Friday, October 9, 2009

Upstate Motoring

A few months ago Paul and I were thinking about where we could take a vacation without busting the bank. He suggested Niagara Falls; it wasn't a high priority for me but I was intrigued anyway and took the bait. We decided to fly to Cleveland, OH and motor the 200 miles to Niagara Falls, crossing the narrow northernmost portion of Pennsylvania and through upstate New York to Buffalo. I just want to say Ohio must be crawling with raccoons, because we saw an awful lot of raccoon roadkill on the two lane highways. We even saw two laid out just a few feet apart in the exactly the same position; we really puzzled over how that happened. I just wish I'd taken a snapshot. I definitely would have shared.

Buffalo is a short drive to Niagara Falls so we decided to make that our roost for the night so we could be fresh for the big event the next morning. The town of Niagara Falls, NY is not pretty. In fact that part of NY is flat and uninteresting, other than the falls. However, there is a park at the falls where you can park your car and see the sights. It's really nicely done and you can ride a shuttle around to places like Goat Island and stand just a few feet from where massive amounts of water are pouring over the cliff. The thundering part happens where the water hits the bottom and sends up oodles of mist. Speaking of mist, I just had to take the Maid of the Mist boat ride. They give you huge hooded and sleeved plastic bags to wear for a good reason; when you reach the Horseshoe Falls, it's like being in a tropical rainstorm. I had no desire to make the hike to the falls after that. Did you watch Pam and Jim's wedding on The Office - well I can attest they really did get on the Maid of the Mist on the U.S. side!

Ok, let's talk food. The food worthy of my note. I had made reservations at a bed and breakfast on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. I found Bedham Hall through Heather, our innkeeper, recommended that we walk the 3 blocks over to Queen Street and try out the Paris Bistro. What we saw first was Mide Bistro and assumed that was the place. It wasn't, but we were really attraced to the energy of the place and strolled right in. They're really into organic, good food. Paul and I are on this kick of frequently sharing meals when we go out to dinner, especially if the servings are large. It saves us money, calories, and bloat. So we decided to share the baked brie wrapped in phyllo, with red wine jelly and crackers. It was delish except the crackers which were dark and dry and not too good. I ordered the Framtini, which is 2 parts framboise and 1 part Skyy vodka (I wormed that information out of our server). It was yummy, a little tart, and I was tempted to have another. Framboise is raspberry liqueur and the Chambord brand is readily available here, but it appears to be sweeter than the locally made framboise we were served. I tried combining my Chambord framboise with citrus infused vodka and I didn't like it at all. (This just in: I emailed Mide Bistro and they use Southbrook Framboise, from Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. So far I haven't found a source for it.) We also shared a huge serving of sacchettini, ricotta cheese filled pasta with a tomato cream sauce, as well as a chocolate cake with caramel sauce and chocolate ganache. Divine. Go there asap.

Breakfast at Bedham Hall was filled with fabulousness. Heather is an excellent cook and my eggs benedict was so decadent, with perfectly creamy hollandaise sauce and real Canadian bacon. The bill of goods we are sold here in the U.S. that is passed off as Canadian bacon is nothing like the real deal. The real deal is more like ham and Paul was digging his scrambled eggs and hamadian bacon.
We decided to go to the Genessee Country Village because, well, it looked interesting and it doesn't appear that there are a lot of tourist attractions in upstate New York. It's a reconstructed 19th century village which really spans several decades from the very early 1800's to the late part of the century. Houses from towns all over New York were brought into the village. All the docents are in period costume and explain what life was like in their assigned building and time period. What really fascinated me was the kitchens and getting the scoop on on cooking way way back in the day. Pat Meade, who I am told is an excellent cook, was cooking in an upscale house from the 1850's, using a fireplace. Here are some tidbits I picked up by picking the heck out of her brains:

  • Wood burning cookstoves appeared in the 1830's, but they were a hard sell for those used to fireplace cooking, hence this house solely used the fireplace
  • Cast iron skillets had pointed legs so that food could be cooked over hot coals that were moved under the skillet for frying, etc.
  • Pickling was extensively used for food preservation. Pat had a big jar of pickled beets; she told me she would use the red pickling juice to preserve a basket of hard boiled, peeled, goose, duck and chicken eggs. They will keep for months without refrigeration. Amazing. What we call iceboxes were called refrigerators. They weren't called iceboxes until the harnessing of electricity which powered what we now call refrigerators! Say that 3 times.
  • Before Ball and Kerr canning jars and lids, preserves were kept in jars, yes. They were sealed one of two ways - a piece of paper was cut out in the shape of the mouth of the jar and soaked in brandy. It was placed on the preserves and then the jar was overlaid with more paper and sealed with eggwhite. Pat said she opened a jar of jam four years old that was still good! The best method for sealing is using a pig bladder - think about it - it's definitely made to be air and water tight!

What I really learned is that we should get down on our knees and give thanks for electricity, natural gas, indoor plumbing and everything else that keeps us from having to be in the kitchen from dawn until dusk!

I also stopped in the Jones farmhouse, where Pat's friend Deanna was making cheese. I've read up a bit on cheesemaking and it's quite a science. Deanna uses buttermilk to introduce bacteria and real rennet from calf's stomaches to make the curd. It actually smelled pretty good in the kitchen were she was cooking the milk. Here's a shot of her wheels of aging cheddar cheese.

There's more food to this trip, like the Jello Museum...stay tuned.

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