A Corgi Christmas
I spent part of my Christmas at the home of my friend Aimee, who lives on Park Avenue. Aimee, who is a very good cook, makes an Orphans Christmas Dinner each year and this was my second or third time at her holiday table. I’m not an actual orphan as my family all lives in Texas (which makes me a spiritual orphan I guess) but I’m definitely a culinary orphan since my friend Aimee is a much better cook than anyone who is related to me. Moreover, her friends never pick fights with me- or one another, like families do. In fact, the only downside to the otherwise-perfect dinner was that Rudy the corgi (see above) had to stay at the hotel across the street. (Rudy, short as he is, has a bad habit of grabbing food off plates which has resulted in semi-permanent exile from Aimee’s place though he has hopes of returning one day.)
The food was first rate: Aimee made an enormous whole roast salmon along with cornbread pudding and cheese biscuits shaped like stars – quite appropriate for this time of year. Her friend Carol contributed a kind of cauliflower casserole and I brought the wine, including the 2006 Oremus (a great dry white from Hungary), a few other less memorable whites and two North Fork reds, the 2007 Paumanok Cabernet Franc and the 2006 Sherwood Cabernet Franc. The former was bright and juicy- very Chinon-like while the latter was a bit earthier and chewier. Both paired beautifully with the salmon and my fellow guests commented more than a few times on how much they liked the wines. Aimee and our mutual friend Sylvia (who makes a mean beef bourguignon by the way) even promised they’d come out to visit. I promised more North Fork Cabernet Franc- as long as they’d cook!
I was in Chicago over the weekend that was The East End Blizzard. But I got back in plenty of time for all the snow. Two and a half feet of it, in fact. And the size of the snow wall in front of my driveway was about twice as high. I’d called and emailed my neighbors before I got home; I found my friend Joan addressing Christmas cards, including a few to her old beaux. (She even slipped in some pages from an old diary that mentioned him into the envelope.) What an interesting Christmas HE would have, I thought, particularly if his wife was opening the holiday cards.
I found my friend Paula making gingerbread with her family. She offered to send over her strong nephews later in the week or suggested calling a landscaper named Chris. “Maybe he can plow you out.” So, along with 200 other callers (according to Chris’ secretary) I petitioned Chris to come dig me out. “He can’t get to you today- but maybe tomorrow,” Linda said. Please, please, I begged. “Everyone’s begging,” said Linda, unimpressed. Finally she said he’d come the next day. For $150. “But my driveway is the size of a postage stamp,” I replied, regretting the cliche. “It will take two hours,” she said. Two hours? Was he removing it by hand? I’m sure it won’t, I replied. “$150″ Linda said.
So I got busy shoveling. And shoveling and shoveling until my back – and my will – both gave out. And then I got out again before it was light this morning and shoveled some more. It was like breaking concrete. “Call my friend David,” Joan advised.” He will give you a good price.” (She and I had shoveled up a piece of her yard so I could park my car.)
I left David a message and figured that was that (I was probably his Caller 198, after all). Then, as I was out shoveling- again- David drove by. “I can plow you out,” he said. How much would it cost? I asked. “How about $25?” he replied, adding. “Joan is a friend of mine.” Half an hour later David was back – and my driveway was clear. I gave him $40. And the number of greedy -to- good men I know is exactly even right now.
Parades are a more commonplace sight on the North Fork than Pinot Noir vines. The former is natural fit to this civic- minded community while the latter is a decided challenge, given the region’s rather marginal growing conditions. But this past weekend, I managed to fit in both my first North Fork holiday parade (in the rain, in Greenport) and my first taste of a very nice North Fork Pinot Noir.
Of the parade, there isn’t much more to say than there seem to be a lot of marching bands on Long Island – some of which have a surprisingly high number of female musicians- and of the Pinot Noir, well, it was a very pleasant surprise. They came from Russ McCall’s vineyard in Cutchogue (he makes two- one “basic” Pinot and one “Reserve”). The former was pretty and juicy with lively strawberry notes, the latter more deeply colored and intense. Neither wine is on the market- at least not yet. And whether or not they portend some future promise for Long Island Pinot Noir, I just don’t know (though I think, given the fickleness of Pinot, probably not.) In the meantime, the delicious 2008 McCall Vineyard rose is very much around- I’ve seen it on several North Fork wine lists, including A Mano and the North Fork Table and Inn.
The Slow Food Holiday dinner at the North Fork Table & Inn last Friday was truly one of the culinary highlights of my week. I secured a spot on the wait list and thanks to a cancellation, an actual place at the table. The dinner featured local foodstuffs like sweet Peconic Bay Scallops, Long Island Duck, local potatoes, Wickham apples (in Claudia Fleming’s outrageously wonderful Caramelized Apple Napoleon) paired with Long Island wines. Seated at the same table as Louisa and me and All the Hargraves (Zander, Julie and Anne) was my friend Paulette Satur, whose farm was the source of the dinner vegetables as well as a lively foursome of Pat Mundus, daughter of famed Montauk shark fisherman Frank Mundus, her husband Earl, Barbara Close, founder of the holistic health care company Naturopathica, her beau Courtney, a Bukowski fan, sailor, chef and a sort of hardware mogul who I think specializes in selling (thousands of) doorknobs to hotels.
Each of the courses was paired to a particular wine, including the 2008 Social Club white produced by Brooklyn Oenology, the 2008 McCall Vineyard Pinot Noir Rose (which I tasted again just last night with the vintner himself– a story for another day) and the 2007 Wolffer Estate Late Harvest Chardonnay. The true vinous star of the evening, however, was a wine that was not listed on the menu at all: a delicious 2007 The Vineyard Merlot served alongside the Roasted Hudson Valley Ringneck Pheasant Breast.
The Hargraves actually sold their vineyards and winery (now Hargrave Borghese) ten years ago and this was the first wine they’d produced since the sale. (Technically it can’t actually be called Hargrave hence The Vineyard moniker.) Louisa stood up to explain that the wine was her gift to the dinner guests: it was made by the Hargraves with an assist from Eric Fry from grapes grown in Russ McCall’s vineyard in Cutchogue (harvested by all Hargraves) making it perhaps the single-most communal North Fork product consumed that night- not to mention a wonderful legacy for Zander, Julie and Anne.
Louisa Hargrave, vintner (photo Bruce Jaffe)
I lived in Ohio for several (formative) years of my life. I even went to college there. So to say that I have a feel for the Midwest is a bit obvious, I guess. I have a good friend who still lives in Ohio but then he’s Cleveland born and bred. (Four generations of Clevelanders- as Jeff likes to point out). Jeff is a wine drinker but not a wine collector- and the time we spent together last January turned into one of the most popular columns I’ve ever written- and yes, it was a search for wine. In Cleveland. And yes, it has a happy ending. (Read and judge for yourself: Cleveland.) Jeff and I were emailing recently about music (does anyone talk on the phone anymore?) and Jeff speculated that the North Fork looks a lot like Ohio.
I’d told Jeff about a great group called Low Anthem who are just out with a wonderful song called “To Ohio” on their latest album “Oh My God Charlie Darwin” and in their youtube video, parts of it, well, kind of look like the North Fork. My plan is to get Jeff, his wife Diane and their (precocious) son Eli to visit me on the North Fork next spring so they can all find out for themselves that the wine on the North Fork is a lot better than the wine in Ohio… of course.
A Christmas Tree Farm
The latest – and seemingly most profitable – crop from the North Fork are Christmas trees. Every farm, every random piece of land or every parking lot, has a bountiful harvest of Christmas trees for sale. There are the usual balsams and frasers along with the usual accouterments of wreaths and “roping” and even “grave blankets.” I hadn’t heard of the latter until today- and anyone who is in a state of similar ignorance on the subject, a grave blanket is holiday greenery cut to the size of a grave although there are greenery grave blankets in the shape of crosses as well. (You can make one as well: there’s even an instructional website to guide would-be grave blanket makers through the entire process.)
I haven’t bought a Christmas tree as yet- though I was hoping to have had one in place before my friends came to dinner last night. Alas, the festive dressing of my house was limited to lights and a few Santas and reindeer (not as tacky as it sounds, I promise). We had a potluck dinner- though as my friend David pointed out, “Potluck is usually a term used when a lot of people are contributing, not just a few.” I contributed salad, side dishes and wine (a lovely Costaripa Rose Spumante from Lombardia and a rich and unctuous 2005 Dave Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay) and my friends contributed a terrific main course of shrimp and fennel as well as truly dangerous peanut butter macaroons.
‘Potluck’, by the way, is thought to have come from the word “potlach” which means ‘giving’. It certainly seems appropriate to ‘potlach’ this holiday season with everyone you know.
Katie Holmes: (Temporary) North Fork Resident
There ‘s been a lot of celebrity talk on the North Fork these past few weeks as Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin et al have been filming “The Romantics” in and around Southold. (Katie plays a bridesmaid.) I ran into Chris Baiz, of The Oldfield Vineyards, whose property has been the site of the movie set – and the home of Holmes and crew for many days. Chris is a chatty fellow but didn’t give much away – though he did mention that Tom Cruise had helped him put a few cases of wine away. “Katie even took a picture of it.” Did he ask for a copy? Chris shook his head. “But I’m hoping they might send me one.” Then Chris told me a story about the papparazzi who had to buy ladders from the local hardware store (Hart’s) to get a look at the celebrities who were filming a wedding scene. “They must have sold about $1,000 worth of ladders that day,” Chris said.