Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Hamptons in winter, day 2

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Coopers Beach in Southampton - just me and the seagulls

(Click here to read about the first day of my winter weekend in the Hamptons)

The second day of my winter weekend in the Hamptons was cloudy but not too cold, so I decided to walk to the beach. The beach in New York in March? I love it. When I was little and my parents had to get us out of the house during the winter, they'd dress us in our snowsuits and boots, pack up the sand toys, and drive to the beach. I like the way the gray sky meets the more gray ocean. I like the smell of cold, damp sea air. And I really like being the only one on the beach.

The walk from the Southampton Inn, whose owner Dede Gotthelf invited me for the weekend, took me through the toniest part of Southampton. Those movie star estates you read about? I walked by them. And here's my absolute favorite thing about winter in the Hamptons: no leaves on trees and hedges. Which means you get a close-up look at these:

What I heard as I walked: chainsaws (landscapers pruning trees), hammers (construction), seagulls, and...freeway noise. I was so confused: How could there be a freeway in the middle of Southampton village? The closer to the beach I walked, the louder it got, a droning whoosh, steady, substantial. And then it hit me. Not a freeway. Not cars. The ocean. Man, I thought, I have been living in Los Angeles way too long if the ocean sounds like a freeway.

Coopers Beach was all mine. I walked along the water, stopping to pick up the beautiful smooth white rocks that had washed up with the last high tide. Pacific beach rocks are so different, rough and craggy. These were elegant, buffed, a pure white with a few golden yellow ones mixed in for kicks. I didn't know rocks could glow. I slipped a few in my pocket to take back to my boys.

I headed back to Main Street toward another Southampton landmark: Tate's Bake Shop. I discovered Tate's through a Facebook friend and had heard tell of Kathleen's legendary chocolate chip cookies. The legends are accurate. I tasted the whole wheat dark chocolate chip cookies - amazing. I sampled a gluten-free brownie: incredible. And then, on the advice of the woman in front of me in line, I bought a sour cream coffee cake muffin for my breakfast. Oh. My. "Muffin" clearly referred only to the size and/or the pan in which it was baked, because this was 100 percent cake. Light and buttery, with a heavy dose of cinnamon streusel on top. I think I might have fainted a little after the first bite.

Loot from Tate's Bake Shop: a sour cream coffee cake muffin and the Tate's cookbook
In the afternoon I went to Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack to taste some Long Island wine. Most of the wineries on the eastern end of Long Island are on the north fork, whose real estate was historically less pricey than the south fork. The north fork towns have worked hard to protect agricultural acreage from the rising tide of land values over the past 20 years.

The tasting room at Wolffer, one of the few wineries on the south fork, was packed, even on an overcast Saturday in winter. Young couples on daytime dates, sedate gray-haired locals in riding pants smelling faintly of horse, a smug-looking tour group, and a polished couple with a preschooler and a baby: That's who was tasting wine with me. (The little girl got grape juice.) Given how crowded the tasting room was in March, I found myself thinking that I was awfully glad not to be there in July.

I sat at my table, watching, listening, and trying to concentrate on what was in my glass. Did I smell apricot? Grapefruit? Blackberry? Nail polish remover? Okay, I don't have the best nose, and I'm not the most discriminating wine drinker. But the overall experience impressed me. Between the time I left Long Island in the mid-80s and now, an entire culture of wine appeared and matured. Long Island wines get high scores from Robert Parker and win medals. My server at Wolffer told me that the Long Island wine country is going to be the third most popular tourist destination in New York state within a few years, behind Manhattan and Niagara Falls. I wouldn't be surprised.

I really could have used a nap after all that wine, but I'd promised to stop by the Plaza Cafe in Southampton for an early dinner. And I'm glad I did. "It's art," said Southampton Inn manager Lee Ellis of the food at the Plaza Cafe, and he was right. I got my first taste of local Peconic Bay scallops, one transcendent razor clam,
a creamy sunchoke bisque. And then, finally, the lobster I always crave when I go back to the East coast, this time in a creamy, unique shepherd's pie. I couldn't finish it, but I shamelessly picked out all the lobster. Who needs dessert when there's seafood? Not I.

I walked back to the Southampton Inn tired and completely satisfied. I love my husband, I love my family, but I love a weekend alone. One more day to go. One more day to savor.

Read more: The lighthouse and the lobster


Monet said...

Oh Erika, thank you for taking me along with you. I love that you are visiting the Hamptons during the off season. It seems so peaceful...those rocks were such great finds! I am glad that you are taking the time to savor all of these moments. I need to do the same!

Hilary Cable said...

Wonderful. I've never been to the Hamptons and now I want to go. Winter brings out the subtle beauty in many places--you picked the right time of year to go. Would love to see the Tate Bakeshop cook book!

Olivia L. said...

Through your writing, I do feel like I'm right there next to you. Thank you so much for posting your experiences, it all sounds amazing. Everyone needs a little time to themselves, I'm actually looking at Hampton mls so I can start having weekends like the ones you are describing.

Patti at Worth The Whisk said...

Erika, what a treat to follow your peaceful "me time." A lot of your readers surely envy you. And, having never been to the Hamptons, I feel as though I now have! Nice job.

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