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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Winter Farmers Market Springs to Life on St. Patrick’s Day

 Winter Farmers Market Springs to Life on St. Patrick’s Day
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
3/17/12

Weston, CT – Norfield Grange rolled out the greens – and a couple of goats – in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day Saturday, drawing families to its Winter Farmers Market for natural foods, apparel and other local artisan products.

The Winter Market, at 12 Good Hill Road in Weston, has been held every Saturday from 10a.m. to 2p.m. since November 9, and will run through June 9. It’s conducted annually rain, shine or snow and typically offers 20 to 25 vendors – farmers, specialty food producers, artisans and crafters. To liven up the setting for the Irish holiday, Butterfield Farm Company was on hand with its goats Ada Oklahoma and Cabo, for children to pet and feed.

“We’re regular vendors here,” said Butterfield Farm co-owner Tara Bryson, “and today we’re just having some fun educating the community about goats. People get to meet the animals that produce the goods at the farm. We make all goat milk based products including cheese, yogurt and bath and body items. Goat milk products have been shown to have many health benefits.”

Butterfield’s inventory is a good fit with other vendors’ goods, explained Lyn Kimberly, Market Master and a Norfield Grange officer. “Everything is handmade, homemade or homegrown.”

As the morning grew warmer, visitors wandered from table to table, set out on the grass and inside the Grange structure. Lilting Irish music played from a sound system and the combined aromas from bubbling soup, soda bread, seafood and garden greens mingled in the air making the Market setting more Spring-like than Winter oriented.

Bodega Taco Bar Adds Magic to Traditional Mexican Fare

 Bodega Taco Bar Adds Magic to Traditional Mexican Fare
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield County Life Magazine April 2012)
3/16/12

Fairfield, CT – Fulfilling the vision of its three partners, Bodega Taco Bar in downtown Fairfield has been satisfying local palettes for nearly a year now with its own distinctive take on traditional Mexican cuisine.

Forty-two-year-old Partner and Chef Michael Young took a moment recently to speak with FCL about the culinary path that led him to Bodega, his collaborators Mario Fontana and Luis Chavez, and signature menu items.

“My father was a chef in Long Island, where I grew up, in Massapequa on the south shore,” Young said. “He worked at different places – Italian, American, European, French. Sons look up to their fathers and I started dabbling in cooking.”

Young’s mother was also an influence. In his sophomore year of high school, she handed him a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) school catalog – essentially a guide to trade vocations. “She said to pick something,” Young said. “Being a travel agent seemed inviting, which required one year of experience in the school’s culinary classroom. I liked the cooking aspect and didn’t even move on to the travel portion – just continued on with cooking.”

Instead of going to college, Young moved to Manhattan and kept cooking. “My first job was at Two Boots, on Avenue A, the original location,” he said. “I liked it, was happy and was supporting myself.”

He bounced around over the next few years at different restaurants, meeting a girl along the way who wanted to be with a professional man. It spurred Young to go to college, to Baruch, from which he graduated with a B.A. in Banking & Finance in 1994. He began working as a broker, but was unhappy with the career choice, on the outs with the girl and missing cooking. “I found myself visiting my friend’s restaurant, Erizo, after a long day at work.”

He met another girl, Jennifer, whom he ended up marrying, who told him to do whatever he wanted to do. He went back to cooking.

“As there were almost no new innovative Latin chefs or non-Latin chefs making Latin food, I thought there was an opportunity to pursue Latin cooking,” he said. “I got a shot cooking at Patria in New York under the tutelage of Douglas Rodriguez, where I really learned Latin cooking.”

Several restaurant experiences followed -- Blue Maize, CO; Lansky Lounge, NYC; and Quissano, ME – before Young moved to Fairfield County. Mario Fontana had just opened the first Nuevo Latino restaurant in the area, Habana in Southport, and brought Young aboard as Chef.  Fontana then started Ocean Drive in South Norwalk and Young took the cooking reins there. “I hired Luis Chavez, initially as an oyster shucker,” Young said.

After five years, Young left to open Valencia in Norwalk. Chavez came on as his partner. But Fontana came back into the picture in 2010, after finding the Bodega space, and Young and Chavez joined him as partners.

“The concept we created was modern tacos,” Young said. “We put new spins on traditional Mexican dishes and, on June 9, 2011, opened at 1700 Post Road. The reception has been outstanding, everyone wants to be here at the magic hour. Customers are worldly and have a good palette. We give them what they need and desire.”

As a starter, guacamole, always fresh to order, is a popular choice. Among Antojitos, which range from $4 to $12, leaders are the Cerviche de Mariscos – citrus-infused shrimp and scallops – and Bodega Grilled Corn.

The Platos, or main dishes, are priced from $13 to $16, and include Mahi Mahi a la Plancha and Slow Roasted Pork “Lechon”, wherein the pork is marinated for 48 hours in brine and slowly roasted.

A much-requested Side is Blistered Brussel Sprouts, glazed in a secret pineapple glaze.

Salads are tagged from $8 to $14. An excellent choice is the Massaged Kale, which is both nutritional and unique. Tortas, at $8 to $12, include the Drowned Sandwich, comprised of an over-easy egg with chili sauce on an open-faced piece of bread. The Burrito Tinga is spicy pulled chicken with rice, beans and pico de gallo.

Tacos are the foundation of the eatery, comprising half of all patron orders. There are nine different flavor expressions, at $4 apiece. A star is the Lady Tata – a taco in a lettuce cup.

At the bar, visitors will find over 60 kinds of tequila. These can be sampled in flights. There are also many imported beers, such as Modelo, Pacifico Clara and Tecate. A small selection of hand-picked wines is also available.

On the horizon, Bodega will be hosting a Cinco de Mayo celebration, on May 5, featuring a pig roast, tent and live music.

Bodega Taco Bar is located in Heritage Square, 1700 Post Road, Fairfield. Phone: 203-292-9590. www.bodegatacobar.com

Faye Kim Designs: Timeless Classic Jewelry

 Faye Kim Designs: Timeless Classic Jewelry
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield County Life Magazine, April 2012)
3/15/12

Westport, CT – A mother’s whim became a career path for an Asian immigrant whose Westport-based fine jewelry store has become a destination for well-heeled women with a penchant for unique accessories. Faye Kim, of Faye Kim Designs at 190 Main Street, spoke with FCL about her start in the field and why her clients keep coming back for more.

A Wilton resident and mother of three, forty-eight-year-old Kim was born in Korea, the middle of five children. At age seven, she and her family emigrated to Islip, NY, where her father pursued the telecommunications business.

As Kim emerged from high school, her father tried to steer her to medicine or computer science. She tried to please him, earning an economics degree from Stony Brook University and then doing some accounting work with her sister. “But,” she said, “It wasn’t a good fit, and, yet, I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.”

Her mother suggested she go to the Gemological Institute of America in New York, after hearing about a family friend’s experience there. Kim enrolled in a six-month program, achieving a graduate gemologist degree. “The experience opened up new doors and I began working for a wholesaler on 47th Street, sorting diamonds,” she said.

Without contacts like other GIA graduates that had come from jeweler families, however, her prospects appeared limited. Then her instructor recommended her to the famous Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. She became a merchandiser there, in the pearl department.

Two years later, another great opportunity presented itself. “A friend recommended me for an assistant buyer position in fine jewelry at Bergdorf Goodman,” she said. “Tiffany’s gave me the opportunity to work with pearls and loose stones, while Bergdorf exposed me to the high-end luxury retail business.”

She was quickly promoted to buyer, however, began to find the work grueling and “all about numbers, not creativity, which was my leaning,” she said. At the same time, she had recently married and wanted to start a family.

She left Bergdorf and used the “time off” to raise her children while also exploring the design and manufacturing side of the jewelry business, through classes at Parsons School of Design and Cecilia Bauer Studios. “I learned a technique called granulation, or fusing, that’s done with high carat gold, which has become my present-day signature.”

Kim and two classmates from Cecilia Bauer began renting a working studio together, sharing resources and developing their individual style and techniques. Kim then moved from New York, first to East Norwalk, in 1995, then to Wilton four years later.

“My jewelry design pursuits became my saving grace in the suburbs given the change of life from big city energy to quiet rural living,” she said. She made pieces for family and friends, and did the occasional trunk show, until 2003, when a combination of factors led her to open her own shop in Westport.

“I had a client in Santa Barbara who carried my jewelry and encouraged me to start the business,” Kim said. “Her clients – confident women in their 40s and 50s, for whom name brands were not a driving pursuit – were my buyers. They liked my casual, unique wearable items.”

Her initial location was steps away from the present site in the same retail complex, in what is now Luxe wine bar. She was there for eight years, selling jewelry and some home accessories. Ultimately, she said, “The business evolved, the designs evolved, I evolved, and in October 2010, we moved across the lot to a space that had been occupied by Cocoa Michele.”

The current site boasts an 800-square-foot showroom, which is exclusively dedicated to her own designs. A large majority of the inventory is made in an adjacent workshop.

“We try to make our space welcoming and nurturing – elegant without being fussy,” she said. “I carry every category and many different precious metals, though most pieces made are 18K green gold. I don’t do trendy pieces, but am mindful of fashion and colors. Jewelry is an investment and having a person behind the product with the knowledge I have is important.”

Faye Kim Designs is located at 190 Main Street, Westport, CT. Phone: 203-226-3511. www.FayeKimDesigns.com Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10am to 5:30pm and by appointment.

Girl Scouts Mark 100th Anniversary with Town Hall Ceremony

 Girl Scouts Mark 100th Anniversary with Town Hall Ceremony
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
3/12/12

Westport, CT – Daisies, Brownies, Scouts and, of course, cookies were all on hand late Monday afternoon on the steps of Westport Town Hall as the Girl Scouts of America celebrated its 100th Anniversary.

The gathering at the 110 Myrtle Avenue site also included parents, former Scouts, organization leaders and local and state government officials, including Congressman Jim Himes, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Selectwoman Shelly Kassen, each of whom addressed the crowd.

Called “The Promise Circle”, the event recounted the history of the Scouts, and featured several formal observances including a flag raising, Pledge of Allegiance, singing of the National Anthem and a recitation of the Girl Scout Promise. Kassen also read a proclamation designating March 12 to 17 Girl Scout Week. The ceremony concluded with a Friendship Circle in which all in attendance formed two large circles and clasped hands.

“This is really a rededication of ourselves to the organization and to help girls understand the importance of being true to themselves, telling the truth and being the best they can be,” said Judy Frey, a long-time Scouts volunteer and the event coordinator.

Frey, who was a Scout herself as a girl, said there are over 40,000 girls in Connecticut in the program and that this local observation is just one of several gatherings that will be conducted in months to come. Frey added, “The mission has stayed the same but how you get there has changed, reflecting how the role of women has changed. With so many working women, the challenge today is getting adults to volunteer as troop leaders.”

Along with thanking the Scouts for their good work, Congressman Himes, in his remarks, said, “Thank you for introducing me to Thin Mints and Samoas.”

The GSA was not the only birthday honoree. Brownie Lynnea Moskowitz was marking her eighth birthday as well. “It’s fun to celebrate on the same day as the Girl Scouts,” she said. “It makes it more exciting.”

Kids “Toy” with Mixed Media on WACky Family Fun Day

 Kids “Toy” with Mixed Media on WACky Family Fun Day
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
3/11/12

Westport, CT – The scene at Westport Arts Center Sunday afternoon was certainly wacky as dozens of kids put their imaginations to work creating toy-themed artwork.

The Center’s WACky Family Fun Day, held four times a year, offered four craft activities that aligned with the site’s current “Toy Stories” exhibit, which runs through March 18. The series is sponsored by local retailer Melissa & Doug, which offered a Play Zone for tots.

A highlight of the day’s program was the recognition of the six winners of a call for toy designs. In all, 166 designs were submitted by local children, and judged by Melissa and Doug Bernstein. There were first, second and third place awards in each of two categories: ages 6 to 9, and ages 10 to 14.

“The winning entries will be replicated as plush toys,” explained Danielle Ogden, Director of Education. “The winners also get a one-hour tour and meet with the toy designers at Melissa & Doug headquarters.”

With regard to craft activities, one offering, “Funky Faced Robots”, was led by Teaching Artist Evan Neidich. “Kids use found objects to make their robots, repurposing materials that would otherwise be thrown away,” she said.

A table over, Artist and Art Teacher Martha Bloom guided kids on “Calder Inspired” creations. “Alexander Calder was famous for his “Circus” of simple found wire and cork characters,” she said. “In the Circus spirit, kids are creating their own animals and performers from pipe cleaners, corks, wire and scraps.”

Further down the line, Teaching Artist Nell Bernegger showed children how to make mosaics, using small boards as a base, on which geometric shapes and designs were drawn and colorful foam cubes affixed.

A particularly silly activity was “Animation Puppets”, wherein Teaching Artist Angela Stempel guided kids on piecing together limbs, faces and objects from magazines and assembling them into figures with pushpins and wires.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bedford Middle School Becomes Purim Party Playground

 Bedford Middle School Becomes Purim Party Playground
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
3/11/12

Westport, CT – The sun-drenched cafeteria space at Bedford Middle School became a Purim playground midday Sunday as the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism celebrated the Jewish holiday.

The space at 88 North Avenue was a blur of activity, with a party agenda that included a full lunch spread, a short play telling the Purim story performed by congregation members and a range of carnival-style activities from golf putting, shuffleboard and pop-a-shot to crafts like paper crown and hamantaschen pastry making.

The 45-year-old non-theistic congregation is part of the Humanistic Judaism movement with a mission to celebrate Jewish identity and human dignity. “We don’t have a dedicated facility,” said congregation president Dana Preis, “but have an ongoing relationship with Westport schools and other facilities. We hold Sunday school classes at Bedford Middle School, so the Purim Party is an extension of that.”

Like the Pied Piper, Dylan Cotton, a music teacher associated with the congregation, led children ages 9 to 12 from their Sunday school class down into the cafeteria. He strummed a guitar while the children, in colorful costumes, marched behind. They were joined by parents and family and all sat at long tables for the play performance, conducted from a low riser.

The play related the biblical story of the evil Haman and his plot to destroy the Jewish people, and how that was foiled by Esther and her cousin Mordecai. Tradition dictates that when Haman’s name is mentioned during the storytelling that listeners are to make distracting noises. In this case, the gathering shook boxes of dry macaroni. The boxes were collected afterward for donation to a local food pantry.

A raffle was also held, offering two free children’s tickets to the Congregation’s Passover Seder on April 7 at Fairfield’s Vazzy’s 19th Hole.

“This is a great way to learn about the holiday while having some family fun at the same time,” remarked parent Kurt Zeppetello, from Monroe.  

Locals Take the Plunge for Special Olympics Cause

 Locals Take the Plunge for 
Special Olympics Cause
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
3/10/12

Westport, CT – Water temperature 38 degrees. Air temperature 45. Insanity levels off the charts.

Those were the readings Saturday afternoon before some 450 people bravely raced into the chilly waters off Compo Beach. The daring dip was all part of the Penguin Plunge benefiting Special Olympics of Connecticut. The site took on a festival atmosphere, with rock music blaring across the beach, wacky costumes and general good cheer and revelry.

Seeing that everything was running like clockwork was Gail Feinstein of USI Insurance and the volunteer coordinator of the event. “I’ve been associated with this for over a decade since it began and when it was a lot smaller,” she said. “This year we’re on track for a fundraising goal of $130,000.”

While many would consider the day’s weather to be on the bitter side, the sun was high in the sky and there was not even a suggestion of snow. “The favorable weather has helped attract people,” said Feinstein, “including a young man in his 80s who has been plunging here every year.”

Assisting Feinstein with event coordination were 80 volunteers, helping with pre-registration, incentives, crowd control and greeting people. A separate group managed a raffle. Westport Police, Westport Fire and a dive team were also onsite to ensure safety in and out of the water.

The Westport Plunge is one of several plunges Special Olympics sponsors during the year around the state. Individuals, teams from high schools, families, companies and groups from the SOCT programs all participate.

A twist to the event is the attire participants can choose to wear. “You can put on anything to take the plunge,” said Feinstein. As an encouragement to spur creativity, Fox 95.9 radio was onsite hosting a costume contest. As such, pirates, ninja turtles, leprechauns and other characters roamed the beach.

A consistent wardrobe item among all participants though was a bowtie. These were various colors depending on the fundraising level a person achieved and given to individuals upon check-in. The minimum funding level was $75.

Besides individual donations, local corporate sponsors like Lexus and USI Insurance provided support, as well as organizations at the state level.

Because of the size of the participating field, the Plunge had to be conducted in five waves. Groups were fairly evenly divided in numbers and organized by teams. One of the largest groups was St. Joseph’s with over 75 members.

“This is the 13th year I’m doing this,” said Pete Dennin of Team Happy Feet, which had comparatively more modest numbers but no less enthusiasm. “We’re six people, including my brother Dave, who was the first Special Olympics athlete to do this, and my daughter Abby,” he said. “Every year when I step out of the water, I say I’m never doing this again – your feet take three hours to warm up. But I always return. The first year, maybe 40 people participated. It’s been great to see the numbers explode.”

The waves were in and out of the water in a matter of minutes and as participants hurried back up the beach, they shouted and fist-pumped and scooped up towels.

Madison Snyder, with friend Katie Morgan, was among them. “We are freezin’ for a reason, that’s for sure,” she joked. “This is my fifth year and it seems to get easier every year. It’s a great cause and I love doing it, and will be back for sure.”