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Monday, December 19, 2011

Wilton’s Cactus Rose Cantina Opening a Fiesta of Sensations

Wilton’s Cactus Rose Cantina Opening a Fiesta of Sensations
By Mike Lauterborn

Wilton, CT – Wilton area residents were glad to see a hot new restaurant open up Thursday night right in their area. Fairfield residents should be glad, too, as Cactus Rose Cantina is a must-go destination with a wonderful Southwestern flair.

Located at 5 River Road in Wilton, the new restaurant is owned by Katrina Pertesis and her daughter Maria. The pair, in collaboration with leading representatives from cb5 restaurant group, which helped develop the Cactus Rose concept, held a preview cocktail reception at the venue from 7 to 9pm. The event was designed to introduce locals and media to the space, drink selections and food. More than one hundred people attended included Channel 12 television newsman David Smith and Easton’s First Selectman Tom Hermann.

The space is immediately inviting, with accents that include hanging terrariums, candle sconces, timbers in the ceiling in the center of the main dining area in the shape of a wagon wheel and an Old West style iron chandelier. Making the room cozy on a chilly night was a wood-burning fireplace of an adobe construction.

Red sangria, Mexican beers, margaritas and vanilla bourbon milkshakes were the favorite libations, which all paired well with an abundance of passed hors d’oeuvres including lamp chops, tostones with cilantro pesto, beef empanadas, tuna tostada, cactus tempura and pecan tarts. These servings can all be found on the menu as appetizers, ranging in price from $8 to $14, but hovering around $10.

Entrees, which were not sampled, include ancho glazed free range chicken, southwestern pork loin and barbecued wild salmon. Dishes in this column run $19 to $29, the latter tagged to a cowboy rib eye steak.

Fajitas, served sizzling on a black iron skillet, are also available, priced between $15 and $24.

Sides include fresh guacamole, tres salsa and several other options to delight the palate, prepared by Executive Chef Lisa Varnberg and her kitchen staff.

Cactus Rose Cantina, 5 River Road, Wilton, CT.

D’Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre Marks 25 Years

D’Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre Marks 25 Years:
Facility built on experience, passion and quality staff
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Tucked in a corner of the business and retail complex at 1580 Post Road in downtown Fairfield is a magical place full of life and learning. Now through June 2012, its proprietors are marking 25 years in business.

D’Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre is the fruit of a personal and professional partnership between owners Angela D’Valda and Steve Sirico. Their passion for dance and performing led them to each other in the late 1970s and to the founding of the centre that now serves close to 700 students from Norwalk, Wilton, Easton, Westport, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Southport and Rowayton. Programs accommodate everyone from children 18 months of age to senior citizens, who come for voice lessons, instrumental instruction and dance guidance in ballet, jazz, rap, hip hop, modern, musical theater, preschool, contemporary and afro-jazz.

Patch met with Norwalk residents D’Valda and Sirico at the Centre recently and had a chance to view several classes and speak with both students and instructors.

Providing some background about herself, D’Valda, a petite blonde with a British accent, shared that her father was in the Royal Air Force, stationed in Jordan as a bodyguard to the king. D’Valda herself was born in Israel, spent toddler time in Jordan, lived in England until age 7, relocated to Hong Kong for the next five years, then returned to England for boarding school.

She was always engaged in classical dance and, when she graduated at 16, she got scholarships to Martha Graham School and the Matt Mattox School in New York City, two of the most prominent dance schools at the time. She went on to work professionally for such enterprises as Disney (On Parade) and NBC (television dance specials). She also worked in other countries – Argentina, Spain, France, Hong Kong, England – as a lead dancer in shows.

Sirico was born in Norwalk and went to Central Catholic High School.  He took a combination of dance classes and football and got a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee. However, more and more, he found himself wanting to dance, took dance classes with Mikki Williams of A Dance Class in Westport during the summer after his freshman year and decided to drop out of school. He continued to study with Mikki, went on auditions and started getting work.

Fate led them to each other in 1979. As D’Valda tells it, “I was choreographing a TV special in Florida and Steve was the lead dancer. It was love at first sight, I went home to London, packed my bags and three days later came back. Together we formed our own dance act.”

Over the next eight years, the pair worked extensively all over the world and made many notable appearances: guest artists in Wayne Sleep’s show “Dash” in London’s West End, The David Letterman Show, Ed McMahon’s “Star Search”, Scala Barcelona dinner theatre, a gala performance for Princess Diana.

“Whenever we came back home, to Norwalk, we’d gather with friends,” D’Valda said. “On one occasion, in the late summer of 1987, we had dinner with Mikki Williams, who said she was selling her studio and wasn’t happy with the buyers. Steve and I decided to buy it, backed out of a three-month Monte Carlo gig and, within three weeks, became proud owners of the studio, then located at the Fairfield Racquetball Spa (now the site of Fitness Edge).”

The duo sublet the space from 1987 to 1992 and had about 200 students. When they learned the building was being demolished, they looked for a new space of their own and found their current location. They did extensive construction and, today, they have four music studios, three dance studios, changing rooms, an eating/homework area and offices.

“What makes us different is our extensive show business background and faculty that is so diverse and quality, and on the same wavelength as us,” said Sirico. “The curriculum is also unique to ourselves. And not only do we teach students to dance but we also teach dance teachers how to teach and dance studio owners how to run their businesses.”

The latter work, in fact, led to the creation of a parallel business called DanceTeacherWeb, which is both an online resource and an annual live event.

“We both have a tremendous passion for dance,” said Sirico. “Teaching for us is not only teaching dance but life lessons, through building confidence, coping with failure, and teamwork. ‘Making it work’, in fact, is our motto. We get a lot of feedback from former students saying how much our program impacted their lives.”

On Saturday, March 3, the Centre will hold a “Bring on the Groove” fundraising gala, an annual affair, at the Regina A. Quick Center at Fairfield University. Proceeds will go toward dance scholarships. There will be several performances, an auction and refreshments.

D’Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre is located at 1580 Post Road, Fairfield. Phone: 203-255-9440. Website:  Dance instructors can visit:

Town Farm Holiday Open House Marks Aitkenheads’ Return

Town Farm Holiday Open House Marks Aitkenheads’ Return
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The event was as much a family homecoming celebration as it was a quaint seasonal happening when board members overseeing Wakeman Town Farm welcomed the Aitkenhead family back to their home at a Holiday Open House midday Sunday.

The two-and-a-half acre facility at 134 Cross Highway offered many fun activities for visitors including the opportunity to construct wreaths, make gingerbread houses, play dreidel games, decorate cookies and enjoy hot mulled cider and baked goods. T-shirts and hats with a smirk-inducing WTF acronym were also available for purchase.

An event highlight was the unveiling by Board Chairperson Elizabeth Beller of the Farm’s new logo design, which was the result of a collaborative effort between Westport Artist Miggs Burroughs, Architect Peter Wormser and Betsy P. Kahm, each of whom gave their time voluntarily.

As she worked alongside fellow board members making a large bowl of royal icing and helping prepare gingerbread structures for decorating, Christy Colasurdo explained some of the background around the Aitkenhead family’s departure and, now, their return. “The family had begun living on the farm in August 2010, working with the organization Green Village Initiative to bring the farm back to life. Unfortunately, GVI decided a couple of months ago to step out and give the farm back to the town. As the farm was in transition, the family had to move out.”

A new committee was formed, led by Beller, which raised $20,000 through fundraisers to cover costs for maintenance and upkeep of the property. Then, just last week, the Board of Finance approved the Aitkenhead family to return to the facility, deciding they would be its best caretakers and could stimulate the creation of Farm-based educational programs to benefit the community. This includes a Junior Farmers Camp and workshops related to sustainable farming, composting and planting organic gardens.

“Today really marks the culmination of the efforts of various town entities and we now have the support of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, too, which is key with regard to promoting our events,” Colasurdo said.

Mike Aitkenhead, who teaches AP Environmental Science and Horticulture at Staples High School, hoped that the family would be able to move back in before Christmas. He elaborated about the background of the property, noting, “The history of the real Wakeman Farm goes back to the turn of the century, when the property was farmed all the way to Staples. It was started by Ike and Pearl Wakeman, who ultimately sold most of the land to the town in the 1970s and stayed on the current 2 ½ acres. Ike passed a decade ago, then Pearl passed in 2009. That’s when it changed hands to the town and, for a while, its fate was uncertain. Then GVI stepped in. I’d worked with GVI through school and town initiatives, and they were looking for an educator to service and teach on the property.”

Aitkenhead said the new farm committee is just the ticket for the job ahead. “They have been amazing in supporting the efforts and unlocking the potential of the property,” he said.

Santa and Elves Entertain a House Full of Families

Santa and Elves Entertain a 
House Full of Families
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Santa just loves to entertain and, with a little help from a few dozen elves, he invited several hundred families into his home Saturday morning for an annual visit and a full complement of activities.

“Home” was actually the Burr Homestead, at 739 Old Post Road, which for 26 years has been the host site of “A Visit to Santa’s House”, presented by Newman’s Own and the Junior Women’s Club of Fairfield. The two-day event, held Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday December 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is a favorite destination for fans of St. Nick and all the interactive trimmings offered. Besides a visit with the jolly fellow, this includes Mrs. Claus baking cookies, arts and crafts areas, live seasonal entertainment, raffle items, a model train set-up, bake sale, gift shop, silhouette artist and guest appearances by costumed characters like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Proceeds of the event benefit The Thomas Merton House, a Bridgeport-based facility that provides families with food, clothing, and parental and educational support.

This year’s chairperson, Cheryl Eustace, of the Junior Women’s Club, said she and her fellow members are all involved in planning, which began in May. From sponsor support, $10,000 had already been raised. “We usually take in another $10,000 or so in sales and, after expenses, the proceeds will go to Merton House,” she said.

“The organization was very involved in the event,” said Mark Grasso, VP of Catholic Charities, whose role includes directing Merton House. “The moms that visit the center baked dozens of cookies and cupcakes.” Those were among the hundreds of baked items – all homemade – that were offered by JWC member Marlene Battista, with help from Mary and Brenda Pioli.

In the raffle room, on the main level adjacent to the baked goods area, everything from restaurant certificates to kids bikes and children’s portrait photography services was offered.

In the back kitchen, Mrs. Claus sat in a rocker with a huge plate of various cookies, delighting kids like Ryan and Jack McClane of Fairfield, who tromped through to collect a snack.

In the next room, kids lined up to try their hand at breaking a board held by Thomas Wulffleff of Kempo Academy of Martial Arts, who was leading a karate demonstration. Ten-year-old Abbey Kellerman, of Fairfield, was one of the participants. Her family had won tickets to the event and other special treats in a raffle sponsored by the JWC earlier in the year. The family had a special parking place, early entry and the first photo with Santa.

In another room, kids busily made elf hats out of construction paper. Elsewhere, children created Christmas collages. Deborah O’Connor worked with paper in her own way, crafting silhouettes of family members.

In yet another spot in the Homestead, kids wiggled and laughed while Jillian D’Onofrio of Giant Steps Toy Store read “Nutquacker”, a silly holiday tale, to them.

Of course, the biggest draw was Santa himself, and a line of families led from a second floor landing, through a hallway and into the room where he sat receiving children. The joy on their faces was a clear sign that all the months of event planning and arrangements was well worth the effort.

Southport Village Ushers in the Christmas Season

Southport Village Ushers in the Christmas Season
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Southport, CT – He may not have been riding in a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, but when Santa came to Southport Village early Thursday evening, he still made quite a clatter.

In town center, gathered in and about Spic and Span Market, local residents massed, sipped hot chocolate, sang Christmas carols led by Southport Congregational Church’s Reverend Paul Whitmore and welcomed St. Nick. He arrived standing atop a Southport firetruck, which crept up Pequot Avenue with its sirens wailing and lights flashing. Santa tossed popcorn balls to onlookers and clambered down to wade among everyone as the truck pulled to a halt.

Kids then had a chance to sit with Santa as he set himself up at the Russell Agency, which offered libations and snack treats to adults and children both. Others that had gathered strolled over to the Robinson Cottage at 33 Main Street, where owners Jamie and Karen Shugrue gave tours and provided cookies and cider.

An exclamation point was added to the night with the lighting of the Hospice Tree of Light outside the Chase bank.

Don Harrison Scores with New Book

Don Harrison Scores with New Book:
“Hoops in Connecticut” focused on state’s passion for basketball
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Writer Don Harrison, a Fairfield resident for the past 38 years, is a walking treasure trove of information about sports in the Nutmeg State. Now he has released a new book recounting his memories of basketball in Connecticut from his early days as a sportswriter in 1963 to present.

Published by The History Press, “Hoops in Connecticut: The Nutmeg State’s Passion for Basketball”, Harrison’s third book, recalls interviews and interactions with coaches and players at all levels of play and features 90 photographs, including the trading cards of nine University of Connecticut players that went on to play in the N.B.A.

In advance of a book signing at Fairfield University Bookstore December 10, the 72-year-old writer, editor and author spoke with Patch about his journalism career and lifelong connections with sports.

Harrison was born in Brooklyn, NY, and grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan, though he spent elementary and high school years in New Haven and East Haven. “I got to go to Ebbets Field three times as a boy,” he said. “My first boyhood hero was Jackie Robinson. You could say I became color blind at an early age.”

At East Haven High School, he followed the men’s basketball team from 8th grade to his senior year, during which time the squad amassed an impressive 118-5 record. “They won three state titles and were runners up twice,” he recalled. The coach, Frank Crisafi, who’s 88 now, and star player Ralph Paolillo are both discussed in Harrison’s book.

Harrison had a classmate then whose father worked at Yale, which enabled the boys to go to the university’s Payne Whitney Gym to enjoy Yale basketball. “In that era, Yale was as good as UConn,” he said. “Their star player was Johnny Lee, who was on the cover of a 1957 issue of Sports Illustrated.”

Harrison’s first job out of school was as a copy boy for the New York Mirror, then the second largest newspaper in the country. “Newsman Walt Winchell was the gossip columnist,” Harrison said. “I have a vivid memory of him with his fedora cap tilted back, walking through the news room with Natalie Wood on one arm and Steve McQueen on the other.”

During Harrison’s three years at the Mirror, he was promoted to Sports Desk man. Unfortunately, Hearst Corporation closed the paper in October 1963. On a tip from Sports Editor Dan Parker, Harrison landed sports writing work with the Waterbury Republican. He also moved to Fairfield at that time.

Harrison was lured away by the New Haven Journal Courier for a couple of years before returning to the Republican as sports editor in 1967. He stayed with the paper until 1981. He was twice voted Connecticut Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

During that period, the writer met and married, in 1973, his wife Patti, the sister of Don Cook, who was then the athletic director at Fairfield University and now plays the same role at Sacred Heart University. (Cook wrote the forward to Harrison’s new book.) The couple was introduced by Florence Barakat, wife of Fairfield University’s men’s basketball coach. The Harrisons started a family that includes daughters Alexis, Erin and Rachel, all Fairfielders.

Harrison left sportswriting for a time, to serve as the director of advertising and public relations at Trans-Lux Corporation in Norwalk. However, he returned to writing in early 1989 as Director of Sports Information at Sacred Heart University, also handling P.R. and editing the alumni newsletter.

In the summer of 1994, he was promoted to founding editor of Sacred Heart University Magazine and made manager of the school’s news bureau. When cutbacks eliminated his position in 2001, he became founding editor of the Greenwich Citizen, a Brooks Community newspaper. He had a seven-year ride, with many accolades along the way, until Hearst bought the paper in 2008 and his position was eliminated in a company-wide scaleback.

Today, Harrison freelances as a writer, and has contributed to dozens of publications, and he claims authorship of two other books. In 1974, he self-published “Twenty Five Years Plus One”, about Fairfield University’s men’s basketball team, and in 2008, The History Press released “Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State”, now in its second printing.

But he’s perhaps proudest of his latest state basketball-focused book effort. “One chapter is dedicated to players, including Calvin Murphy, who was the only Connecticut native to be inducted as a player into the Basketball Hall of Fame,” he said. “Others include Vin Baker, who played in four straight All-Star Games in the mid-90s, ‘Super’ John Williamson, and John Bagley.”

Relevant to Fairfield, Harrison said, “Roger Ludlowe High School won the 1954-1955 New England Championship at Boston Garden. The coach was Bob Seirup and Harry Hyra was a star player. Hyra’s daughter is actress Meg Ryan.”

Harrison summed up, “I think the book will introduce young people to how important basketball has been in our state for many years. It didn’t begin with Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma. There’s a rich history here and I hope readers enjoy discovering it.” 

Don Harrison will be signing copies of his new book at Fairfield University Bookstore, 1499 Post Road, on Saturday, December 10, from 1-4p.m.

Santa Brightens Pancake Breakfast at Fairfield Grace Church

Santa Brightens Pancake Breakfast at Fairfield Grace Church
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The pancakes were slung by the serving counter with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Indeed, parishioners and parents of children that attend the nursery school at Fairfield Grace United Methodist Church at 1089 Fairfield Woods Road got their wish Saturday morning when the jolly fellow put in an appearance at the facility’s annual pancake breakfast. With Mrs. Claus by his side and dressed all in fur, through the back door he came with a bound and hearty “Ho, ho, ho!”

The breakfast, initiated a quarter century ago by long-time church members Peter and Jan Trifiatis, also offered eggs and sausage, as well as a craft workshop for children, who worked like little elves to make ornaments, tabletop decorations and prepare reindeer snacks.

Besides the social nature of the event, the breakfast served a more noble cause: unwrapped toys and donations were being accepted to benefit the church mission and needy local families.

“The breakfast captures the spirit of the holidays, and giving, loving spirit of Fairfield Grace,” shared Karen Price, the Director of the Fellowship Team and the breakfast coordinator.

The spacious Fellowship Hall, with a Christmas tree and donations counter at one end, families chatting and eating together, and the busy kitchen, certainly communicated all that and more.

Southport Smartie Helps Couples Stay Connected

Southport Smartie Helps 
Couples Stay Connected:
Trevor Crow a leading local voice 
in marriage & family therapy
By Mike Lauterborn

Southport, CT – You name the degree, she’s got it, and she’s applying those credentials in many different ways to help couples in crisis stay connected.

Southporter Trevor Crow, best known as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice and the host of a radio talk show titled “Keeping Connected with Trevor Crow”, has seen an uptick in couples’ crises on the local level, which she attributes to economic hard times and the resulting pressure families are under right now.

“It’s incredibly difficult for families and couples to manage their fear and anxiety and not turn against each other,” she said in a recent sit-down with Patch. “The result is a lot of divorce, a lot of affairs and a lot of stress in marriage. My approach is to get couples to recognize the issues and their own deep feelings. Often, men are reluctant to voice their fears, particularly to their partners, and women get even more afraid because they don’t want to hear it. It’s critical for couples to connect and mutually discuss their deeper feelings, and soothe each other.”

Crow holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Wellesley College, Bachelor of Science Degree from Parsons School of Design, an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Fairfield University. She is also certified in emotionally-focused therapy and a supervisor-in-training in same, with a designation to teach other Master’s candidates. In addition, she serves on the advisory board for the Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s program at Fairfield University, sits on the board at Pequot Library and is a single mother of two children, Duncan and Olivia, ages 12 and 15.

It’s a full plate, to be sure, but her career and family are her passion. “I became interested in my field because of a former husband and my role as stepmom to his three children,” she related, “including Michelle Crow, my 22-year-old ex-stepdaughter, who resides with me often and plays a big role in the lives of my biological children.”

She continued, “I knew there were a lot of issues around step-parenting and started reading about it. When I had my own kids, I became even more interested in parenting and relationships.”

As a result, she went back to school to get credentialed and started her practice in Southport in 2006. The radio show followed in September 2010. “I felt there’s a lot of good news about relationships, strategies to manage them and ways to understand each other better.”

Now, through her practice and show, she wants to put out a message that there’s hope and the possibility for healing. “Deep down, every one of us is yearning to be known, understood and have a feeling of belonging, to be heard,” she said. “That’s what successful couples do for each other.”

You can catch Trevor Crow’s “Keeping Connected” radio talk show every Tuesday at 10 a.m. live (re-broadcast at 8 p.m.) on WDJZ 1530 AM. For more information, visit  To call in, dial 203-367-4395. You can also visit Crow’s own website, connect to her blog through her website or find her on Twitter at trevorcrowlmft.