Monday, November 30, 2009


Under the influence of the moon, a little crazy. That's the definition of lunatique in the Petit Robert. And I learned this definition because of the signs I saw many years ago on Parisian doorways: chien lunatique.

The moon last Friday evening, seen from out in the vineyard.

It's the French version of "beware of dog." I suppose it's because you can't predict the behavior of a dog that's under the influence of the moon, so you had better watch out. Except most of the time the dog in question was a little tiny fur ball, hardly capable of anything more than a bit of aggressive yipping.

But I do remember, too, seeing many huge dogs in Paris. And knowing how small Parisian apartments can be, I was always amazed that Parisians would own the likes of German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and even the occasional Saint Bernard.

I suppose our Callie is a bit lunatique, but in a good way. She likes to jump up on visitors and lavish them with kisses. And there's no sign outside our house; consider yourself warned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saint James Church

So, back to Vermont. I showed you earlier that stained glass window. Now I'll show you the church it's from.

St. James church, Arlington, Vermont.

It looks like a very typical church for this area. I saw a several with the same four points on the steeple as we drove around. I have no idea what style this is, so if any of you know anything about it, I'd appreciate learning.

The church's front door.

The church had a graveyard right outside. The old stones were pretty and the grounds looked well tended. I didn't walk in to look at dates or anything, so I don't know how old they are. I'll bet some are from the eighteenth century.

Inside the church.

This was our first stop in Vermont and I think we spent about fifteen minutes walking around looking. After that we drove up to Manchester. It was mid-day and we were feeling hungry, so Lorraine suggested a spot she knew for lunch.

The cemetery.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Few Holiday Shots

Another Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. Where do the years go? If you celebrated the day, I hope you had a good one. We certainly did.

A holiday gift basket with wine, pâté from the Dordogne, and freshly picked cèpes (mushrooms).

We had friends S. and U. over for our traditional T-Day leg of lamb. You can read about our lamb tradition here and see photos of the leg before it was roasted. We asked our friends to bring their dogs along for the day. Callie had a great time hanging with Mr. Moe (a yellow labrador) and Bambou (a collie/shepherd mix).

Our guests S. and U. just before the lamb is served.

Lunch began with apéritifs: kirs royales made with sparkling Vouvray and a cassis liqueur. The cassis was special because it was home made. I took the berries from our bush out back this past summer and macerated them in a sugar syrup and alcohol mix for a few months. We pretty much drank all of that with two bottles of the sparkling stuff.

The roasted leg of lamb. Yum.

Along with the kirs we ate smoked trout rolls stuffed with céleri remoulade (we've done this before and we really like it) and bacon-wrapped prunes. Tasty!

We served the lamb with its pan drippings and dijon mustard. Along with that we had flageolets (beans) and glazed carrots. Some of us had a cheese course, then we had a dessert of pumpkin pie that I had made on Wednesday served with some lightly whipped cream.

The wines were varied in age and style. We started with a 2002 Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux), moved on to a 2008 Bergerac, and then to a local Touraine Primeur (2009) from right across the river.

I got some photos early on, but as the day progressed the camera got forgotten. So I have no photos of our dessert and none of the dogs! I did manage to call home and exchange Thanksgiving greetings with friends and family, and I'm sure I sounded quite festive on the phone.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stained Glass In Vermont

So, I guess I'll start with the Vermont photos. On my last day in Albany, my friend Lorraine suggested we drive over to Vermont. Just north of Bennington, in the Green Mountains, is the small town of Manchester, known for its many outlet stores.

The Deming family must have been well known then.

We drove over in the morning and stopped here and there before eating lunch in Manchester. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our first stop was in Arlington, at a very small church that looked interesting. I liked the names on the stained glass windows.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

La Tronçonneuse

The chainsaw. This is a used saw, but it's new to me. My current saw is a good Black & Decker electric model and it has served me well. But there are some jobs where I feel I need more power than the electric saw can muster. A gas powered saw, and one that's slightly bigger, will come in handy around the yard.

Our new gas-powered saw.

Since our friend Jean-Luc died last month, his partner has decided to move into a smaller home. She doesn't want to deal with the yard and other maintenance in her current house all alone. As a consequence, she's had to dispose of a lot of his things. Jean-Luc did construction and renovation work and their basement was filled with all sorts of tools.

He had a table saw, a drill press, at least four or five different electric drills, a wide array of lawn and garden tools, and a large collection of carpentry and masonry tools. Jean-Luc always had the right tool for the right job.

Many of the tools had been spoken for, of course, by family and business partners. We asked our friend about the chainsaw and she said it was available. So we bought it. In a way, it will remind us of Jean-Luc, as do the many projects that he worked on around our house.

And now I will have no excuse for not taking down that old apple tree in the back yard and cutting it up for firewood.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

For The Birds

It's been windy and wet these past few days. There have not been a lot of opportunities to get out there with the camera. Especially since the daylight is diminishing and the overcast skies make it even darker.

But amazingly, it has not been very cold. We're not using the central heat very much; a little now and then to take the chill off in the morning, but certainly not every morning. And the wood stove has been running, but seldom at full bore. Just a little fire to keep the living room comfortable. The temperatures have been very mild.

Because it's not cold, there are still plenty of insects around. And that means that the birds have plenty to eat, along with the normal fall seeds and the worms that come out in the wet weather. We haven't felt the need to put out bird seed or suet balls so far this year.

But as soon as it gets cold again, we will invite the birds to the feeders and suet. They're like winter friends, visiting our yard and balcony to feast during the cold months. Mostly we get finches, tits, and robins up close to the house.

The photo above is of a bird house, or apartment building, in Washington Park, Albany, NY.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Photo Du Jour : Chaos

Albany, NY, USA, November 2009.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buffalo Wings

Let's get the old joke out of the way first: I'll be you didn't even know that buffaloes had wings! Ok, that's done. I suppose the official name of this dish is Spicy Buffalo-style Chicken Wings. The dish reportedly originated in the upstate New York city of Buffalo.

Wings (flats and drummettes) ready for coating and baking.

I first had buffalo wings back in the late seventies when I worked for the state in Albany. I worked with people from all over the state back then, and my coworkers from western New York found the local restaurant that served wings and their traditional accompaniment: celery stalks and blue cheese dressing.

Some of what went into my wing sauce, along with butter and garlic.

It's been a while since I had wings. I don't remember ever having them while I lived in California. I'm not sure this regional specialty has moved beyond the northeastern U.S. Maybe some of you can tell me if you've had/seen wings in other parts of the US or in Canada?

Fresh celery sticks.

Anyway, I had some again on my recent trip to Albany. And they were soooo good that Ken and I decided we should try to make them at home. Which is what we did on Thursday after Ken found packages of chicken wings at the supermarket.

Crumbled French blue cheese.

I looked at a bunch of recipes online, including this one, then adjusted the ingredients to what I had around the house. But the method was essentially the same. I coated the wings in a little oil and salt, then shook them inside a plastic bag to coat them with flour.

A serving of wings, celery, and blue cheese dressing.

After they baked in a hot oven, I poured the sauce over them and stirred the wings to coat them well. Then I served them with cut celery stalks and a blue cheese dressing that Ken made. He made a mayonnaise, then added garlic, crème fraiche, and a good bleu d'Auvergne that he mashed up with a fork. He used a stick blender to smooth the whole thing out. It was tasty. We enjoyed a Beaujolais Nouveau with the meal.

So our wings experiment was a great success! We're definitely going to do this again. Not only Buffalo-style, but also with variations using Thai and Vietnamese flavors.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh, Do You Know The Muffin Man?

I grew butternut squash in this year's garden. I only got one plant (old seeds) which only produced three squash. We used the first to make a squash soup. Yum, that was good. I used the second to make Pumpkin Ginger Nut Muffins. Boy were these tasty. Someone had given us a small package of candied ginger, which I had never used before. It's good stuff, and good in this recipe.

Pumpkin Ginger Nut Muffins.

I roasted the squash by cutting it in half lengthwise and putting it cut-side down in a 180ºC/350ºF oven until soft and done. I scooped the flesh out of the cooled halves and mashed it with a potato masher. Then I proceeded as follows:

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
In another bowl, mix:
  • 1 1/4 cups roasted pumpkin or butternut squash purée
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
Add this to the dry ingredients to combine but don't over-mix it. Fold in:
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 2 tblsp chopped candided ginger
Spoon the mixture into a buttered muffin tin and bake in a preheated 180ºC/350ºF oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a toothpick or wooden skewer. Cool muffins before turning them out.

I should mention that the amounts for the spices are about half the original recipe; I don't like the spices to overwhelm the taste of the pumpkin. But if you like more, you can increase them to up to double the amounts shown here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Parting Glances

It's been a just over a week since my return to France and I'm still posting photos from the trip. But today will be the last for a while; thanks for indulging me. Oh, there are more pictures that you haven't seen. My friend Lorraine and I took a day trip into Vermont, but I'll save those photos for another time.


These pictures were taken on the return drive from Vermont as we were coming into Albany during the evening rush hour. It was getting dark on an overcast evening and there was a little mist in the air.

Four-stack interchange at I-90 and I-787.

It was Monday the 9th of November, the day before my flight home. Lorraine was driving and I was snapping away in the passenger seat. I like the blurry quality that I got in these pictures.

A last look at the state capitol and city hall.

It was a great trip. I enjoyed seeing my friends and family and meeting new friends. I had a successful shopping adventure, I saw the Yankees win the World Series, and I ate some typically American foods (Buffalo chicken wings, hamburgers, big thick steaks) that I haven't had in a while. I especially enjoyed spending time with my good friends and hosts Lou and Lorraine. You guys are the best!


But nothing's better than being back at home again. N'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Historical Markers

These blue signs are visible all around Albany and the surrounding region. My research shows that they are, in fact, installed all over the state. They mark historical places and events.

Downtown Albany.

The first state historical marker program was begun by the state Department of Education in 1926 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. Just under three thousand of these signs were installed around the state during the thirteen year duration of the program.

I had never heard of Bender melons before.

A second program was started up in the sixties and larger, newer signs were installed at highway rest areas. I also think that some of the older-style signs were added here and there. You can see the dates on two of these signs indicating that they were installed in the 1970s.

This sign doesn't have the NYS symbol on it, so it may have been requested and paid for by the local group mentioned on the bottom.

There are so many of these signs around that they tend to blend into the background like a street sign or a lamp post. I never really stopped to read them until recent years. There are all sorts of interesting facts about people and places that I never knew, or that I had forgotten about, that these signs recall.

The Hamagrael sign was installed in 1976; I lived in the house directly across the street from it in 1977, but I have no recollection of the sign. I guess I had other things on my mind at the time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dunn Memorial Bridge Views

I did something last week that I've never done before. I walked across the Dunn Memorial Bridge. I didn't even know you could walk across the bridge. It's a standard freeway bridge that replaced the original, and more visually appealing, drawbridge back in 1969.

This is the first time I've read (and maybe even seen) this plaque.

There is a pedestrian and bicycle lane on the north side of the bridge that connects to ramps on either shore. On the Albany side, the ramp comes down under the tangle of ramps that we used to call the Pretzel, forcing pedestrians and cyclists under the freeway to gain access to town.

The Albany skyline from across the Hudson.

I parked my car on the Rensselaer side of the river (that would be the left bank) so that I could take some photos of the city from over there. Then I saw the ramp. So up I went and walked over the Hudson for the first time in my life.

Looking north up the Hudson River.

The views are not all that great, given that they're broken up by tall fences (for our protection) and by freeway signs and lamp posts and ramps. But still, there are some sights to see. And I passed other people walking and riding (well, they passed me) across the bridge. Who knew?

A view of downtown from the bridge.

Fortunately for me it was a sunny morning and there was very little wind. Otherwise the walk might have been very unpleasant. I got a better, and longer, view of the river than I got driving across the bridge. There was even a little boat traffic to make things interesting.

The Port of Albany in the south end.

One day I'd like to take some time to walk the length of the waterfront. I'm not sure it's possible south of the bridge, but there is a riverside park and walk from the bridge northward. I wonder how far it goes?

The old D&H Railroad building next to the new Department of Environmental Conservation headquarters.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Washington Park

One of two large downtown parks, Washington Park is Albany's most formal urban green space. In addition to large grassy areas, trees, playgrounds, and tennis courts, the park includes a lake and lake house, an outdoor amphitheater, sculpture and monuments, and is home to the annual May Tulip Festival and other events throughout the summer.

Corning Tower seen from Washington Park.

The park is lined on all sides by residential neighborhoods that include some beautiful nineteenth century brownstones and townhouses, and it is within walking distance of the state capitol and the Empire State Plaza.

Washington Park lake house, built in 1876.

Washington Park was designed in 1868 by Frederick Law Olmstead, the famed landscape architect who also designed New York City's Central Park. The park's design is typical of its era, intended to look "natural" while being anything but, with curvilinear roads and pathways, grassy meadows and woodsy stands of tall trees.

The statue of Moses. I don't know why.

After a hundred and forty years, the surviving trees are gloriously mature and the park looks like it has always been there. And for all intents and purposes, it has. One section of the park includes meticulously maintained beds of tulips in honor of the city's Dutch heritage. The color show each spring is magnificent.

A footbridge over the lake.

The park's lake hosts ducks and swans in the summer months, and the ubiquitous gray squirrels collect fallen acorns and the occasional peanut from passersby. Kids play in the park, joggers jog along the paths, and cyclists share the park roads with cars. I'm not sure why cars are even allowed in the park; it's not too big to drive around. But I did drive into the park myself and left my car there while I walked around.

Fall in the park.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Behind The Plaza

When the Empire State Plaza was built, a large section of old Albany was destroyed. But the neighboring streets and their houses remind us of what was lost. After the plaza was done, and through the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of the area west of the plaza, between it and Washington Park, underwent a renaissance of sorts.

Brownstone row houses, renovated and lived in.

Many of the old townhouses were rehabilitated and people started moving back into downtown. Many of the buildings became law offices or housing for legislative staff from other parts of the state. But still, the buildings were being preserved. My Aunt Jean bought and lived in one of these houses for a few years in the 1980s.

Brick townhouses on a side street.

The main street through this neighborhood is Lark Street. Just outside of the historic downtown, a section of Albany's north-south streets are named for birds. There's Hawk, Dove, Eagle, Swan, Robin, Quail, Partridge, and Lark, to name some. Lark became the focal point of this reinvented neighborhood.

Beautiful stone stoops and wrought iron railings line this street.

Shops and restaurants popped up along Lark, as did several gay bars. Albany's Gay and Lesbian Community Center is located nearby, as is an office of Planned Parenthood (which has been there for at least thirty years now). The neighborhood has declined again recently, and is a shadow of its recently former self.

State Street townhouses facing Washington Park.

But the fact that the buildings and townhouses have been preserved is a good thing. The neighborhood will come back again, I'm sure. Evidence of this is the renewal program now under way in an adjacent neighborhood along Madison Avenue, between Washington Park and the Medical Center. New residential development is under construction as is the same kind of preservation of old buildings that happened on Lark Street.

A Lark Street intersection, paved with old cobbles.

It's all very good, as far as I'm concerned. In these times, with the rising cost of energy, good comfortable city living needs to be available as an alternative to the high cost suburban model. We need to learn to live well in cities again. And the old northeastern cities are ripe for redevelopment and renewal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Random Shots Around The Plaza

Here are some leftover images from around the Empire State Plaza. When I took the photos you've been seeing for past few days, I did not have a plan as to how to blog them. I didn't intend to do a tour of the plaza and I've left out quite a bit.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Corning Tower.

I didn't go into any of the buildings (except for the museum), and I'm seriously lacking in long shots and the classic views of the plaza. Nor did I go up to the Corning Tower's observation deck on this trip. Been there, done that.

Ceiling detail on the Cultural Education Center.

Most of the plaza photos were taken on one day; it was Halloween. The wind was so strong that I felt like I would fall over while taking pictures. It was hard to hold the camera still. So many leaves were blowing around that I actually had to remove some of them from the images with Photoshop.

Agency Building 4 and the Egg.

But the windy weather meant that the air was clear (except for the leaves) and the sun was out. And the blue sky backdrop makes the white marble-clad buildings much prettier in pictures. So I was very happy about that.

The CEC terrace and the cathedral.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Legislative Office Building

Before the construction of the Empire State Plaza, New York State's legislators kept their offices somewhere else. I don't really know where, but I suppose they were scattered here and there around the capitol, in other state buildings or converted town houses.

The main entrance to the LOB on State Street.

Since 1971, however, the legislature has a dedicated office building for those lawmakers who don't have offices inside the capitol itself. Of course, that would be most of them, since only the leadership members can have an office in the old capitol.

Agency Building 4 pokes up behind the more horizontal LOB.

I used to walk through this building all the time on my way into and out of the plaza to work. Except for the times when I would walk through the capitol building. All of the buildings on the plaza are connected by a concourse, a quarter mile long corridor underneath the plaza itself.

The LOB and its little sister, the Justice Building (right).

The concourse is more than a simple corridor, of course. It contains shops and restaurants, other services, and is home to an extensive collection of modern art, one of the legacies of former governor Nelson Rockefeller. There is also a meeting center, an underground bus terminal, and connections to the capitol building and the A.E. Smith office building. The concourse is handy for moving around the capitol complex in bad weather, especially in winter.

Art outside the LOB.

The Legislative Office Building, or LOB for short, contains a cavernous lobby atrium with a grand staircase that leads from street level down to the concourse level. I watched Jane Fonda film a scene from one of her lesser known (and pretty bad) movies called "Rollover" (released in 1981) in that atrium once. Unfortunately, due to recent security measures, moving through these buildings is not as easy as it once was.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cultural Education Center

On the south end of the Empire State Plaza, directly opposite the state capitol, sits the Cultural Education Center, an imposing monument of a building that houses the New York State Museum, the state library and archives, and the New York State Office of Cultural Education.

The CEC seen from the Dunn Memorial Bridge.

The building was finished in 1976. A grand stair rises up from the plaza, crossing over Madison Avenue, to a platform where the main bulk of the eleven-story building sits. The stair is designed to serve as seating for a stage that's built on the plaza level below.

Great marble-clad columns and arches support the bulk of the building.

When I worked in the plaza, I would often spend my lunch hour wandering around inside the museum, taking in exhibits reflecting the history and culture of the state. There is a collection of rocks and precious stones, a hall of birds and small mammals, dioramas of the last ice age and many scenes of the daily life of the native populations of New York State, exhibits on the Adirondack mountain range, the old lumber industry, New York City's history, buildings, and subways, and a recently added somber exhibit of wrecked pieces of the World Trade Center.

The stair on the left over Madison Avenue.

I understand that the original concept for this end of the plaza was to build an arch, kind of like the gateway arch that stands in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm not sure how or why that idea was scuttled, but I think I'm glad it was. The building that was built here is grand and serves a purpose. The arch would have been a bit hokey, in my humble opinion.

A lot of marble went into the construction of the plaza buildings.

The building sits as a symmetrical counterpoint to the state capitol it faces. One quarter mile separates the two buildings in space; nearly a century separates their style in time. The grand arches and glassed-in lobby make the building seem to float above its platform. The museum is located below the platform on the ground floor the building.

A life-sized mastodon in Upstate New York.