Author Archives: JNUrbanski

Winter Hiking Tips

© J.N. Urbanski

Winter hiking in the Catskills can get dangerous very quickly. One minute you could be trotting along atop a magical winter wonderland, but take your gloves off for a few minutes to take a picture and end up with frostbite.

Water can freeze in your backpack by the time you’ve reached the summit of a mountain when you’re most dehydrated. If you’re layered with cotton and start sweating on your ascent, you’ll stay wet and soggy for the duration of the hike, which makes you more vulnerable to plunging temperatures. Your food can freeze and be impossible to bite or cut up. And then, of course, you can get lost or step into a deep snow pile and twist an ankle, which is easy to do on very rocky summits like Balsam and Giant Ledge.

Perhaps we should call this the Pessimists Guide to Winter Hiking. As we’re all keenly aware however, life in general is sort of dangerous these days wherever you go, and the outdoors is the safest option to enjoy the company of friends and extended family. Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than eating your lunch while absorbing the views from some the Catskills’ highest ledges and summits.

Top tips: Don’t hike with a hangover. Start drinking water the night before and drink few pints of water before you set out, so you don’t have to carry extra, because water makes your backpack much heavier. Take an empty vessel so you can melt some snow in an emergency. Eat a hearty breakfast. Include highly calorific, but light foods in your backpack like grilled bacon, sliced meat, nuts, chocolate or boiled eggs. Take a hot beverage in a light flask to drink at the summit. Always take a lighter, some pocket hand warmers and a sturdy knife to break ice. Have a full battery on your phone. Most important: take the number of the local forest ranger before you start hiking and tell family or friends where you’re going.

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Upstate Update & Catskills Links: Get Outside

© J.N. Urbanski 9am

A wild year at Upstate Dispatch is hurtling to a close and due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases we are being advised by epidemiologists, doctors and the media not to have Thanksgiving with people outside our immediate household. The Atlantic declares that there’s only one pandemic rule.

This year’s hunting season seems to be more popular than previous years as these mountains ring out with gun fire daily, one incident shaking the rafters of my house like a thunder clap. Food is expensive and this year has been financially difficult for everyone, but most of the Catskills is open for hunting, and so extra precautions – over and above the COVD-19 precautions for outdoor recreation – must be taken during this hiking season. See links below. Watch this space for winter hiking tips coming shortly.

November has been taken up with research and development for 2021’s TV station, Catskills Air. I’m now taking names of people to interview for my new Women of the Catskills segment for Catskills Air, and my Upstate Dispatch You Tube channel. If you would like to participate, or know a woman of the Catskills you would like to nominate, please email me on info@upstatedispatch.com. Candidates will be coached on Zoom lighting and back-drop set-up.

November Links:

The Catskill Mountain Club has reported that we have already had four hunting fatalities in the region. Most of the Catskills is open for hunting, so all hikers and their dogs must wear blaze orange when hiking the Catskill State Park. The CMC has published a list of other places to hike during hunting season.

Cabin fever will be even more real this year. Hike with the Catskill 3500 Club: see their December schedule for winter hikes.

Treat yourself to the all-British menu at Arkville Bread Breakfast in Arkville this weekend November 21st and 22nd, 2020. As a Brit, I can confirm that Jack’s fish and chips has always been the best.

A tried-and-tested recipe for warm golden milk with turmeric and honey that keeps cold away.

Belleayre Ski Center has been making snow this week, and training its new employees. Get outside (safely) this winter!

Cider Making

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First the barrels had bourbon in them. Then they had Tree Juice maple syrup aging in them. As of 9am this morning, they contained Jenkins + Luekens apple juice, recommended locally as both tasty and well-produced, allegedly the best apple juice in the Catskills which is UV light-treated (cold-pasteurized). JL Orchards based in Gardiner, NY, have 200 acres of apples and other fruit like peaches and plums.

Now is a good time to experiment with cider making; apple season is winding down but there are still plenty of apples left. One 10-gallon barrel (pictured above) will be used to ferment the juice into hard cider that will spend its entire production life in the barrel. Perhaps we’ll go a little wild with this barrel, remove the bung and leave it to take on ambient yeast. The other barrel will be decanted into two five-gallon carboys with champagne yeast, fermented into hard cider and then returned to the bourbon barrel for aging.

This will be intensely flavorful Catskills juice. Watch this space.

Upstate Apple Picking

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Wightman Fruit Farms say that they’re closed on their Instagram account, but we found them open for picking yesterday from their small selection of heirloom apples and grapes. If they close this week, you can still pick apples from their cooler and put cash in the box. Wightman’s have an historic, 150-year-old tree called The King of Tomkins (pictured above) that is still full of fruit. The apples are larger than usual, crisp and juicy. They made a beautiful apple crisp.

Wightman’s charge $15 for a peck of apples, $25 for the honey crisp. If you’re still looking for outdoor dating ideas, you’re not going to get anything more romantic than disappearing amidst the rows of low-rising fruit trees, especially as the temperatures are still hovering around 60F until Saturday – the forecast calls for 70F on Thursday. Call ahead first to see if farms are open. Some farms in the Hudson Valley still operate if you pre-book an appointment, or their farm stands are open.

JL Orchards in New Paltz still had apples to pick this past weekend. Check their website for their apple picking update. Wright’s Farm in Gardiner were open last weekend and they are dog-friendly. Wright’s farm market is open year-round. Stone Ridge Orchard in Stone Ridge has a farmstead and a farm bar with pizza, cider, NYS beers and wine tastings. They have U-Pick apples now. Call them for availability.

Daily Catskills: 10/18/20

How much more can we take of this gorgeousness? A seasonal gift to usher us through the last months of 2020. Another astonishing day with Autumn gold turning to copper with a thick carpet of fresh, brassy leaves in the forest. A high of 60F and breezy but humid, with a hazy sky.

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National Mushroom Day

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October 15th, 2020 was National Mushroom Day, but this passed by unnoticed around here because rest assured that every day here at Upstate Dispatch is mushroom day. The obsession is feverish around these parts for mushrooms of all kinds.

Mushrooms are one of the world’s most sustainably grown plant – they’ll even grow on coffee grounds – especially if they’re foraged. They’re part of nature’s fascinating underground network of information and nutrients passed between trees and other foliage called mycelium. Not only to do they give a superbly bold, earthy flavor to soups and sauces, but they’re also high in Vitamin D (unlike any other food) a notable mood-lifter in dark months. Mushrooms are a good flavorful substitute for meat and they’re high in soluble fiber. Other nutrients they provide are Vitamin C, B, potassium, copper and selenium. They’re also being used to make bio-degradable packaging and in cleaning up the environment. Here are some great resources, information and recipes on this astonishing organism.

Links:

A recipe for easy mushroom gravy.

The Mid-Hudson Mycological Society in Upstate New York and The North American Mycological Society website.

The best book for the novice mushroom forager from Teresa Marrone and Walt Sturgeon, Mushrooms of the Northeast.

American-grown mushroom supplements and grow-your-own mushroom kits from Host Defense.

Mushrooms will save the world and are being used in environmental clean-ups, even helping to clean up the area around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor.

It’s raining today October 16th in the Catskills, so mushrooms should be popping up everywhere in the next 24 hours – this weekend should be a prime time for foraging.

Homegrown Horseradish

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Horseradish is a spicy root of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables (that includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli, cabbage, and radish), that looks rather like a white, gnarled parsnip. The roots run deeply into the ground and the edible leaves that are bigger than rhubarb leaves, but long and thin instead of round, can grow to four or five feet in height. It’s easy to take credit for a huge horseradish crop, but the reality is that you can never really be rid of it. Once you try digging it up out of the ground, you realize that it’s tentacle-like roots travel far and wide around your garden, so you have to stop digging at some point. Whatever root is left is sure to pop out of the earth and produce leaves the following year. If you like spicy food, it’s a really easy crop to grow because of the low maintenance, frost resistance and it’s prolific growth rate. Hot peppers are much fussier than this hardy root.

Horseradish is most commonly found in a sauce with vinegar, but vinegar plus horseradish seems a little excessive: do we really need to suffer that much? I don’t. You can make it a little gentler on the palette by grating it into a condiment like mayonnaise or ketchup, or soups, or finely grating it into a hollandaise to put over eggs for a spicy benedict. It also goes well in a creamy butter sauce for venison or steak.

Store unwashed horseradish root in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Once washed and grated, it should be put into vinegar to preserve it, but it must be used within six weeks.

Horseradish root is high in fiber; said to improve digestion and metabolism and contains a variety of nutrients like calcium, potassium, folate and Vitamin C.

Daily Catskills: 09/30/20

A high of 64F but still humid and warm in the frequent bursts of sun. Overcast with more swirling, grey-lined clouds and early morning fog. Soaked with overnight rain and a low of 52F. Schoharie County has more dazzling colors than its southern neighbors: vivid reds, plums, maroons and magentas join the oranges and yellow. A riot of color in the Catskills. A glorious Fall.

Daily Catskills: 09/24/20

Thick mist rising out of the valleys early morning and hanging in the air like fog until the afternoon. Humid with ominous, rolling cloud that dispersed at sunset and a high of 72F that continued to sunset. A steamy fall day. Some reds, but mostly yellows that are much more prominent in the midday sun.

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Daily Catskills: 09/22/20 Autumnal Equinox

Fall began at 9.30am this morning. A warm, cloudless day with a high of 67F. T-shirt weather in the sun and sweats in the shade. The landscape looks dark green with red patches in the bright sunshine, but the setting sun casts a yellow haze over the foliage that is gone by morning.

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Daily Catskills: 09/19/20

A morning full of dew with frost receding into the shadows after the overnight low plunges to 32F. A day of full sun with a blue lightbox sky and a lazy breeze. A high of 59F but still warm in the sun. The red leaves become a bit more prominent against all the green, but no fall explosion yet.

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Picnic Dinners at East Branch Farm, Roxbury, NY

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Picnic dinners on East Branch Farm continue until October 11th, 2020 on Friday and Sunday nights at 5.30pm ($25-30 per head). Friday is meat based; last Friday’s was Korean BBQ. Sundays are vegetarian. Go online to www.eastbranchfarms.com to reserve a picnic spot. Picnics take place on the farm on tables and chairs made from tree stumps nestled under the apple trees and around the edge of a huge field of six-feet-tall goldenrod you could get lost in. Bring your own picnic blankets for chilly autumn evenings. The farm sits in a wide valley with panoramic views of the Catskill Mountains on Route 30 in Roxbury, Upstate New York, but the spots are pretty private. You really don’t see anyone while you’re eating and with those magnificent views, you can watch the sunset while wrapped up in a blanket: perfect for romantic date night.

A previous version of this post contained the incorrect link to East Branch Farms. Apologies to subscribers who have the incorrect link in their original email.

A New Foraging Cookbook

Dina Falconi has written a color, hardback cookbook for foraged, wild food, beautifully illustrated by Wendy Hollender that makes a luscious, engaging read. Beginning this Fall, here at Upstate Dispatch you’ll see some of the recipes. For whatever ingredient is out of season, we’ll use a non-local ingredient to practice in the recipes in advance of foraging for the real thing next year. The author is based in Accord, NY, so this is a local book.

Fall might be a strange time to start, but we were somewhat distracted this Spring by Covid-19. We’ve all had a rough year and now we’re looking at a decidedly different winter in 2020. Cooking up a storm is a comforting way to make yourself feel better, warm up the house, feed family or friends, and also add some new recipes to your repertoire.

Foraging is a way to reduce your carbon footprint even further than avoiding red meat and air travel. By eating locally and seasonally, you’re saving the transportation costs of food that comes from far and wide, but learning the ropes of what grows in your local area takes study and dedication, especially if you’re mushroom hunting. Most mushrooms are not worth eating, or not worth the risk of poisoning, for example.

Dina’s book includes illustrated details of many local, wild edibles; plant habitat and growing conditions; seasonal harvest chart, and recipes for soups, desserts, condiments, beverages, dips, spreads, preserves and much more. This book is remarkable because of illustrations, and the way they are laid on on each page, that makes the information more easily remembered than any other foraging book. They are all color pencil sketches, and for each plant there are contrasting illustrations on the same page that simply makes it crystal clear to the reader. In some cases, there are cross sections of fruit that depict the seed inside. It’s just a noteworthy book for its clarity and ease of reference: a keeper. This copy’s going to get well-thumbed, dirty and handed down to the next generation.

There’s a page devoted to a “wild grilled cheese master recipe” using nettle and other raw greens and wildflowers. Because there are wild flowers still out there in these last days of summer, this recipe could be tried first, but we’ll see what’s at the farmers’ market tomorrow.

Catskills Air Network – New Catskills TV Station

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Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch! It’s been six years since the website begun and the birthday was spent filming the pilot of our local Catskills news broadcast. I’m one of the news anchors with Kent Garrett (pictured right), under my maiden name, Jenny Neal. The project is being developed for MTC Corporation, who are opening up their News Channel 10 for our weekly newscast; The MARK Project and apparently tireless producer Jessica Vecchione.

Kent Garrett and I were formerly colleagues at WIOX Radio and now we’re going to be colleagues on television.

Daily Catskills: 09/03/20

A dew-soaked morning full of mist, turning sunny for a brief while and then, in moved the clouds, light blue and creamy, like blueberry milkshake until they went all gray like dirty dishwater. Humid with a high of 75F. Dismally dull until late afternoon when the clouds dispersed into wisps until dusk.

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Daily Catskills: 08/30/20

A cool, breezy morning with scattered showers and piles of chunky, grey clouds looking like your comforter on a Sunday morning. The clouds clear to allow some afternoon sun and a high of 72F. The summer of 2020 winds to a close with some show-stopping weather.

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Northern Catskills Essentials

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You can now order one of the Catskills’ best beauty products by phone or email from Northern Catskills Essentials and it’s worth it for the $4 delivery charge anywhere in New York State. This $7 soap is made by hand in Stamford, Upstate New York – just north of the Catskills State Park and it’s a gorgeous product. Reasonably priced in stylish packaging, the soap makes a superb gift in addition to the company’s creams and lotions. It’s beautifully light with a smooth creamy lather that doesn’t dry out the skin, which is a miracle as far as soap is concerned. The scents made with natural essential oils are robust, but not overwhelming. Finally, the packaging is sustainable paper and with each bar, you’ll be throwing out one less plastic bottle of shower gel. Treat yourself and you’ll never use another soap again.