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.

Fuisse on the Fork

Chateau Fuisse has a North Fork connection

“There are no coincidences in life, Oprah Winfrey once said to me, Everything happens for a reason. (She actually said that while sitting next to me in a car in Italy- but that, as they say, is another story for another day.) But it’s a good lead into what I’m going to write about now: a man that I met at a Burgundy dinner I attended in New York- though I think it applies to a lot of what has happened to me since I moved to the North Fork.

I was seated between two Burgundy producers, one who spoke English well and one who did not. As one who studied French for years to very little avail or verbal distinction, I spent most of my time talking to the dapper English speaker, Antoine Vincent, who also happened to be the scion of the Chateau Fuisse family of Burgundy.(Chateau Fuisse) that produces one of the top Pouilly Fuisses in Burgundy and whose old vine bottling (Vielles Vignes) is a truly complex and ageworthy wine. We made the usual small talk about New York. Do you live in the city? Vincent asked politely. I told him I’d moved far east of the city  to “wine country” aka the North Fork. Vincent nodded; he knew it well. How was that possible? “I was an intern at Hargrave Vineyards in 1995,” he said. Louisa Hargrave is a friend of mine! I exclaimed. I couldn’t wait to tell her. “Please say hello to her for me,” Vincent replied. “She is a very nice woman.” Yes, she is, I agreed and for a moment we sat in silent appreciation of our newfound bond. You should really come out to the North Fork sometime, I said. A lot has changed since 1995. There are a lot of good wineries now and some very good food. Vincent nodded. Perhaps sometime he would, he replied. A remarkable connection- and coincidence – to life on the North Fork.

Soon to be Snow

Snow on the shoreline

They’re calling for 12 inches of  snow starting tonight or to be more precise, “blizzard conditions.”  Why are they hedging their bets? Why not come right out and call it a blizzard? It’s so much more dramatic that way- and drama seems to be most of meteorology anyway.

But enough about weather- at least for now. I want to talk about eggs- specifically the organic eggs sold at KK’s farmstand in Southold, which I had for the first time recently. I was walking my dog Rudy this weekend and a man stopped his car and rolled down his window. Rudy approached, thinking he was due a compliment or better yet, a biscuit, but the man addressed me instead. “Are you the one who wrote that article for the Edible magazine?” he said. I was, I admitted. (Edible East End actually though I love the idea of an actually edible publication.) “I’m the caretaker for the farm down the road,” he said. “You wrote about KK’s farmstand in that article. Have you ever had their eggs?” I admitted I hadn’t. “Well,  I supply KK’s eggs. Here,  have some,” the man said, and reached over to the passenger seat for a cartoon of brilliantly-colored eggs -pale greens, pale pinks and pale browns. That is so nice of you! I managed to say, before he drove away.

The bounty of the North Fork can be found in the most unexpected moments- and the most wonderful ways.

Part Three of The Wandering German Winemaker

By the time Ulrich and I reached Paumanok, Charles and Ursula were waiting for us in the tasting room. Ursula greeted him in German; I asked her to have Ulrich to spell the name and his family’s winery- never mind he’d been speaking perfectly good English to me for the past hour. (I’d ascertained- somewhere between the dump and Paumanok that Ulrich and his brother ran a small winery in southern Germany called Weingut Gehrihof.)  The two of them produce an enormous ranges of wines, including sparkling Riesling, Pinot Gris which Ulrich called “Pinot Grigio,” and Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Riesling and Blaufrankisch and about seven other grapes I can’t remember. And they did all this on only seven hectares of land- or around 15 acres. “That’s a lot of grapes,” I gaped. Alas, I couldn’t taste any of them. Weingut Gehrihof didn’t export. “We only sell locally,” Ulrich said. “But you should come visit us.” Ulrich had also told me he’d been much impressed by Lenz wines and thought Eric was a very good winemaker (I didn’t ask what he thought of Eric’s politics.) He’d liked the Riesling of Raphael but hadn’t gotten to spend as much time with Rich – and neither Roman Roth or Chris Tracy were in town, alas.

When I waved goodbye to Ulrich at Paumanok, he was standing between Ursula and Charles, looking as if he’d known them forever. I felt sad about meeting- and leaving -him so abruptly but there weren’t two people I’d be happier to serve as his last impression of the North Fork.

Postscript: Charles and Ursula both wrote to tell me they’d enjoyed their time and tasting with Ulrich and that he was a very interesting young man. But Charles made a very good point. There has been a lot of talk lately from the MTA about suspending rail service out to the North Fork until the late summer and then only on weekends. Never mind that the region pays millions in taxes and the region’s commuters would be left largely stranded. If there are no longer going to be any trains, how could the next German winemaker- or any lover of wine- find their way out to the North Fork next time?

Post Office Pick Up Part Two

The Ongoing Story of the Lost German Winemaker with the Large Backpack (see Part One below)

I dropped Ulrich, the wandering German winemaker, off at Lenz Winery and winemaker Eric Fry promised to give him a “complete tour” and I arranged to pick him up within the hour, when I was driving west towards New York. I’d drop him off for a meeting with Charles Massoud at Paumanok and, well, if anything came up between now and then, Eric was in charge.

Eric called me an hour later to report he’d passed Ulrich to Rich Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Raphael Winery (just across the street from Lenz). I could pick him up there. I found Ulrich in the barrel room; they were about to taste Rich’s Riesling.  “I didn’t know you made Riesling,” I said to Rich- who I hadn’t seen in a while. But we didn’t have time to chat. I needed to get Ulrich to the Massouds before they left for the city.

But first, we had to stop at the dump. “This is what people do in the country,” I explained to Ulrich, who merely nodded, as if the events as they were unfolding, didn’t surprise him at all. “There is no garbage pick up around here; you have to do it yourself,” I nattered on. Ulrich was impassive. “Don’t worry you don’t have to help.” I said, dragging out my garbage, my bottles, my newspapers. I waved to the Man in Charge who waved back. I was a Dump Regular after all. “Of course I will,” said Ulrich. And then we were on our way to Paumanok. Although it was almost two o’clock, Ulrich had yet to have lunch. He was a bit hungry, Ulrich confessed. What was in that giant backpack of his if not a sandwich or five, I wondered – but I didn’t ask. “Don’t worry. Ursula is one of the world’s great cooks,” I told Ulrich. “No one has ever left her house or her winery hungry.”

(To be continued)

Post Office Pick up

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).

A Brutishly Cold Note

Snow Would be better than this Bitter Cold

This is the time of year when the talk on the Fork turns almost exclusively to weather- at least among the people I know.  And ‘brutal’ is the  term I hear most commonly employed. “The cold is brutal,” we’ll say to one another, as if  the outside temperature (currently a steady sixteen degrees) wasn’t just weather but a terrible, boorish presence bent on ruining the substance of our days. And, I suppose, in many ways, that it truly has – save for the hardiest souls like my friend Louisa, who will (still) go walking on the beach, admiring the water, exclaiming at the beauty – to nobody’s ears but her own.

Or at least I’m assuming that Louisa, won’t have much company out on the beach. Instead, others have told me, thanks to the cold, all the things that they can no longer do: including bike to the post office, go for a walk or even, in some extreme cases, get out of bed.(My friend who told me this said she has dedicated this period of intense cold to  watching the Food Channel instead.)  Of course I also have friends who have used the weather as a reason to get out of town, to places that are either warmer and colder. (Yes, the latter really is true.) I’m staying put- for now- and having dinner parties with friends. Like the dinner I’ll be attending this evening- I’ll bring the wine (as I almost always do) – probably a bottle of Samling, a Slovenian wine I discovered in the course of writing a story for The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. Even though my friends are in the wine business too, they’re likely to all be cooking- they’re very good cooks. That is, of course, something else can be done in the cold. Cooking. Or baking. I could bake cookies or bread- though I will probably go buy some instead. Baking is just too much effort – in brutish times such as these.