My Wall Street Journal image
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and I owe Forklife readers an explanation and an apology… I’ve been blogging elsewhere! Specifically at The Wall Street Journal, where I’m one of the two wine columnists, along with Jay McInerney. And although the Journal blog “On Wine” is New York rather than North Fork-centric, I hope you’ll check it out and send me your thoughts. I’ve already found some terrific North Fork wines to write about there.
I’m not leaving Forklife- I promise I will be back from time to time- and in the meantime, please visit me at http://blogs.wsj.com/wine/.
All the best, Lettie
My Wall Street Journal column debuts tomorrow, April 17th.
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.”
The Beauty of a North Fork sunset
This is what the setting sun looks like from my house- it’s actually almost six pm… the fact of the sun setting just-that-much-later is something all my friends on the North Fork mention as one of their reasons to be hopeful – and certain that spring, once again, is just around the corner. The weather this weekend offered that much more reason to believe. It was a beautifully sunny pair of days and wherever I traveled on bike or on foot, I ran into friends proclaiming their plans to be out of doors. Expressing such a desire was akin to a wish to be alive- again- or at least it seemed that way to me.
Yesterday, on the first of these two beautiful days, I took a walk on the beach with my friend Paula whose every comment seemed to be accompanied by the disclaimer “This is off the record!” … in case I was thinking to record, say, the fact that she did not (unlike me) pick up a few dozen scallop shells. There are lots of scallop shells on North Fork beaches. They’re like pennies on a Manhattan sidewalk- no one bothers to pick them up. Except me of course.
Today, my friend Jackie came over from the fashionable South Fork (aka the Hamptons) for the day. We went out to lunch (though I did have on hand the ingredients for a certain chicken and bok choy dish that sounded good- on paper at least). But I decided we should have lunch at Love Lane Kitchen- knowing it would have a crowd every bit as fashionable and good looking as can be mustered on any February weekend in the Hamptons. Then we went for a long walk on the beach with our dogs. “This is beautiful,” Jackie kept saying. Then she went home.
One hour later, while I was home typing on my computer- the power went out. The lights, the computer, the internet. The heat. I called Paula, who lives down the street. She’d lost power too. “I think there was an accident- someone probably ran into a pole or something,” Paula said, as if this should be comforting. “But don’t worry; we have a generator. You can always come to my house,” Paula added. About an hour or so later, the power came back on – but the batteries in my various detectors (smoke, carbon monixide etc.) wouldn’t stop beeping. I phoned Paula- who came over with her son Marcus, armed with detector-bashing equipment (tweezers and a piece of cloth). Rudy the dog was quite happy to see them (a buzzing alarm is like a siren to a dog’s ears) and soon enough Paula and Marcus worked their magic- the alarm was silenced- and Team P & M retreated into the night. A Perfect fix by perfect neighbors. Off the Record, of course.
The best place to find a winemaker?
I rode my bike to the post office this morning, thereby engendering the usual number of stares (it was about twenty degrees so needless to say few people travel around the North Fork by bike in February- unless they have to). Just as I was about to ride away, a young man with a backpack approached. Did I know where he might find a taxi? He had a pronounced German accent. I did not. In fact, I didn’t know if there was a taxi service in town (there is not.) Why did he want a taxi anyway? “I want to visit wineries,” he said, unfolding a map that I recognized as the work of the Long Island Wine Council. I shook my head. That was going to be difficult. He waited hopefully. Where was he from? “I’m visiting New York with my friends,” he said. He’d taken the train to the North Fork (there are only two – one in the morning and one at night) in hopes of seeing some wineries. Back home, he was studying at Germany’s prestigious Gesenheim Institute, home to one of the best oenological programs in the world. He and his brother had their own winery in southern Germany, not far from Alsace.
First, I called Charles Massoud, at Paumanok Vineyards. Charles is not only a terrific winemaker and a true gentleman but he happens to have a (wonderful) bonafide German wife, Ursula. The Massouds also regularly host students from Geisenheim as their interns. “Bring him over!” Charles said, sounding delighted. I explained to Ulrich (that was his name) my plan: I’d ride my bike home, get my car and take him to meet a few winemakers I knew. “Wait in the library- I’ll be back for you.” I said to Ulrich, who looked a bit dubious. Ulrich just nodded as if it were perfectly normal to be accosted by a woman at a post office and taken about the countryside. “I’m a journalist,” I explained, as if that made it that much more logical somehow.
On my way home I called Eric Fry, the winemaker at Lenz. I told Eric I’d found a German winemaker at the post office. “You have all the luck,” Eric replied. Was he being facetious? Eric promised he would give Ulrich a good tasting. Could I bring Ulrich by in ten minutes? Sure, Eric said. (Eric, in addition to being a very good winemaker, is a very good sport.) Eric said he would also call Roman Roth, the German-born winemaker at Wolffer Estate and maybe a few other winemakers too. Perhaps they’d want to meet Ulrich as well. I ditched my bike and got into my car. I drove back to the library and found Ulrich waiting by the videos. “You have a German car,” Ulrich said, looking relieved. He got in my Audi and we drove away. (To be continued).
Caroline Bell and the Peconic Impressionists
I’ve been away for a few days – again- but this time no further than New York City. I came home and my neighbor Joan handed me a fistful of mail – alas only bills and a threat from the New Yorker that my subscription was “about to expire.” Never mind that a closer examination revealed that this sad event would actually take place sometime in mid-March. I know it’s a tough time for media of all kinds but how bad must it be if even the renewals department of the venerable and vaunted New Yorker is panicking? On the other hand, if that’s true, I might hold out for a better rate…
Joan has been busy while I’ve been away- in addition to writing all of her old beaux (the one she sent a Christmas card to has apparently written back and demanded a picture of her). She got a dog from the local pound that came with the name Angel and according to Joan, she earns it every day. She’s an old dog that someone clearly thought had come to the end of her usefulness and decided to give away. Joan is a bit of an angel as far as I’m concerned for saving her life, whatever remains of it.
In the meantime, Joan is thinking of getting her picture taken in a wedding dress she bought a while back at TJ Max. “The dress looked good and it was cheap,” she said to me, as if that was an adequate explanation. Never mind there wasn’t a smallest promise of a groom. I do love her spirit.
Joan sells a lot of stuff on ebay – mostly dolls- and maybe a wedding dress or two. When I stopped by to visit, her friend Alison was visiting with Joan as well. Alison apparently knows a lot about a lot of things, including the Peconic Bay Impressionists, a school of artists that lived in Mattituck about seventy or so years ago. They were a group of artists who were apparently under the tutelage or perhaps the patronage of Caroline Bell. Alison later went home to get the book (seen above) which she dropped off at my door along with Subsoil, a book about the North Fork some seventy years ago. (She says it’s much more interesting than it sounds.) The impromptu generosity of my neighbors on the North Fork continues to amaze me. Now of course I need to something for them.
I’ve been in Alabama this past week – eating and drinking – over and over again. But details will have to wait for my May column in Food & Wine. In addition to some great restaurants and wine (no Alabama muscadine, however) I found something quite amazing: a carousel horse carving school over a bar. The bar is one of those local-hangout places, a southern-style Cheers decorated with “Go Crimson” souvenirs. (The Crimson Tide, is of course, the University of Alabama football team which just happened to have won the National Championship this year). I went into the bar and asked a guy named Rudy – who turned out to be the bar manager- how I could get upstairs to see the carousel horses in the window. “I have no idea,” Rudy admitted. But Rudy offered to accompany me to the building next door where he thought the door to the Carousel school might be found. “I’ve been curious about that place,” Rudy confessed. The owner, an artist who normally works in bronze (he showed us some statues) was just there, waiting for one of his pupils to show up. He was an artist from California who had the idea to make carousel horses when he’d visited a carver in Chattanooga a few years ago. And he’d liked it so much he decided to open his own school in Alabama. Not that he had a carousel in mind that needed them. There aren’t many carousels left in the country, the artist lamented. But then the school had only been open for four or five months. “Maybe you will convince someone to create a new carousel,” I suggested. The artist didn’t answer but he did give Rudy and me a complete tour of his studio and all the horses in relative stages of readiness – that his pupils – including one grandmother and a retired cop- had made. The grandmother had finished her horse and was now working on a carousel bunny.
“It’s a magical place,” I gushed. Rudy just looked around, “Yeah, pretty cool,” he agreed. Had the artist ever been to the bar downstairs? He had not, the artist replied firmly as if I’d suggested something especially debauched. If Rudy was insulted by this, he didn’t show it. In fact, he told us a little story: “There were a bunch of guys sitting outside the bar, I think a few months ago- they were pretty drunk- they kept looking at up those things-” Rudy gestured to the wooden cherubs that the artist had hung in the window over the horses. “They kept saying “I want one of them birds, I want one of them birds.” Rudy laughed at the memory. The artist simply nodded and soon showed us out. “Thanks for stopping by,” he said and gave us cards and a brochure. And he went back to his horses and perhaps, his search for a carousel.
As students of Roman mythology realize – and probably plenty of calendar readers as well- the month of January derives its name from the two-faced Roman god, Janus. As the god of gates and doors, Janus seems like a better moniker for a building supply company than the bleakest month of the year. Or at least that’s always been what January is to me- though my friends on the North Fork keep saying “March” is truly the month to be dreaded. Some several snow storms later, I have to say I don’t like the look of January so far. But back to Janus. Who is not only the god of various portals but also, beginnings and endings.
So I will try to think of January less as a month to be endured and more of one that could be the start of something exciting and new. Now, I just have to figure out what that should be. A friend of mine has embarked on a Total Global Makeover (of herself) which sounds as terrifying to me as it does ambitious. I thought I’d start with something a bit smaller- like, say, learning how to chop vegetables properly. My friend and neighbor (and amazing cooking instructor and winery owner) Paula Croteau runs a Farmhouse cooking school out of her wonderful Farmhouse and I think (and hope) Knife Skills is one of the courses she will be offering. “People are calling me up and asking when the next class will be,” Paula said, “Things get pretty desperate in January.” To which I replied, “What about March?”