Delicious lamb, a local goat cheese, lots of tasty sauce, a bit of mint, and crispy, salty prosciutto chips. Yes, I ate two of the three lollipops. Honestly, SP is lucky he got one of them!
House Salad with mixed greens, caramelized walnuts, tart cherries, balsamic vinaigrette. A very tasty salad, dressed just right.
Pumpkin Ravioli (half order) - spiced pumpkin, smoked tomato cream, pepitas. This was very good, but the flavors were pretty... bold, maybe, is the word I am looking for, and a half order was just right to share. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed them as much if it had been a full order just for me.
Trying to get a photo of the inside of the ravioli. I really liked the smoked tomato cream sauce. Smoky. Spicy from the pumpkin. A great autumn dish.
Day Boat Sea Scallops (half order) - spiced New England pumpkin puree, pear & fennel compote, chestnut foam, toasted pecans. Another very fall-like entree. The scallops were nicely cooked but a little thinner than I am used to for day boat scallops. The pumpkin-pear-pecan-chestnut flavors worked nicely together and we scooped up all the sauce.
We shared an order of the daily special flatbread. It had apples, goat cheese, and sage, and maybe some kind of apple cider reduction but I might be thinking of another, similar flatbread we had on the trip. It was very tasty. The flatbread was nice and crispy and chewy and I really liked the crumbled sage with the apples and cheese. It doesn't look like there was a lot of sage, but it was just enough to flavor each bite and not be too much of a good thing.
For dessert, we ordered a medium press pot of coffee. It was 17 ounces, so enough for us to each have a cup, which is all either of us wants right after a meal. It came with a small hourglass timer so we knew when to press the plunger.
We were too full to each order dessert, so we had to negotiate a shared dessert. I didn't want pumpkin cannoli because I had enough pumpkin with the ravioli and scallops. SP isn't a fan of s'mores (but I LOVE them!) so I agreed to pass on the s'mores. We ended up agreeing on the Caramel Apple Creme Brulee. It was interesting. I had not had a creme brulee with chunks of stuff in it before. This had thin slices of apples in the creme brulee. I'm not sure I really like having chewable chunks of fruit in my creme brulee. It was tasty, but I think I prefer straight, creamy creme brulee. It was nice for something different, and the creme brulee itself was very good.

Overall, we really enjoyed our meal at The Cellar. Our server was friendly and didn't rush us. We enjoyed all of our food. It is a great place for a date night on vacation dinner. I liked enjoying a little bit of a lot of dishes. If we are back in Corning, we would definitely return to The Cellar.

  The Cellar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

1. Let's start off with a rant.

My billing problem with UPMC is still not resolved.

  • They never faxed the form I asked them to fax (I asked on 9/26) because they decided the problem wasn't the form (even though 2 insurance companies said it was). 
  • Then on Oct. 1 they told me they were working with insurer #2 to resolve the issue and it would take about a week and they'd be in touch. 
  • Meanwhile on Oct. 6 they started calling me weekly, requesting payment and when I explain the issue and ask why they are calling me about an unresolved issue, they say, oops, sorry we don't read the notes, we just call. Then I get frustrated and angry and raise my voice and ask what they are doing to resolve this and why can't they fax a form and they say, oh, we don't have to take this/listen to you. Click. Call terminated.
  • On Oct. 17, UPMC offered me an explanation for why insurer #2 won't cover it. It's different from the explanation insurers #1 & #2 tell me. I said fine. 
  • So I called insurer #2 for clarification on how the 2 insurances work together so that I don't find myself in this kind of nightmare again and I explained what UPMC told me. 
  • Insurer #2 told me that what UPMC just told me is incorrect, that my original understanding of how the insurances work is correct, and that they would cover this bill even if insurer #1 didn't but the reason why they didn't this time is because of the missing form that UPMC won't fax to insurers #1 & #2. 
  • Insurer #2 can't make payment on a claim that insurer #1 processed with no patient liability. 
  • It was processed with no patient liability because UPMC didn't send the form to insurer #1. 
  • Insurer #2 now has a 3rd insurance party involved (local office of insurer #2). 
  • On Oct. 17 #3 sent UPMC a fax and asked for the form and some other info to be faxed to them. 
  • On Oct. 21 insurer #2 called me to say that UPMC had not yet responded to the fax from #3 but that they'd keep me posted.

So sorry if I am super frustrated and raising my voice and yelling and being a bitch to UPMC reps, but really? Not faxing one stupid form that has been requested numerous times by the patient and 2 insurance companies and now by a 3rd insurance party involved in this issue? Not ever calling me back after supposedly investigating on several occasions since August 4? Calling me weekly - no make that harassing me weekly to pay a bill that 3 insurers say I am not liable for? A bill that 3 insurers say is illegal for them to be trying to get me to pay because it violates terms of a contract they signed? Deciding that you don't like my angry tone and bitchy voice which are a direct result of your harassing me and your incompetence and your inability to resolve an issue I called to your attention on August 4? Thinking you, a billing department, know more about how my insurances work than the actual insurances?

Not to mention that the customer rep for insurer #2 has told me several times that UPMC has been unwilling and difficult to work with on this issue.

Yeah. Awesome customer service there, UPMC. Jerks. If it was a $20 co-pay, I'd pay it just to be rid of this headache. I was actually cradling my head in my hands last Friday when I was on the phone with various people. But it's not a small amount and given that my insurers have repeatedly told me I am not liable because UPMC didn't submit the paperwork to make me liable, well, I'm not inclined to pay it when it's more than the cable bill, more than the internet bill, more than the gas bill, more than the electric bill - you get the idea.

2. Last night we watched Snowpiercer. I enjoyed it a lot, and so did SP. I tend to not think too much when I watch a movie, but at the end, when a character who had nothing emerged wearing a warm, fur coat and big, furry snow boots, I asked aloud,"How'd he get the coat & boots? Where'd they come from?" SP shot me this withering look and incredulously responded,"THAT'S you're biggest problem with this movie? Where he got the coat & boots?!"

3. I am so excited for the finale of Boardwalk Empire this Sunday! I can't wait to see how it all ends.

4. I like watching House Hunters but sometimes the hunters annoy the heck out of me. One of the recent episodes I watched featured an older couple with 3 dogs. They "needed" at least a 3,000+ square foot house, at least 3.5 bathrooms, and a pool (or space to put one in) for one of the dogs. How can 2 people need that much space? That many bathrooms? And how can you possibly think it's reasonable/makes financial sense to put in an in ground pool for a dog?

5. I need a cookie to take my mind off this UPMC billing issue problem. And a cup of tea. And maybe another blood pressure pill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Poppleton Bakery & Cafe

We took a break from our day at Corning Museum of Glass to meet SP's cousin for lunch. We met him at Poppleton Bakery & Cafe. It's a cute little bakery and cafe serving soups, salads, crepes, sandwiches, and baked treats. They also have bubble tea.
SP ordered a Cranberry Chicken Crepe (cranberry cream cheese, chicken, romaine, and herb almonds). For his side he got carrot chips.
He liked it a lot - and that's all he can remember about it now, 2 weeks after we were there!
It was just the right size for him at lunch. I ordered Pimiento & Cheese Panini with Chicken and for my side, broccoli salad.
It was a tasty panini. The pimiento cheese was a little different from what I am accustomed to. I overheard it described as cheddar cheeses and pepper jack cheese melted together. The pepper jack gave it a nice peppery taste, but it was a little different than pimiento taste. I really liked it, though. Ooey, gooey cheese with a bit of a peppery bite. The broccoli salad was good, too. Tiny florets with tiny bits of chopped onion, tiny shreds of cheese, and a very light vinaigrette.
SP got a scone for later in the day. I never got a photo of it so I guess it was tasty. I got a chocolate chip biscotti and ate it the next day while we were driving over to Ithaca. It was big, a harder rather than softer biscotti, and very good. Lots of chips.

This is a great spot for a lunch in Corning. It's cute & cheerful inside. The people were really friendly and chatted with us. All of our food was tasty. Of course the best part was visiting with SP's cousin - we hadn't seen him in 3 years so it was great to talk and catch up.

  Poppleton Pastries on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Market Street Brewing Company

The first stop on our vacation around the Finger Lakes area was in Corning. We arrived around dinner time after an afternoon of driving and stopping at Kinzua Bridge. After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we headed into town. We had no reservations, no plan, we just had our restaurant research list. We decided to try Market Street Brewing Company.

MSBC has 3.5 stars on Yelp and 88% like on Urbanspoon. So we thought it would be OK bar food. I have no idea how the ratings are that favorable because our experience was awful.
  • It is wheelchair accessible, but there's a bit of a difficult lip at the door and a heavy door that likes to automatically swing shut. The hostess stood there and watched us, doing nothing to help, until the bartender said something to her, at which point in time we had managed to make it over the lip and not get squashed by the door.
  • The hostess then said she had only a booth available, and since it was late and we were tired and hungry we said OK. It was a bit tight getting through the bar area to the booth in the bar area, and as SP & I paused to figure out how best to situate me (transfer me into the booth or just roll up to the end of the table), we were blocking a guy who wanted to get buy, the hostess seemed clueless, there seemed to be general confusion around me as I eyed the booth, and a server started asking the hostess why she wasn't seating us at one of 2 available tables in the next room. ? Why on earth would you put a wheelchair at a booth when a table is available? Why on earth would you put a wheelchair in a tight pathway when there are open and more spacious seats?
  • After we were finally seated at a table, it took 5-10 minutes for our server to come over. She told us the soup of the day and took our drink orders. I asked if the iced tea was fresh (having been burned by awful pre-made crap at gastropubs/brew pubs before) and was told yes. She asked if we wanted unsweetened, we said yes, but asked for sugar on the side.
  • 5-10 minutes later our iced tea arrived. Without sugar.
  • We had to flag down another server to get sugar because our server was MIA/not looking our way when she did walk by.
  • I ordered the soup on the day (Tomato Gouda) and our server said,"Oh, I was just in the kitchen and there's just a little bit left, I don't think there's enough left for a cup of soup, it didn't look like it." ? Well, is there or isn't there? Are you going to check for sure? Or do you not want to be bothered? Is it too much effort? I was flabbergasted, as was SP, and we sat there staring at each other while she stared at us before she said,"Sorry, I shouldn't have told you about it since we're out." ?
SP ordered Mahi Tacos - fried fish filets, creamy jalapeno slaw, corn relish, flour tortillas, topped with zesty remoulade. Isn't it supposed to be fillet not filet? Maybe that was the problem. Filet vs fillet. He did not expect 2 skinny fried fish sticks on 2 small tortillas with a spoonful of corn 'relish' and a plop of sauce. I'm not sure where the jalapeno slaw was. The sweet potato fries, which cost extra (I think), were limp and soggy and gross. If you picked one up, it drooped down.
I ordered MSBC Grilled Cheese - asiago bread baked with smoked gouda and monterey jack, red onion, diced tomato, and basil mayo. I have no idea why a grilled cheese description would say baked, but let's ignore that. I don't think mayo belongs on a grilled cheese, so I asked for no mayo. Given the level of competence exhibited by the time I ordered this, I was afraid to push my luck and also ask for no onions, so I picked them out. The bottom slice of my sandwich was the heel of the bread and I dislike heels so that wasn't too great. I chose chips and salsa. I assumed salsa meant tomato salsa, not corn and black bean, and the menu didn't specify beyond the word 'salsa' so that was another strike since I despise corn and black beans. As for the tortillas... what a pathetic amount. The above photo is before any were eaten. Nine chips.

My final verdict:
  • Terrible, lazy, unaware hostess
  • Terrible, lazy, uninterested server
  • Awful food
  • Sadly small food portions
  • Poor menu descriptions
Given the service we experienced, we left wondering where the adults were at the establishment. The hostess and server were young, but that's no excuse for the service we received.

The atmosphere was more of a King's Family Restaurant or Eat'n Park than brew pub. There were a lot of kids there at 7 pm on a Wednesday.

We would not return to MSBC if we are again in Corning, NY.

Market Street Brewing Co. & Restaurant on Urbanspoon