I ate Lunch

What I saw: Lunch with Mrs. Gardenwinkle and her best friend Mrs. Triumph, at the Bedhead Hills Wasp and Skeet-Shoot Club

What I wore: I was warned in advance by Mrs. Gardenwinkle that the Bedhead Hills Wasp and Skeet-Shoot Club has a “no jeans” rule in the dining room, but I had a lesson scheduled after lunch so I wore my riding clothes, consisting of freshly cleaned tall dress boots (courtesy of the expert polishing skills of the Bacon Provider), safari tan full-seat Pikeur breeches, black long-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt, new Ibex zippered cardigan sweater, Baker-plaid-trimmed barn coat, black and white check scarf.


What I did beforehand: baked bread (I made the dough the night before)
Why I went: A number of Mrs. Gardenwinkle‘s year-end tax items came to the house, and I mailed them to her at her new condo. In return, I got a nice card in the mail, with her thanks, and the invitation to join her and a friend for lunch; she had written her email address in cursive just before she signed off, suggesting I reply that way.

A hand-written card from the previous owner


Where I sat: in the seat I was offered, with the view of the covered patio and golf course

Things that were sad: my hosts greeted our server by his first name; his mechanical smile and polite reply reminded me of the obsequious servers at Busch’s Grove, back in the St. Louis I grew up in, where white people felt no obligation to pretend not to be paternalistic in their racism. 

Things that were funny: the wallpaper in the Ladies Lounge; listening to Mrs. Triumph and Mrs. Gardenwinkle talk about the Republican presidential candidates; the story of the homeless man in the Bedhead Hills Library 

Things that were not funny: See “Things that were funny” and “Things that were sad.”

What it is: I had a salad with grilled salmon on it. It was just the right size fillet and it was  perfectly cooked. The cookie was smallish but freshly baked so the chocolate was melted. The cappuccino was made by one of those do-it-all machines, topped with a bland froth of tasteless milk foam and a tell-tale brown dot of machine-drizzled espresso in the middle. 

Who should see it: I hope they invite me to something again. Mrs. Gardenwinkle isn’t much like my mom (her taste is more like my mom’s mom’s), but they’d be the same age if my mom was alive.

What I saw on the way home: cars and trucks and bare naked trees


What I forgot to tell you: It’s been bothering me for more than two weeks– something discussed at lunch but I couldn’t remember. Somehow it came out of the conversation about the Broadway smash-hit “Hamilton,” but I didn’t remember until yesterday. Mrs. Triumph was describing how to get tickets for a matinee, and Mrs. Gardenwinkle was saying that she’d heard it made sense to get the assisted hearing device because, “There are just so many words!” The topic then shifted to the ten dollar bill, with Hamilton’s picture on it, and the possibility of a new design with a woman on the ten or the twenty, and Mrs. Gardenwinkle said, with feeling, “It’s such nonsense! Why do they have to go and change who’s on the dollars!?”

I’ve been stewing about it ever since, wondering what might make the most convincing argument. I said nothing at the time, though I’d like a bill with an American woman on it, and I think when we get one I will go to the bank to get a whole stack of them, to give out as tips. 

Lost Keys

I found my keys.
I stared at the carpet under the dining room table
The bastards went missing on Saturday. I had them on Friday. I walked the damned dogs on Friday. I wouldn’t have made it back into the apartment without them. Then on Saturday I didn’t see them as we were rushing out the door and I shrugged it off.
Saturday night we were out of the city, and I was driving, so I had those keys, but not the house keys. When Sunday rolled around and I began to wonder.
As soon as I began to wonder, the panic set in.
I checked all the jacket pockets. I went through the tangle of scarves in the coat closet and folded them and put them away for summer. I checked all my purses, even the ones I haven’t carried in months. I crawled around the apartment on my belly, looking under furniture. I stared at the carpet under the dining room table. I took the cushions off the couch and checked there. Twice.
I complained to Twitter. Repeatedly, and often.
I got sympathy from friends and the sort-of-strangers who respond to my random-ass tweets.
I accused people I live with.
I ran through the sequence of the weekend over and over.
I remembered that I had eaten at City Hall (a TriBeCa restaurant, not Mike Bloomberg’s office). We sat in a booth. I am a clutz: maybe I left my keys in the booth. I called. They are closed on Sundays.
I stewed and fretted some more. I tweeted about it. I blamed my children, my husband, and the cat.
Monday rolled around. Oh, no! I thought. No keys! I did Monday things, like going to PT, remembering a lunch date, returning the birthday camera that arrived broken. I used that last set of spares I could find. (Understand: I have three children, so I keep plenty of spare keys normally.) I crafted a note for the letter carrier, in the hopes of enticing her to ring the bell and let me fetch my mail from the locked mailbox. 
But where were the keys?
I called City Hall. The woman who answered hadn’t had any keys turned in, but you never knew. She thought I should check back when the night manager arrived, around 3 pm.
I went to PT, ate Japanese with my friend (she’s set a date!), stood in line at B&H. On my way home I stopped by City Hall and asked if perhaps they’d found my keys. The night manager had a set of keys in the drawer, but alas they were someone else’s.  He was so disappointed for me that he offered me a glass of wine at the bar. This is a restaurant that fired up generators and fed the neighborhood before the power was back for everyone else after Hurricane Sandy (or Superstorm Sandy, or Huge-Pain-In-The-Sandy-Ass or Frankenstorm Sandypants or whatever you want to call it). I like City Hall.
I did not have a glass of wine.
I did walk the dogs. Tweeted some more about my lost keys, soliciting the sympathy of strangers.
On Twitter they told me to check the fridge, the couch cushions, and the fish tank. My children suggested I check the pockets of my jackets.
I searched some more.
Tuesday I had Pilates. I made some jokes about lost keys and about trying to use my shoulders to straighten my knees. After Pilates, I made the long and lovely drive to the barn to ride. But first, I checked my car. Maybe I had dropped them there. 

I hadn’t.
At the barn I half-heartedly checked my tack trunk (I had been there on Saturday, but I didn’t recall having those keys in the barn on Saturday). 

I had a fun ride, and a surprisingly easy drive home. We had a nice dinner at Sarabeth’s, and I started to accept that I was not going to find my keys.
Today I woke up before I had to, and had a full 45 minutes to have snugs with the cat. This is a very important part of his day, probably second most important to him, right behind that bowl of breakfast kibble he demands from the Bacon Provider.  After that, I had too much green tea, which is how I like to start my day now that I’ve given up coffee. I checked my email, did a little laundry.
Something in the laundry made me think again about Saturday, when we went riding and then had dinner in Rhinebeck and then went and saw Mahler’s 2nd at the Fisher Center at Bard. I looked at the bag I carried that day, with last weekend’s riding clothes still inside it (Yes, dirty. Don’t judge. You’re the one reading an essay about lost keys, after all.). There was a vest I had briefly worn, but took off because it was too warm.
I knew as soon as I lifted it, but the uneven heft of the garment: I had found my keys.

Half Japanese

On the left is a weekender’s house, like a tree-house built on piers and usually seems empty. Their grass is mowed infrequently and mostly has tassels on top. Parked on the driveway and shrouded in a car cover is one of those mini-SUVs that are popular in Westchester.  On the right is the colonial, like a life-size doll-house, with a pool and a two-car garage and two girls in the local school. Their grass is short and plush and uniform like a golf course.  Our grass is tended to by a team hired by the landlords, and is a mixture of manicured and wild.
A few weeks back we woke up to a hot, humid morning and it quickly went from “too hot” to “much too hot” to the kind of hot that elicits groans. The dogs were walked perfunctorily, up the driveway past the doll-house and the tree-house and down the driveway again. It was the birthday of the youngest boy, and a not insignificant one at 15. He had planned his camp sessions around being home for this birthday. What did he ask for? Not a thing. He was asked and again and again, before, during and after his trip to camp, and his answer was always, “I’ll think about it.”
Azuma Sushi in Hartsdale
In the end, we had a quiet day, to the extent that an afternoon punctuated by a thunderstorm is quiet, and a bustling early evening: losing internet when it was most needed for research, racing to the art supply store 40 minutes away before they closed, almost running out of gas, finding a gas station where none of the pumps worked, picking up the Medium Cheese at a Different train station, circling round and round in a vain effort to park, having to call the restaurant to let them know we’d be late. Finding good food near North Dreadful sometimes means compromising on either proximity or quality, and on birthdays that seems unfair. So we put on smiles when we sat down for sushi in Hartsdale.
Back in the 80s when we lived in Burlington, Vermont, we ate at Sakura on Church Street almost once a week. Before then, neither of us had ever had sushi, but a friend worked there who taught us what to eat and how to eat it. Since then, we typically find a favorite sushi place wherever we live, and eat there regularly.
In Seattle it was Aoki, at the top of Broadway. Of course there is the over-the-top Nishino on Madison for special occasions, but for the weekly Japanese food feed we preferred Aoki. The very first time we ate there, it was a hot summer day in Seattle and we were looking for cold air-conditioning.  Aoki has some decorating quirks, including benches that seem to be made from sample pieces of laminate and a framed rising sun flag.  Sometimes we would surprise them by showing up with extra people or with fewer when kids went off to college, but they always recognized us and greeted us warmly.
Last summer in mid-town we ate at a couple of different sushi places, finally settling on one where the giggly wait-staff summoned up the courage after a great deal of consultation with her co-workers to ask one of us if he was half-Japanese.

We order a lot of food when we go, and we eat it all.  My favorite sushi story of all though involves the time the Medium Cheese and his not-half-Japanese son went to sushi while the rest of us were out of town. They ordered all the usual things, in all the usual quantities, and realized, as they struggled to finish, that the two of them together had eaten as much as they normally eat with two or three more people helping.
 

Vox

We did manage to eat at Vox a few nights later.  Tucked into a dip in the road at the intersections of Route 121 and Route 116 in North Dreadful, this well-loved French restaurant is our go-to choice when we think “Let’s go out-to-dinner.”
This is the kind of French restaurant with escargot on the menu, attentive and thoughtful wait staff, and an owner who greets you as you come in and takes your coat to hang it up. If our experiences at Vox are typical of restaurants in France, then maybe I need to go live in France. We are greeted so warmly every time we go to Vox,  I can’t tell if this is how they greet everyone or if it is that my husband, the Medium Cheese, is memorable, and in that case  because he is distinctive-looking or because he looks like a celebrity. In some circles, he is a bit of a celebrity. It may simply be that the owner knows that when you are a Medium Cheese, you like it when people welcome you like you are a Big Cheese. Really, Big Cheeses come from somewhere.
On the left, actor John Stamos. On the right, Otto Berkes.
After they seat you, they bring you a small bowl of popcorn seasoned with truffle salt, and they do not assault you with a menu until you’ve had the chance to settle in, give a drink order, and adjust to the leisurely pace of proper dining. By complying with these ground rules, we are always cajoled into several courses plus dessert. When you live wait out here in Northern Westchester County, you cannot possibly be in a hurry in the evening because there is no place to go but home.
We have eaten dinners at Vox with large parties, just our family, and just the two of us. Once I left my purse on my chair and had to go back for it after I had driven everyone home. It was still on my chair. Another time, a table nearby was full of increasingly inebriated equestrians, loudly sharing the vivid details of stories about getting away with drunken driving, among other things.  Eavesdropping in this situation was unavoidable. As I recall, we left before they did.
Acoustic panels on the ceiling at Vox means it’s not too loud
Salads and entrees change with the seasons, as they should. We usually get oysters and they never disappoint. In addition to escargot, they offer French onion soup with melted gruyere and real Caesar salad, musse4ls grilled fish, steak, veal, duck, Croque-Monsieur, and even a burger worth mentioning. For dessert we have ordered tarte-tatin, molten chocolate cake, crème brulee, cheesecake, and bread pudding. I do not recall ever being even the slightest bit disappointed by any dish we were served in any way. I also do not recall any particular dish standing out as exceptional. I believe the reason for this is the superlative attentiveness of the staff, the perfection of the timing of the arrival of dishes, and the remarkably excellent wines they offer by the glass. Vox delivers all this at prices that are in the “nice restaurant” range, rather than the “incredibly nice restaurant” range.
Before we move to Manhattan full time in early September, I am sure we will eat there once or twice again. I won’t have the heart to tell them it will be our last visit, or that they have been the most consistent, least dreadful thing about living here.

The Bissell House

The Bissell House Restaurant
Last Tuesday night we headed over to Vox, one of the two other restaurants in North Dreadful, only to find it closed. We forget that in this sleepy little town the only way small business owners can have lives is to do things like be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Undeterred, we continued along Route 116 which crosses into Connecticut. I get haircuts and pet food in Connecticut and the Ridgefield area reminds me of parts of suburban St. Louis, where I grew up. I was pretty sure that on the main street in Ridgefield we would find an open restaurant.
Hand Stretched
House Made
Mozzarella
and Tomato Salad
The Bissell House offers outdoor seating and a busy little platoon of young wait staff. I believe that during our meal we were helped by no less than seven different servers, all of them trim, young, forgettable and slightly confused.  The server who took our order had not yet mastered the art of making a subtle expression of comprehension when taking the order, and I found myself reading her the entire name of the dish and pointing at the menu at the same time. I actually said, while pointing, “I’ll have the ‘Hand Stretched House Made Mozzarella and Tomato Salad,’ please.” I also had a fish dish off the sheet of specials: Arctic Char wrapped in something served over rice and broccoli and a bed of stir-fry veggies which turned out to be a mix of 20% I-don’t-know-maybe-squash and 80% julienned red bell pepper.
Ah, the bell pepper.
Bell peppers are so beautiful and colorful and this time of year they are plentiful. From home cooks to fancy restaurants people put bell peppers in salads and all sorts of dishes without bothering to mention that they are there. It only takes a little bit of raw or cooked bell pepper to make me quite sick to my stomach, beginning with tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by heartburn (and worse), and sometimes it lasts for a few days. It took me years of mysterious stomach aches to finally realize the cause. As long as they have not been pulverized, I can usually pick out the peppers, but I never order anything that features them as a main ingredient.
Arctic char tastes just like salmon
I must admit that I have been known to say I am “allergic to Connecticut,” and I sometimes go out of my way not to go there. This “allergy” is based on no specific event (like fifteen years of mysterious stomach pain), and I can say emphatically that I have met a lot of very nice and interesting people who live or work in Connecticut. I can say that in Connecticut drivers come to a complete stop at the end of the ramp to get onto the freeway, and all by itself this is a reason for folks who drive in the other 49 United States might want to avoid it.  
I will let you know if I manage to tease out what specific ingredient of Connecticut brings on the crushing malaise. It is certainly not unrelated to the fact that parts of it look like parts of where I grew up. Meanwhile, I have signed a lease on a New York City apartment and will be moving about half of our possessions into it on Monday.
The good news at the Bissell House was that I had room for dessert, even after a salad and a large piece of fish. We shared three flavors of chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches. I think they were ok.

Farmer and the Fish

Last night, after 5 or 6 attempts on previous weekends, we were finally able to obtain an 8 pm dinner reservation at Farmer & the Fish, which is a restaurant in the nearby community of Purdy’s. Since its opening this past spring, this restaurant has seemed perpetually busy.
Farmer & the Fish
Located at the crossroads of Route 116 and Route 22 near North Dreadful (where I live), this promising-looking restaurant has a packed parking lot which surrounds the historic old home.  Inside are wide, uneven gorgeous wooden floor planks and exposed hand-hewn ceiling beams. The walls are hung with historic photos of North Dreadful, on loan from the local historical society.  
We arrived on time and were seated fairly promptly (after the hostess accidentally made eye-contact with one of our party and therefore led her to another table with another couple). Meanwhile we were distracted by a grinning, middle-aged man in an arm-chair in the bar area in conversation with a middle-aged woman on his lap. I found it hard to stop looking at them as much because they were entwined like ice dancers in the final pose of their free dance as they were seemingly having productive discourse in an environment so noisy the hostess could not understand either me or my husband telling her what name the reservation was under.
They have decent wines by the glass, a full bar, and reasonably attentive wait staff who persist in trying to hear and understand despite the noise level. Our waiter was pleasant and earnest. We ordered oysters and salads and halibut and two different lobster dishes between the three of us, and each of us enjoyed our food. The fresh and home-grown quality of all of the produce was notable, from the interesting young lettuce leaves in the salad to the steamed purple carrot on my plate.  
For dessert, we tried a dish which might have been offered as a “berry crisp;” it was tasty, served covered in a lot of vanilla ice cream, but seemed to be simply baked fruit without any baked crisp bit on top at all. I ordered what I believed to be a white chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream; my dessert was very pretty and tasty, but the bread pudding seemed to have a brown sauce tasting more like a tangy gravy than anything I’ve been served for dessert before. 

White chocolate bread pudding
Towards the end of our meal a few large parties finished and left, making it possible to hear the music which had been playing in the background. Earlier, my technology-loving husband had tested the sound level using an iPhone app, and measured almost 90 dB. Because the iPhone is not a true scientific instrument, and there are a number of different ways to measure dB, we can only consider this an approximate measure. But as a rule of thumb, a normal conversation might measure 60 dB, and the noisy restaurant at 90 dB is actually much, much louder, and comparable to a lawn mower. Prolonged exposure to loud noises in excess of 85 dB is detrimental to hearing, causing gradual hearing loss. No doubt our pleasant and earnest waiter will expose himself to plenty of loud music or power tools or motorcycle rides that will contribute to his noise-induced hearing loss when he is middle aged. Perhaps by the time the pleasant and earnest waiter is middle aged, he will have a health care plan which will pay for his hearing aids so that if he finds that he is a patron of a trendy restaurant with a woman on his lap he can hear what the woman is saying to him.