Monday, July 22, 2013

Cooking in Cape Cod

With the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual conference finishing on Sunday morning 30th June, I had three days to fill in before returning to New York on the 3rd July. Although totally unplanned, I had a few ideas:

·               Stay on at Hartford, see the sights and do some writing
·               Go back to New York City early – there was still plenty to see
·               Visit Boston and generally have a look around the New England region

On Saturday afternoon I asked Suzette if there was any chance of us catching up before I headed back to Australia on July 10th. To my unexpected delight, Suzette invited me to stay with her and her family for a few days immediately following the conference.

Sunday morning I had breakfast with the effervescent Joani from Chicago, who also invited me to come and stay with her if I possibly could before heading home.

Suzette and conference coordinator extraordinaire, Luenna and I motored out of Hartford just after 10.30am Sunday morning. We stopped for a quick lunch before Luenna dropped us at Suzette’s lovely home in Milton before heading off to catch her flight from Boston.

Suzette’s daughter Star and husband Joe plus their two beautiful daughters, Bella and Lulu arrived later in the afternoon. That evening Suzette and I drove down to Cape Cod to spend the next three nights along with Star, Bella, Lulu and Suzette’s husband, David, at their summer home near Falmouth.

Cape Cod is the easternmost tip of the New England state of Massachusetts, jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean and includes the large islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Settled by English colonists in 1660, the town of Falmouth is now a popular summer destination about 124km south of Boston.
After the sensory overload of New York and the action-packed NSNC Conference at Hartford, the tranquillity of Suzette and David’s beautiful Cape Cod home was a welcome relief. It was great just to talk with Suzette that evening and swap our life stories.

The next morning I joined Suzette, Bella and Lulu on a walk with Mojo the dog – Suzette’s adorable sixteen year old beagle/cocker spaniel cross before spending a pleasant couple of hours writing… that’s one of the best things about staying with a fellow writer – you don’t have to explain yourself or feel guilty for not talking for an hour or so.

Later we took the girls for a walk to one of the nearby beaches; Suzette pointed out Bourne Pond along the way and explained the joys of “clamming”. A favourite summer pastime for many residents and visitors to Cape Cod, clamming involves wading around in knee-deep water with a clam rake and floating bucket. Once you’ve raked up your quota of fresh clams, you can return to the kitchen and cook them up in innumerable ways – from simply fresh; steamed; stuffed; fried; grilled or cooked up in a chowder (a thick soup or seafood stew).
Bourne Pond

Like me, Suzette loves to cook and her kitchen at her summer home certainly reflects this. I offered to cook a traditional Australian roast lamb dinner for Suzette’s family while I was staying with them as a way of saying thank you.

A trip to the supermarket that afternoon saw me amassing most of the ingredients I required: potato, sweet potato; butternut pumpkin; onions; tomatoes; green beans and sugar snap peas; mint; rosemary; sage; basil; garlic and lemons. Finding the lamb took a little hunting. A second trip to Falmouth the following day and I managed to get two fresh, butterflied (boned-out) legs of American lamb.

Growing up on my parent’s sheep station, lamb but more often, mutton was a staple food; we ate it twice a day, seven days a week. Every Sunday without fail my mother roasted to perfection, a delicious leg of mutton for midday dinner.

The key to a good roast is to take your time and cook it slowly. Inserting slices of garlic and sprigs of rosemary into little pockets I’d cut into the lamb, then squeezing generous quantities of fresh lemon juice all over, I placed the meat into the oven to roast at 150°C for about three hours… then headed outside for a hit of tennis with Suzette and David.

With Suzette kindly offering to be my sous chef for the afternoon, together we prepared the vegetables. The secret to great roast vegetables is to par-boil them first in salted water for a few minutes before transferring them to an oven dish, smearing them in butter and popping them into the oven for a couple of hours. Saving the salted vegetable water to make the gravy with later.

I also made a tomato pie – a simple dish of chopped fresh tomatoes and onions mixed together with some finely chopped fresh basil with slices of bread torn up over the top and baked for an hour or so. With steamed fresh beans and sugar snap peas as our greens of choice, the feast was completed with homemade gravy and fresh mint sauce.

I may have introduced Suzette, David, Star, Bella and Lulu to the joys of rural Australian-style lamb roast dinner but Suzette and David introduced me to the epicurean delights of the fresh lobster roll.

Our second trip into Falmouth to find the elusive legs of lamb had us stopping by a local café for lunch. There I was introduced to what I suspect could be America’s greatest ever sandwich creation and certainly a noble contribution to world cuisine… the lobster roll.

The freshest and most lightly toasted hotdog roll, generously buttered and then stuffed full with great chunks of fresh Maine lobster and mayonnaise; this culinary masterpiece is enjoyed all up and down the New England coastline.

My time with Suzette and her family passed all too quickly and I felt as though I had made lifelong friends. Somewhat reluctantly at 6.30am on Wednesday 3rd July, I caught the bus from Falmouth back to New York…
With our matching Macbook computers and mutual love of cooking, Suzette and I were clearly destined to meet.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Travelling 17,135km to attend a Conference

27 – 30th June 2013

Catching a bus on New York’s 5th Avenue, I made my way to the Port Authority Bus terminal and boarded a Peter Pan Bus to Hartford. The seats were comfortable and the two and a half hour trip passed quickly. Arriving in Hartford, it was only a short, ten-minute walk lugging my luggage from the bus depot to the Hartford Hilton where I was staying.
Always a welcome sight to any traveller

After registering for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) conference, I relaxed for an hour or so in my room before taking a deep breath and heading down to the lobby to meet other NSNC members.

Suzette and I recognised each other immediately from our Facebook photos and she quickly introduced me to a number of other members as we walked to the City Steam Brewery for dinner.

Just a small selection of inspirational people I met that first evening included: Bill Tammeus, former faith columnist for the Kansas City Star and his wife Marcia; Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, recipient of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for international journalism and former foreign correspondent with The New York Times; Mike Morin, columnist and radio personality from New Hampshire and his lovely fiancé Barbara; hilarious Long Island resident and humour columnist with the Stamford Advocate, Jerry Zezima; Bob Haught NSNC Newsletter Editor and his wife, Mary; Dorothy Rosby, self-syndicated humour columnist from Rapid City, South Dakota; and Eric Heyl, President of the NSNC.

It seemed quite surreal; almost two years ago I had bought Suzette’s book, The Art of Column Writing (after googling “How to be a columnist”) and here I was in late June 2013, on the other side of the world, meeting the beautiful Suzette for the first time and attending the 37th NSNC Conference in Hartford, Connecticut.

The City Steam Brewery (est. 1997) is housed in the historically important 1877 Cheney Building designed by noted American architect, Henry Hobson Richardson.
Cheney Building, Hartford CT
Our delicious buffet dinner was washed down with samples of their famous beer, The Naughty Nurse. Afterwards we made our way back to the Hilton and the NSNC Hospitality Suite on the seventeenth floor for more socialising… or… networking, as we like to state in our tax returns.
City Steam, what can I say? They make good beer.

The next day the conference began with an opening address by NSNC President Eric Heyl. A hilarious keynote speech by Dave Leiber kept us entertained for forty-five minutes as he shared the formula for amazing storytelling. Author, international speaker and consumer columnist for the Dallas Morning News and former columnist for twenty years with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dave’s address was a true indication of the quality of speakers lined up for the entire conference program.
2013 NSNC Conference attendees listening to the entertaining Jerry Zezima

Just before lunch, columnist, author, contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul books and radio personality with more than forty years experience in New York City, Boston and currently, New Hampshire, Mike Morin shared how to pitch a book to media personalities and show producers. He explained what makes a good interview guest on radio and gave us tips on public speaking.

Our lunch at The Kitchen at Billings Forge included a roll call of the states by former New York Times columnist, Diane Ketcham. Conference attendees stood up and briefly introduced themselves; fellow colonial, Dan St. Yves, freelance writer for the Calgary Herald in Canada and I were the only international representatives.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), better known as Mark Twain, made Hartford his family home from 1874 until 1891 and it was here he wrote some of his greatest works, including one of Max, Sam and Henry’s favourite bedtime stories: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
With Suzette outside Mark Twain's family home

After lunch we were treated to a tour of his fascinating house and museum. That evening, our keynote speaker was legendary American advice columnist, Heloise. Her long running daily column, Hints from Heloise is published nationally in over five hundred newspapers.
Heloise with Jerry Zezima

Our lunchtime keynote speaker on the second full day was author and columnist, Professor Gina Barreca. Her lunchtime address had us all in stiches and I laughed until I cried. Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Gina writes regularly for The Huffington Post; The Hartford Courant (the oldest continually published newspaper in the United States); Psychology Today as well as appearing on The Today Show; CNN; 20/20; 48 Hours; the BBC and Oprah.
Professor Gina Barreca

Over the course of the conference we heard from nearly twenty different speakers and writers, with each one bringing different gems of wisdom to tuck into our writing toolkits. Certainly, I have never attended a conference that I have enjoyed more than this one.

My small contribution was to donate to the NSNC scholarship fund’s silent auction: the latest copy of R.M. Williams Outback Magazine (that featured Arbuthnot’s 1889 Red Gum Sawmill in Koondrook; across the river from Barham), two packets of Tim Tam chocolate biscuits, a jar of Vegemite and a hipflask of Bundaberg Rum.

I’m sure more than a few people (including Hawaiian shirt-clad, Stu Bykofsky from the Philadelphia Daily News) suspected I might be a few chops short of a barbie, to travel 17,135km from Barham, Australia to Hartford, USA, just to attend the NSNC Conference.

However, I met so many talented, entertaining and inspirational writers from across the country, my only hope is to manifest a way to return for next year’s NSNC Conference being held in Washington DC and meet up with them all again. 

This has definitely been an incredible life experience, I will forever look back on and think, “I can’t believe I did that.” As opposed to, “I wish I’d done that.”

 - Annie Barr

A selection of NSNC Award Winners: L-R: Kevin McKeever, Telly Halkias, Dave Barry, Dave Leiber,
Samantha Bennett, Ginger Truitt, Amanda Beam and Suzette Standring.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New York City, the adventure continues...

Day Two in New York City, I started the day by taking the subway to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and booked a ticket through to Hartford, Connecticut for the 27th June. Then it was on to the West Village to meet my friends’ (Jane and Cathi Ogden) lovely cousin Sara. Once there, we wandered around the tree-lined streets and lunched at Café Blossom, a vegan (no food containing animal products) restaurant and swapped life stories for a couple of hours.

Normally my diet sides more towards my inner tyrannosaurus but my meal at Café Blossom was not only aesthetically pleasing but delicious to boot. I ordered beet carpaccio (small confession: I originally read it as, beef carpaccio thinking maybe raw beef was okay for vegans?), herbed cashew ricotta, marinated figs, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic drizzle.

Next on my sightseeing agenda was a trip to the World Trade Centre site and 9/11 Memorial. I doubt anyone will ever forget the horrific and senseless terrorist attack that occurred on the 11th September, 2001. Two hijacked planes bound for Los Angeles were deliberately ploughed into the twin towers, in less than two hours the buildings had collapsed, taking the lives of almost 3,000 people. Today, the site contains two pools surrounded by cascading water. Called “Reflecting Absence” they are set within the footprints of the Twin Towers.

Walking south towards the Staten Island Ferry terminal, I stopped to admire Arturo Di Modica’s 3,200kg bronze sculpture, “Charging Bull” in Bowling Green Park near Manhattan’s Wall Street Financial District. A symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity, the sculpture is over three metres tall and nearly five metres long.

A short walk later and I was boarding the Staten Island Ferry. Running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it is a free service that connects Staten Island residents to Manhattan it also enables tourists an excellent view of the internationally recognized Statue of Liberty. Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and presented in 1886, it is a gift to the United States from the people of France.
On my return ferry journey I sat next to a Californian family (Nanna, Mattie, Jess and Shay) who invited me to join them for dinner. We all enjoyed a delicious meal on Pier 17 and then journeyed to Eately in the Flatiron district for a very welcome gelato.

The next day I was ready to escape the noise, frenetic pace and general sensory overload of New York City. I walked down 5th Avenue, under the shade of Central Park trees until I reached the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art). What a sanctuary it was.

Temple of Dendur

The American Wing

Magnolias and Irises, 1908 by Louis Comfort Tiffany

The Houses of Parliament (effect of fog), 1903 by Claude Monet

Irises, 1890 by Vincent van Gogh

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas

The Horse Fair, 1852-55 by Rosa Bonheur
Founded in 1870, it houses a massive collection of art and artifacts from around the world. I spent more than five hours soaking up the visual and intellectual feast before me. I stopped for a sandwich in the American Wing Cafeteria and was joined at my table by two retired English teachers; Ruth from New Jersey and Marcia from Massachusetts. They were a wealth of information and I joined them for a tour of the American Civil War (1861-1865) exhibition.

Reluctantly, I dragged myself away from the MET, concerned that I would run out of time to visit The Frick Collection. The collection was assembled by the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and is housed in his former residence on Fifth Avenue. The museum opened in 1935 and contains an extensive collection of aesthetic antique furniture and beautiful art by old world masters. Gainsborough, Turner, Constable, Rembrandt, Holbein, Whistler, Goya, Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir and Titian were just a selection of great works I saw.

Feeling recharged from my tranquil day immersed in art and history, I decided to walk on down to the famous department store of Bergdorf Goodman. While in the store I chatted with Sammy, the makeup consultant at the Edward Bess cosmetics counter. As it turned out, the young man himself was there and Sammy took a photo of us together and then proceeded to make my face up with his range of cosmetics.
Me and Edward (about to put his products to the test)
Like my mother, Sammy was concerned my entire makeup collection only ran to a couple of sticks of lipstick…
Look Ma, I'm wearing makeup!

My final stop for the day was a brief visit to Macy’s, the world’s largest department store where I bought a clean polo shirt (I’d had no time to enjoy a NYC Laundromat) and a small cup of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.