Make Sure You’re Eating the Hole Shebang

I heard something blasphemous the other day. A good friend whom I hold in high esteem, upon hearing that I was considering a column focusing on donuts, suggested I get over to Tim Hortons to try theirs. I have a lot of love for this person, but I was shocked! When did our community, especially considering the fried dough-steeped Italian-American majority in it, begin to accept that chain restaurants were the alpha and omega of this morning confection?

Nearly every major food culture has a fried dough among its staples. In China, you might have Cantonese donut holes with your dim sum, Hanukkah in Israel wouldn’t be complete without jelly doughnuts called sufganiyah, and in Greece, instead of powdered sugar, they coat little spheres of fried dough with honeyed water lightened up with lemon juice. And why not? The combo of sugar, dough, and deep fat frying produces a dessert that’s socially acceptable to eat in the morning. What a great concept!

We have lots of options of homemade donuts in the north country! Each offering is different, but will start your morning off with far more soul and personality than anything you’ll find from the frozen, factory-produced fry cakes available at either of the two national chains which dot our countryside.

My personal favorites since childhood are hot and ready seven days a week on Eastern Blvd in Watertown, at Jean’s Beans. Jean’s was begun in the 1950s in Syracuse, but today, the Watertown store is the last in the empire. Its donuts are made fresh daily, and while they offer raised yeast and filled varieties, it’s the fried cakes I recommend.
These deep brown babies have the most aggressive fry of those we’ll cover today, resulting in a crisp, fragile crust with crunchy, sweet nooks that dissolve slowly in your mouth and yield to a moist, barely sweet, toothsome interior. The yeast donuts are sweeter from Jean’s, and I think that’s why I love the fried cakes, which are a hair on the greasy side, but so much more substantial than your standard, airy breakfast pastry.

This time of year, The Cider Mill, in Burrville, is ground zero for everyone’s fall cravings. It’s an autumnal destination in our area, and rightly so. You go for apples, hot cider and family photos by the waterfall, but why not pick up a dozen donuts for your office? Bring a gallon of cider along with them, and look out, because a promotion may be on the way. These donuts are more delicate than their cake-style cousins at Jean’s Beans, as well as packing more sweetness from the apple cider in them.

When you bite into an apple cider donut from the Cider Mill, your mouth is flooded with the natural sugars and tang of in-season apples. Your teeth crunch through a light coating of cinnamon and sugar. Half a second later, the airy, light interior collapses into a one-chew experience. They are sweet, but not with the fake saccharine candy-like quality of cheap chain donuts. There’s so much more flavor going on. Also, they have fruit in them, so they’re healthy, technically. Right? Hmm, don’t check in here for medical advice, people.
Mr. Rick’s Bakery, on Watertown’s North Side, is another donut institution. I’ve found that the donuts here are best very, very fresh, so go early and go often. The cake style donuts at Rick’s – that’s Mr. Rick, to you – are more crumbly than our other examples. This also means they’re a little less greasy, although that trait isn’t a problem for me at either other purveyor. Frankly, they’re mostly uncomplicated and delicious. This joint is newer than Jean’s or the Cider Mill, so you might not have heard of it, but there are many in Watertown who swear by its breakfast delights. They are handcrafted and available only on weekdays, so get on over to Mill St. and grab a few to dunk in your coffee tomorrow!

Homemade donuts also are available at Pearl’s Pastry Shoppe, in Adams, but I’m sad to report I haven’t tried them. I intend to, don’t worry. I have had Pearl's English muffins, and they were fantastic. Fluffy, fresh, spongy, and wonderfully bland - ready for a generous slathering of butter. Frankly, I’m just glad folks down that way have a hometown option in order to avoid the junk from the chains. This is donut season, people! The downward diet slide into the holidays is well on its way, so why not forgo a healthy breakfast for a sweet treat and some stretchy pants? Just make sure to do it with good food made with love by real people, not factory-made dough shipped in from a far off locale.
I want to hear about the fabulous fried dough elsewhere in the north country, and I know you all will fill me in on how to fill up. What we do seem to be lacking is the hipster twist now popular in some bigger cities like cronuts, creatively filled yeast donuts and bacon-topped indulgences. I do think Pearl’s has some special flavors it runs, and as I’ve sampled the English muffins there and adored them, it is next on my breakfast list.

You’ll hear this a lot from me, but I really do believe that eating local and supporting our food families is important, not only to our economy, but also to our souls. The people of Northern New York are a close clan, and when you nourish your body, even with a naughty treat like a donut, doing so with something created by the hands of a neighbor feels better than just shoving mindless food down your gullet.

When you keep your money and your yummy local, your friends and family prosper while you get so much more than just a meal – you partake in the communion of what makes our region so special: its people. Yes, the chains are convenient and consistent, but the food at them is loaded with salt and fat that contribute nothing to the taste; when you eat there, you’re sending your money away from your own hometown. Keep it delectable and eat it local, folks.
Northern Jean's Beans Co on Urbanspoon


And to You, Your Wassail, Too

It's my favorite time of year, Hungries! Sanctioned shopping season! I'm already well into it, having purchased my first gifts sometime last spring, but this is the feverish, frenzied time when all that delicious consumerism really amps up. I love shopping of any kind, but finding that perfect item for someone on my Christmas list, especially if it's a food item, really crisps my bacon.

And just like every year, I have a few ideas for the food fanatic on your shopping list this holiday season. BHS would never let you down, lest you start calling me a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.

First up, I got this really cool catalogue this year that I really have no practical use for, as I can't bake to save my biscuits, but if you have a loved one who churns out breads and cookies with the best, check out www.kingarthurflour.com. The catalogue could absolutely outfit the pantry and cupboards of a baker's dream kitchen, with sourdough starter, cool bread crocks and brotforms, every hard to find flour, mix, grain, and flavoring you could imagine, plus fun canisters, utensils and accoutrements to pimp out someone's home bakery - at a fraction of the prices at Williams-Sonoma. I don't bake, but this catalogue kind of made me want to try! 

I think I send you guys to Napastyle every year. I'll be scooping up their Parmesan dip and gray salt again this year for a couple food baskets on my list, but I think you need to check out their piggy plates and bowls. I have two of the small yellow bowls, and they were the hit of Thanksgiving weekend at our house last year. As pigs are my spirit animal, how fun to serve in these colorful crockeries? I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't mind expanding my collection of these myself. You plunk a ball of burratta down in the middle of that little piggy, and your guests will go wild.

I haven't tried this next item yet, but I'm ordering a few bottles stat. It's honey from the Hudson Valley of NY, kidnapped by some Brooklyn hipsters and infused with chile peppers. I'm dubious at best about hipsters, as you well know, but Mixed Made's Bees Knees could change my mind. Imagine spicy honey to balance the sweetness of homemade granola! Dream about it drizzled across savory bacon and Brie waffles! Fantasize about a hearty spoonful mixed into mango salsa on some fish tacos. I know, I know. I'm ordering mine tonight!

I'm not a vegan, but I do enjoy chewing on a colorful turn of phrase that could get me into trouble. Enter Thug Kitchen, its new cookbook, which is full of fun profanity and vegan grub, as well as a really fun grocery bag I'd love to find under my Christmas tree. It will prove to everybody at Wegmans just how irreverent you can be about vegetables.

I bought this tank top for my two college BFFs earlier this year, and it's now my go-to workout shirt. I like to wear something listing most of my vices while I sweat and do moaning. But I don't know your life. Maybe you'll wear it with a sequin skirt and go to the ball with the prince or something. You'll appreciate, in any case, its roomy fit and soft material. Find it at skreened.com.

So, here's something weird: I decorate a small Christmas tree that I put in our kitchen each year with food ornaments and popcorn garland. Shawn thinks it's crazy, while I utterly love it. I think I would actually enjoy the holiday less without my food tree in my home. Most of the ornaments are from Sur La Table. Naturally, the porcine-related ones are my favorites, but if there's a coffee lover or croissant nut on your list, check 'em out! 

This next one is out of season, and I don't care. You shouldn't either. This hibiscus iced tea would make a great stocking stuffer. It's pink and therefore perfect for a girlie gift basket, and the pitchers of bright, hibiscus  refreshment it creates will knock your friends' socks off. I drank it all summer, and bought about eight canisters of it before it sold out for the season, but you can grab a couple cans online. It is straight up my favorite iced tea ever. Share the yum.

So there you go, folks. The holiday line up. I'm thinking a lot of these would make the foodies on your list squeal, well, like kids on Christmas morning. My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


Soup for You

It's getting colder out, people. For most of the folks I know on Facebook, fall weather seems to trigger cravings for pumpkin spice lattes, but I'm not basic. I want soup. And there are no soup nazis around these parts to shoo me away.

What we do have, on Nanticoke Ave in Endicott, which is just about smack dab between my work and my house, is Corbin's Cafe. This breakfast and lunch spot is coming correct with in-house baked breads, house made sausage and desserts, but it's the soups you need to try.

There are two soup specials each day, from corn chowder with shrimp to lobster bisque, and organic split pea to ultimate tomato. You can get a cup for $3.50 (!) or a bowl for $3.95. Honestly, I don't even know how that covers their food costs, but I don't know their life. 

The flavors are simple, home style, and satisfying. There are no chipotles or truffle oil or gourmet nonsense in these bowls, just sweet corn, red bell peppers perking up an earthy, thick pool of green peas, and homemade broths. 

The soups are the star of the show, but you might need a little more sustenance. There, there, BHS understands. Your workdays are long! Don't be scared to sink your teeth into a hearty grilled cheese with bacon and tomato:

Or a smoked turkey sandwich on thick, homemade pumpernickel:

I like that they give you a decent amount of meat, because two lousy slices would get lost between that plump, tender bread. And the bread is good, don't mistake me. But it's soup season, and they have lobster bisque this week! Lobster bisque!!

Corbin's is kind of a retiree haven - definitely an older crowd - but I think things pick up a bit more on the weekends for breakfast. Their breakfast specials are intriguing as well with specialty French toasts, biscuits and gravy, and crepes. If I could manage to both stay in town for a weekend and get dressed before noon on such a rare day, I'd really like to try it.

You won't find cutting edge cuisine at Corbin's, but for a weekday soup and sandwich craving in Western Broome County, this place is it. So check it out! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

Corbin's Cafe on Urbanspoon