Stay with me here – those two items are related.

I’ve been a little under the weather for the past week; last Friday, I underwent septoplasty surgery to correct a “grossly deviated” septum. My right nostril was almost 100% blocked, which means I haven’t been able to breathe properly since I don’t know when. Truthfully, I don’t know when – I have no clue when my septum took a sharp right turn. My guess is that it stems from facial trauma I suffered during a car accident in 2001, when my car was totaled and my airbags deployed. But why didn’t I notice a problem then? Again, I can only venture a guess here, but my thinking is that I didn’t notice any problems with breathing through my nose until a few years ago, when I moved in with my husband and was introduced to his hairy demon from hell cat. I am, apparently, allergic to long-haired cats, and the allergies made my poor respiration that much more noticeable and frustrating.

Anyway, since the procedure, I’ve been suffering from mild pain, swelling, congestion, and general malaise. It took five days and an entire bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol for me to feel even remotely human again. It was awful. I’m not even allowed to blow my nose! But probably the worst part of this ordeal was the fact that I had lost my senses of smell and taste due to the considerable swelling of my nasal tissue (No joke. For a while there my nose was looking like Shrek’s). I’d been restricted to a “soft foods” diet, which really didn’t bother me too much because I couldn’t smell or taste anything anyway. In fact, the removal of my two favorite senses made me completely disinterested in food (!!) – so much so that I really wasn’t eating much. I actually lost 5 pounds in the past week because food just seemed like such a waste of time and effort. I was hungry, but hunger pains weren’t enough to entice me to merely ingest calories. Food without taste is just stupid.

Yesterday I felt pretty good – no pain, and I even ventured out of the house for a bit to do some desperately-needed clothes shopping. And today was even better: I had a late afternoon appointment to remove the splints that were inserted into my nose. After an uncomfortable few minutes (imagine someone rooting around inside your nostrils with a giant pair of metal tweezers and a penlight and extracting two Star Wars action figures holding fully extended light sabers, followed by strong suction to whisk away compacted mucus), I experienced something I haven’t experienced in more than four years: full breaths passing through clear nasal passages. It was a minor miracle. My doctor cautioned that my bliss would be temporarily short-lived, however; the congestion would return after about 10-12 hours, followed by another week of slight congestion, after which I should be back to normal. Well, better than normal: actually able to breathe fully through both nostrils. But I still can’t blow my nose for another week or so.

The best part of today: my senses of smell and taste made a reappearance. Not 100% restored, but enough for me to feel like eating and drinking some stuff, just to take my senses for a spin during my window of opportunity. Luckily for me, today was the Downtown Schenectady Merchant Mashup, a neat little event where downtown Schenectady restaurants set up inside downtown retailers for the evening and offer free samples of their menu items. There were eleven restaurant/retail pairings throughout downtown, and I wanted to visit as many as I could in the hour I had to enjoy it. The weather was gorgeous, and the event was really fun, even if I was by myself.  My little trip is documented after the jump.

Welcome to Jay Street!

  • Taj Mahal Restaurant @ Zaria & Bella’s: Chicken Tandoori (Chicken marinated in a variety of Indian spices) and Masala Vada (Vegetarian crispy snack made of lentils/spinach and spices). The tandoori was perfect: bright pink/red, cooked until it was juicy and falling off the bone, and with enough spice to make my tongue tingle. The flavor of the masala vada was good, but it suffered temperature and crispness problems from sitting out in a hotel pan for too long. Taj Mahal is a great Indian restaurant, and a favorite among downtown workers looking for a cheap, delicious lunch. I must apologize to the proprietors of Zaria & Bella’s – I never made it inside.
  • Tara Kitchen @ New York Folklore Society: Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Dip; Grilled Ground Chicken Kebab with Pomegranate Seeds.  Probably my favorite stop of the evening. I am a huge fan of Tara Kitchen, and I’m thrilled that their little Moroccan restaurant is doing so well since its opening a few months back. Moroccan food is a vivid mosaic of savory, sweet, and spicy flavors, keeping your mouth guessing as to what’s coming up next. The chicken kebab were flavorful (if a tad dry), but Tara Kitchen really hit one out of the park with the eggplant dip. Creamy, spicy, salty. I didn’t detect any pomegranate seeds, but I didn’t really realize that until later.  If you’re interested in checking out this new Schenectady treasure, I’d do it sooner rather than later: they got a great review in the recent issue of Metroland, and people will be crowding the few tables there for the foreseeable future.
  • Cafe NOLA @ The Open Door Bookstore: Crawfish Jambalaya – crawfish tail meat and andouille sausage blended with fresh herbs, spices and rice. Pretty good, with a nice kick. I haven’t had crawfish since my high school trip to N’awlins back in ’86.
  • Cornell’s Restaurant @ Patricia’s Room: Utica greens (sauteed spinach with garlic and onions, cherry peppers, cappicola), and vegetarian ratatouille (summer squash and zucchini simmered with tomato sauce). I had never had Utica greens before today, and now I’m sorry I’ve wasted so much time. They were fantastic! Nicely spicy, but not overpowering the earthy spinach flavor. I am a convert. The ratatouille was good; not great, just good.
  • Bastardo’s Bistro @ From Here to Antiquity: Entrée with layers of chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan and roasted peppers. Bastardo’s is a recent addition to Schenectady’s Little Italy section (such as it is), opening about six months ago. Their menu looks like pretty standard red-sauce Italian fare, moderately priced. The sample they served me was really tasty, and there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be heading there for lunch one of these days.
  • Manhattan Exchange @ Downtown Designs – Turkey Club Wrap. Neat little shop, so-so sandwich.
  • Apostrophe Café @ Anthology Studio: Homemade brownies, coffee samples. Not a whole lot of effort shown here by Apostrophe, but Anthology Studio is a beautiful space and their flowers are spectacular.

Places I didn’t hit:

  • The Alto Grille @ Bliss Gifts and Home Decor: Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothies
  • Pinhead Susan’s @ The Katbird Shop: Irish Stew
  • Katie O’Byrne’s @ Lennon’s Irish Shop: Guinness Irish Stew (really? two places serving Irish stew?)
  • Moon & River Café @ Orenda Yoga & Healing Arts: Basmati Rice Pilaf, special iced tea blend

The event was pretty great; it was so nice to see downtown Schenectady filled with people on a beautiful Friday evening. There was delicious food, live music, booming business, and a festive atmosphere – everything the event planners were hoping for. Congratulations to the folks at Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation for a job well done. I took a bunch of photos; they’re in the gallery below.

If you missed tonight’s festivities, you’ll have another shot in August: the DSIC is planning another Merchant Mashup for the third Friday in August. You can get updates about it, and other downtown events, by checking out their website,

Me? I’m just happy to be on the upswing of recovery. I’ve got a ticket to tomorrow night’s Urban Roots local food/beer event at Brown’s Brewing in Troy, and I am excited to have use of my senses again in time to enjoy it.

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