48F by noon, drab and overcast with thick, rolling monochromatic cloud casting gloom over the landscape.
A new favourite tea to add to the list of delicious tea available here in the Catskills: Coffee Lover’s Tea from Tay Tea in Andes. It took me a long time to realize that I was not suited to coffee after adopting it as a breakfast beverage when I first moved to New York City in my twenties. Back in England, I had been raised in a tea family and the familiar refrain: “put the kettle on” still rings in my ears because English people drink tea continually all day. The kettle is always on and whoever gets up first, from couch or desk, must boil the next batch of water. The nice thing about tea is that it doesn’t make you suffer like coffee does. I’ve never ever said the words: I’ve drunk too much tea. It just doesn’t happen, whereas I’ve had fraught conversations and business meetings wherein I’m pretty sure the most anxious people in the room have drunk far too much coffee. I may have the odd cup of coffee when I need a jolt of energy, but for the most part, I’ve returned to my first love, tea. Preparing a pot of tea is a peacefully meditative ritual, and sharing a pot of tea is like breaking bread. At Tay Tea this past weekend, I interviewed owner Nini Ordoubadi, tried a range of tea and some stellar tea-infused biscuits, but came away feeling invigorated and refreshed. And I now know much more about tea.
80F by noon with wispy clouds. A good day for a bit of antique hunting. Update: heavy rains after dusk.
After we closed on our mountain homestead (“sign here, here and here, here, here and here and sign here, here and here… initial here, here and here…”) we wondered aloud where we should go to celebrate and without a moment’s hesitation, our realtor swung away from her conversation with our lawyer to respond: Peekamoose. That was eight years ago and there really wasn’t anything like it then and there really isn’t anything like it now. When we first went to Peekamoose I wanted to just hand the keys back to the bank and move in. The country farmhouse atmosphere is so cozy and relaxing and the food is phenomenal, end of story. The chef’s freshly made doughnuts feel like they could fly away if you don’t hold them down with a generous dollop of whipped cream. I could go on, and I will.
The old asparagus plant that was planted three years ago is now over six feet tall as is the rhubarb. Only a few spears were cut in its second year and this year we harvested over twenty spears. The point of letting the asparagus go wild in its third year is to allow the long stalks and buds to transfer nutrients to the roots which will improve yield for forthcoming years.
If the most excellent Phoenicia Diner gets any hotter it will start sizzling such is the expanse of its popularity, having been featured everywhere recently in publications like Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Elle and my country’s Daily Mail and Telegraph. I told Mike Cioffi, the Diner’s owner, that he could put ten diners up and down Route 28 and they would still be full to bursting every weekend. I’m sad to say that I’m severely behind in my New Year’s Resolution of eating my way through the outstanding menu and am usually banging my head against the desk on Mondays when I look at my watch and realize it has closed until Thursday.
Tim and Jess Luby own the Storehouse in Phoenicia. Last year, they were married on Giant Ledge, having hiked two miles in wedding attire and hiking boots.
JN: What brought you to the Catskills?
TL: The mountains. When Jess and I started dating, we both enjoyed hiking, so we planned a trip up there.
60F by midday. Clear skies and very warm in the sun. Yard sales abound on Memorial Day weekend. Update: last night’s frost, which saw temperatures in the twenties, killed off the tomatoes, potatoes and some asparagus. The broccoli is also looking very poorly.
Jeff Vincent is proprietor of the new mountain guide business Catskill Mountain Wild, in Catskill, New York.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
JV: I was born in the town of Catskill 28 years ago.
So you’re a born and bred mountain man. You never wanted to leave? Usually young people leave here by the thousand every year.
I have left a few times and I came back. I lived in Denver for a year or so. I was in San Diego for a little while, but I really, really love this area, now that I’ve grown up and got all of that out of my system. I through-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year, so that got me away for six months.
If you didn’t have time nor space to nurture seedlings this past harsh winter, the Catskill Native Nursery will have it for you. They are hosting the Annual Seedling Sale at the Wildflower Festival this weekend.
For next weekend: get recycled furniture and doors for your new country digs at the Western Catskills Revitalization Council which “provides homeowners and builders with unique, affordable materials for home improvement projects”. The nonprofit organization is “dedicated to improving housing, community revitalization, and economic development in Delaware, Greene and Schoharie counties”. Open to the public on Fridays (10-4pm) and Saturdays (10-3pm).
Peter DiSclafani is proprietor and chef of the Catskill Rose Lodging and Dining in Mount Tremper, New York with his wife Rose Marie Dorn.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Rose and I moved here in 1987 after we got married. I was born and raised in Saugerties. I was out in Colorado in the seventies after high school just to check things out and that’s where I met Rose. She’s from Colorado.
Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower is a registered nurse, herbal educator and wild foods forager who conducts“weed walks” in which she teaches us how to forage for wild edibles.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
Manhattan and Brooklyn. I was born in Manhattan and spent part of my young life in Brooklyn. When I experienced the country when I was eleven, I knew that was where I was going when I got old enough.
How long have you lived in the Catksills?
I moved upstate with my family in 1979 when I was nine years old and my parents were partners with my mother’s parents – my grandparents – at the Emery Brook House, that’s now the Evergreen. They ran it as a German Cuisine bed and breakfast.
Were you born here?
I was born in Huntington, Long Island.
So what made your family move to the Catskills?
Well, my grandparents had found the area. They had a boarding house in Rockaway and the area was being developed so they had to sell, or were bought out. I don’t really remember the story of how they left Rockaway, but they were looking for a German community and that’s how they wound up in Fleischmanns. There was a nice German community here and they were looking for a similar situation to what they had left: a boarding house. So when they contacted a real estate person in the area, the real estate person told them about the St Regis, which is huge and much bigger than anything they had envisaged managing, so they then found the Emery Brook and that’s where they settled.
Lorraine Lewandrowski does not live in the Catskills, but our radio interview and half of our phone conversations, which are always fascinating, take place in the Catskills, so I’m printing them here. Lorraine is an agricultural lawyer and dairy farmer with 60 cows in the Mohawk Valley, New York. She is a very active spokesperson for the farming community, speaking at agricultural conferences and writing articles for trade publications. She tries to do things like link deep rural farmers with urban food groups. Lorraine is a descendant of Polish immigrants who arrived in the valley about 100 years ago and one of a long line of farming advocates. Her grandfather was one of the founders of a co-op, of which her father was the president for many years. She’s on Twitter with 15,000 avid followers.
I’ve never met a dairy farmer and lawyer before.
There are a few of us around. Actually, I know some attorneys and dairy farmers in England and we keep in touch on Twitter to compare notes on contracts and things that are going on. In fact, I keep in touch with farmers in Wales, New Zealand, Australia, all over the place and to the best of my ability in France. I’m not that great with French. We try to share information that way. The global corporations have far more extensive communications networks than we do, but this is a way of us getting at least some idea of what’s happening.
John Hoeko, a lifelong fly fisherman, owns Fur, Feathers and Steel in Fleischmanns. He’s writing a book about his life and times and his work with the Catskills waterways.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
My whole life, except for one day. I was born in Jamaica, Queens. My grandfather was Chief of Radiology in a hospital in Queens. He thought that the local hospital here in Margaretville, the old one, was too provincial. So he insisted I be born in New York City.
So you’ve lived here in Fleischmanns ever since?
Yes, my parents originally lived off Ellsworth Avenue, while they were building our house.
Marvelous signage by Tom of Shamro’s Tire and Auto.
Entrepreneur Keith Carollo closed his NYC business and moved to the Catskills full-time with his husband Chris. They are both pursuing careers in the arts, with Chris directing the local school play.
How long have you lived in the Catskills?
We’ve lived here full-time for about a year now and we had our home four years before we moved here full-time. It was just a weekend home.
What made you move here?
It was for financial reasons really. We had a business that we closed and at the same time, they were increasing our rent in the city, so it just seemed like it made sense to come here where our expenses would be lower. And that became the next adventure for us.
“…the mountains feel like they’re hugging you and holding you in”.
Tim Trojian, one of the proprietors of the Foxfire Mountain House in Mount Tremper has, for the past year, been living in the establishment while he oversees its renovation.
What made you move to the Catskills?
I was looking for a place with my wife Eliza, where we could start a business that would allow us to be together. She has been working in television all her life and we were trying to find a good location. I have been a chef and an hotelier all my life. The Catskills are perfectly situated being two hours from NYC, where Eliza could work while we were getting this project up and going. We could have the amenities of the city, but still live in the country, which we love.
Where are you from?
Up the hill behind the train tracks of the DURR opposite The Emerson, a new inn is being fitted out with ten rooms, restaurant, bar and lounge named The Foxfire Mountain House. Most of the furnishings are second-hand items found in the Catskills, with the decorative Moroccan tiling found in a warehouse in Brooklyn. There are still chairs to be sanded, beds to be built and raspberry banquets to be fitted, but proprietor Tim Trojan hopes to be open by June. An adjacent cottage has been ready for a while and has been rented for weekends on AirBNB. Tim owns the inn with his wife Eliza Clark a television producer and Eliza’s daughter Arden Wray, a photographer. He’s been directing the renovation for the past year, but the style has come from his wife Eliza who produced renovation television shows.
To continue the British punk theme for the remainder of the weekend and into Monday. The DIY ethos of the punk movement merged with my British obsession with tea, (made from Organic Traveler’s Tea) ready for The Economy of Punk on WIOX FM Radio tomorrow morning at 9am. Making my own cold tea while choosing content for the show.
Why go down to La Duree and stock up on Macarons when you can get them here in the Catskills and not tell the difference? Coming soon… the divine French almond meringue biscuit.
The maples have been tapped and the sap is boiling, old-school style, at the Hubbell Sugar Shack and will be boiling for the next month. This sugar shack runs on a wood-burning furnace and the product, Liquid Gold is sold at Catskill Rentals and Sandford Auto Parts.
“My muse is always nature.” Molly J Marquand, Catskills transplant and fellow native Brit, photographer, writer, naturalist, and wild flower gardener dishes the dirt to Upstate Dispatch in our new series Catskills Conversations.
How long have you lived in the Catskills? About two and a half years, I moved from New York City where my fiancé and I, Martin, lived for three years. I was born in England and moved to the Hudson Valley just before high school. I did go back to England to get my Masters Degree, in Taxonomy and Conservation of Plant Diversity (Botany) a joint programme with Kew Botanical Gardens and The University of Reading. But my undergraduate degree, which was in Ecology, I did at Bates in Maine.
What made you move here? I’d always had my eye on it, because I knew that I always needed space. We had this dream of having a farm and having wide open tracts of land. At the same time, I wanted to be close to my mother who lives in the Hudson Valley. [My fiancé and I] were both attracted to landscapes like the Rockies and Montana and places like that, but knowing that we were never going that far away because Martin’s family live in New York City.
Honey: a form of address, miracle food, medicinal unguent and mysterious immortal time traveler, having been found in Egyptian tombs intact, it has survived thousands of years. If only those crusty, aged urns of the amber nectar could speak, they could convey untold stories. What honey’s secret to eternal freshness? Lack of moisture, according to the Smithsonian Magazine and a combination of the following factors that produce a rare quality.
First, the aforementioned low moisture content can be survived by only very few bacteria who technically suffocate in the honey. “They just die,” writes Natasha Gelling, quoting Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at University of California. Honey is a sugar and it’s hygroscopic, meaning that it contains very little water in its natural state, but “can readily suck in moisture” if left in an open container.
Second, honey is very acidic with a pH value between 3 and 4.5. “The acid kills whatever wants to grow there,” states Harris. Next:
“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bee’s stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”
So, with honey being thick enough to put on wounds and containing just enough hydrogen peroxide, it’s the perfect healing unguent. Store your honey in a sealed, airless jar and it will never spoil.
Manuka honey, which is made in New Zealand from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium, is the basis of Medihoney, which the FDA approved in 2007 for use in treating wounds and skin ulcers.
You may not be surprised about colony collapse disorder if you’re familiar with the large-scale, commercial beekeeping industry. Rather like industrial agriculture in its approach, facilities keep millions of bees in expansive fields that look, ironically, like military graveyards. Commercial “migrant” beekeeping outfits also rent bees out to large-scale agriculture, transporting hundreds of hives on enormous trucks with the bees in them and that’s before you add in pesticides and GM crops. It must be confusing and highly stressful to be a commercial bee.
There’s more urgency than ever to support locally-produced, small-batch honey. The Phoenica Honey Company, based in Phoenicia, New York, buys raw honey wholesale from apiaries in Ulster County and infuses it with natural additives like cinnamon, lavender, star anise, ETC. Proprietor Elissa Jane Mastel buys organic additives where she can and never heats the honey to above 112F and has plans for a thyme and pecan infused honey. The resultant infusions are light, delicate and perfect with tea. Phoenicia Diner and Mama’s Boy Coffee in Phoenicia and Bumble & Hive in Rhinebeck serve Elissa Jane’s honey.
At Griffins Corners in Fleischmanns, Chase Kruppo is developing Chasing Honey Farm, a new honey haven, on a family plot of five acres. It’s a new long-term sustainable agricultural venture wherein members can “buy-in” on a beehive and either, receive the honey from their bees, the proceeds from the sale of their honey at market, or a combination of both. Chase’s mission is “to create jobs, craft superior honey, and aid a declining bee population”. Watch a video presentation of Chasing Honey Farm here.
“Honeybees pollinate one third of grocery produce and it is vital to the Upstate region to secure the food it produces by supporting its pollinators,” says Chase. “46% of bee hives reporting in New York State were lost last winter due mainly to starvation and excess moisture. Part of the 2015 expansion project of Chasing Honey Farm is the creation of an apple orchard, vineyard, and plantings of white currants, lavender, and mints. Creating summer-blooming food sources for honeybees help the hives build up honey reserves for winter.”
No honey can be certified organic because bees can roam up to five miles away from the hive in every direction, but if we all planted bee-friendly, pesticide-free vegetation, it would help keep local bees healthy.
Go to Blue Barn Antiques, in Shandaken/Phoenicia for some excellent bargains on high-quality antiques like this Rockwell-painted plate (above) for $15. There is still a pile left with different Rockwell paintings. Other utterly gorgeous vintage and antique dresses are still there alongside modern artisanal products like Pillowtique’s pillows and handmade crafts.
No words can possibly describe the Wild Hive Skillet Polenta with Eggs and sauteed greens. The menu offered “sunny side up”, but the server offered them whichever way I fancied, so I took them scrambled and they were cooked to perfection: lightly buttery and moist. Was there cheese in the Polenta? Who knows? There was something magical in there, whatever it was, that made me feel like going straight to the Blue Barn and spending $36 on an antique red silk dress from Shanghai. Last time I did that it was the biscuits and gravy from Diner in Williamsburg, and two dresses from Pima Boutique in the Girdle Factory on Bedford Avenue… circa 2001. Remarkable dining experiences that make me go shopping are as rare as rent-stabilized apartments.
The artistic and entrepreneurial spirit is thriving indomitably in the Catskills where you’ll increasingly find more accomplished artists, tastemakers and downright fascinating people bringing their urban pursuits to the country. Furthermore, most businesses worth spotlighting here in the Catskills seem to be owned by women. Faye Storms has owned Blue Barn Antiques on Route 28 in Shandaken since 1979, having moved to the Catskills from NYC. “My husband brought me up here to recover from a sports injury and I fell in love with the place,” she says. “Then he put a bid on the store after we got married”. Storms learned the antiques trade after she bought the property, went to auctions, studied books, talked to people and set up the store. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband got into reproduction furniture which made them hugely popular. “There was nothing like it in the area at the time. We had cars lining up down the street.” The property has an interesting history having been a farm, a store and a luncheonette with a dancehall stage at the back that is still intact.
A graduate of FIT in New York City, Storms is also an accomplished artist – something that antique store owners seem to have in common in the area – a town council member and a real estate broker. She has firsthand knowledge that game changers and influencers, artists willing “to take a gamble or leap of faith” are pouring into the area and buying up property with the intent to start enterprises and encourage growth in the area.
Blue Barn’s prices are also reasonable, making it the place for an exciting bargain. A red, antique, ankle-length dress made in Shanghai, pictured below was $36. The store is also frequented by stylists for motion pictures, dinner theatres and fashion shoots.
There are two buildings on the Blue Barn property: a one-storey building (pictured top) and a two-storey building next to it, which Storms is slowly turning into a dealer center with all different dealers of various wares in addition to antiques like clothing, arts and crafts. You’ll find Theadora Anema’s Pillowthique, which featured early on Upstate Dispatch.
From 12pm to 5pm this coming Saturday December 6th, there will be an open house at the Blue Barn.
Blue Barn Antiques, 7053 State Route 28, Shandaken, (3 miles west of Phoenicia), New York. Open winter hours: Saturday and Sundays, 11-5pm.
Catskills’ artist Alix Travis has released a coloring book based on her own drawings for ages 7 and upwards. The book, priced at $15.50, will be available at the Commons Gallery, Margaretville, when it opens for the new show December 2nd to 31st, “Abstracts by Christopher Engel; Sculpture by Anthony Margiotta; Figures by Alix Hallman Travis”, the reception being December 6 from 3pm to 5pm.
Every dollar that you spend locally is 5 to 7 times the value of that expenditure to your community. When you shop at a big box store you’re diverting your capital directly out of your community to places like Asia, where most American products are made and wherever the owners of the big box store live. Furthermore, big box stores notoriously pay low wages to their workers, so by regularly shopping in those stores you’re contributing to the large-scale expansion of a low-wage job sector, such is the power of your wallet. Moreover, it’s no secret that government is bought and paid for by large corporations through lobbying and campaign fund contributions, the Supreme Court now having ruled that those contributions may be unlimited. Even if every American decided to vote in the next election, this fact would remain unchanged. This means we are remarkably more powerful when we are spending our money than when we are voting. All the power is in our purse and how we spend our hard-earned money, quite an extraordinary fact. Think about what would happen if we all stopped shopping for a few days, or stopped buying brand-new products, or only purchased food from our local farmer.
One way to buy local and recycle is to choose vintage stores for your Christmas shopping, thereby saving your economy and your environment in one fell swoop. One such place here in the Catskills is Mystery Spot Antiques in Phoenicia owned by Laura Levine, an artist who has shown work at the MOMA and has work in the permanent collection in the National Portrait Gallery. Laura has a superbly discerning eye and has filled her “odditorium” with magnificent, beautifully unique gifts like a snakeskin purse, a shearling coat, Liberty of London ties, gorgeously dainty Czech glass goblets and a bucket of polaroid cameras.
“I have always collected weird things my entire life,” she says. “I’m from the city. I grew up in the city, but my parents had a little cabin upstate when I was a kid and we used to go to yard sales and in the city I always used to go to flea markets.” Her antique store used to be in a little multi-dealer store in Phoenicia Plaza, near where the Phoenicia Diner is now. She had a 10 x 10 booth and stocked it with antiques until the placed closed down. “I had 30 days to move my things out and I was either going to sell it all or take the next step and open my own shop. I wasn’t going to do that, but I found a little space on the boardwalk in Phoenicia for $200 a month, so I took it. I opened over the summer for 20 days a year and the store grew from there.” That was over 13 years ago and five years ago the shop moved to its current, much larger and more prominent location on Main Street.
The store has just invested in two pick-up truck loads from an estate sale that she is still picking her way though, but her favorite thing of the moment is a steel shoe mold from a shoe factory, in a men’s size eight. “The thrill of the hunt is really the fun part,” says Laura who still lives in New York City and has an employee run the store for most of the time. “When I am at the store, I love meeting my customers. I’ve made some really great friends. I feel like it attracts kindred spirits and I always end up having something in common with the customers, like our paths crossed in the music business or the art world or something.”
For this weekend’s Small Business Saturday, the store is displaying a table of gift suggestions which range in price from 25 cents (for vintage greeting cards) to about $200, but the average price at the table is $20-$30. Gift certificates are also available: perfect for Christmas and especially if you’d like your in-laws to visit more! Entice them back to claim their gift.
If you’re wondering why Davy Crockett is outside, he’s a loaner from the neighboring Sportsman’s Cantina, moved there after Hurricane Irene, that Laura was thrilled to receive. It’s Davy’s birthday on August 17th and last year they had a Davy Crockett day during which customers dressed up as Crockett and local businesses donated prizes.
Go and have a dig around yourself in Mystery Spot Antiques, 72 Main Street, Phoenicia, New York: (845) 688-7868. Open weekends only for the winter, Saturday 11am to 6pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Find them on Facebook and Instagram. THIS WEEKEND ONLY: for Small Business Saturday on November 29th, get 20% off everything, except Mystery Spot Antiques’ tote bags and t-shirts.