Food Finds: Southern Berkshires

Once a food writer, always a food writer. Note taking is an integral part of my meanderings, and cell phones make documenting finds all the easier.

A weekend at the southern edge of the Berkshires threw many culinary wonders across my path. Most of my time was in and around Hillsdale NY, where I encountered lots of folks with a style and mindset that could have come from Brooklyn or Portland. (Quite different from the wilds of northern New Jersey.)

First stop: a couple of craft brews in the rustic courtyard of the Roe Jan Brewing Company.

The Crossroads Food Shop, at the center of town (basically…an intersection), warranted two breakfast visits. The open dining room is sunny and minimalist, the menu a blend of intelligent turns on pancakes and eggs (with smoked fish! kim chi!) and tauntingly tempting baked goods.

Down the road a piece, the Copake Hillsdale Farmers Market had me happily draining my bank account. Besides the usual local produce and meats, baked goods and takeaway food stalls, three vendors stood out.

Vine Gate Lavender Floral Farm waited just inside the gate with a cornucopia of lavender-stuffed and scented wares. I walked away with wool balls for the dryer, lavender-stuffed sachet bags for the dryer, dresser and pillow case, body salts and an eye pillow.

Coopers Daughter Spirits stopped traffic with infused vodkas (cacao maple went home with me), black walnut bourbon, and lilac or rose liqueur. Each was smooth and seductive. Bonus points: stark, sleek design; aging in barrels made on site at an 1805 distillery facility; and ownership by women.

With a name like TNT Bitters and dynamite packaging, how could I not strike up a conversation? The handcrafted bitters are as advertised, each awakening the tongue in distinctive ways. Espresso is the keynote of Napalm in the Morning, poblano peppers of Fire in the Hole. Smoked grapefruit goes by Pink Mist, and Alibi is aromatic and citrus. A Better Name Than Kamikaze features horseradish and ginger (which owner Anna, seen smiling below, suggested as an addition to the Party Out of Bounds signature drink, and the drink creator agreed with her idea). (He also got a dynamite sampler pack.) Plus, the humans here are so damned friendly. Anna was manning the booth with her mom, who stepped out of the way for the photo. I’ve been following them on Instagram since. And also dribbling bitters into tonic, happily.

.Exploring then took me to Great Barrington, MA, where the heavily attended farmer’s market was more for buying actual kitchen provisions. The streets were filled with delights. An ice cream parlor checking IDs, on account of cannabis within. Unicorns and happy masked bear images. Rainbow painted crosswalks. A store with vintage glassware, relocated here a few years back from NYC.

My reason for being in the area? A private event with dazzling celestial decor, music-themed drinks (A Brown-Eyed Girl!) and food to match. Exhibits A and B below.

Black Dog Books Reading & Signing

My June 1 appearance at Black Dog Books in Lafayette, NJ was a first for both of us: my first in-person reading and signing, and the store’s first in-person event since March 2020!

Longtime pal Deb Manfredonio supplied a tray of Circus Peanuts in honor of an anecdote in my bio.

Black Dog Books is not only charming and atmospheric, but fiercely supportive of local authors. The owner placed an order and scheduled the event on the spot when I handed her a review copy.

It’s in the stonewalled basement of a 19th century building, neighboring a rushing creek stocked with trout, a former vaudeville theater (#thereisnosuchthingascoincidence) and numerous historic structures now housing gift shops and eateries.

I’m a Podcast Guest!

The Old Dogs Podcast interviewed me on Episode 59 of Season Three, “Taking Out the Space Trash.” (Yes. That’s the actual title. There is no such thing as coincidence.)

Hie thee here and scroll down to Episode 59. I’m at 11:45.

Or listen to my segment only.

The Old Dogs are actor-raconteurs Paul Menzel, founder of The Comedy Workshop in Houston & Austin, and Jim Conlan, prolific voice actor and longtime director of The Jung Center in Houston. (Again, there is no such thing as coincidence.) They’re great conversationalists, and I heartily recommend listening to the other episodes as well!

Virtual Launch Parties!

Circumstances constrained physical get-togethers, so off to the Interwebs it was! I celebrated the launch of my book with two online events, with people all over the US.

The first was a virtual gathering with members of the village that made Eat, Drink & Be Wary possible. Some were longtime pals, now far flung, who’d accompanied me on restaurant reviews way back when or contributed memories or quotes or ideas for my essays. Some had proofed the manuscript; two created the book’s design. Most had not seen each other in decades. A few had never met, and it was fun to watch people connecting faces and voices to names they’d been hearing from me for years. (And to watch Ben’s ever-changing Zoom backdrops — The Tardis in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, indeed.)

Oh, and Matthew Foster (designer of this website, creator of the initial cover treatment and fellow Aquarian) demonstrated Party Out of Bounds, the Dark & Stormy-inspired cocktail he created for the book. (The recipe for it and companion snack are at the bottom of this post).

For this audience only I read the tale of my favorite restaurant review visit ever, to an ill-conceived place that opened on the brink of disaster, I believe this was my longest Zoom event yet. Three hours? Four? It didn’t matter.

The second was a special Launch Time version of the Lunchtime Story Reading for Adults that Suzanne Savoy has been curating for the Lewes Public Library in Lewes, Delaware. Twice a week from March 2020 through June 2021, the program has featured live short story readings by a dazzlingly talented stable of actors. Three did the honor of reading selections from Eat, Drink & Be Wary: Suzy, the versatile and hysterical Deborah Hope, who inhabits Lorelei Lee, and Paul Menzel, actor and founder of The Comedy Workshop.

People Are Sending Me Things

Mention food and people have a lot to share.

A retired internist phoned before finishing the first entry in my book, The Cellular Memory of Food, because it set him to pondering ethical considerations in using feeding tubes at end of life. (I had nothing to contribute to the topic.)

Table For One prompted a confessional. Dining solo has not been the problem, wrote an acquaintance; her problem is with cooking. She has but two specialties, “toasty breakfast” (avocado toast with cheese, tomato, hard-boiled egg), and Sengalese peanut soup. Otherwise her capabilities are assisting the resident cook by making pots of coffee, chopping vegetables, and washing dishes.

Peanut soup? I asked for the recipe. It includes ginger root and cilantro, two of my favorite food groups. Let me know if you try it.

My piece about pasties in New Jersey stirred the Upper Michigan Peninsula roots of my friend David, who posed as my husband in the gay bar. He pointed me to pasty central online, as well as musings about the Upper Peninsula’s obsession with the hand-held pie. That article not only explains the food’s Cornish origins, but also a tradition I hadn’t encountered, tossing crusts aside in mines to placate goblins.

He also sent a photo of him reading my book in Puerto Vallarta, alongside a libation he continues to insist was lemonade.

The Martha and Me piece inspired my college advisor to send a Martha Stewart holiday program for PBS in the 1980s. Ever so young and close to her modeling looks, with hints of vocal mannerisms that now define her. Also, my prof friend claimed to have already made my Martha-inspired brownie recipe twice.

And Ben, my companion for restaurant visits behind so many of my rants, sent this photo of alcohol in the wild, with the comment “Not entirely sure where that apostrophe goes …”

photo of five tall bottles with brown liquid and the label WRITERS TEARS on a grey metal store shelf next to three brown stacked boxes with the middle one saying in orange WRITERS TEARS next to a six-sided squat bottle of dark liquid labeled SEXTON with white price tags below the bottles and boxes

A Champagne Toast

Eat, Drink & Be Wary celebrated its official launch with champagne and sparkling company Thursday, May 27. We met at Flute in Midtown Manhattan, which occupies an atmospheric, below-ground warren of a space that formerly housed one of Texas Guinan’s speakeasies.

The party’s host was Kevin Fitzpatrick, head of the Dorothy Parker Society, one of my fellow Marxfest organizers, and author of a gazillion NYC-centric books. (Might I recommend Under The Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide?)

COVID considerations, work and an injury truncated the guest list, but the gathering made up for numbers with spirit, following Spencer Tracy’s fabled description of Katherine Hepburn, “Not much meat but what’s there is cherce.”

Representing the book’s Texas flavor were three dear friends who’ve been partners in culinary (and other) adventure for decades, longtime pals Kelley Loftus and David Miller (who generously supplied the champagne) and Suzanne Savoy, film & TV actress and the photographer of my author portrait.

Joining us were fellow Marxfest organizer Brett Leveridge, who curates toe-tapping tunes of the 20s, 30s and 40s on Cladrite Radio, and Simon & Schuster author Laurie Gwen Shapiro, who chronicled Kevin Fitzpatrick’s mission to relocate Dorothy Parker’s ashes, for The New Yorker.

On W. 54th at Broadway, around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater, home of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Food Nostalgia, on #FoodTravelChat!

My first publicity event was April 7, returning to #FoodTravelChat, a lively Wednesday Twitter event, and co-hosting chatting about Food Nostalgia! It’s always fun, full of photos, gifs and joking. I was one of the co-hosts in the event’s early days (it’s seven years old, in 2021!), and had a blast reconnecting and seeing everyone’s answers.

The way #FoodTravelChat works is by sending out questions that participants answer and share. Here are the ones I wrote for Food Nostalgia. Happy time traveling!

  • What food or drink turns back time for you, and why?
  • What food or drink was a treat when you were a child?
  • What’s an early memory of going out to eat?
  • Do you have a favorite candy from childhood?
    PRO TIP: For DIY therapy, fashion a meal from foods your inner child selects. Forget nutrition; this is soul food.
  • What food or drink reminds you of your hometown?
  • What food or drink did you love earlier in your life that you wouldn’t touch now?
  • What family food traditions do you keep going?
  • What now unavailable food or drink do you miss?
  • What have you missed about restaurants or bars in the past year?
  • If you had a time machine, what food destination in the past would you visit?

Thank you, Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris, for welcoming me back into the fold. Wanna play along with them? Join #FoodTravelChat on Wednesdays at 4pm ET/3pm CT/1pm PT/9pm Western European/10pm Central European, 6am Thursday Australian Eastern time. Follow @FoodTravelist on Twitter or sign up for its newsletter.

brown background banner with the words Join Us Wednesday at 8 pm ET for #FoodTravelChat Food Nostalgia (in italics) Special Co-Host & Author Kathy Biehl PLUS GIVEAWAY DURING OUR CHAT A Lucky Winner will be chosen to receive Kathy's latest book "Eat, Drink & Be Wary" [end of text] with two photos in bottom right of the book cover and of Kathy Biehl