Monthly Archives: January 2015

Daily Catskills: 01/31/15

10F at 8am, dropping sharply to 8F mid-morning. Brilliant sunshine and some snow-bathing. Alfie the Upstate Dispatch media lab, a loving, sensitive, protective, deer-chasing outdoorspuppy with the scariest bark I’ve ever heard, has been with us for a year since we rescued him from the Kingston ASPCA this time last year.

© J.N. Urbanski 9am

© J.N. Urbanski 9am

Daily Catskills: 01/30/15

It’s nice to see what’s going on in the Catskills when you have cabin fever, like a whiteout on Belleayre Mountain and the view from a high window at Spillian. Snowy and 25F, clearing in the afternoon to reveal glorious light and striking colours: simply gorgeous.

© Melissa Zeligman

© Melissa Zeligman 1.30pm

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Daily Catskills: Call for Photographic Submissions

J.N. Urbanski

J.N. Urbanski

In February, for the sheer love of the Catskills, Upstate Dispatch is opening its Daily Catskills project to freelance photographers, and stylish amateurs with a superb eye for color and composition. The Daily Catskills Project was started on September 11th last year on Upstate Dispatch, which publishes one or more images taken on the day at 1pm in the Catskills. Please see today’s post for today’s image which was taken this afternoon.

For the two weeks around Valentine’s Day, UD is inviting photographers to submit their best picture of the Catskills on the day for I ♥ Catskills month. We will pick the best image we receive on the day and publish it and pay a fee to the photographer.

There are only two requirements:

1. The image must be taken on the day that it is published. We’re trusting you.
2. Photographers must give Upstate Dispatch permission to use the image in perpetuity on this website and allow the image to be a part of the UD historical archive for the project. We will not use the work anywhere else without your permission.

There’s more! An exhibition is planned for the Autumn after one year and all photographers published on Upstate Dispatch will have a chance to be part of this exhibition by submitting their own edition of their image(s), getting a chance to offer their work for sale to the public. There is also a proposed book in the works. You will also be invited to be part of that (or not) when the time comes (your choice).

This is a chance to be part of a collaborative project by a young website with a promising future! We are gaining more and more followers every month nationally and internationally. Please feel free to look around the website and see if it looks like an environment in which your work would fit.

Contact info@upstatedispatch.com for details. Please submit images to this email address as a high resolution image for our archive and your exhibition print. We will make a copy and publish at a smaller resolution (roughly 17 x 11 and 72 dpi).

Daily Catskills: 01/26/15

14F at 8am with the Catskills bracing for a winter “blizzard”. Update: New England’s feverishly anticipated “blizzard”, named Juno, turned out to be only a few inches here in the Catskills and NYC. It was also actually a bit warmer at dusk: 20F. Last year’s snow, in which we suffered a few feet for weeks, and thereafter when it formed an icy crust, was far worse.

© J.N. Urbanski 11am

© J.N. Urbanski 11am

Hiking: Giant Ledge

© J.N. Urbanski The view from the nook through the trees

© J.N. Urbanski The view from the nook through the trees

It’s about this time of year that cabin fever firmly seizes us in these mountains and we do impulsive things like go hiking up a mountain when there’s only two hours of daylight left. Spring seems like it’s just around the corner and we’re so used to the bitter cold that 20F seems nice and toasty. It’s not until we’re approaching our icy ascent (in our snowboarding boots, stupidly wearing wool and cotton), passing very sensible hikers on their way down using sticks and cramp-ons that we realise what a risk we’ve taken, but there’s a happy ending to this story, and a sandwich.  Charles Dickens walked 20 miles a day in his prime, stalking around town in the afternoon after a sturdy lunch, no doubt conjuring up characters en route from his observations of 19th century Londoners. Writers love a good walk. First, the sandwich: corned beef brisket on toasted rye with a dash of mustard from Arkville Bread and Breakfast with a portion of chips (that were meant to go in the Fish and Chips, but that was yesterday’s lunch). Thinly-sliced brisket, lean, delicate and not too fatty on perfectly-toasted rye. This reasonably-sized portion, plus a cup of Twinings Irish Breakfast, got me to Giant Ledge in most unsuitable shoes and down again, occasionally sliding on my bottom because of the ice.

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Arkville Bread and Breakfast

© J.N. Urbanski The Caboose

© J.N. Urbanski The Caboose

A good hearty plate of Fish and Chips is to the Catskills what the Bald Eagle is. When you spot one, you freeze in wide-eyed disbelief and fumble clumsily for your camera trying not to divert your gaze from the (menu) for a second. As an English ex-patriot from London, I find that fish and chips is as rare in these mountains as a McVitie’s digestive biscuit and actual Cheddar from Cheddar.*

You’ll find the holy grail of British food at Arkville Bread & Breakfast on Route 28 in Arkville, New York on every other Friday. (Daily menus are posted on the Facebook page.) I remember, as a teenager, fetching the family’s Friday night fish and chips, the smell of lard, salt and vinegar and paying about five British pounds for the feast. Here you’ll pay $8.95 for a portion that comes with coleslaw, chips and tarter sauce, a snip if you realise that you’ll pay $20 in NYC.

Today’s fish was cod; perfectly cooked, thinly battered, flaky and flavourful. Although the thin, crispy batter is the ideal coating, I almost prefer a thicker batter so that I have an excuse to pick out the steaming fish and save some calories, but no, not this time. All of it was eaten with the tangy tarter sauce and, now, off for a long walk I go. Today’s chips were not chips but crisps, made from Maris Pipers, sliced into flat wedges and fried with the skins on: like a drier, less floppy, two-dimensional version of my childhood chips. Also present (pictured at bottom): Sarsons Malt Vinegar, HP Sauce, Heinz Baked Beans, Branston Pickle, Tango and Spotted Dick. Tango & Spotted Dick sounds like a British detective drama brought to you by the BBC, but no, it’s a neon-coloured fizzy drink and a pudding respectively.

Proprietor Jack Zamor says that a lot of British people attend the restaurant, made from an actual train car and situated right next to a railway line, on the days when he has an All-British menu, the next one of which is slated for February 7th, 2015. Next week, Upstate Dispatch will forget all about the homesickness and return for the corned beef brisket on rye.

© J.N. Urbanski Arkville Bread & Breakfast Fish and Chips

© J.N. Urbanski Arkville Bread & Breakfast Fish and Chips

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

*If you have some actual Cheddar, please feel free to comment in the reply section.

The Phoenicia Diner Challenge

© J.N. Urbanski Arnold Bennet Skillet

© J.N. Urbanski Arnold Bennet Skillet

Last year, Mike Cioffi, owner of The Phoenicia Diner, and I ruminated on the costs of running a restaurant on my radio show The Economy of the Kitchen. Next week, Monday 12th January at 9am, in our second and final show, The Economy of the Diner, we’ll discuss the diner as American icon. The diner also has a rich cinematic history: Pulp Fiction, Twin Peaks, Superman, Back To The Future, Heat, Thelma & Louise, Diner: the list goes on and on. Who can forget Jack Nicholson trying to get an order of wheat toast in Five Easy Pieces or the tipping scene in Reservoir Dogs? Not to mention Meg Ryan’s glorious turn in Katz’s Deli in When Harry Met Sally and the actual movie called Diner, starring Steven Guttenberg directed by Barry Levinson.

As a foreigner, the diner is the ultimate American experience and my first diner visit was Relish in Williamsburg, sadly now slated for demolition. I’ll never forget my first order of biscuits, sausage and gravy and with whom I shared it.

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski Duck & Grits Skillet with poached egg

My new challenge is eating my way through the menu at The Phoenicia Diner and I continued today through the skillet section. I tried the Duck & Grits skillet ($11), House Cured Corned Beef Hash skillet ($11) and the Arnold Bennett Skillet ($10). My first taste of American grits (not a British staple) was back in Brooklyn and had been quite vile experience, like eating cold porridge. PD’s grits are creamy with a hint of cheese; their scrambled eggs are the perfect combination of moist and firm. If Chef Mel uses salt in the dishes, you can’t really taste it and this is how it should be. Salt should be the choice of the customer. The Arnold Bennett Skillet ($10) came out on top in this round: locally smoked trout (delicately tasty), parmesan cheese, crème fraîche and scrambled eggs. PD makes its own bread too, which is thick, slightly chewy and tasty. Portions are generous and the eggs are noteworthy – some of the best I’ve eaten in the Catskills – for their vivid orange color. Most ingredients are sourced locally and when they run out, so does the item on the menu for the day. Eat here before you ski, on your way to Belleayre for the hearty nourishment that lasts all day. You can take sides and leftovers to go in compostable containers.

Tune in to The Economy of the Diner on WIOX at 9am on Monday January 12th, 2015.

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Daily Catskills: 01/05/15

Back to freezing conditions again after overnight sleet, rain and finally, a dusting of fine, icy snow by morning. 20F at 8am and strong, blustery winds moving the trees. Alternately brilliant sunshine and cotton wool cloud cover. One day I’ll pick the Sumac at the end of the road. Update: 10F at dusk and a face-peeling wind.

© J.N. Urbanski Frozen Sumac waving in the wind

© J.N. Urbanski 1.40pm Frozen Sumac trees waving in the wind

First Person Dispatch: The Hipster

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

To open the new year, I wanted to post a piece I’ve been itching to publish for some time. Last year, Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked the question: What is a Hipster? This question remains inadequately answered just about everywhere I read it. So here’s my tuppence for the record.

The hipster, borne of necessity, like most American inventions, was quietly humming along by its introverted self until it was “discovered” like the next top model, propelled to stardom and repackaged. No longer the studious, dedicated urban outlier it once was, it has been devoured by contemporary culture: replicated, refined and turned into another brand like Pandora or Urban Outfitters. I’m keenly familiar with its recent history.

New York City has been a cultural icon for most of its life, but it’s a city that is almost unrecognizable from that which I visited for the first time almost 20 years ago. By 1998, I had moved permanently from an empty, crumbling mid-nineties Shoreditch in London to New York City’s Williamsburg and found something similar to what I had left.

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