09/02/11 1:55pm
09/02/2011 1:55 PM

“You forgot your lunch.” All over the North Fork you’ll hear parents call this after their kids — kids who leave their brown-bag lunches on the kitchen table as they head back to classes this September.

Oh, I know. There are some students who beg a few bucks from their folks each day and at noon they leave school and search out the nearest pizza. Other students buy school cafeteria lunches and survive quite nicely, thank you.

Students who brown-bag it may have, on a good day, a roast beef sandwich, an apple, some cookies. Pretty routine. All those newspaper columns about healthy eating suggest Mom or Dad tuck in a few carrot sticks. And a bottle of water. No soda.

Come to think of it, out-of-school, older people eat lunch, too. On-the-job North Fork folks start thinking about lunch as early as 10 a.m. I know I did. I usually pulled out a coffee yogurt I was going to save for an afternoon snack and dug in. Gone by 10:15.

I realize our North Fork restaurants and luncheonettes do a brisk lunch business. Deservedly so. Service is fast and friendly, food tasty, prices reasonable. But we’re eating in today, opening the brown bags we’ve packed. Seems appropriate this time of year.

Our first experienced brown-bagger is Chris Eten, a physician’s assistant working hard in Greenport. When Chris breaks for lunch he feasts on something nutritious, of course. On the day we spoke, Chris had enjoyed some cold chicken, an apple, yogurt and other easily packed and healthy stuff.

Actually Chris and his wife (they have two youngsters) both brown-bag. And Chris claims he never, ever forgets to bring his lunch to work. His secret? He puts his car keys on top of his lunch bag each night. No way he’s gonna drive to work in the morning without those keys or his lunch.

I admit to keeping something from Chris. On the day we met, my lunch consisted of chocolate ice cream and lots of it. Not from a brown bag but straight from the freezer.

On to another bagger. Pretty as the flowers surrounding her, Georgia Gabrielsen is a busy young woman. An elementary teacher, Georgia spends summers at her family’s business, Gabrielsen’s Country Farm in Jamesport.

I’d stopped by to purchase a wagon-load of chrysanthemums and Georgia filled me in on her brown-bag habits. Her lunch is frequently just a turkey sandwich and water. That’s it. “Not enough,” I wanted to say, and did. A grade school teacher needs energy, lots of it.

“Always.” That’s what Southold’s Connie Monteforte said when I asked her if she ever brown-bagged her lunch. Connie decided early on that brown-bagging was easy and economical. Years ago Connie worked for Bulova Watch in big, glamorous Manhattan. Even so, she brought a yogurt and some fruit, possibly a hunk of last night’s roast, to work each day. Making a sandwich took too much time. Connie just grabbed whatever was in the refrigerator.

Now working in a Greenport thrift shop, Connie still totes her lunch and gently chides some younger North Forkers who are not inclined to brown-bag it. Connie is admirably thrifty. If she ever leaves her Greenport job, Connie should head up to Albany or down to D.C. Get those budgets in order.

Maybe Connie and I should scold Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. He’s a super supe and all that, but I got the goods on Scott when a member of his staff told me our supervisor “doesn’t even eat lunch.” Sandra Berliner said the supervisor has some mid-morning coffee, but that’s it. Sandra says she tries to tempt Scott with a piece of candy. No luck. However, according to Sandra, whenever her co-worker Ruthanne Woodhull bakes a carrot cake and brings it to work, Scott appears immediately and is not a bit shy about asking for a piece or two.

You know, if I were supervisor I’d use those few picnic tables under the trees in back of Town Hall. I’d brown-bag it at least a couple of times a week and have lunch with any North Forkers who happened to pass by. Think of what we’d all learn and the fun we’d have. No cellphones and yes, we’d keep the place spotless.

Brown-bag lunches are popular. Indeed, there are brown-bag lunch (and breakfast) stores from Maine to Florida. But if the North Fork were to have a brown-bag store, I’d suggest a different twist. Rather than ordering from a menu, a North Fork customer would purchase a filled bag, contents unknown until opening. That way there’s an element of surprise come lunchtime plus the opportunity to try something new. And think of the trade-offs among fellow workers. Trade my box of raisins for your container of tapioca. Like back in grade school where all this brown-bag business began.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

05/09/11 9:17am
05/09/2011 9:17 AM

Unfair and unkind. That’s what I think. Some folks, even a few North Forkers, are always saying mean things about the government — whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or right here at home. Like the government doesn’t know what it’s doing, or it doesn’t care about the little people, or it wastes money.

Now, occasionally this may be true but I maintain the real problem is a problem of words. And I don’t just mean politicians talk too much. It’s how they present things. Here’s a perfect example:

This coming Saturday, May 14, North Forkers can dispose of hazardous waste at the Cutchogue recycling center on Route 48. Great! And do you know who’s sponsoring the day? The Southold Town Department of Solid Waste. Now if I were a government, I’d never have a waste department, much less a solid waste department. Why, solid waste is total waste — just exactly the wrong image, don’t you think? Those guys need a new name.

Meantime, the Waste Department will accept frightful things like pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides. We don’t have any of that stuff in our garage because we’ve made friends with our weeds — and I haven’t seen a mouse since Disneyland in 1990.

However, the list of things accepted by Waste includes bathroom cleaners. I take exception to that. In my home, I am the bathroom cleaner. I’ve been at it for more than half a century and I’m good at it. I’m certainly not ready for disposal.

Then there’s something called lighter fluid that Waste says we can get rid of on May 14. I used to think all fluid weighed the same. Guess not. But I did recall something about heavy water, so I checked it out. It’s just plain old water that has some deuterium in it. If you drink deuterium water you could dispose of yourself. You know, maybe we could combine lighter fluid with heavy water and come up with something just the ideal weight. Leave it to the North Fork!

Another item on the Waste list is body repair putty. I don’t know exactly what this is but it sounds like something I could use. Increasing numbers of my body parts need work and that putty might be just the thing. Some of my neighbors would probably admit to needing body work, especially with summer-clothes weather on the way. The sale of body repair putty to qualified North Forkers over the age of 50 (40?) might prove very lucrative for the town. And just think how good we’d all look.

Waste wants our starter fluid, too. That sounds like some kind of drug to me. None of that around here. Besides, North Forkers don’t need any kind of fluid to get started. Just look at us. We’re movin’ and doin’ all the time. If we need anything, it’s a slow-down fluid.

Here’s one for you: Waste says we can dispose of paint strippers on May 14. I don’t believe we have any strippers on the North Fork, painted or otherwise, but it seems to me that dropping strippers off at the dump is a pretty harsh reaction. Couldn’t we just run the strippers out of town? That’s what they do in all the old movies.

There’s more, if you’re up to it. Waste hopes you’ll throw away your old room deodorizers and waxes and polishes on May 14. You know what? Waste may be on to something here. If a kitchen smells of cabbage or a living room of fresh paint, there’s no reason to run for the rusty old deodorizer can. Why can’t we just open a window and let in some North Fork air? The best things in life are free.

Those waxes and polishes? Underneath my kitchen sink, keeping lonely company, are polishes for wood, silver, glass — for just about everything except teeth. There are even a couple of cans of boat wax for a 15-foot Wellcraft we bade farewell in 1973. In truth, these waxes and polishes are classic examples of good intentions. We put them in our shopping cart, take them home and unpack them. Then they’re stacked on a shelf till they dry up, harden, crack. Never used. I can’t be the only North Forker with waxes-to-go on May 14. Waste is right — a waste of what’s in my wallet.

OK, so I’ll toss out my hazards on the appointed day. That could include, according to my husband, some unidentified leftovers in the refrigerator. But let me tell you this: We gotta choose our words more carefully. What town office wants to be designated as the Department of Solid Waste? Or for that matter, what husband?

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

04/26/11 10:09am
04/26/2011 10:09 AM

I’ve lived in them all and called all of them home — a Cape Cod, a colonial, a split level and now a ranch. But never, ever, a tree house. Matter of fact, I’ve never even climbed a tree.

Perhaps that’s not particularly important but I got to thinking about it, what with Arbor Day coming up tomorrow, April 29. True, that day is not big on the long list of calendar holidays, but I do remember certain grade-school teachers making a fuss about the day; the assignment would be to get out our Crayolas and draw a tree.

My drawings may have had a bluebird or two on the tippy-top branches but never did I add a tree house. No imagination then, I guess.

It’s different now. To me a tree house seems a home in the heavens. A cloud, a star, the moon, the sun — they’d all be closer and that’s just fine. Face it, though. I’ll not be climbing any trees in the days to come. My best bet is to listen to what some experienced North Fork tree people have to say about life in a tree house.

A few decades ago, Stanley Berkoski lived in a comfortable home on Main Road in Peconic. Still does. On the property adjacent to the Berkoski home there was a tree house and you might say Stanley lived there, too. After school and during summer vacations, Stanley and his pal Wayne climbed into that tree house and did what 10-year-old boys do: shared stories, ate cookies and identified the few cars passing on Main Road. No, the limousines had not yet arrived, but then, neither had the vineyards. Stanley’s mother said her son was “heartbroken” when he returned from school in Colorado and discovered the tree house had been dismantled, as in torn down.

About Stanley’s friend Wayne? He told me a swamp maple supported the tree house and that he and Stanley had nailed strips of wood to the tree to gain access to their hideaway.

Here’s something about Wayne and the tree house that’s more than just chance. At least I want to think so. Today, Wayne’s work is trees — planting them, pruning them, loving them. Yeah, that’s Wayne — Wayne Mott, whose North Fork business is Mott’s Tree Service. Funny, isn’t it, how the kids turn out.

Now comes the tough part. The romance of a tree house, cookies and car-counting is just part of the story. Practicality rears itself on the North Fork as it does elsewhere, I’m sure. I checked at the Southold Town building department and guess what? If you want to build a tree house larger than 10 feet by 10 feet, then you gotta get a permit. Really.

A pleasant woman in Town Hall told me the cost for a permit would be $100 plus 40 cents for each square foot of floor area. She gave me a few sheets of paper to take home to read. I was never very good with words like whereas, resolved, accessory and zoning. And if I wanted a tree house with a roof, I’d have to know the “mean height between eaves and ridge.” Oh, boy. Maybe Stanley and Wayne could help me.

Then I had another awful thought. Insurance. Would a tree house mean an increase in the cost of liability insurance? I called Brisotti and Silkworth Insurance in Mattituck. The agent I spoke with happens to know my age and I thought I detected a gasp of disbelief when I asked about a tree house. Anyway, the agent said she’d check it out. I told her there was no rush; it was unlikely I’d be constructing this spring.

But, ah, there is a Cutchogue family considering building a tree house within the next few months. Nine-year-old Courtney Trzcinski has her backyard spot all picked out. Three sturdy trees will support the tree house and Courtney seems to have every detail planned. Right down to the rope and bucket for hauling supplies heavenward (again, cookies).

Courtney’s parents, Debbie and Phil, are excited about the tree house, too. I’ll reveal it was Daddy Phil who “suggested” the tree house idea some time back. Good for you, Phil.

Courtney looks forward to quiet time in the tree tops — reading and crocheting scarves to give as gifts. And all the time she’ll be face to face with the squirrels and the birds. Quite possibly enough quiet time in a tree house gives a person sufficient courage to go out on a limb. Every now and then that’s a good place to go. A good place to grow.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

04/15/11 12:34pm
04/15/2011 12:34 PM

My mom, who is 92 years young, could have written a book on manners. Her warning to remember our manners included, but was not limited to, writing thank-you notes, addressing our elders respectfully and saying please and thank you. She also cautioned us not to stare at other folks and to keep our voices well-modulated.

Table manners were another arena in which Mom gave directives that started with the word “no.” No slouching, no elbows on the table, no grabbing, no talking with your mouth full. Mom’s phrase “You’re going to get a ‘what for’ if you neglect your table manners” still resonates in my brain. In case you’re wondering, a “what for” was a scolding.

Back then, dining out was a rarity. Fast food restaurants were practically nonexistent, or perhaps, with six kids, money was tight and my parents kept fast food a secret. While my kids were growing up, I noticed a proliferation of fast food eateries; however, we didn’t frequent them. Hmm. This may have had something to do with my upbringing.

Nowadays, eating out is pretty much the norm. This brings me to my burning question: Shouldn’t we establish some contemporary restaurant rules?

Recently, while Frank and I were dining out with another couple, we noticed that the restaurant was getting a tad crowded. Clinking our glasses together, we congratulated ourselves for making an early reservation.

Toward the end of the meal, we felt that all eyes were on our table. When the server asked if we wanted to see a dessert menu, the folks who were eyeing our seats seemed to wait with bated breath for our answer. Truthfully, I felt bad about saying yes.

Talking on a cellphone while dining out is not only rude, but also annoying to anyone within earshot. Worse yet are the folks who put their phone on speaker. The squeaky disembodied voice coming from the phone can take one’s appetite away.

On our first date, Frank and I went to a lovely restaurant on Staten Island. Frank was quiet and attentive while I was chatting away, as usual. Seated at the next table were a man and woman who weren’t speaking in well-modulated tones; they were having a doozy of a fight. Frank leaned in closer to me and whispered, “Not my style.” I was glad to know that.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, are couples who engage in a lip-lock that goes on forever. I consider myself a romantic, but as Mom is fond of saying, “There is a time and place for everything.” And, folks, this ain’t the place.

Some restaurants leave their salt and pepper shakers out on the table. I’m not a germaphobe, but I’ve become suspicious of said items. We know that babies are notorious for putting stuff in their mouths, right? So pray tell, when Baby puts the saltshaker in her mouth, why do the parents proceed to place it back on the table?

The term “finger-lickin’ good” is often used to describe barbecued ribs and such. C’mon, lick your fingers at home. The folks at the next table don’t want to see a complete 10-finger demonstration with surround sound.

Miss Manners and Mom said it’s OK for us gals to discreetly touch up our lipstick after dinner. However, engaging in a full-face makeover would cause Mom to swoon.

According to Mom, talking with food in one’s mouth is a grave offense. Why then, after I put a big forkful of spaghetti into my mouth, does the server approach me and solicitously ask, “How’s everything?”

Frank and I are heading to New Jersey to take Mom to dinner. Undoubtedly, Mom will be watching my table manners, and you can bet that I’ll be watching them, too.

Ah, me. Some things never change. Mom is still a force to be reckoned with and has no problem giving me a “what for.”

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.

04/15/11 11:47am
Steamed and roasted Long Island duck.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Steamed and roasted Long Island duck.

The term “Long Island Duck” is famous throughout the world and still seen on many restaurant menus. And indeed, by the late 1960s Long Island was producing up to six million ducks annually. Eastport became the center of duck processing and distribution because of the proximity of the railroad and farmlands to good drainage and easy access to water.

As the population moved eastward, duck production declined. Today, the Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue, owned by the Corwin family, is the only duck farm left on the North Fork. They, however, remain very active, breeding, hatching, growing and processing all of their ducks right here on the North Fork. Crescent Duck Farm produces about 5 percent of the commercial ducks in the United States. The quality of these ducks ranks among the best in the world and they are purchased by the most discriminating chefs and restaurants.

The breed of duck used on Long Island is the Pekin duck, with its characteristic white feathers and orange feet. The first Pekin ducks came from China on a clipper ship in 1873. One drake and three females survived the voyage from Beijing to Long Island Sound. The ducks readily took to the sandy soil and tidal ponds of eastern Long Island and multiplied to create a booming industry and a name that would live on for many years.

The breed, Pekin duck, should not be confused with the famous duck dish, Peking duck. In the Peking (or Beijing) duck recipe the crisp skin is separated from the roasted duck and served with Mandarin pancakes, scallion brushes and hoisin sauce. The duck meat is served on a separate plate. Peking duck is famous in China and served throughout the world in Chinese restaurants. The authentic recipe, which requires inflating the duck with air and hanging it to dry in a cool breeze, is a little too labor-intensive for most home cooks, but here are some recipes that capture some of the flavors and style of that famous dish:

Steamed and Roasted
Long Island Duck

Remove the giblets and fat from the body cavity of a 6-pound duck and trim the skin around the neck area. Cut off the tail and trim the wing tips. Rinse under cold water, dry and prick the skin with a sharp fork. Make a spice rub by combining 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder with 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons coarse salt. Stir in 1 teaspoon soy sauce to make a slurry and rub it over the duck and in the cavity. Place in the cavity half of an unpeeled onion, half of an unpeeled orange, 1 tablespoon sliced ginger and 1 tablespoon sliced garlic. Tie the legs and wings against the body with a piece of string. Place the duck in a V-shaped poultry rack and set it in a roasting pan. Place the pan in a 400-degree oven and pour boiling water in the bottom so that it comes up the sides one inch. Cover tightly with foil and steam in the oven for 1 hour.
While duck is cooking, combine 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar in a saucepan. Reduce by half and set aside.
After 1 hour remove the duck, still in its rack, and set on a sheet pan. Pour the water from the roasting pan and place the duck back in it. Brush the duck with the reduced glaze and return, uncovered, to the oven to roast for another 1 hour at 400 degrees. Baste with the glaze every 15 minutes. When the joints wiggle easily the duck is fully cooked. Remove and let rest before serving. It should be a deep mahogany brown and very flavorful. It does not need a sauce, but would go well with long-grain wild rice or a barley pilaf.
Serves 4.

Twice-Cooked Duck Legs
with Mandarin Pancakes

Trim excess fat from 4 duck legs (about 2 pounds). Cut each leg in half through the joint to make a thigh and a drumstick. You will have 8 pieces of about equal size. Rub the duck pieces with 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder and place them in a soup pot. Add cold water to just about cover, along with 1 cup soy sauce, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tablespoon sliced ginger, 1 tablespoon sliced garlic, the peel from one orange and 6 black peppercorns. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Remove from the cooking liquid, pat dry and cool.
For the Mandarin pancakes, place 2 cups flour in a bowl and quickly stir in 1 cup boiling water to form a dough. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 3 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Divide the dough in half and form into two balls. Roll these out into quarter-inch-thick pieces and, using a rocks glass, cut them into 3-inch rounds. Brush the rounds with sesame oil on one side and place them, oil side in, together with another round to form a pancake. Sprinkle with a little flour and roll out these rounds to a diameter of 6 inches. Set aside and cover with a damp towel.
At service time heat about 2 cups canola oil in a shallow pan to 375 degrees. Deep-fry the duck pieces until dark and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels and keep warm.
Heat a heavy sauté pan to medium and cook the pancakes until lightly browned on each side, about 3 minutes each. When cool enough to handle, peel them apart and serve on a plate. Cut the meat and skin off of the duck pieces with a sharp knife and cut into thin julienne pieces or slivers. Serve these in a bowl.
On a separate plate serve one bunch of scallions that have been cut in half crosswise and then cut into thin strips. Serve a dish of hoisin sauce on the side to spread on a pancake; add duck and scallion slivers and roll it up to eat as you would with a Peking duck.

Marinated Duck Breast
Trim excess fat from 4 duck breasts with the skin on and score the skin with a sharp knife in a crisscross pattern. Make a marinade by combining 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 1/4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Place the breasts in the marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours.
At service time, heat a heavy sauté pan to high and cook the duck breasts skin side down until brown. Turn the duck, reduce the heat and cook for another 5 minutes or until medium rare (130 degrees). Remove and keep warm.
Pour off all fat from the pan and make a sauce by adding the marinade, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon hoisin and 1/4 cup white wine. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in cold water and stir into the sauce. Bring to a boil, taste for seasoning and strain into a serving bowl. Slice the duck breasts and serve over brown rice or noodles.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected]

04/10/11 7:00am
04/10/2011 7:00 AM

There seems to be complete agreement. The North Fork is special, a place set apart. No need to list our blessings. We know we’re unique.

And yet in just a few hours we will forfeit that uniqueness and join with the rest of the country in doing something pretty ordinary. We’ll wake up to income tax day. Twenty-four hours of struggling with the checkbook and promising ourselves to set aside a few more dollars for next year.

Now, I know taxes are necessary. That I was carefully taught. But there is something I don’t understand. For years I’ve paid estimated taxes every few months. And yet, when April rolls around, I always owe more. If my grocery estimates were so inaccurate, I’d never have enough food in the kitchen. If my husband’s estimates were so faulty, he’d never have enough wood in the garage for projects not yet dreamed.

I suppose I know what I’m looking for. I need a way to bridge the gap between taxes withheld and the check I send to the IRS in April. Year-long small savings might do the trick, and since North Forkers appear to be frugal forkers, sharing our little money-saving ways might prove helpful cometh the tax man.

Only fair to start with me. I confess to saving soap slivers and fashioning them into soap balls (about the size of tennis balls). It’s always bothered me to throw away those tiny bits of soap that collect in a soap dish. So I put the soap bits into a huge glass jar I keep in the cellar. When a goodly amount of soap is saved, I put it in a big pot, add a little water, heat and stir. Meantime I spread some waxed paper on the kitchen table.

When I’ve a gooey mass in the pot, I ladle out, onto the paper, 20 or so soap mounds. Then I shape those mounds into soap balls. Careful, they’re hot.

I store the cooled and hardened soap balls in a bag under the kitchen sink. Since I don’t have a dishwasher, I use the balls for mealtime cleanups. Think of the money we’d save if every North Fork home had its own soap balls!

And we’d save quite a bit if we took a tip from Anthony Flynn. I found out about Anthony from his wife, Jodi, who works in Mattituck. Anthony and Jodi are married just a short time but, oh, did the young wife quickly discover her husband’s secret passion.

Stashed away on the top shelves of closets and stacked in the garage are the boxes Anthony simply has to save. Small cellphone boxes, slightly larger shoeboxes, all the way up to a carton once containing a vacuum cleaner, another that once held a lounge chair. Dozens and dozens of boxes.

Now, think about it. Anthony never has to purchase a gift box at the post office or buy expensive plastic boxes to store stuff in. Jodi let me know she sometimes gets rid of a few boxes. But please don’t you tell Anthony. I’d hate to have the young couple argue.

Anthony says he saves so many boxes because “you never know.” Anthony, that’s an admirable North Fork attitude. We’re saving money and we’re ready for anything.

Here’s another small-saving idea. This one’s from Joan Fabian, Riverhead artist. Joan’s watercolors, oils and acrylics are exhibited in galleries from Bar Harbor to Old Town Art and Crafts Guild in Cutchogue. Great work!

But you know what? Joan’s sandwiches are great, too. Especially those with pickles added — sweet and sour, crunchy, perfect. And all those pickles come in little plastic jars with lids. After the pickles are consumed, Joan washes the jars/lids and they join Joan’s painting paraphernalia.

Water, water, everywhere is needed when watercolor or acrylic is the medium of the day. Those little jars, filled with water, are ideal for cleaning brushes during a painting session. You “just can’t have enough jars,” says Joan. And she doesn’t have to buy them in a crafts store. You know what I say? You just can’t have enough pickles.

So save your soap, save your boxes, eat lots of pickles. Chances are, if we do so, North Forkers will have plenty of money to pay their taxes. Better yet, I foresee a cash surplus large enough for the whole North Fork to make a major financial move. I’m thinking we might even outbid Donald Trump for part ownership of the New York Mets. After all, the North Fork has more that its share of “Amazin’s.”

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

03/18/11 12:35pm
03/18/2011 12:35 PM

JOHN MILLER PHOTO | skewered meats

“That evening, Alexi took me to a fancy nightclub. It reminded me of the Persian Room at New York’s Plaza Hotel. The head waiter, resplendent in black and gold brocade, led us to red plush seats around a gleaming brass table with a good view of the stage. His underlings, dressed like Sinbad, paraded in and out of the kitchen with skewers of flaming shish kebab, borne as if they were triumphal torches … ”

“Memories of Cairo” (1964)
by Diana Farr Louis

I have memories of going out to a fancy restaurant in 1964 and seeing “flaming shish kebab” on the menu. At the time it seemed exotic, as we were just learning that there was more to food than meatloaf, iceberg lettuce and Jell-O.

The notion of putting meat on a skewer and placing it over a fire goes back to antiquity, especially in ancient Persia and Armenia, where nomadic tribes rode camels, lived in tents and cooked over open fires. In modern America the tradition of skewered meat has lived on and prospered due to the backyard barbecue. Ancient cultures would marinate the meat to cover up some of the strong gamey flavor. We marinate the meat to tenderize and add pleasing flavors.

Skewering vegetables such as peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms along with chunks of meat adds color and texture and reduces the need for large amounts of meat. When these skewered foods are placed on healthy grains, they make a complete meal that is simple, healthy and delicious. Here are a few examples:

Armenian Shish Kebab
Trim all the fat, skin and gristle from a boneless leg of lamb weighing about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks and place in a bowl. Combine 1/2 cup olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper. Toss with the lamb chunks and refrigerate overnight. Soak wooden skewers in water overnight to prevent burning.
Cut one green pepper and one red pepper into 2-inch strips and cut the strips into squares. Cut one large red onion into quarters and separate into pieces. Trim one package of mushrooms by cutting off the stems. Remove the stems from 1/2 pound of cherry tomatoes. If desired, thaw out one package of frozen artichoke hearts. Place the meat on skewers, leaving a little room between each piece. Place the vegetables on skewers, keeping them separate by type (put all the mushrooms together, etc.).
As a base for the grilled kebabs, make a red wine barley risotto: Sauté 2 cups chopped onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 2 cups quartered crimini mushrooms and continue to cook on high heat until mushrooms are brown and have released their juices. Stir in 1/2 cup pearl barley and continue to cook until barley begins to brown. Add 1 cup red wine and continue to stir until it almost evaporates. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary and ladle about 3 cups vegetable broth into the barley in batches, one ladle at a time. Let it cook, uncovered, between additions, allowing the liquid to evaporate. When barley becomes tender, but retaining a little bite to it, remove from the heat and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Grill the skewered meat on a charcoal grill while the risotto is cooking. Brush the skewered vegetables with olive oil and season with sea salt. Grill them when the meat is finished, being careful not to overcook.
To serve, place the barley risotto on a large platter. Remove the meat from the skewers and place on the barley. Remove the vegetables from the skewers and place in separate piles around the meat. Garnish with rosemary, chopped parsley and lemon wedges.
Serves 4-6.

Russian Shashlik
Trim all fat, skin and gristle from 2 pounds of boneless pork loin (or pork tenderloin) and cut into 2-inch chunks. Prepare a marinade by combining 1 cup pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Toss the marinade with the meat and refrigerate overnight. Soak wooden skewers overnight to prevent burning. The next day, skewer meat and vegetables as for the above Armenian shish kebab.
Before grilling meat and vegetables, prepare a kasha pilaf by beating one egg in a bowl and stirring in 1 cup buckwheat kasha. Add 2 cups chicken broth to a saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup chopped carrot and 1 cup chopped celery. Cook until vegetables are soft and add the kasha/egg mixture. Continue to cook, breaking up the kasha so that it separates itself. Pour the boiling broth over the kasha and cook for one minute. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper and fluff it up before serving.
Grill the meat and vegetables and serve over the kasha on a large platter.
Serves 4-6.

Moroccan Beef Brochette
Trim all fat and gristle from 2 pounds of sirloin steak, cut into 2-inch chunks and set aside. Make a marinade by combining 1/2 cup red wine, 3 sliced scallions, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, the zest and juice of one lemon, 2 tablespoons curry powder, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon each sea salt and pepper. Toss the marinade with the steak and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Soak wooden skewers overnight. Skewer and grill meat and vegetables as for the Armenian shish kebab above.
Prepare whole-wheat couscous by boiling 1 cup lightly salted water and adding 1 1/4 cups couscous. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Dice 1/2 cup red onion, slice 2 scallions, chop 1/4 cup cilantro, cut up 5 dried apricots, measure out 1/2 cup currants and zest one lemon and squeeze out the juice. Toss these ingredients with the couscous in a large bowl, fluffing up the couscous. Check for seasoning and serve on a large platter with the grilled meat and vegetables.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected]

03/17/11 2:46pm
03/17/2011 2:46 PM

Enough! All winter I’ve read about Long Island’s little brown bats and how they face extinction because of some fungus. Now I’ve no particular feeling, one way or another, about bats, but I tell you I don’t like mosquitoes. And bats eat lots of mosquitoes, so you can see the problem. We may face an itchy-scratchy summer.

But you know what? It’s spring and the only bats I want to hear about are the bats that are an extension of one’s self, one’s dreams. The bats that drive a ball out of the park, into the skies, over the rainbow. Never, ever to be caught. Well, perhaps caught by “Say Hey” Willie if he happens to be suited up and out in a field anywhere, anywhere at all.

A baseball bat is not a toy. I discovered that as a kid trying to borrow my brother’s bat. I even offered to let him read my Nancy Drew books in exchange for a few swings. It was an offer my brother refused.

Later, as a Yankee fan married to a Brooklyn Dodger fan, I was permitted the use of my husband’s bat. In exchange, no Nancy Drew, but I did have to bake some corn bread.

On the North Fork, there are many precious bats, many precious bat memories. While a North Fork bat may not fetch over a million dollars in auction as did a Babe Ruth-used bat in 2004, or find its way into Louisville Slugger Museum, our bats are contenders.

Up at the plate first: The Doctors and the Landscapers. That’s the name they went by as they played baseball for years on Southold High School’s field. We’re not talking about teens but rather older guys.

One of those guys is North Fork cardiologist Dr. John Pearson. Dr. P. indeed recalls a long-ago favorite bat. It was an Al Kaline bat and Dr. P. remembers hitting two right out of the park on a day his father, a New York City firefighter, was able to attend the game. How thrilled father and son must have been.

By the way, Al Kaline had super stats with the Detroit Tigers — over 3,000 career hits. I’ve no idea if Dr. P. has similar stats but I bet to his patients he’s a Hall of Famer.

I can hear it now. Dr. Pearson’s song. As Dr. P. approaches the plate, the public address system blasts that hit from the musical “Damn Yankees.” Perfect for a swinging cardiologist. “You gotta have heart. Miles ’n’ miles ’n’ miles of heart.”

A Southold swinger sent me a note about his bat. Good thing, too. For if Bob Johnson had told me his story face to face, he would have seen my tears. Here’s what Bob wrote.

“My father, when he was discharged from the Army in the 1960s, brought home his baseball equipment along with his old military uniforms. One day when I was 9 or 10 years old, my dad broke out the equipment bag, actually his Army duffel bag. There was one bat way too big for me. It had a chunk missing from the barrel but I always used it because it was his. He also had two baseball gloves. One had only four fingers so you had to double-up two fingers. It was great because it was different and because it was my dad’s. I also had fun playing army when I wore my dad’s uniforms even though they were 10 sizes too big.

“Dad’s bat made it out to Southold when we moved here. Over time the bat began to split, producing world-record splinters. Finally it was discarded. That bat had no special logo, no insignia, no signature. But the memories are irreplaceable.”

As is a father, Bob, as is a father.

Here’s a grandpa, Cutchogue’s John Minerva. First, his baseball credentials. John coached Little League years ago in Wantagh and then CYO ball here on the North Fork. One little guy, who played third base on the CYO team John coached, was Kenny Homan. Now Kenny’s the head guy at Braun Seafood Company in Cut­chogue. Time and baseballs fly.

Grandpa John’s bat story? John and wife, Jane, recently returned from Orlando. They weren’t visiting Disney but cheering 11-year-old grandson Anthony (A.J., please) as he represented South Carolina in a state teams Baseball Blast in Orlando.

A.J., a catcher like his grandpa, excelled in Orlando. Batting cleanup, in one game he totaled seven RBIs, including a monster triple. But before the games began, each youngster was given a mini-bat. Assignment: Get the autographs of all the players, coaches and managers. Then take the bat home and treasure it for a lifetime. John and Jane, the bat and A.J. may be in South Carolina, but you’ve a treasure, too.

OK, so it’s bat season on the North Fork. Let’s team up with Dr. P., Bob and John and get out to a game. Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. I don’t care if I never get back.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.

03/14/11 11:26am
03/14/2011 11:26 AM

I am part of “Imaginative Worlds,” a new book group at Floyd Memorial Library that consists of children who are 9 to 11 years old and their grown-ups, usually mothers. We meet every two weeks at the library and have a discussion led by librarian Mira Dougherty-Johnson and scholar Timothy Clayton Wood. This is funded in part by a grant from the New York State Council for the Humanities. Last week was the first session and we started with the picture book ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak, which I’ve read before and written about before in this column. One of the marks of a really terrific book is that each time you reread it and each time you really listen to someone else talking about the book, you learn new things.

All of us were a little shy with each other at first, but our fearless leaders thought of two great icebreakers to get us more comfortable. First we were paired up with a new person from the opposite age group and we had to tell that person a true story from our childhood in which we did something naughty and were caught and reprimanded or punished. Then we had to listen very hard to our new partner’s true crime and punishment story. Then we went around the table introducing our new partner and telling their story. We were each in turn introduced to the group by our partner telling our story. It was a great way to get to know people very quickly and it was based on our book’s plot that has the hero, Max, acting like “a wild thing” and sent to his room without any supper.

Next, all the grown-ups went to one side of the room while the children went to the other so each group could prepare to act out the story for the other. The children made a boat out of two folding chairs for Max to sail “off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are.” The grown-ups were not so foolhardy, inventive or small enough, but both groups managed the playacting very well, especially the wild rumpus.

We will be reading some other classics of imaginative children’s literature: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll and ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster, as well as newer titles, ‘Tuesday’ by David Wiesner and ‘The Magician’s Elephant’ by Kate Di Camillo. I can’t wait to hear what other people think of them and what new things I will learn by rereading, by listening and by using my imagination.

One of the last books I read was ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss, who is also getting a lot of attention for her most recent book, ‘The Great House.’ She is married to Jonathan Safran Foer, whose book ‘Everything Is Illuminated’ was one of the library’s book discussion choices of a few years back. The two authors are young, attractive, talented and doing very well economically even in these parlous times, even in the book industry whose death the gloom-and-doomers are bewailing. They just bought a bigger brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to house their growing family and they keep writing terrific books that people want to publish, read and lavish critical praise on.

Some readers in our group found the multiple voices and nonlinear flow of “The History of Love” to be confusing, but others were enchanted and moved by its cleverness and humor, the books within the book and the sheer bravado of the beautiful writing. Nicole Krauss, like her husband, is of the generation whose grandparents were affected by the Holocaust and the Second World War. The books that are being written by this grandchildren generation are different from the books written by the children. The history is farther away, but still not forgotten.

Here is a sample of the voice of one of the protagonists, octogenarian locksmith Leopold Gursky, who long ago had written a book called “The History of Love”:

“Once upon a time there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered and everything was possible …  Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question that he wanted to spend his whole life answering.”

The other main character is a 12-year-old girl, Alma, so named by her mother “after every girl in a book my father gave her called “The History of Love.” Which is, of course, the book written decades before by Leopold Gursky. The story ends with these two people meeting each other, but in the middle of the story we are transported back and forth in time, between Europe, South America and New York, and transported by a poetic imagination that is luminous and all-encompassing.

Ms. Johnson, of Greenport, is assistant director at Floyd Memorial Library and moonlights as an artist and newspaper columnist.

03/14/11 11:21am
Sparkling Pointe winemaker Gilles Martin.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LOUISA HARGRAVE | Sparkling Pointe winemaker Gilles Martin.

Pairing food and wine is part of a wine journalist’s job description, but I rarely write about specific pairings because, frankly, I’d rather generalize: Good wine goes with good food; bad wine goes with bad food. Take your pick. That said, I have had some recent wine/food experiences that are worth recounting.

On Valentine’s Day, I visited Sparkling Pointe (motto: “If it’s not sparkling, what’s the point?”) in Southold for a wine and chocolate tasting with the winery’s hospitable staff. They set me up with a proper format of champagne flutes, presenting four wines paired with four flavored Vosges chocolate bars. Being skeptical of wine and chocolate pairings, other than as a ploy to lure visitors into wineries, I tasted the four bubblies before trying them with chocolate, and was glad I did; they were far better alone.

First, the 2004, all-chardonnay Blanc de Blanc was clean, bright and pure, with a lovely creamy mouth feel. Tasting it with white chocolate seasoned with pink pepper and lemon (the “Amalfi Bar”) accentuated its citrus flavors but obliterated its balance.

The 2006 Sparkling Pointe Brut was woodier, with a finish that was nicely complex until I put some salty, plantain-studded “Habana” chocolate in my mouth. It wasn’t a good pairing, but it was provocative and instructive — a wake-up call to pay attention to the sensory experience way beyond the alcohol and bubbles. The way the wine’s acidity cut through the cocoa butter highlighted how it would similarly cut through other fats in the diet (a health tip?).

The winemaker, Gilles Martin (a Frenchman with long experience making Champagne and sparkling wines), joined the tasting, and we chatted about harvest and dosage strategies as we moved on to the 2007 Topaz Imperial, a pinot noir-driven rose bubbly with delicate fruit and food-worthy phenolics. Explaining that he had never before tried this wine paired with the bacon-flavored (“Mo’s”) chocolate on offer, Gilles declared, “This freaks my brain out. My brain doesn’t know what to say. I’m not a virgin any more about bacon. I wish I was.”

This is not to say that the bacony chocolate wasn’t good. But it was weird, and even weirder with wine.

The final pairing, of the 2001 Brut Seduction with Vosges “Woolloomoloo” (milk chocolate flavored with macadamia nuts, coconut and hemp), made for an interesting dynamic of sweet-salt-savory. The wine is absolutely first-rate, and so was the chocolate, but together? If you wear a ball gown and tiara to dance to Herman’s Hermits, then, yeah. Our honest winemaker had the definitive words again: “I love hazelnuts.”

When I went to Sparkling Pointe for this tasting, I was predisposed not to think it a valid pairing. When I left, I still agreed with myself, but was thrilled that I had done the tasting. It was great fun and extremely stimulating, brought out all sorts of aspects of wine and chocolate I hadn’t thought about, and made me appreciate the nuances of both. Besides, the space is lovely, the people are warm and genuine, the wines are fine, and a girl has to go out every once in a while.

More recently, I’ve been temporarily trying a vegan diet (no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products); not that I have anything against being a carnivore, but I wanted to force myself to try more vegetable-based foods, expand my flavor repertory and maybe do the planet a favor for a week or so. In the course of this experiment, I drank two different pinot grigios by a northern Italian producer of value-priced wines, Barone Fini. The first, their pinot grigio from Alto Adige (Tyrol), was perfect with a curry of lentils and chickpeas over rice. The wine had all the purity of its mountainous origins, and it yodeled along in harmony with the sitar of curry. (Excuse the metaphor.)

The next day, I tried the Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio. This wine, sourced from a broader area that makes vast oceans of pinot grigio, was a clunker with my dish of sesame noodles. I didn’t finish the bottle, but I tried it again the next day, this time with an eggplant, white bean and tomato gratin. Instead of putting the lid on the wine’s aroma, as the tahini noodles had, this dish was a fine foil for the wine, allowing its floral qualities to show. Or maybe the wine just got better, breathing overnight. Whichever it was, there was a marked difference in how the wine tasted with different foods. Or maybe I was just hungrier and thirstier.

Maybe I needed a piece of chocolate. With bacon?

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.