Category Archives: Westchester Wanderer

Lisa Jardine

Column: A lesson in coffee and then some

Sept. 29, was National Coffee Day, a day to “celebrate coffee” which can’t be much different from any other day, but, it did make me stop and think about coffee for a minute longer than I normally would. I realized, I haven’t changed the way I make coffee in a very long time. I was sure I could take my coffee-making game to another level.  Lisa-Jardine

Enter Johnny Steverson, 27, and Jason Richter, 34, from Path Coffee Roasters in Port Chester.

Six months ago, they started roasting specialty beans from all over the world inside Jason’s family business, Empire Coffee Co., in a non-descript building on Purdy Avenue. They only roast beans that are in season, taste great and best represent the country where they were grown. Their 12-ounce bags even come with a roast date because they want to make sure you consume their coffee within two weeks of roasting. And another thing: No more storing beans in the refrigerator or freezer. Just wrap up the bag tightly and keep it away from the sun.

On their website www.pathcoffees.com, they currently have seven different selections for purchase ranging from Costa Rica to Ethiopia, Panama to Papua New Guinea.

A Path Coffee Roasters label which shows the roast date as well as the exact location of where the beans come from.

A Path Coffee Roasters label which shows the roast date as well as the exact location of where the beans come from.

“The terroir in which each bean is grown makes a huge difference in how the coffee tastes. You can have a super sweet bean in one location and you move a few kilos away and the bean can taste almost like a black tea,” Steverson said.

And, he knows his tea as well as his coffee.

After culinary school and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont in hospitality, Steverson spent 18 months working for a large tea company. From there, he spent three years at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico as their coffee and tea director. And then, his true love of coffee and his fascination with the coffee scene in New York took over and he joined forces with Richter, a third generation coffee roaster.

They’ve been on an interesting path ever since.

“We named the new venture Path Coffee Roasters because we felt it had so many positive connotations and meanings,” said Steverson.

The roasting is all done by hand in very small 30 lb. batches. Steverson is constantly pulling the

Johnny Steverson in front of his small batch roaster.

Johnny Steverson in front of his small batch roaster.

tryer, a small scoop in the roasting machine that lets you smell and assess the doneness in the roasting process. There are no automated controls to push or switches to flip.

And once those beans are roasted to perfection, how does one go about making the perfect cup of coffee?

Steverson and Richter swear by the pour over, using a V60 cup and making sure you wait to grind your beans until the last second. For $45, they offer a two-hour class inside their roasting facility on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee. You also get to take home your own V60 with filters and some samples of their beans. Sign up is on their website.

The duo are also very excited about the growth of their online subscription service, which automatically sends a bag of coffee, of their choosing, to your home every two weeks. I asked Jason if he thought their company was part of the third wave of coffee, a term that refers to the pioneers of a new coffee revolution.

He shook his head and smiled, “Johnny’s fourth wave.”

While I do enjoy a great cup of coffee, I usually like to have something with it, which is the and part of this article.

This summer at 321 N. Main St. in Port Chester, a small brightly lit neighborhood place called zeppoleme opened. At first, I thought, an entire restaurant dedicated to fattening fried dough balls? It sounded too much like a food fad, similar to this summer’s Cronut or the current obsession in our area with cupcakes.  But this fall, my curiosity got the best of me and one weekday afternoon, with a carful of starving teenagers, I decided to check it out.

Boy, was I wrong.

The namesake modern zeppole with buttercream and pumpkin dipping sauces. 

The namesake modern zeppole with buttercream and pumpkin dipping sauces.

Marc Tessitore and Robert Squeri, partners in the venture, take food and marketing very seriously. Marc, one of the owners of nessa, next door to zeppoleme, has been wooing customers with his food for the past eight years. And Robert, one of nessa’s first and most beloved customers has many years of experience in branding and marketing, not to mention he loves good food. Together, they have created a warm and welcoming environment that serves a select menu where everything is absolutely delicious, not least of which is their namesake, the zeppola.

“When you have a limited menu there is no reason that everything on it shouldn’t be delicious. We do a few things and we do them really well,” said Tessitore.

Why fried dough?

“Marc served zeppole at nessa to rave reviews, so we started to do some research. Fried dough in some shape or form is served across a multitude of cultures spanning centuries. We knew we were on to something,” said Squeri.  DSC_0099

The zeppoleme offerings are broken down into savory and sweet. The sweet zeppole come either classic Italian festival-style, or modern, an airier version created by the folding in of ricotta into the dough. Both come with your choice of dipping sauces that range from vanilla crème to Nutella, lemon glaze to buttercream. And each holiday season they will offer a special sauce, currently it’s pumpkin. The savory zeppole are modern that have seasonal vegetables and meats mixed into the dough like bacon, chive and provolone or an all-veggie version.

There is a nice selection of panini’s (I’ve been told the grilled cheese is to die for). I tasted the short ribs and broccoli rabe, which could easily have been the best sandwich I’ve eaten in a very long time. The salads on the menu are the perfect accompaniment to the zeppole and panini and there is a seasonal soup to round out the menu.

The beverages also deserve mention as they serve Stumptown coffee and wine on tap, which is wine stored in stainless steel kegs protecting it from oxidation. They are open daily, from very early in the morning to late at night and offer take out and catering as well. I can just see the happy smiling faces on the first kid who serves these at their birthday party—the dipping sauces even come in fun kid-friendly squeeze bottles.

If you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well lick the powdered sugar off your fingers and enjoy ‘em!

 

Path Coffee Roasters:

www.pathcoffees.com

zeppoleme:

321 N. Main St. Port Chester,

www.zeppoleme.com

 

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email lisa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Neighbors in Asia, neighbors in Westchester

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Saigonese’s beef brisket pho

Food seems to be a recurring theme in this column and often it has something to do with Asia. But, thankfully, I’m not alone in my love of the kafir lime leaf and the noodle as evidenced by the plethora of restaurants in Westchester dedicated to the cuisines invented 8884 miles away in Ho Chi Minh City.

This past year, two standout restaurants opened showcasing the food of Thailand and Vietnam. These countries do not share a border, but are close enough that their signature dishes have many similarities and both countries have had their food influenced by their big brother China up north.

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Saigonese’s papaya salad. Photos/Lisa Jardine

You will find nam pla, the salty, funky, fermented fish sauce in almost every dish they cook. Rice is featured at every meal and, considering these two countries are the world’s largest rice exporters, it makes sense.

The food in Thailand is spicier than Vietnam as they rely heavily on chili peppers. A standout dish I ate while in Bangkok actually contained immature green peppercorns that burst with peppery fire every bite I took. In Vietnam, they hold back on the spice while cooking and prefer to bring it to the table in small bottles and jars for the diner to decide their preferred level of heat. The Vietnamese also have an additional influence from the French, who colonized their country for hundreds of years, and it’s evidenced by the banh mi sandwich and the addition of sausage in their cooking as well as meat pastes that look and taste very much like pate.

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Durian’s pan-fried chive dumplings

Representing the Kingdom of Thailand, Durian, at 147 Chatsworth Ave. in Larchmont, is the complete package.

I often find Asian restaurants in the U.S. have great food, but are completely lacking in atmosphere or they have too much atmosphere and terrible lighting. Normally, I prefer to go for a weekday lunch or Sunday night dinner with the kids, but I’m not making a reservation for a Saturday night.

Durian changed my mind.
I went for lunch on a beautiful August day and there were several tables set outside with umbrellas. This section of Chats­worth Avenue tends not to be as busy as others and I would have been happy to eat outside, but I wanted to get a feel of the place so we chose a table inside. The décor has an Asian feel, yet it’s done in a tasteful, funky sort of way. Durian has a small but functional bar on one side of the restaurant at which I could envision having a drink before dinner or, if there were no tables, I’d be happy to sit and eat at the bar.

The lunch menu is extensive and yet there are even more choices for dinner. A very interesting amuse bouche is offered—
crackling rice crackers that look like rice crispy treats with a dip that is extremely spicy, so tread lightly. We started with shrimp and pork shumai in spicy soy vinaigrette, pan fried chive dumplings and a papaya salad. Each dish was inhaled and enjoyed with fervor. For me, the papaya salad is a barometer of taste for a Thai restaurant and it was fresh, crunchy, full of flavor and had just the right amount of heat.

For our main courses, we shared a shrimp pad thai, a massamun chicken curry, a green coconut curry and a thai fried rice. Let’s just say there were no leftovers to take home. The bill comes to the table with a tiny wrapped piece of what I think is dried tamarind. It was the only part of the meal I didn’t enjoy. It left my mouth quivering, and not in a good way.

Representing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Saigonese, at 158 South Central Ave. in  Hartsdale, claims to be the only authentic Vietnamese restaurant in Westchester County. I spent some time looking online for other, inauthentic Vietnamese restaurants and couldn’t even find one, so this might be the only place in Westchester to find the holy grail of noodle soup: pho. Pronounced “fuh,” this signature noodle dish is done quite well at Saigonese. The soup base is crucial to a good pho and theirs is pretty spot-on. The noodles had just the right bite, the beef brisket tender and the sprouts crunchy. As is typical in Vietnam, the bowl was served alongside several small dishes of add-ons like basil leaves and fresh lime, hoisin and chili sauce. The pho was big enough to share as a side dish, but I look forward to returning on a cold winter day for my own bowl.
We also ordered spring rolls with ground pork, chicken, shrimp and vermicelli that were wrapped in rice paper and fried. These were served with the quintessential lettuce leaves that you wrap around the outside of the spring roll, dip in the special sauce and eat. They were deliciously crunchy and flavorful.

Any time a papaya salad is on the menu, I’m ordering it. This one was fresh and had all the necessary ingredients, but wasn’t spicy enough for me—the rest of my family was quite happy with its neutrality.

Our main courses consisted of fried tofu with scallions cooked in a clay pot and served with rice, which was fine, but I wouldn’t order it again.

Our favorite was Banh Hoi Chao Tom, grilled shrimp paste on sugar cane served on thin rice noodles that you wrap inside lettuce leaves with fresh mint and then dip in the special sauce. I wasn’t too sure about what to do with the sugar cane and the waitress explained that you just sort of chew it up and suck on it. I passed on the fun; having the shrimp cook on the cane was enough to give it a really nice, slightly sweet flavor that balanced well with the pungent special sauce.

The outside of the restaurant is a bit misleading and, once inside, you get a better vibe, but I still wouldn’t make it my Saturday night out. The décor lends itself more to the typical Asian restaurant environment.

Both of these restaurants are now on my short list of go-to
places when I have a yen for Asia.
“I’m always on the lookout
for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip
or a must-see cultural event in
Westchester County.”

TO CONTACT LISA, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter,
@westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Going beyond book club

I’ve always thought that 40-somethings make the best students. At mid-life, we know exactly what we are interested in and, conversely, what we aren’t. We have a thirst for knowledge and homework seems a breeze compared to dealing with real life issues. Lisa-Jardine

When I enrolled in Manhat­tanville’s masters of arts in creative writing program several years ago, I thought it would be a nice place to foster my love of reading and pursue my childhood dream of writing a novel. At that point, I had never published anything.

What I found at Manhattan­ville was so much more than I was looking for.

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This chapel on campus was restored by Maya Lin, the famous architect who designed the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C.

In the 1980s, the masters in creative writing program was started by a petite powerhouse of a nun, Sister Ruth Dowd, who was a total visionary and unlike any nun I’ve ever come across. She continued to run the program until she retired in 2011 at the age of 92.

Two years ago, Mark Nowak, an award-winning American poet and cultural critic, playwright and essayist from Buffalo was brought in as the new director of the writing program tasked with transforming it from a masters of creative writing to a masters of fine arts, the highest degree one can receive in creative writing. This past May, the first class of the new master of fine arts program graduated at Manhattanville College.

MFA programs have grown from just a handful in the 1990s to more than 200 programs in the United States today. The program at Manhattanville, although in its infancy, has so much to offer.

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This is Reid Hall, where most of the MFA program events take place. Photos/Lisa Jardine

“The proximity to New York City is ideal as it’s easy for us to get incredibly famous people to come and hang out with us. One of the things our program is known for is the ‘Meet the Writer’ series. This past March, we had Tracy K. Smith, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, take the train from New York City to our beautiful campus in Purchase to give a poetry reading. Pete Seeger will be here on Sept. 20 to talk about song writing, language and imagination, and then we have a fabulous kick-off to our Fall Writers Weekend with Diane Glancy, one of the most celebrated Native American authors in the country, and Dina Nayeri, author of “A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea,” which has been translated into 13 languages. All of our ‘Meet the Writers’ series are free and open to the public,” Nowak said.

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This classroom is used for various classes in the MFA program. It was designed by Maya Lin and made of glass and sustainable wood located on campus in a new environmental park.

The program is 36 credits and can be completed in two years, but most of the 50 students in the program take three to four years to complete it as the program is more a journey than a destination. And alumni continually return to take the writer’s workshops and come to the readings to keep fresh and reconnect with the supportive writing community. The students range in age from recent college graduates to writers who’ve finished raising their families.

Most of the students enter  unpublished, but have found wonderful success having their works published while in the program. James King, won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel in 2009 for his novel “Bill Warrington’s Last Chance.”

“I was looking to join a community of writers, which I found at Manhattanville. Guidance from the faculty of experienced writers and feedback from fellow students, sometimes harsh, was instrumental in helping me start and eventually complete my novel,” King said.

And not everyone is in the program to write the next great American novel. The program is flexible depending upon the interest of the student, and MFA students are encouraged to build an individualized program that best fits their interests and long-term goals.

Tina Tocco, is a current student in the MFA program.

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Mark Nowak, the new director of the master of fine arts program at Manhattanville. Contributed photo

“The first time I heard the term flash fiction, I was sitting in Foundations in Graduate Creative Writing, the program’s introductory class. My professor, Joanna Clapps Herman, was sincere and challenging in her encouragement, and even helped me publish my first flash fiction piece. I’ve been writing in the genre ever since,” Tocco said.

Another student in the MFA program, Terry Dugan, entered the program as a well-established writer and a previous managing editor for Hearst, but, as she says “the creative writing program at Manhattanville put my writing on steroids.” She has a long list of awards, publications and readings that she credits as a direct result of the classes she took at Manhattanville.

In addition to their fall and summer writer’s workshops and their “Meet the Writers” series, students also participate in literary festivals such as the Page Turner Festival, coming up on Oct. 29 in Brooklyn, which includes an all-star lineup of writers including Junot Diaz.

“We are trying to branch out and try new things with the program. As part of our curriculum, we encourage our students to participate in community-based creative writing workshops with interested writers from all aspects of society, from cancer patients to prisoners, high school students to public libraries,” Nowak said.

The program has a newly minted online journal of literature, art and ideas, The Manhattanville Review. The Review is a collection of diverse voices and visions featuring works by creative minds from all walks of life. This is a great way for the program to share the work of their students and teachers alike.

Admissions to the program are rolling and online. For more information about the program, the workshops or how to apply, go to the program’s website: www.mvillemfa.com.

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Food, wine and thou

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Ken Arnone is a master chef who will give a cooking demo and hold a book signing at the upcoming event. Contributed Photos

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Tanya Steel is the editor-in-chief of www.epicurious.com. She will be a judge of the food at the Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival.

Lisa-JardineI’m hungry just writing
this story.

To me, there really isn’t anything better to do on a fall Sunday afternoon than eat great food, drink quality wine and listen to live music. On Sept. 22 in the Village of Scarsdale, there is a wonderful opportunity to do all three.

The first annual Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival will be held throughout the village and 75 of the most delicious restaurants in the county will be in attendance to cook their signature dishes. I’ve read up on which restaurants are attending and what they’ll be cooking and I can assure you this event is one not to be missed.

This is not your corn dog and cotton candy street fair. This is a fully tented, rain or shine affair with valet parking and free shuttles to area parking lots. There will be two live bands, a DJ, cooking demonstrations, book signings by celebrity chefs, tips on nutrition and healthy eating, great giveaways and an entire area with activities for the kids. But, of course, the raison d’etre is the food and wine.
The bounty ranges from shucked oysters to braised beef short ribs over polenta to Hudson Valley duck confit to mini Argentinian empanadas.

Getting hungry?
The dessert lineup is just as impressive and you might even be able to score one of this summer’s biggest food craze, the Cronut.

And that’s just the food.
There will be a Zachy’s beverage tent—21 and older, please—where, for one small flat fee, you will be able to sample more than 200 wines and a number of craft beers.

Rich Baumer, founder and president of the Southern West­chester Food and Wine Festival, did his research before putting his plan into action.

“Last year the Village of Scarsdale hosted The Taste of Scarsdale, which was an event on a smaller scale. The Chamber of Commerce wanted to do something bigger this year to show off the village and all it has to offer. They asked me to get involved and, after visiting the two biggest food and wine festivals—Aspen and South Beach—we came up with our own unique version for Scarsdale,” Baumer said.

The festival also has a charitable arm to it. It will highlight the work of Food Bank for Westchester, WhyHunger, the Don Bosco Community Center and Greystone Bakery with a sponsor event and fundraiser on Friday evening.

Tanya Steele, the editor-in-chief of www.epicurious.com, will be on hand to judge the best food samples at the fair.

“I’m excited to be part of the Southern Westchester Food and Wine Festival as it gives us all an opportunity to celebrate and sample the depth and breadth of great food in our area. From the tacquerias in Port Chester to the spectacular Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, Westchester is rich in amazing restaurants, bakeries and even ingredients,” Steele said.

Steele was one of the judges of Michelle Obama’s 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. She’ll bring the junior chef winners from the tri-state area with her and they will be cooking their winning entries.

Chef Ken Arnone is one of the celebrity chefs who will be demonstrating at the festival. He is a certified master chef, one of only 67 in the United States, the highest certification level a chef can receive. He believes that eating beautifully every day shouldn’t be difficult. Well, at least not for the consumer. He and his partners at www.dcuisine.com have spent thousands of hours perfecting the art of preparing exquisite food and have come up with a way to deliver single-serving soups and entrées to your home flash frozen. Imagine, a master chef’s cooking in your kitchen. He will prepare one of his most sought-after cuisine dishes—lobster and corn chowder—at the festival. I immediately went online and ordered several of his meals. I’m looking forward to trying his food both at home and at the festival.

The cooking demonstrations are free of charge, but if you want to sample any of the food being served by the 75 restaurants you will need to buy tickets. They can be purchased ahead of time online at: sowefwf.com/tickets. Each ticket is $4. The wine and beer tasting village is $20. Your tickets will be waiting for you at will call. You can also purchase tickets on the day, but there may be lines. Parking is plentiful and free shuttle buses will run all day long on scheduled routes to nearby parking lots. There is no entrance fee to the Grand Tasting Village, stretching out over Chase Road, Spencer Place, Harwood Court and Boniface Circle in Scarsdale.

Full information is available for all events, music, kids’ zone, book signing, chef demonstrations, parking, shuttles, ticket prices, etc., at www.sowefwf.com.

I think I might just have to fast for a few days ahead of time so I can try it all.
“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County”
Jardine-SOWE
TO CONTACT LISA, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter,
@WestchesterWand

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In plein sight

Maybe it’s the back-to-school season that makes me want to fill up my fall calendar.  Or perhaps it’sLisa-Jardine the product of a long, lazy summer with very few plans. Regardless, when September comes around, I’m anxious to find stimulating and entertaining functions to put on my agenda. And when it takes place outside, even better. The Painters on Location event at The Rye Arts Center is high on my priority list for the fall.

This marks the 10th occasion that the arts center has gathered artists in the tri-state area and scattered them inside the City of Rye to paint the iconic scenes that anyone familiar with the area will appreciate. The kick-off to the Plein-Air Paint-Out and Art Auction actually begins on Sept. 16 inside the arts center itself. Each of the artists participating in the Painters on Location have already donated a completed work, which will be part of an ongoing silent auction leading up to the big day on Sept. 28. The gallery and silent auction will be open to the public, free of

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“Kirby Sunset” by Keith Gunderson, an example of Rye Plein Air Painting by one of the artists who will be on location painting.

charge, from Sept. 16 to Sept. 28, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then on Saturday from 10 a.m. 1 p.m.

It’s a great opportunity to become familiar with the stylistic approach each artist takes to his or her work. This year’s line-up is a diverse, well-educated and extremely talented group.

Each of the artists has a unique background, from art professors and teachers, to book illustrators and textile designers, graphic artists and even several artists who work for Blue Sky Studio, the computer animation studio responsible for box office sensations such as “Ice Age” and “Horton Hears a Who.”

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Painters on Location artist from a prior year’s event.

What they all have in common is their love for plein-air painting, a French expression that means “in the open air.” Taking this diversity into consideration, adding to it the multitude of locations and topping it off with the unknown weather forecast, there is sure to be a piece of art created that day that will reach a wide audience.

On the actual day of the paint-out, 46 artists will be painting on-site throughout the City of Rye at a location chosen by them. They will paint regardless of weather conditions and they will complete their work by 2 p.m. so the staff of volunteers can hang the wet masterpieces in the gallery in time for the cocktail reception, which begins at 5 p.m. The evening will begin with a tribute to an iconic Rye painter, Howard Bratches, who died this spring. The live auction will begin at 6:15 p.m. In order to attend the reception, all that is required is the purchase of a bidding paddle for $20.

For those who have never attended a live art auction, I sat down with the auctioneer for the night, Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, assistant professor of arts management at SUNY Purchase, to explain the logistics.

“The live auction is the centerpiece activity of the night. We will follow a simple auction format where each piece of art will be brought out, one at a time, and I will talk about the artist and the work they created. All of the art will start with an opening bid of $250 and we will go up in increments of $50 at first. The art will most likely go for prices that are well below market value and savvy buyers will have a great opportunity to snap up very prestigious art at dramatically low prices,” Taylor said.

When I was leaving Japan, I went on a buying frenzy, attempting to bring home every piece of art and antique that would remind me of my time abroad. I would imagine this would be a perfect souvenir buying opportunity for the Westchester expat or even for the family that is moving out of the community.

Taylor agrees.

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Howard Bratches, born June 1, 1929, died May 19, 2013. Rye’s Iconic painter will be honored at the Painters on Location event. Photos courtesy Rye Arts Center

 

“It’s the perfect place to pick up a genuine memento of esthetic value,” he said.

I asked Taylor about the chall­enges that the artists  will face during the Painters on Location.

“Each artist will have less than one full day to complete their work. Usually, an artist will do a lot of tweaking until they say something is finished. They won’t have that luxury on the 28th. And most artists today use visual aids and devices to paint, which they won’t have access to during the event. They will need to channel their inner virtuoso.”

Helen Gates, the executive director of the Rye Arts Center, is very excited about this year’s Painters on Location.

“Rye is a plein air painter’s dream. There are so many beautiful and memorable sights to capture on the canvas. Painters on Location is a pretty special opportunity for art buyers old and new,” Gates said.

To reserve your paddle ahead of time, call the Rye Arts Center at 914-967-0700.

Painters on Location
A plein air paint-out and art auction
Silent auction (Sept 16 to 28 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday)
Live auction (Sept. 28 5 p.m.)
Rye Arts Center
51 Milton Road
Rye, N.Y.
www.ryeartscenter.org

 

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

TO CONTACT LISA, email lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter,@WestchesterWand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Food sherpa from the east goes west

jardineOn the front page of the food section of The New York Times on July 30, there was an interesting article about food sherpas, a new trend in bespoke travel guides. The idea is that, in order to truly experience a city, you must eat where the locals eat. I know many travelers who think that, by asking their hotel bellhop where they eat that accomplishes the same thing.

But who knows if your bellhop has good taste in food?

Enter the food sherpa. This person lives in the city or town you are visiting and works in the culinary industry in some manner. Or maybe he or she is simply a foodie with an intense love for their city. Either way, hiring a food sherpa can make for a very fun adventure. The fees vary depending on city and guide but, in my experience, they are well worth every euro or yen. While living in Japan, I had my own food sherpa on speed dial and when any friends or family came to town, I immediately called Reiko.

This week Reiko came to Westchester County.

She makes three trips to the United States each year on behalf of her company, Wishbone Tokyo Cooking and Catering, to do private cooking classes and private parties as well as give food tours in Tokyo and cooking classes there. And if you book early enough during her stay in the U.S., you even get to eat fish and other fresh ingredients directly from the Tsukiji market.

So what does one do when one of your favorite chefs comes to town? Why, you go food shopping. And eat a lot.

Reiko was in Rye for a private cooking class and dinner at a client’s home for seven couples. She works with the hosts ahead of time via email to select the menu and the price of the meal corresponds to their selection. For this particular client, she was making noodles and dumplings as well as a few Reiko specialties. I wasn’t surprised by the request, as it’s harder to find good noodles and dumplings in Westchester than it is to find other types of Japanese food and everyone loves them.

Reiko brought a lot of the dry ingredients with her from Japan, but we made a quick stop at Daido‑522 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains‑right as she hopped off the Metro North from New York City, where she was amazed with the breadth of Japanese products.

“Are we close to Keio?” she said.
The following day we visited Kam Sen Asian Market, billed as “The Largest Asian Market in Westchester.” While there, we quickly went through the aisles, filling in the holes on her shopping list. This market is large and not only covers Asia, but some parts of Latin America as well. We did fairly well with the list, however, we were on the hunt for Kafir Lime leaves, which went unfound.

We were getting hungry from all the food shopping and I had read about a new Korean “fast food” restaurant, So Gong Dong Tofu in Hartsdale‑known as SGD to the locals‑that I wanted to try. Only six minutes away, it was the perfect place for a quick lunch. It’s not often you find exceptional food in a strip mall, but SGD changed my mind.

When dining with a chef and writing a restaurant review, it’s necessary to order almost everything on the menu. We were not disappointed that we did. Like most Korean restaurants, we were served an assortment of pickled vegetables in small dishes that comes with your meal. Watch out for the pickled daikon with large rings of sliced fresh jalapeno; delicious, but you will lose a layer of skin in your mouth.

The Kim Chi was just the right amount of sour and spicy with a nice crunch. For the main course, we ordered Soondubu Jjigae, which is a typical Korean stew made with tofu and various other ingredients that you choose. We chose Kim Chi as our main ingredient, extra spicy served over Kalguksu, which are thick noodles. There is a list of things you can choose from. We also had Bibimbap, a signature Korean dish, which translates to mixed rice. We ordered ours with seafood and it comes to the table sizzling. A waiter mixes it all together in front of you, adding just the right amount of chili pepper sauce. To finish off the main courses, we added an order of beef short ribs and a crispy seafood pancake.

The food was fabulous. We over-ordered because we wanted to try everything, but, if you ordered the correct amount, the bill would have been extremely reasonable. This is one place I will visit again, often, especially during the winter months.

We rushed back home to load all of our ingredients in the car to take over to the client’s home so Reiko could start cooking. It was a gorgeous evening and the table was set beautifully outside in the garden. The host had a smile on her face because she wasn’t cooking that night; Reiko was in the kitchen.

To set up your own private party/cooking class in the U.S. or Japan, or to visit Tsukiji, contact Reiko on facebook: Tsukiji Fish Market and Beyond.


“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

TO CONTACT LISA, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter,
@WestchesterWand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Creating “Division I” philanthropists

A lot of attention is paid to the best high school athletes, the brightest students and the most gifted artists. But what about the teenage philanthropist?

There are no games to watch, no art openings to attend, no concerts to listen to, but these kids are just as rare, maybe even more so. And although most high schools in our county have some sort of community service component attached to graduation, for most students, it’s a box to check; another requirement in the long list of things to do to earn a high school diploma and get into a good college.

But then, occasionally, if you are lucky, you come across a student who is doing something so profound that it changes the community service definition completely. I met someone just like that last week. Her name is Mary Grace Henry and
she’s changing lives, one girl at
a time.

At just 12 years old, armed only with a small sewing machine and a big plan, Mary Grace started an organization called Reverse the Course, which uses proceeds from sales of headbands and bows Mary Grace fashions herself to educate girls in Africa. To date, she’s helped educate 34 girls for 81 years.

That’s a lot of headbands and bows.

When Mary Grace told me her story, it was hard to believe that someone so young could have the confidence and determination to take on such a big mission. She credits her family and her education.

“I attended Sacred Heart Acad­emy in Greenwich, Conn., since kindergarten, and there are five goals that are ingrained in us as citizens in our daily lives. Number three, ‘social awareness that impels to action’ is a very important one for me. There were always opportunities for community service at my school, which made me feel empowered. But I was looking for something more—a deeper connection to the people I was helping. I grew up in a family with two much-older
siblings and, as a child, I was always with people much-older than myself. That gave me the confidence to take
ownership and initiative,” Mary Grace said.

Maybe waiting until high school to require community service is too late. It could be that exposure at a younger age, when life is less hectic and minds are more open is the key.

“I feel that there has been a lot of movement driven by kids for change. I think that kids now are becoming more involved in community service because they want to be active participants and make a difference. This will not happen overnight, but I think that is the direction we are moving in,” Mary Grace said.

And volunteering at a young age is beneficial for everyone involved. Children who serve others are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors.

A research study, entitled “The Troubled Journey,” conducted by the Search Institute, examined the lives of 47,000 children in 5th through 12th grades in public schools across the United States. The study results indicated that children who served just one hour or more a week of community service were less likely to be involved in at-risk behaviors than those who are not active in volunteering.

Mary Grace has learned a lot from her experience.

“My work ethic has improved. I have a timeline and people are relying on me. Seeing the photos of my students keeps me focused. If I’m having a bad day, the photos remind me of what it’s all for. I’ve grown more confident as a person and my public speaking skills have improved. I’m also open to more things and take more chances,” she said.

After an incredibly busy summer in which Mary Grace traveled to Kenya to meet her students and created merchandise for all of the summer sidewalk sales and events in which she exhibited, she is now preparing to enter her junior year at Sacred Heart this September.

Not only will she continue to support Reverse the Course with a goal to educate100 girls, she will co-captain the varsity squash team and start thinking about applying to college. I have no doubt, wherever she lands and whatever major she chooses, Mary Grace will continue to blaze a path and set an amazing example for her peers.

However, even Mary Grace agrees that not everyone needs to take volunteering to the extreme to which she has taken it.

Which leads me to the next part of the article.

I became familiar with a wonderful organization while living in Tokyo. My children attended the American School in Japan and Room to Read has a strong chapter at the school with many student-led events. Room To Read was started 12 years ago by Microsoft executive John Wood and, to date, it has opened more than 1,600 schools and more than 15,000 libraries, distributed more than 12 million books—including more than 850 self-published original local language titles—and supported more than 20,000 girls to succeed in secondary school and beyond in Africa and Asia. And Room to Read says it’s just the tip of the iceberg. They aspire to reach 10 million children
by 2015.

“Room to Read’s Students Helping Students program has grown to see inspired youth, ranging in age from grade to graduate school, raise nearly $2 million by participating in read-a-thons, hosting book swaps, camping out in libraries or tutoring early readers,” said Wood, Room to Read’s Founder and board co-chairman. “The broader the reach of our youth engagement program, the more empowered the next generation will be in all parts of the world to solve the complex social issues we face today. We are creating not only a great force for change, but a new generation
of leaders.”

If you know of a student in Westchester County who would like to get involved in this organization, Carine Verschueren, the Westchester chapter leader of Room to Read says “Room to Read will have Students Helping Students clubs set up in 10 different schools in the county this fall with the goal to build a library in the developing world. Education is the game changer. We believe that it is important for children to realize they can make a difference in their own creative way and that it will have a lasting impact not only on their own perception of the world, but on the lives of the children in developing countries in Africa and Asia, who will benefit from a quality education.”

For more information write to Westchester@roomtoread.org.

To contact Mary Grace Henry about Reverse the Course, you can write to:
mary_grace@reversethecourse.org.
Mary Grace’s upcoming sales in our area:
Sept. 16, Scarsdale High School Talk
Oct 2 and 3, Shenorock Fair in Rye
Oct. 6, Warwick Applefest

“I’m always on the lookout
for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter,
@WestchesterWand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Cool tools for school

Westchester-Wanderer-Lisa-JardineOn a rainy Tuesday morning in August, I witnessed a small miracle in the basement of the Church of the Resurrection in Rye. Two hundred and sixty volunteers aged six to 90 turned up to fill 2,030 backpacks so that kids in our community can return to school with all the right tools.

The bags included notebooks, pens, pencils, paper, folders, drawing paper and calculators. The room was filled with smiling faces and the well-oiled assembly line was in full operation when I arrived. In just under two hours, the task was complete.

Helping Hands for the Homeless & Hungry was responsible for the event and they’ve been doing it every year for the past 26 years. Each year, the number of bags filled grows, but the supply never meets the demand.

“This year, the request for backpacks from our member agencies was close to 2,700. Our backpacks are the only ones provided to these agencies. Yearly, we receive requests from other groups who would like to be included, so we are judicious in allocation,” Susan Conley Salice, co-president of Helping Hands, said.

The latest data from the Westchester County Department of Social Services shows a 24 percent increase in homelessness in the county in 2012. The number of people on food stamps in our community has jumped 65 percent since 2009. These numbers seem daunting, and yet people in our community are making a difference.

Helping Hands coordinates with 19 agencies and local churches in lower Westchester to provide children living in homeless shelters, or families identified as working poor, with a backpack. Funds are raised each June with an annual letter of appeal to local residents.

“We raise funds from members of our community, and then we are able to buy all the necessary supplies at a significant discount from a long-time partner. This year, we are excited to add scientific calculators to the bags for junior high and high school students. This is a critical upgrade as students need to be able to complete their homework and prepare for state exams,” said Brigitte Sarnoff, co-president of the organization.

Filling backpacks isn’t all this organization does. They host “Dinner @ Noon,” which was the first program started by the organization in 1987 and still continues today. Every Saturday from September to June, Helping Hands members serve a hot meal to their guests who include senior citizens, mothers and children, homeless and the working poor. They even provide a take-home bag for their guests. It’s truly a multi-cultural, interfaith undertaking as volunteers come from many of the area’s churches and synagogues.

Another much needed program that Helping Hands undertakes is their “Undie Fundie” campaign. Helping Hands purchases and distributes new underwear, socks, sleepwear and toiletries to men, woman and children living in Westchester County shelters. As you can imagine, these items are the hardest to collect because they have to be brand new.

After watching this group in action, it’s easy to see that, not only are they working for a great cause, they have fun doing it. And this correlation might not be anecdotal. According to interviews conducted by Gallup to determine global charitable behavior‑which incorporates all types of giving, including volunteering, as part of the “World Giving Index, 2012,” the degree of one’s charity depends more on personal happiness than on one’s wealth.

Salice summed up the day by saying, “We know that one backpack filled with new school supplies provides dignity to an underprivileged child who might otherwise go to school with nothing. It may encourage learning along with, and not behind, peers. Making a difference in the life of a child, there is no greater gift. We are thrilled at the success of this record-breaking backpack event. Our most sincere thanks to our wonderful donors and volunteers, especially from our Town of Rye, for their amazing support every year.”

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”
_________________________________
Email Lisa at lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter ,
@WestchesterWand

Hot summer books

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He wasn’t the first best-selling author to give those words of advice and I don’t know any writer that doesn’t take them seriously, including me.Westchester Wanderer Lisa Jardine

Many of my friends know that I am a serious reader and take pride in walking into a bookstore able to give a thumbs up or down to most of the books displayed on the new fiction shelves. So, with a month to go before the end of summer, I thought it an appropriate use of this week’s column to write my best and worst books of the summer of 2013. Of course, what follows is only one person’s opinion, but as Malcom Gladwell claims in his best seller “Outliers: The Story of Success,” it takes about 10,000 hours for someone to become an expert at almost anything and, if I do a quick back of the envelope calculation, I feel confident creating this list. And because I read adult and young adult fiction, I have included titles from both of those genres here.EleanorPark_cover

My absolute favorite adult fiction novel this summer was “The Interestings,” by Meg Wolitzer. Not many books are pageturners and even fewer leave you wanting more. This book was both. The story begins in 1974 at a summer camp for artistic students. A small group of friends is formed, they name themselves The Interestings and then, over the next 40 years, we see if they live up to the name. The time and place are beautifully wrought and, at many times in the book, I felt pulled back across time to my own experiences in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s the perfect combination of a literary novel and a juicy summer read.

The book that had me staying up later than I should have and then had me re-reading pages in disbelief was “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This is a breathtaking fictionalized account of what it’s like to live in North Korea. Johnson spent three years researching this book and made several visits inside North Korea. Since speaking directly to foreigners is against the law in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the author had to cull together observations, testimonies of gulag survivors and then fill the void with his own imagination. If only half of it is true, it will astound you. With each page, you delve deeper into a society that is so oppressed you can’t believe it can possibly be true and yet you know it is. It has a little JardineBooks2bit of everything: coming of age, thriller, love story, adventure. I’ve never read a book quite like this. The material is so dark, but you can somehow relate to the characters and see the beauty that exists in any human story regardless of how grave and hopeless it is. You won’t stop reading it.

The thumbs down part of this article would have to be “The Dinner,” by Herman Koch. I was very excited to read this book as the premise intrigued me; a darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives—all over the course of one meal. Who wouldn’t want to read it? 306 pages later, I was sick to my stomach and hated every character. It’s very difficult to enjoy a book when you are rooting for no one.

The difference between reading adult fiction and young adult fiction is usually the resolution. There is almost always a happy ending in young adult and, if not necessarily happy, then hopeful. This was the case with my favorite young adult fiction this summer, “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell. This quirky star-crossed lovers tale is set in 1986 in Omaha, Neb. An overweight red head moves to town from a dysfunctional family with a bad past and falls in love with the half-Asian skinny boy with spikey hair. Most of their romance takes place on the school bus over comics and rock n’ roll tapes, and yet their love is profound. The book reminds you of how important first love is, how it can be transformative and even set you on a path that guides the rest of your life.Reconstructing-Amelia-Book-

Another favorite in this genre this summer was “Reconstructing Amelia,” by Kimberly McCreight. I’m always fascinated with the way authors weave technology into a story and this one does it especially well. The book opens with the alleged suicide of the only child of a single mother. Knowing her daughter could not possibly have killed herself, she uses texts, email, blog entries and Facebook status updates to piece together a crime. There are some very interesting plot twists and it’s an incredibly quick read. Both of these young adult books would be appropriate for ninth-grade readers and up.

And since the summer is not over yet, I still have the books I’ve yet to read.

“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini—the much anticipated book from the author of “The Kite Runner” and “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” by Anton DiSclafani. Once you’ve finished with all of these, check out suggestions on www.goodreads.com. It’s a great site for readers of all genres.

I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in JardineBooks1
Westchester County.

To contact Lisa, email her at lisa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand.

Column: Mario Pablo’s neighborhood

Westchester-Wanderer-Lisa-JardineWith a new set of eyes, you see things you may have not even known were there even if you’ve driven down the main street of that town hundreds of times. When you take a second look with those new eyes, you might meet someone with a strong passion for his hometown and it can be infectious.

It was just that kind of experience I had when I met Mario Pablo while doing research for another article. Mario is half Uruguayan and half Peruvian and grew up in Port Chester. He’s made it his business to promote the town he loves both online and off. He is a fixture in the town and hard to miss. Just look for the tall young man carrying a worn leather briefcase that looks like something a man 50 years older would carry.

“My dad bought this for me when I was eight. He said he knew I’d grow up to be a business man,” Pablo said.

Mario and his partner Christian Serron, who is based in Montevideo, Uruguay, own BROS Marketing, which stands for Building Relationships and Opportunities for Success, a global branding and marketing company which builds brands by focusing on the people side of business. BROS just launched a new website, which describes itself as a realtime look at everything going on in the Village of Port Chester so you can make the most out of your next visit. And these guys are in their 20’s, so, of course, they incorporate the most widely used social media platforms available today. The result is the virtual face of a small village in Westchester.

I asked Mario to take me on a walk around the actual Village of Port Chester and introduce me to some of the places that have signed up for his service–look for the blue and white sticker in the store front window.

We started the afternoon at T&J’s Pizza and Pasta. Mena and Grace, the owners’ mothers, are in the kitchen cooking everyday and it’s evident they care about the food they are serving–you must try the meatballs. They’ve been open 22 years and still serve around 300 meals on a Saturday. Wednesday night they have a special pasta night, which I’ve been told it’s a zoo. When I asked about how many different types of pizza they offered, Ray, one of the owners said, “Our food is good so why not put it on pizza? Everything we make as food, we put on our pizza.”

On the way to our next stop, Mario pointed out Tortilleria Los Gemelos, where they make their own chips and tortillas, which they sell in the restaurant and distribute to other restaurants. And then we arrived at Texas Chili, where we were served the “Mario Pablo” Chili Cheese Dog. The bun was toasted to perfection and the hotdog was split and grilled with just the right amount of spicy chili and fresh avocado on top. It was fun to eat and virtually mess free. Take out is a big part of Texas Chili’s business, especially around July 4. They supply more chili to backyard BBQs than almost anyone else around. They are currently located on Main Street, but will soon move across from the train station imminently.

I was getting pretty thirsty from our journey and Mario had the perfect spot in mind. On our way to Acuario for Pisco Sours, he pointed out Pollo A La Brasa, which he said makes the best Lomo Saltado in town. While walking to the other side of Port Chester, I asked Mario if it was his goal to sign up every retail shop for lookportchester.com and he said he was all about quality.

“I’m looking for the gems of Port Chester,” he said. “Most businesses here have either no presence online or the wrong one.”

Of course, his lookportchester.com is completely scalable and could work for any small town. He definitely has big plans for his site.

When we arrived at Acuario, we met the owner, Eduardo, outside and he invited us in for a Pisco Sour. Pisco is a type of brandy made in Peru, which Mario said if I tried straight up, would be suicide. But hand-mixed with fresh lemon juice and egg whites is a different story. The drink is finished with a dash of cinnamon and served with a lime wedge. It was very refreshing and tasted like a margarita with a twist.

We talked about all of the various cultures represented in Port Chester and I asked Mario about his favorite spot for arepas. Los Chuzos de Juancho is new in town and serves Columbian food, specifically arepas and really great fruit smooties.

It was time for dessert, so we headed over to Neri’s, a 100-year-old bakery that sells retail and distributes wholesale throughout the tri-state area. Anthony Neri is the fourth generation to work in the family bakery and he gave me some impressive statistics about their business. They produce around 4,000 bagels an hour, 800 cannoli per day and 400 to 500 cakes per weekend. They are open every day because, according to Neri, “a lot of people would be very upset if we closed.”

They make a mean cannoli with a crispy shell, just the right amount of sweetness in the cream and a few well-placed chocolate chips. And they even sell them in mini size so you don’t have to feel too guilty about eating them.

To finish off the day, Mario and I stopped in to El Tio’s, which translates into The Uncle. Mario explained that the owner is everyone’s Mexican uncle, offering not just the most authentic Mexican food in town, but also great business advice to young entrepreneurs like himself. We were at El Tio’s to try a Horchata, a rice milk drink with vanilla and cinnamon served on ice and extremely refreshing on a hot day. For $1 there really isn’t anything to compare it to. Mario suggested I come back to try the enchiladas with mole or the burritos, which he said are really good.

Several hours and calories later Mario and I parted ways at the corner of Westchester and Pearl, a favorite meeting spot for Mario. I think I’ll drive a little slower next time I’m in Port Chester; you never know what hidden gems you might find.



__________________
To contact Lisa, email
her at lisa@hometwn.com.
And follow her on Twitter
@westchesterwand