Archive for the ‘Entertaining’ Category

Uncommon Women and Others

Three Uncommon Women

I find it hard to believe that my favorite play by Wendy Wasserstein, “Uncommon Women and Others”  was actually her very first. It’s so perfectly realized – so cleverly written. The play, in brief, is about a group of five friends, all graduates of Mount Holyoke College, all various ‘types’ but all determined to be “uncommon.” We see them twice- once before college graduation and once six years later. Although some have evolved in interesting ways, none have realized their collective ambition and some, it is clear, never will.

I’m happy to say I do know some women who are definitely uncommon- and I’ve met a great many of them since moving to the North Fork. Not that there aren’t remarkable North Fork men,  but remarkable women just seem to be easier to find- they have a collective instinct that’s finely honed. Women like their friends to know one another. Take, for example, my friend Louisa Hargrave, who founded the first winery on the North Fork. She’s definitely an uncommon woman (though she went to Smith, not Mount Holyoke) and she’s introduced me to several other uncommon women in turn- like Paula Croteau, who teaches cooking classes, runs a winery and is writing a cookbook (while raising two children) in her spare time. I found my friend, the uncommon Paulette Satur (co-founder/farmer of Satur Farms) on my own,  though she’s introduced me to some uncommon women as well.

When we get together,  we talk about work and wine and food and perhaps weather too (it’s a farming community after all) and I imagine us as characters in Wasserstein’s play- particularly the scene where the women- about to graduate college- are asked by the dean what they hope to achieve. One after one, the women offer ambitious goals: to attend law school, to study archeology, to become a securities analyst. But my favorite, and perhaps the one that I identified with the most, is the woman who replied, “I’m assuming something will happen to me.”

North Fork in New York

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!

Farming Christmas

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.

Wind, Wine and Strings (attached)

This past holiday weekend was one of wild weather, good wine and music. In exactly that order. The first part came with the Nor’easter that blew in. (Why doesn’t anyone ever spell it out properly with all of its letters intact-  “NorTHeaster” ?) The winds reputedly reached  50 miles an hour – which meant a pretty sleepless night for me and Rudy the dog. It also kicked up quite a big surf – the picture below is what the Long Island Sound looked like afterwards…

Long Island Sound (and some rough surf) photos by Bruce Jaffe

If this was what November is like, what is like in January? I asked, Tom, a guest at the same dinner party I attended Saturday night. “The winds are about as bad as they’re going to be any time of the year.” Tom replied. (He and his wife Sue have had a house on the North Fork for many years.) I wasn’t sure if that was a comforting piece of information or not. But the dinner party itself, hosted by the lovely Peggy Lauber and her charming husband Paul was enough to drive all thoughts of bad weather away. There was great food and wine- including wines from the North and South Forks (Wolffer Estate Chardonnay- the winery where Peggy works- and Pellegrini Petite Verdot. But the true highlight of the evening for me (aside from the great wine, food and company) was when Peggy sat down at her harp. It was like something out of a Merchant and Ivory movie.

Peggy plays the harp beautifully

The Pretzel Chicken Diaries

When I lived in Manhattan and later Mamaroneck, my ex-husband, a prominent food critic, and I used to hold regular dinner parties. Alan is a pretty good cook so he made the meal and I did the dishes. I was happy in my supporting role- what Katherine Wheelock of The New York Times called a “kitchen beta” in fact, she wrote a piece about this phenomenon (Feb.14, 2007) called He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love and included Alan and me in the profiles of kitchen alpha/betas. When Alan and I broke up, I became a much better cook not just from necessity but also desire and I began hosting – and cooking – at my own dinner parties.

But now that I’ve moved to the North Fork and three of my local friends are great cooks, I’m losing my courage again.  (The three friends are Eberhard Muller late of Lutece and Le Bernardin and now of Satur Farms and Paula Croteau, who runs the Farmhouse Cooking School in Southold and Ursula Massoud at Paumanok Vineyards who might as well be a professional chef – she turns out amazing dinners for dozens of people on a regular basis.) And they all do it so effortlessly. Paula invited me and a friend over  for a casually fabulous lunch that she created in fifteen minutes and today Ursula did pretty much the same.

I just can’t keep up. And it’s been disastrous when I try. For example, the last time I had Eberhard and his wife Paulette to dinner I made them Pretzel Crusted Chicken from a recipe from Food & Wine. It was meant to be a bit of a joke (Eberhard is German- hence the pretzels) as well as a non-compete (Eberhard is also particularly brilliant at cooking fish, so I chose chicken.)  It turned out badly. The chicken was both overcooked and over-pretzeled. It’s something I’ve yet to get over. As have Eberhard and Paulette. In fact, it’s shorthand for disaster when the three of us talk about something, i.e., “Could this be another…pretzel chicken?” Who would have guessed, 100 miles from Manhattan, I’d end up (again) afraid to cook at my own dinner party?