Tis the season

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Holiday spirit sparkles
in community strolls

By Pam Allen
 

A Hudson River city in revival mode. A city in Saratoga County heavily influenced by horse racing and high couture. A two-time host of the Winter Olympics. Three very different communities with a common goal: to create a memorable holiday event that brings thousands of people to shop, eat, play and take in the glittery magic of their downtowns.
The street festivals held each December in these three communities—Troy, Saratoga Springs and Lake Placid—grow larger and grander every year. Their offerings include everything from marching bands, stilt-walkers, fund-raising galas and window-decorating contests, to Santa Claus visits, face-painting, restaurant tastings and storytellers. Pulling off these events successfully requires diligence and dedication from local residents, business owners, sponsors, artisans, vendors and entertainers.
“Everyone comes together to make this weekend special. It exemplifies a commitment to the whole community. It benefits businesses, the people who live here, our local clubs. It’s about giving people that holiday feel without all the pressure or stress,” said Mary Jane Lawrence, event organizer for the Holiday Village Stroll in Lake Placid.
In its seventh year, the Village Stroll is the youngest of the three festivals. The stroll runs from Friday, December 12 to Sunday, December 14, drawing thousands of locals over the course of the three-day event and hundreds of out-of-towners who also spend the weekend in the quaint Adirondack resort town.
“Lake Placid is about enjoying the outdoors and the better things in life,” Lawrence said. “We love to host, which is obvious by our two Olympics competitions, but this brings people together in a totally different way.”
Troy’s Victorian Stroll is the longest-standing of the three. This year’s stroll, which marks the 32nd for the riverfront city, is set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 7. The 28th Saratoga Victorian Streetwalk in Saratoga Springs runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, December 4.

Troy’s Victorian Stroll
Troy’s Victorian Stroll is recognized as one of the Northeast’s largest free holiday festivals. It attracts as many as 25,000 people to its historic downtown, from as far away as Washington, DC. Buses also bring in groups from Oneonta and New Jersey. More than 100 musicians, singers, stilt-walkers and other live entertainers perform throughout the course of the festival, and 100s of restaurants, shops and other businesses are open and decked-out in the spirit of the holiday.
“This has become a tradition for many families in the Capital Region. Our downtown is really flourishing, and this is another component that celebrates the history, evolution and future of Troy,” said Kate Ollier, director of member engagement and events for the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the stroll’s coordinator.
And the energy, well, it’s unmistakable, said Ilene Frank, executive director of the Rensselaer County Historical Society.
“This city is known as an incredible walking community with incredible architecture. You don’t have to do much to dress up Troy because it’s already a beautifully amazing city,” Frank said. “But add window dressings and all these sparkly lights, and it’s even more amazing.”
The annual stroll evolved from the Historical Society’s popular Holiday Greens Show, a decorating tradition that began in 1956 to showcase the society’s museum, the 1827 Federal-style Hart Cluett-Mansion on Second Street.
Twenty-five years later, the first stroll hit the streets as a way to expose even more people to a city noted for its striking Victorian architecture, delicate stained-glass windows (Troy claims to have the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the country) and one-of-a-kind shops.
“Our shopkeepers say it’s their best day on record, next to Black Friday,” Ollier said.
Victorian-attired street musicians, dancers, magicians and artisans perform on the streets, in shops, offices and restaurants, and interact with the crowds. Many of the city’s business owners and residents also dress in period costume.
Crowd favorites are the window-decorating contest and tree-lighting ceremony. The tree lighting, led by Mayor Lou Rosamilla and Linda Hillman, the chamber’s executive director, closes the festivities.

Saratoga’s Victorian Streetwalk
A tree-lighting ceremony kicks off the December 4 Saratoga Victorian Streetwalk in downtown Saratoga Springs. Visitors surpass 20,000, in what the event’s organizer, Susan Farnsworth, describes as a “thank you party” for anyone who supports downtown Saratoga.
“It also gives children this wonderful memory of their downtown. It’s really important for them to know that they are a critical part of the Saratoga community, and that we want them to stay here,” Farnsworth said.
Sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, the Streetwalk is the organization’s largest annual event. Streets bustle with entertainers dressed in Victorian costumes, and more than 50 businesses, decked-out in holiday splendor, provide entertainment, refreshments and/or other giveaways.
The evening’s highlights include three performances by the Christian Brothers Academy Regimental Marching Band, and dozens of street performers, choralers, gingerbread house displays, musical performances at different venues throughout the city, and a Festival of Trees. The most popular family attraction is a visit to Santa’s shack in front of Putnam Market, across from Caroline Street.
The Capital District Transportation Authority will run free shuttle buses every 20 minutes from the Empire State College parking lot at 111 West Ave., on the city’s west side, to several locations on the east side.
The Victorian Streetwalk evolved from two separate ideas—one favored a Victorian chocolate festival, and another favored an evening of open houses—pitched to the Downtown Business Association just prior to the inaugural event in 1986. “And so it was brainstormed to this format,” Farnsworth said.
Attendance at the festival has almost doubled since the city began closing the half-mile stretch of Broadway between Route 50 and Spring Street a few years ago.

Lake Placid’s Holiday Village Stroll
The Lake Placid Business Association’s Holiday Village Stroll kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, December 12, beginning with an opening reception at the Olympic Center. A skating party in the Center’s 1932 ice arena follows. Throughout the festival, ice carvings will be displayed along Main Street.
On Saturday, activities include the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, Breakfast with Santa, ornament-making, the “official” arrival of Santa, children’s crafts-making, restaurant food and wine tastings, and free holiday movies. At 5 p.m. there is a tree lighting at Mid’s Park, followed by an adult cocktail hour at Whiteface Lodge.
On Saturday night, a holiday gala inspired by the PBS hit “Downton Abbey” will be held at the Lake Placid Conference Center. The gala, proceeds of which benefit Mountain Lake PBS, will premiere the first episode of the British period drama’s fifth season. The first episode of Season 5  does not air to the public until January 5, 2015. “If you’re a fan of the show, like me, it’s very exciting,” Lawrence said.
On Thursday, December 11, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts hosts its winter fund-raising gala, “Joy to the Children.” The entire event is donated by the Mirror Lake Inn. Sunday’s highlight is a 5 p.m. skating show at the Olympic Center.
General admission to all three street festivals is free.

Merriment in Manchester
Across the border in Vermont, thousands of visitors and local families will take in the festively adorned shops, restaurants and inns during this year’s “Manchester and the Mountains Merriment.” The festival, in its fifth year, features a month of holiday tastings, concerts, tree lightings, wagon rides and tours, beginning Saturday, November 29 and running through Thursday, January 1.
“Before we started this, we didn’t really have a holiday celebration. Without having to create a huge, single event, we’ve wrapped together all the things that we have going on all season long,” said Berta Maginniss, executive director of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone gets so excited about it, and it’s becoming a tradition for many of our families. It brings together everyone to support our food cupboards, and shows off a town that looks terrific during this time of year.”
One highlight of the festivities is the Lighted Tractor Parade, which runs through the quaint downtown streets of Manchester on Saturday, December 6 at 5 p.m. Also featured are the tours, where, for $15, patrons visit and enjoy refreshments at many of the town’s festively decorated inns and lodges. A portion of the proceeds collected from the tours and other Manchester Merriment festivities benefits seven local food pantries. Last year’s events raised $3,500 for the pantries.

Here are some highlights of this year’s Manchester and the Mountains Merriment:
Inn tours: Saturday, December 6 and 13. Tickets are $15.
Wine tastings: November 30 and December 6, 13, 20.
Lighted tractor parade:  Saturday, December 6 at 5 p.m., downtown Manchester.
Horse-drawn wagon rides: December 6 and 13. Morning and afternoon times.
The Elf Express: December 20 and 21, round-trip train rides on the Green Mountain Railroad from Manchester to Arlington.
Children’s concert: Sunday, December 28 at 2 p.m., The Wilburton Inn, 257 Wilburton Dr., Manchester Center.
Tree lightings: Manchester, Arlington, Dorset, and Stratton.
For more information or to book tickets to any of the events visit: visitmanchestervt.com, or call the chamber at 802.362.6313.
 

Holiday strolls: Mark your calendar

Saturday, November 29 – Thursday, January 1
Merriment in Manchester in Manchester, VT – www.visitmanchestervt.com

Thursday, December 4
Victorian Streetwalk in Saratoga Springs – www.saratogadowntown.com

Sunday, December 7
Victorian Stroll in Troy – www.victorianstroll.com

Friday, December 12 – Sunday, December 14
Holiday Village Stroll in Lake Placid – www.lakeplacid.com/holidays
 

 

Selection sense:
Holiday food and wine pairings
Joe Maloney interview

 

I’m going to a dinner party and want to bring a bottle of wine, but I am not a wine drinker. What should I bring?
This is such a good question and one I get asked a lot! When attending a dinner party, if you are not a wine drinker, are not sure what your hosts like to drink, or don’t know what’s being served, the safest (and most thoughtful) wines to bring are universally recognized varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Further, a knowledgeable wine shop staffer can recommend some iconic labels to choose in these categories to enhance your choice.
Also, customers often ask me how much they should spend when bringing a bottle of wine to dinner. Depending on how well you know your hosts or how casual (or formal) the event is, a price range between $15-$30 will always be thoughtful and appropriate—even if they are expensive wine connoisseurs! Most likely, the wines for your event have already been chosen by your hosts. That’s unless you’ve been assigned a wine to bring—in which case, you’ll have an idea of what’s on the menu—and so trying to match the wine you bring to what’s being served may not be as important as just bringing a well-known label on one of the classic wine varietals mentioned above.
What are some wine pairing suggestions for a holiday dinner?
At first thought, knowledgeable wine and food pairing people will usually say Pinot Noir (goes well with poultry) or Syrah (matches the roasted and savory herb components of the meal) will pair well with a traditional holiday meal. But what about other menu items such as candied yams, tart cranberries, yeasty rolls, or creamy green bean casserole?  Such a meal has so many varied components that thinking outside wine pairing norms can result in some delicious food and wine flavor discoveries.
For example, the stone fruit notes, high acidity, and minerality of semi-dry Riesling perfectly complement tart cranberry relish. A dark, fruity Zinfandel with its firm tannins and black peppery finish might be a great contrast to creamed onions or green bean casserole. Prefer to match richness with richness? A rich, buttery Chardonnay might be just the ticket, instead of Zinfandel. And don’t count out a palate-cleansing, crisp Sauvignon Blanc with its bracing acidity, as a foil to candied yams.
While at first glance all of this may sound complicated, it’s helpful to remember two basic wine and food pairing guidelines for the holidays and any other meals:
1. Match food and wine to complement or contrast each other. A good example would be Pasta Alfredo with a rich, buttery California Chardonnay (complement) or Grilled Lobster tails with melted butter with a crisp, brut Champagne (contrast).
2. Match delicate with delicate and robust with robust. A delicate Oregon Pinot Noir or red Burgundy would seem thin and watery next to a fatty grilled steak or spicy Indian or Mexican food. Instead, think of grilled duck breast or a simple roasted chicken to go with that Pinot.
How should I select dessert wines for holiday fare?
With desserts, consider sweetness carefully. Generally speaking, a good complementary dessert/wine pairing happens, for example, when you pair poached pears or an apple tart with a sweet German Riesling. A full bodied, soft Cabernet with rich layers of baking spice, notes of cocoa, and black fruits would be a wonderful companion to a bittersweet chocolate ganache tart. A classic contrast pairing would be a crisp, bubbly champagne with creamy cheesecake.
When I think about holiday desserts with their myriad of flavors and textures, I think about Sauterne for its honeyed richness and soaring acidity as a partner to crème brûlée or ripe soft cheeses. How about a nutty, “raisiny” Tawny Port alongside chocolate pecan tart? The effervescence of Moscato D’ Asti will hold up perfectly with any white chocolate dessert. The jammy fruitiness of Syrah would pair well alongside a raspberry Linzer tart. Meanwhile, something as simple as a serving of brownies with fudge frosting would meet its match in a silky, dark Cabernet Sauvignon.
I would be remiss if I did not offer one final pairing guideline: Match the wine and food to the mood! Wine and food do not have to be technically perfect together to be delicious. I have found that choosing the wine you are in the mood for can often be as rewarding as trying to carefully match its flavor components. Mood, the company of good friends and family, and the setting add as much to the enjoyment of the wine you drink and the food you eat as does that perfect pairing!
Joe Maloney is an American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef and a Culinary Institute of America Certified Wine Professional.  He is the manager at Wine and Spirits of Slingerlands, a retail wine shop in Slingerlands.

 

Beauty of the cranberry

By Vikki Moran, The Grateful Traveler

Like so many foods we eat seasonally and anticipate their arrival by harvest, cranberries are a healthy, natural food that just mysteriously appear each year before the holidays. Traveling to Plymouth, Massachusetts, can dispel the mystery and provide your family with an educational and fun lesson on the harvesting of cranberries.
The cranberry harvest takes place only once a year from late September through early November and can be witnessed and enjoyed in neighboring Massachusetts.  Many parts of the Cape and towns nearest the Cape offer great opportunities to spend a great day outdoors and learn. For example, unknown to me, there are two methods of harvesting cranberries. One method is called the “dry harvesting” and the other is the “wet harvesting.”
Dry harvesting uses a machine to comb the berries off the vines into burlap bags. Berries are then removed from the bogs by either bog vehicles or sometimes even helicopters.
 I toured the A.D. Makepeace Company in Wareham, Massachusetts, to witness the wet harvest.  Cranberries have pockets of air inside so the cranberries float on water. There are times that the bogs can be flooded to assist with the removal of the berries from the vines. “Egg-beaters” are used to stir up the water in the bogs and provide the action in the water needed to remove the berries from the ever important vines. The berries then float to the top of the water creating the beautiful red mural you can see while riding through cranberry country.  The effect is productive, strenuous and breathtakingly gorgeous. Cranberry booms are used to round up the berries, which are then often pumped into a truck to take them to the receiving station for the final step—the cleaning.
The rest is in your hands for the holidays as they come and go quickly each year in our local stores. Baking, sauces, salads and even risotto and other entrees can be made to enjoy the cranberries while they last.  You don’t have to have them on Thanksgiving and Christmas alone.
Witnessing the harvest certainly gives new meaning to the tiny fruit.  It is labored over and tended to during the growing season like a fragile delicacy but these hearty little cranberries provide us with endless choices in our foods and juices.

Cranberry recipes: Source: Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association

Cranberry Risotto
Ingredients: (8 servings)
2 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1 cup short grain white rice (such as Arborio)
¼ cup leeks, chopped
Salt and pepper
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
2 tablespoons olive oil

• Pour cranberry juice cocktail into small sauce pan and place on medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.
• Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to 1 quart sauce pan and place over high heat.
• Add leeks and salt and pepper.
• Sauté until leeks are translucent and then add the rice.
• Stir until the rice is coated with oil.
• Add the boiling cranberry juice cocktail.  Stir.  Cover.  Turn heat down to a simmer.
• Let simmer for 20 minutes.
• Remove from heat, add feta cheese and sweetened dried cranberries, stir well.
• Turn into serving dish.
• Serve hot.
 

Cranberry Almond Goat Cheese Log
Servings: 2 logs
Ingredients:
11oz goat cheese
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup natural sliced almonds – divided
Wax paper

• Place goat cheese in food processor work bowl.
• Pulse several times until cheese is crumbled.
• Add orange zest and chopped dried cranberry to crumbled goat cheese. Pulse for 5 seconds, or until cheese mixture will start to form a ball.
• Remove cheese mixture from work bowl and separate into two balls. Form each cheese ball into a log shape approximately 2×4 inches each.
• Place half of the almonds onto a piece of wax paper. Roll one goat cheese log over almonds, covering the entire surface of the log, gently pressing to assure the almonds stick.
• Repeat with the remaining second log and almonds. Wrap the logs individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours before serving. Serve on Baguette Croutes (see recipe below).
• Cranberry Almond Goat Cheese Logs will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Baguette Croutes
Ingredients:
1 loaf French bread cut into slices ¼ – ½ inch thick
Olive oil

• To make the croutes, preheat the oven to 375°F.
• Brush 1 side of the bread slices lightly with the olive oil.
• Sprinkle the oiled side with a little pepper and place oiled side up on a baking sheet.
• Bake until just golden, 10-12 minutes.
• Transfer to a serving tray and let cool.
• Spread Cranberry Almond Goat Cheese Log on Baguette Croutes and serve.

 

Warm Baby Spinach and Cranberry Salad
Ingredients: (6 servings)
1 package baby spinach, washed and cleaned thoroughly
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup Italian Salad Dressing
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoon olive oil

• Place cleaned baby spinach in serving bowl.
• Place sauté pan over medium heat.  Add oil.
• Add pine nuts and sauté quickly until lightly browned.
• Add minced garlic and sweetened dried cranberries and stir quickly to coat with oil.
• Let simmer for about 30 seconds.
• Add Zesty Italian Dressing, stir, remove from heat and pour over baby spinach.
• Serve immediately with entrée as a side dish.
 

 

Fresh finds to inspire any table

The holiday home entertaining season is gearing up, which means it’s time to take your entertaining dreams and inspirations and make them a reality. As you begin planning for the next time you play host(ess) with the most(est), don’t let the creativity stop with the food. Create a holiday tablescape to set the mood and serve as the focal point so you can have the prettiest and most festive holiday party possible. 
Inspiration can come from the changing seasons, touches of color, unique pieces and chic dinnerware to draw your guests in to an inviting celebration of friends, family and food. Not sure how to tackle your table? Follow these tips to help you turn your table from simple to simply breathtaking.
• Throwback tablescapes using family treasures
Use a family heirloom as your starting point to bring a totally custom and retro twist to the table. Not only will it help to choose a color theme, but it will serve as a great conversation starter and ice breaker. Whether it’s your grandmother’s gorgeous glass vase filled with seasonal flowers that pop, or a retro tree topper, everyone at the table will notice and enjoy an unexpected piece.
• Sweeten the deal
Nothing adds color and fun to a table like sweet treats. Find uniquely shaped bowls and glasses and fill them to the brim with your favorite colorful holiday candy like Candy Corn. Fill an oversized hurricane glass with mini candy canes or chocolates and marshmallows for after dinner s’mores. Get personal and create your own "Friendsgiving" cornucopia filled with treasures your guests will love, like old pictures, ticket stubs or their favorite candies.
• Stay chic with the classics
Invest in quality, white dinnerware and serveware to easily transition from holiday entertaining to everyday use. Classic white plates complemented with white baking and serving vessels can serve as a blank canvas to add color and personal touches. 
• Add seasonal elements
Personalize the table with your favorite seasonal flowers, fruits and vegetables for an organic and fresh look. These elements bring pops of color and texture to amplify your tablescape. For arrangements, look for white lilies, red roses, green button poms and other festive greenery, such as berries, pinecones and sprigs of cedar. Not only will it look beautiful, but it will smell good, too. Try floating cranberries in water and adding a candle for a festive look.
• Match it up
Not only will guests bask in the creative design of your stunning tablescape, but the table will bring everyone together to create new memories – which is what the season is all about.

Winter birding in the capital region
By Rich Merritt, Audubon NY

While spring migration and the early summer breeding season are generally considered the best time of the year to view birds throughout North America, Capital Region winters offer tremendous birding opportunities that the whole family can enjoy.  While many migrating birds travel south to Mexico and beyond to escape the freezing cold, other species fly south to New York from Canada and the high arctic, congregating in sometimes spectacular numbers in search of shelter and food during the cold winter months.
Locally, Cohoes Falls offers one of the best winter locations to enjoy one the greatest conservation success stories: the Bald Eagle’s return to the northeast. In the winter of 2012, there were reports of 18 eagles at one time at the falls! This iconic species was reintroduced to New York State in 1976 through a captive breeding program, after being extirpated from the eastern US by DDT. Their numbers are now estimated at nearly 200 breeding pairs in the state, with many relying on Capital Region habitat for nesting and breeding. In the winter, these majestic creatures congregate along larger open freshwater rivers and their numbers are augmented by birds arriving from farther upstate and Canada. Cohoes Falls is a great place to look for these birds in winter, especially after mid-December.
Other raptors visiting our area from Canada during the winter include the Rough-legged Hawk and Short-eared Owl, both of which can be seen in often high concentrations in the Fort Edward grasslands (the area east of Route 4) and the Coxsackie Flats (the agricultural area south of the correctional facility). Northern Harriers can often be seen hunting in the fields, especially when snowfall doesn’t completely blanket the ground. Both of these locations also offer good opportunities to sight other birds arriving from arctic regions, including huge flocks of Snow Buntings. More rarely, Snowy Owls (especially last year), Northern Hawk Owls and Lapland Longspurs can be found by the diligent birder.
In some winters, flocks of nomadic finches can be found in our area, even at feeders. Common Redpolls are, as their name infers, common every few years if their food supply is limited farther north. White-winged and Red Crossbills and the beautiful Evening Grosbeak can sometimes be found in enormous flocks at higher elevation areas such as Partridge Run, Lake Desolation Road north of Saratoga, the Rensselaer Forest, or from roads in the area of Thacher Park.
For a chance to see the largest gull in the world, the Great Black Backed Gull, visit the Mohawk River in the vicinity of Halfmoon where northern gulls congregate in fantastic numbers. More common, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls are often joined by smaller numbers of arctic birds, such as Glaucous and Iceland Gulls. Also look for flocks of wintering gulls along the Hudson River south of Albany, especially at the boat launch in Coxsackie.
When not completely frozen over, the Tomhannock Reservoir east of Troy can yield a number of wintering and migrating duck species such as Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Scaup and Ring-necked. Waterfowl can be found in almost any open water in late fall and winter, but especially fruitful areas are along the Hudson River in Stillwater or along River Road in Fort Miller. The south end of Saratoga Lake is another fantastic place to sight waterfowl in virtually all seasons.
Birding in the winter can often be done from inside your vehicle, or in close enough proximity to stay warm on frigid days. Besides binoculars, a spotting scope can be very helpful to view and identify birds, especially gulls and perching hawks that can be hundreds of yards away. Besides the obvious winter clothing, a pair of mittens that has with removable “flip” fingers can both keep hands warm and allow for the precision necessary to fine focus your viewing equipment. Winter birding also is an excellent opportunity to hone your photography skills. Don’t forget to bring a copy of Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds to help identify less common species and a notebook to keep track of your findings.
The Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club (HMBC) keeps a regularly updated listserve with sightings and rarities. HMBC and the Capital Region Audubon Society offer local and out-of-area field trips and bird walks throughout the year. Also be sure to check out the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar and the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center for ongoing community bird walks and owl prowls.
Reporting your sightings through available citizen science tools like e-bird, the annual Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count is important to help these sentinel species thrive in the face of threats such as climate change and habitat vulnerability, outlined in Audubon’s recent climate report. Experienced and novice birders can participate in Christmas Bird Count events held by HMBC and Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count held in February. 
Winter birding is a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends of all ages. Grab your gear, pack the car, and head out to enjoy all that the Capital Region has to offer.
For contact infomation for the clubs and associations mentioned, please visit ny.audubon.org/CRwinterbirding
 

 

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