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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beacon Bits -- A Few Good Women

While you might have missed the recent art show (Some) Girls of Beacon at the Howland Cultural Center, there's still plenty of time to catch a few of the notable "Women of Beacon" as you traverse Main Street. During the last year, I've met many of the women who own successful business operations and who have brought vitality to the storefronts by offering good conversation while sharing their expertise and proffering a variety of products and/or services such as art restoration (Kathleen of Studio Antiques), bread and comestibles (Simone of All You Knead) pilates (Juliet Harvey of Beacon Pilates) or dance classes (Angela of Yanerella's) and guesthouse accomodations (Shirley of Botsford Briar Bed & Breakfast) among many others (Homespun, Beacon Natural Market, Echo, Lauren & Riley, Korean Deli Seoul Food, Dance Bag, Gianetta's, RiverWinds, Beacon Barkery, Cup and Saucer Tea Room, Ella's Bellas). I have a few favorites that are worth pursuing for their diversity and staying power, sophistication and groundedness; let me introduce you to Jaqueline, Seed to Fruit, and Clay, Wood, & Cotton.


Jaqueline Weissner, proprietor of Jaqueline, opened her retail store in Beacon in 1999. You could call her a pioneer settling on the East End of town after closing her successful international wholesale hat business that ran for 16 years. Her women's haberdashery harkened back to the history of Beacon as the 'hatmaking capital of the U.S.'. She dedicated herself to educating the public about Beacon's history by instituting Beacon's 1st Hat Parade in 2006, an annual event over 5 years time. The last parade was May 2010; the recent moratorium is a result of the lack of community support for organizing and doing the 'grunt work' that such fun events require, so hats off to Jaqueline for producing the past events! Perhaps some new Beaconites will find time and energy to resurrect this worthwhile project and make it an annual institution again -- otherwise, you'd be tempted to say that Beacon's parades have gone to the dogs.
In the meantime, don't worry, you can still find the most stylish hats and beautiful women's accessories north of Manhattan at #478 Main Street, Beacon. One of the most endearing things about shopping at Jaqueline's, other than fantasizing about the power and allure of a well-chosen hat, is the romantic, warm, and welcoming atmostphere....and a chance to be greeted by Zack! 

When you can finally pull yourself away from all the accessories at Jaqueline's, turn the corner and walk over to Seed to Fruit , #528 Main, where you will meet proprietor Nicole Mora, a former Glynwood resident, who will enchant you with her unique flower selection that seems to be freshly picked from an English country cottage garden that you just might not have at your own disposal, but that you can find in Beacon's very own backyard.

Nicole has been in business in Beacon since 2008 and from the start made an impression with artistic holiday window decorations, floral designs for weddings and other events, garden design and installations, holiday wreathmaking workshops, fresh cut flowers, and home delivery service with a personal touch. The nicest thing about shopping at Seed to Fruit is that special requests can be accomodated when Nicole heads to market for weekly purchases, hence, the arrival of flowering quince I had my heart set on, straight to my doorstep.

As a local resident, you'll notice Nicole's presence at community events, recognize her one-of-a-kind special order arrangements in town (e.g., while shopping at Artisan Wine Shop) and hope to win her gift certificate donations at the various charitable auctions (like Fovea's in December 2011.) Nicole has truly bloomed where she is planted and with her talent and artistic eye for detail, she'll be blooming in Beacon for years to come!


Now that you're visually stimulated with nature's beauty, head west on Main to the other end of town to feast on handmade crafts that satisfy the soul at Clay, Wood & Cotton in its new location at 133 Main Street, with co-owners, Kristen and Kristy, who will be happy to greet you.

Kristy (above), a Beacon resident, turns scraps from her husband's woodshop into 'Beacon Bookmarks' and Kristen (below), who dwells in Brooklyn and studied

textile design, turns secondhand fabrics into home accessories for her Cakehouse line. This crafty duo met, connected, and have fulfilled the vision of their partnership by starting their internet business, opening their 1st shop in September 2009 and jumping on the chance to expand into their new 'prestigious' location next to Bank Square this past winter.

The shop is home to a multitude of handmade items, many made by local Hudson Valley artists such as ModCraft, Virginia Piazza, Wicked Mint and Erica Hauser of Beacon, who create practical but pretty household items (bowls, mugs, wooden cutting boards made by Krista's husband, linens, hats and notecards.) The most exciting expansion of items since moving to their larger location has been quality yarns from Cascade, Noro, Malbrigo, Ella Rae, Jill Draper, and Blue Sky Alpacas, all of which will be appreciated by the knitters, crocheters and weavers who have been craving a local yarn supplier since the closing of Knittingsmith in Cold Spring!

The variety of colors, textures, prints, kits (remember potholder looms), pottery and stationery will keep you in their loop for personal and gift purchases on a frequent basis. If there was a category for 'Most Charming Craft Store' in the Hudson Valley magazine annual vote, Clay, Wood & Cotton would be a hands-down winner for sure!


Some food for thought:  As I considered the "Women of Beacon", I couldn't help thinking of the role of women in developing countries (see Nicholas Kristof and WuDunns Half the Sky). It's been said that women are the best bet for investing in the future: they are hardworking, creative, give wholeheartedly to their communities, and as a result, their efforts are beneficial to all. While I'm not implying that the plight of Beacon after the demise of manufacturing spurred 'suburban' flight from the factories of the river towns along the Hudson could ever match the global challenges of developing nations, I would say that the predominant presence of women business owners in Beacon just might not be coincidental. Just take note of Beacon's re-development and fourishing storefronts -- you may just want to thank a 'few good women'!

Check out the National Women's History Museum website for further inspiration about women.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Beacon Bits--Tasting the Good Life

While local breweries are proliferating in the Hudson Valley, wine bars and wine shops are still holding on. Beacon can toast one of its own, the Artisan Wine Shop, established in 2006.
Proprietors Tim Buzinski and Mei Ying So, both Culinary Institute graduates, are an integral part of the community; you might run into Tim at Beacon Pilates or you'll see Mei at the Common Ground Farm weekly pick up. You'll also notice their generous presence with gift certificate donations at various fundraisers and auctions for local groups. Since arriving in Beacon, it's been my go-to wine store for gifts and preparation for the occasional brunch or dinner party; I even knew about the store before relocating up river from its numerous citations as the "Best" of its kind in Hudson Valley Magazine for several years in a row. My limited knowledge of wine is never scoffed at, nor is my inability to recall names when I request a bottle for purchase by describing the label since I rely on my strong visual memory. This becomes a problem when a label changes, which they sometimes do to my dismay. Once Tim graciously reminded me to keep receipts, which always include the name of the wine purchased for future reference, but since I've recently purchased an iPhone app, Memorable Wines, a great $1.99 investment, I hope I've finally overcome this snafu. (I especially like the app since you can store a photo of the label as well as a written and recorded description of the wine.) But, at Artisan, I'm most impressed with Tim and Mei's expert recommendations when I've recited my menu and offered my personal preferences; they've always been spot on, even when matching a wine to my unusual, annual Scandinavian tradition of salted cod for Christmas eve dinner! Weekly tastings on Friday and Saturday have also been a learning opportunity and offer a chance to expand one's repertoire and range of "labels" with the added incentive of a discounted savings. However, Artisan's greatest gift for the naive or well-versed wine lover is the range of courses they offer from Tasting 101 to a focused introduction to  a specific wine region to wine-food pairings. I knew the classes existed but there had been a hiatus and so to my delight, I was able to secure the last ticket for a recent Sunday evening event that focused on the Italian wines of the Piedmont region.
We received a color coded map of the region, which explained the Italian wine classification system from table wine to the controlled and guaranteed top-of-the-line "DOCG" selection, a marked placemat and separate list for notes regarding our filled glasses--2 white (Gavi di Gavi, Roero Arneis) and 4 red (Barbera d'Alba, Dogliani, Barbaresco, Barolo) with a price range in the high teens to the fifties. With plates of bread and water nearby to help cleanse the palate, the class proceeded with more information than I could process, but others in the group demonstrated their familiarity with the region, and impressions of the appearance, aroma, taste and finish of each wine. While Tim filled us in on the attributes of each wine and their potential food pairings, we tasted and tested and took our personal notes -- from the citrus/acid of Gavi to the smokiness of Arneis to the cherry-earthy Barbera and musty Dogliani and deep floral Barbaresco and 'cognac warmth' (my words) of my favorite, Barolo.

All the while, Mei and the apprentice/CIA student, Anna, were busy preparing an assorted plate of cheese (available from Homepsun Foods) and toasted hazelnuts so that our second round of tastings would be paired with food. I had my "ah-ha" moment when I realized that my palate shifted to include all of the wines vs. the only one favored (Barolo) without the food accompaniment. I couldn't then resist ordering 3 of the 6 bottles at the reduced rate offered during the class so that they will become treasures for future guests on special occasions.

Some food for thought: There's always an opportunity to learn something new in Beacon. The older we get, the more we need to reach out for life long learning about 'new pastures' that we can be passionate about. I learned that wine is about the food. I always heard that, but finally 'got it' in one evening's tasting. When you take one established interest(being a foodie) with a new one (wine enthusiast), the motivation to expand knowledge and hunger for more information and skill is enhanced. I'd say a class or two at the Artisan Wine Shop should be on every one's "bucket list". If you go with "beginner's mind", you'll be amazed at how much you will learn.

Future Pairings
Artisan                &            Homespun
Picollo Ernesto, Gavi di Gavi DOCG, "Rovereto" 2011 [Cortese] / Toma Piemontese DOP, cow's milk, aged, semi-firm
Reverdito, Barbera d'Alba DOC, Butti 2008                                    / La Tur, cow, sheep & goat's milks, aged, soft, delicate
Brovio, Barolo DOCG, Garblet Sue 2005 [Nebbiolo]                      /  Gorgonzola Dolce DOP, cow's milk, aged, soft, creamy