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.”

Wordsmithing Snow

Rudy is sick of all the snow

Have there ever been as many nouns applied to the arrival of snow as there is this winter? So far we’ve had snowpocalypse and snowicane and snowmaggedon and of course – the bland but accurate ‘snowstorm.”  Actually, no one ever uses that last noun anymore. Too straightforward,  too simple- and definitely lacking the dramatic wordsmithing required of meteorologists these days. And the snow-exaggeration does not seem to be confined to the weathermen on television… I had dinner with some friends on the North Fork the other night who proclaimed (about our most recent winter dusting), “We got hit pretty hard- we must have gotten four or five inches of snow.” (The North Fork, admittedly, got a lot less of the stuff than Manhattan) But the consensus is clear: Everyone – including and perhaps the corgi (above) is sick of the snow. I wonder if there could be as many ways to describe snow-disgust as there are to express snow-excess. Stay tuned.

Why Write about Wine?

The First Wine Book I Really Loved

I taught a class on wine writing at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York a few nights ago. I found it heartening that anyone signed up at all — given all the talk about the ‘death of journalism.’ But the class (all women and one man) was clearly made up of believers in life after death- and possibly even aspiring wine writers as well. They were all in other professions of course- banking and real estate and law- and one magazine editor – who wrote the best tasting note on the two wines that I poured. (A wine writing course should always be accompanied by a couple glasses of wine.) Joe, the one man in attendance, was a political consultant “only for Democrats.” Joe came with his girlfriend, who had bought him a ticket to my class for Valentine’s Day. What a wonderfully romantic gesture! I commended her. (It turned out Joe had a copy of my book, Educating Peter and was also a fan of my ex, Alan. He had a copy of his book, Fork it Over as well. Alan was Joe’s favorite food writer. “I even read his blog,” he said. “I have his barbecue story in the glove box of my car.”

I talked to the class about some of my current-day favorite wine writers- and showed them examples or what I thought was good – and bad – writing. I also talked about some of my early wine-writing ‘heros’ the first of whom was Gerald Asher, the former Gourmet columnist whose old book On Wine inspired my own wine career- first as a wine salesperson and later as a writer. Asher was actually a wine merchant himself for many years before he began writing about wine, in fact, there is a venerable tradition of this in the UK (Asher is English) and famous English wine writers like Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson also sold wine – though I have no idea how well they actually did. (Broadbent’s son Bart is in wine sales; in fact, he has his own company, Broadbent Selections.)

There are a few American wine merchants who have also picked up a pen (or more likely, a mouse) to good literary effect as well – most notably Kermit Lynch (Adventures on the Wine Route) and more recently, Neal Rosenthal (Reflections of a Wine Merchant). But unlike Asher they’re both still selling wine. Asher had a wine company called Mosswood where I worked very briefly many years ago as a sort of sales trainee- it went out of business after a while but that wasn’t (just) because I was lousy at selling wine.

I don’t know why these wine salesmen turned to writing any more than I know why a banker or lawyer or real estate agent would want to write about wine instead of lawyering or banking (well, maybe wine writers are more beloved than bankers right now). I do know why I do. Wine is like literature to me- full of endless variations, narrative styles and possibilities for plot twists. There are always new people, new places, new wineries and new wines to be discovered. Great stories abound. It’s just a question of finding them out. Be curious above all else! I exhorted my class before they left – no doubt in search of (another) glass of wine.

The Setting Sun – and the Promise of Spring

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.

Meetup In Mattituck

East End Wine Lovers Meetup at Love Lane Kitchen

The third meeting of the East End Wine Lovers meetup group (an unwieldy name admittedly) took place a few nights ago at our ‘usual’ spot, the Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck.  The theme was wine paired with Asian food, in honor of the Chinese New Year’s, which began last Sunday. I’m pleased to report only one person brought a Gewurztraminer. Although it’s inevitably touted as the choice companion I find Gewurztraminer rarely goes well many Asian dishes. I have (more) strong feelings about the unsuitability of Gewurztraminer paired with potstickers and the like- but insufficient room to rant here – at least right now. (I did actually love the Gewurz in question – from Standing Stone, a Finger Lakes winery- just not with the food).

There were a lot of good Rieslings (including one from superstar Mosel producer, Donnhof) a few Pinot Noirs and even a North Fork Carmenere – from Osprey’s Dominion. The food was fabulous, as it always is at Love Lane and there was lots of it (some people, including yours truly, took home extras for lunch). There was even a large platter of fresh sushi handmade by Rick, the Love Lane Kitchen guest sushi chef, who is in Mattituck right now by way of Japan.

I wrote a column for Food & Wine that appears in this month’s issue of the magazine here about East End Wine Lovers and how I came to put the group together- with lots of help from Carolyn and Michael at Love Lane Kitchen- and I’m proud to say that people from as far away as Toronto and New Jersey have been petitioning to join our little group (85 members- so far). If you’re not a member right now, perhaps you’d like to join? Meetup here Our next meeting will be sometime in mid-March.

A Picture Worth 153- 155 Words

A North Fork Beach in Winter photo by Bruce R Jaffe

I read somewhere that the average blog length was around 153 words. As one who consistently writes over- sometimes well over- that average, perhaps it’s time I take the notion of brevity to heart- particularly when it’s a holiday. Happy President’s Day. And particularly when there is such a beautiful picture (left) to look at instead. This is a silent, beautiful North Fork beach in mid afternoon, in mid winter- and I think it’s the perfect pictorial accompaniment to a few lines from the great poet and erstwhile North Forker, Walt Whitman:

“There is a dream, a picture that for years has come up noiselessly before me… It is nothing more or less than a stretch of interminable white brown sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the ocean perpetually, grandly rolling in upon it, with slow, measured step, with rustle and sweep and foam.”

(155 words)

Polish Cooking with Paula

Polish Sausage

One of the best post-snow diversions I’ve found these past few days are the cooking classes held by Paula Croteau at her Farm house Kitchen Cooking School in Southold. (She also runs the winery Croteaux Vineyards with her husband Michael, a designer.) Full disclosure: Paula is a friend of mine. Further disclosure: Even that fact didn’t get me in. I had to sit upstairs in Paula’s little study, looking down on the heads of the lucky students who had signed up for her Polish Cooking Class much earlier than I had…

There were about 12 lucky pupils who learned how to make potato pancakes and various stews with polish names (Bigos and Golabki) and even desserts like poppy seed cake. I learned a lot of Polish words too (mostly cooking) and interesting facts like Polish people are big on carraway seeds. In short, Paula gives a lot of class for a very little bit of money- certainly by Manhattan standards. And of course she teaches a lot more than just Polish cooking- she teaches how to make bread and fresh pasta and Asian specialties.  And she chops really, really well – something that I wish I could do. Her hands move on a cutting board with sureness of a concert pianist over a Steinway (I had a bird’s eye view after all.) I didn’t even mind that they kept stacking up pots on the stairway so I couldn’t walk down the stairs. I would have happily stayed up there all day if I could – but I’m hoping to get a spot in the actual kitchen next time.