The Weekender: Agricultural Adventures in Upstate New York
By Kelcey Otten | Photos by Jade Bonacolta | Upstate NY
When the city gets too hot, three foodies head north to explore the flavors and opportunities in Hudson, Chatham, and Rhinebeck.
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Summer is my favorite season.
However, if there is one place in the world where I do not enjoy summer weather, it’s New York City. Something about this city just traps heat, humidity, and overall putrescence. Even at 8:30 in the morning as I bike to work, the temperature regularly hits 85°F, which feels more like 100 with the heat given off by buildings, cabs, and mass transit.
So now I live for weekends, when I can escape back upstate to my hometown where summer, as it should be, exists. A summer of bike-rides, trips to the farmers market, hikes, swimming-holes, long drives with the windows down, and late-night barbecues.
I woke up one Friday in late July with great anticipation of one such weekend, where I planned to take three friends upstate for some rural, outdoor fun. That day, the temperature in Manhattan was projected to hit 110 degrees of disgustingness, so it was going to be a perfect escape. (Side note: the city was so hot that people were actually frying eggs and bacon on sidewalks in Brooklyn.) As I rejoiced my escape over my morning cup of coffee however, I heard on the radio that the Metro-North was shut down due to a freak derailment. I feared that there would be no escape from the oppressive heat, but after a couple of strategic plan-changes, my friends and I managed to arrive upstate late Friday night.
We rolled into town around 11 PM, and after a day of stressing about possibly not being able to escape Manhattan, there was only one thing that would be able to soothe our frazzled, urbanite souls: ice cream. And when you’re in upstate New York, that means Stewart’s Shops ice cream.
Stewart’s is a local chain of convenience stores that markets its own line of specialty ice creams in an incredible range of flavors. I’ve been a loyal fan of “Crumbs Along the Mohawk” (graham cracker ice cream with chunks of graham cracker and a caramel swirl) and “Fireworks” (vanilla ice cream with a cherry swirl and red and blue pop-rocks) for quite a while now, but that weekend I added a new favorite to my list: “Happy Camper” (graham cracker ice cream with a marshmallow swirl, mini peanut butter cups, and pieces of graham cracker pie crust). Sitting outside together on a warm summer night, each with ice cream in hand, nothing could have made us happier. This was summer.
The next day we decided to go blueberry picking. In upstate New York it’s commonplace to do things like pick your own produce or get milk delivered to your door in old-fashioned glass bottles. Since I was with friends who all appreciate fresh, local food, that type of connection and proximity to the source of sun-sweet blueberries was irresistible. So off we went to a local farm, where we were ushered into the blueberry fields by a very friendly woman who not only expected us to eat berries as we picked but also encouraged us to do so. As one of my friends reasoned, “If you don’t taste them first, how do you know you are picking the sweetest berries from the best bushes?”
After our morning excursion, we were all still hungry even though we’d each eaten about a quart of blueberries. So we drove into Hudson, N.Y. and had pizza at Baba Louie’s, an organic pizzeria whose specialty is their crunchy sourdough crust. My favorite pizza was the “Dolce Vita,” which is the signature crust topped with tomato sauce, gorgonzola cheese, figs, and sliced prosciutto (in my family, we call it the “Fig and Pig”) and the “Isabella Pizzarella,” which had roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips, caramelized onions, shaved fennel, and fresh mozzarella, finished with garlic confit and a balsamic vinegar reduction. Every slice was happily devoured.
To finish off our day of delicious, epicurean adventures, we watched the sun set from the banks of the Hudson River. The skies were perfectly pink, purple, and blue as the sun slipped behind the Catskill Mountains and a cooling breeze brushed softly over our skin. It was a glorious Saturday.
On Sunday, we all woke up in the late-morning and moseyed off to the local farmers market, where brioche from a local bakery inspired Matt, former president of the Columbia Culinary Society, to make his signature French toast, or as he likes to call it, “fried egg bread.” Now, Matt’s fried egg bread isn’t your typical frying of egg-soaked bread in a little bit of butter which you can top with butter and douse in maple syrup after cooking —Matt’s fried egg bread must be fried in an absolutely sinful amount of butter and sugar in order to create a crunchy, caramelized coating on each slice. Topped with the blueberries that we had picked from the day before, this French toast was particularly memorable. Filled with sweet, sugary goodness, we spent the rest of the day hanging out on my deck under a cloudless summer sky.
For we Manhattanites who spend our weeks trapped in a concrete jungle, nothing could have been more reinvigorating than this weekend escape. There’s nothing like sharing good food and even better company in the beautiful countryside of upstate New York.
Now if only there was a way to get some of that “Happy Camper” ice cream downstate…
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13 Fairview Avenue
This is the address for the Stewart’s Shop closest to Baba Louie’s in Hudson, in case you are in that neighborhood. If not, Stewart’s is a ubiquitous chain: you’re bound to find one simply by driving around in upstate New York.
517 Warren Street
The Berry Farm
2309 State Route 203
The Rhinebeck Farmers Market
61 East Market Street