Category Archives: Pennsylvania

You can’t go home again, but home does ship UPS

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When we moved from Syracuse back to the Capital District, there were a few things left behind that we knew we’d miss and had a hard time finding replacements for – Hofmann’s coneys, fisherman’s cheese, Hyman Smith coffee (and, in restaurants, Paul deLima coffee). But we settled in and picked up the food traditions of greater Albany, and largely forgot that when we moved to the depths of Pennsylvania, there would again be some things we would miss. Some were to be expected, some were complete surprises. And while the local devotion to pretzels is . . . charming, and there are these satanic cookies called Sweetzel’s mini-cremes, it doesn’t quite replace what we left behind.

  • Bagels. You don’t have to tell me that, on the whole, bagels in the Capital District aren’t like bagels in New York City. I know. (But, hey, try Psychedelicatessen’s, because they’re pretty damn good.) In fact, these days most of the bagels in New York aren’t like the bagels in New York. But trust me, if you lived where I live now, you’d be dying for something that even remotely resembled a Bruegger’s bagel. Most of them come out more like a hard roll than a bagel.
  • Ginger biscotti from Our Daily Bread in Chatham. Please, ODB, please: Offer to ship. Right now we rely on friends, relatives and our occasional trips back home to keep our stockpile going.
  • Lucy Jo’s Coffee. While we love what they serve up at Spill’n the Beans, we became big fans of Lucy Jo’s as well. We didn’t think we’d have trouble finding another coffee roaster in the trendy suburbs of Philadelphia, where we have a whole foods store that isn’t that whole foods store. But, weirdly, haven’t found anything local that wowed us. Happily, Lucy Jo’s does ship, and quickly, so we can keep getting our Brink on.
  • Not actually from the Capital District, but similarly, we haven’t been as smitten with local pasta makers as we were with Flour City Pasta, which makes a tremendous variety of grain types and flavors, and it’s all of such quality that I swore off ever eating grocery store pasta again. They’re from Macedon, out near Rochester, but they come to the Troy Farmer’s Market most weeks, and are also more than happy to ship us their great stuff.
  • Fish fry. I didn’t understand that fish fry was a regional thing. Don’t misunderstand: there are restaurants with fried fish of the haddock/cod variety. It exists. But there aren’t delicious homey little seasonal fish fry stands that serve a simple fish fry in a paper boat with enough fries to put you under.
  • Cider donuts. Pennsylvania has amazing apples. Pennsylvania has good cider. Pennsylvania has good donuts along the nature of a fry cake. But do they have cider donuts as an upstate New Yorker would recognize them? They do not.
    • I need to qualify that statement, and then unqualify it. When I tell people around here that I can’t find a cider donut, they look at me amazed, and then recommend places where they are supposed to exist. Most of those places are miles and miles from here, and on the rare occasion when I have tried to hunt them down I’ve found something that really wasn’t what we’d consider a cider donut – they may be donuts, and they may have cider in them, but something isn’t right. And then I make the point that I shouldn’t have to drive half an hour (around here, that’s about 10 miles) to find such a thing, that in fact I can hardly cross the street without tripping on one where I come from. Further, we have stopped at tens of farm stands that absolutely should have had cider donuts, only to be greeted with quizzical looks.
    • Then, at the local farmer’s market, one of the cookie and scone bakeries had cider donuts. I kvelled for a minute, in a way that may have startled the proprietress. She asked, “How many do you want?” I said, “I want ALL the cider donuts!” “Oooohhhkay.” “How much are they?” “Two dollars.” I thought I had misheard, because surely a half-dozen cider donuts has to go for more than two dollars. Well, I had, and it does . . . because what she meant was two dollars per donut. And by that time, I was so desperate for a fix that I paid it. It was, if you have never had an upstate New York cider donut, a perfectly fine piece of confectionery . . . a firm, flavorful fry cake that in absolutely no way whatsoever resembled a cider donut.

My super-urban life

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Yes, I’m gonna have to update the banner to reflect the reality of life in our little city (excuse me, Pennsylvanians, my little boro), but there’s no point in changing my URL after all these years, so this one will stand for now.

But the reality is a complete change from our previous car-centric life, where absolutely NO tasks could be comfortably accomplished without getting in the car (even the Stewart’s wasn’t a comfortable walk). This morning, we walked a bag of donation clothes down the street to the church donation box, then went around the block to the coffee shop (whose proceeds support a community for the developmentally disabled), where we sat on a bench and enjoyed watching all the runners and cyclists and walkers and dogs going by. Then we went down to the Phoenixville Farmer’s Market (unfortunately seasonal, not year-round like Troy’s), picked up everything under the sun, enjoyed some great music, and wandered back with our goods.

Kinda great.

Blobfest

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rebekah_blobfest_BsWu3HbIEAASHLs.jpgSo, here’s the thing about our pending new hometown of Phoenixville, PA: the movie “The Blob” was largely filmed there and in the surrounding areas. Doc Hallen’s house is still there. So is the Colonial Theater, from which the teens run screaming from a monster feature when the blob consumes the projectionist and oozes through the louvers and into the theater. Let’s face it, “The Blob” would probably be forgotten had it not starred a youngish (27, playing 17) Steve McQueen. It is not one of the finest movies of all time. And the fact that it featured Phoenixville could have remained nothing more than an interesting bit of local trivia, just as with the filming of scenes around Albany and Schenectady in recent years.

But instead, there is Blobfest, an enthusiastic celebration of this and other B movies. It commences with “The Run Out” — costumed participants pay for the privilege of running screaming from the theater in advance of the blob. There is a Tin Foil Hat parade, a costume contest (which Mothra and his companions, shown above, won this year), and a Fire Extinguisher Drill Team Parade. There are vendors, antique cars, and double features of “The Blob” and other movies like “Mothra” or “King Kong Vs. Godzilla.” There is a lot of fun.

So we spent the weekend at Blobfest, and visiting the farmer’s market, checking out where to put in our canoes, finding the best coffee places, and chatting with local residents. There were dozens of cyclists out on the roads and paths, there were flotillas of kayaks, there were all kinds of people just out enjoying almost perfect days.

One or two things I know about her

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  • It may be that Zillow lies. It tells me houses have just come on the market, and when I go to actually look at them they’re already gone. This is discouraging, because I would totally have bought that house.
  • In Pennsylvania, the shirtless douchebags start driving shirtless much earlier in the season, pumping out a much worse type of music. This may be the downside to a warmer spring.
  • The worst part of moving is having to break up with my hairstylist. I’ve been with her for more than 20 years. I feel like I’m cheating. It’s even worse, really, because every time I’ve gotten my hair cut it’s been by someone different, so it’s like I’m slutting around on her.
  • The move south means I get to experience something akin to those people who move to Australia and get summer twice in a row: I get to have spring allergies twice in rapid succession. The dogwoods and magnolias are already in bloom down here in greater Philly. (After all, why do you think they call it “greater”?) And so’s a lot of other stuff with pollen. Then it’ll all die down and I’ll go back north and experience it anew in three weeks.
  • While I do get to experience the commercial genetic superiority of a Wegman’s, which all of Albany is clamoring for, there is no such thing as a Stewart’s down here, and no local equivalent. The best I can hope for is a Wawa, whose new stores are all clean and presentable and have decent bathrooms. But seriously, it’s embarrassing just to say its name.
  • I can’t say that I’ll necessarily miss living in a place where I can kill a mosquito, hatched from the April warmth, in my bathroom on the same morning that I then had to go out and scrape a significant amount of ice off my car. I’m fairly sure that’s a sign of something.
  • This whole thing about no self-serve gas in New Jersey: I don’t care that it’s 20-30 cents a gallon cheaper, AND someone pumps it for you. I think those of us who can remember full serve have a romantic memory of rolling over the gas station’s bell hose and having Chip come running out to serve you, filling ‘er up while cleaning the windshield and checking your oil (in a hot engine), and making change with a smile. The current reality is sitting in line and waiting while one overworked immigrant plods from car to car, putting your credit card into a very sketchy card reader, starting the pump and then walking off to tend to 10 other cars, leaving you to sit for seven minutes after your tank is full before he gets back to you to hand you your card. The whole process takes a minimum of three times as long as pumping it yourself does, and makes you feel like you’re exploiting undocumented labor in the process.

Phoenixville ho!

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Phoenix bobbleheadJPG.jpgSpent the weekend checking out towns to live in. After a dreamy weekend of touring around, enjoying restaurants, cafes, and even the movie theater, we’re writing Phoenixville’s name all over our notebook, in colored ballpoint with heavy outlines.

 For one thing, the town is essentially Bedford Falls. It has a library that looks like a library, a post office that looks like a post office. It has a busy little downtown of shops and restaurants. It has a wonderful classic movie theater that features first-run and classic movies and live performances. It has a handful of coffee shops and galleries and another performance space. We don’t even have a dog and we’re in love with that fact that, up in Reservoir Park, it has Reservoir Dogs Park. (Not many municipally sponsored Tarantino references in the world.)

 It has an annual festival to celebrate the fact that a classic (and yet, really not good) movie, “The Blob,” was filmed there, with scenes in that very theater. It has another festival where they set fire to a giant wooden phoenix. There’s a farmer’s market (that no doubt can’t touch the incredible one in Troy) and street fairs. There’s a nice little True Value hardware store.

 My better half became the friend-maker, going up to random people (dog owners are great for this) and telling them we were thinking of moving there and asking them what they thought of the town. There wasn’t anyone who didn’t actually love it there.

 The challenge in leaving Albany housing for a metro area is, of course, price. Inexpensive houses in a nice neighborhood, with nice yards full of black raspberries, near a lake and seven minutes from downtown, those are things that do not exist in greater Philadelphia. Even 45 minutes out of the city, it’s challenging to find an affordable single family home (the area is filled with something called “twins,” where you share a wall and the risk of horrifying modifications to the other side of the house with someone you don’t know). Our house is no palace, but it has new windows, new heat and central air, a window in every room, an attached garage, a three-season porch: these are things that will cost about $120,000 more where we’re looking. Ouch.

 But, we’re thrilled to have found the town we want to live in. So, Phoenixville ho!

 

 

2 or 3 things I know about Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania 2So I’ve been at this thing of being in Pennsylvania on a semi-permanent basis for a bit over a month, and there are a few things I’m learning about my soon-to-be-adopted state:

  • The roads are in crazy good shape, but they are narrow and shoulderless, and this is going to be a problem for this road cyclist.
  • Gas prices are about 20 cents a gallon cheaper than in New York (and yet more expensive than New Jersey), but a new gas tax is going to ruin that for me.
  • It took me five minutes to set up my electric account. I set up my water account entirely online. Verizon took a single phone call. Everyone showed up when they said they would. I’m wildly confused by this experience.
  • As a friend warned me, people talk to you in elevators. This is insanely unnerving to a New Yorker.
  • To what I hope is the annoyance of Albanians who pine for such things, I’m a short drive from both an IKEA and a Wegman’s, and my internet is Verizon FIOS. I hope it makes it even more annoying that I really don’t care.
  • Well, maybe I care about the IKEA more than I wanted to. My first week here, it was pretty much all I saw of the area. Much was assembled that week, I can tell you.
  • People have NO IDEA how to drive in snow. Or even rain, apparently. I know that the 20 inches a year they get in this area isn’t the 60 inches we get in Albany (and nothing like the 120 inches we used to get in Syracuse), but still … it’s not like it doesn’t snow all the time. There’s a dusting on the ground and suddenly we’re DC? Seriously, Philly, we’re going to have to have a talk.