Because, although Sissy’s Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Sundays, I’ve only been there for lunch; and I want you to know that even though Sissy’s is a take-out place you can usually find a place to perch – either at a table on the front porch or in the sylvan back gardens – for long enough to eat her beautiful food, much of which she sources locally and all of which she prepares with the care and expertise that her long career in food – much of it as chef/owner of the Dorset Inn – affords her.
Her website bills her place as a retail outlet, and it is full of charming touches – like the twig and small lights chandelier on the porch ceiling; selected crafts of pottery and wooden bowls and cutting boards, and her own bottled sauces and salsas as well as a selection of cookies, including the best knife-thin gingersnaps I believe I’ve ever had the pleasure of biting into (at 25¢ apiece) and other baked goods. Yum. Yum.
For my first lunch I met Elsie Gilmore there because I wanted to meet this young woman who was so kind and effective in helping my son Spencer a few years ago when he suffered the devastating loss of his house to fire. Since she divides her time between Sarasota and Middletown Springs, I had my chance. I wanted to thank her and I wanted to know what she was about.
She’s about Green – ways to lessen your carbon footprint, which you can see on her website. I’ve watched her do that herself on Facebook, where she downgraded from car to scooter to bus to shank’s mare back up to scooter. And she’s about reaching out to women, helping them to connect and to succeed in business.
I had the Ploughman’s Lunch – a pork pie enclosed in pastry, served with potato salad, red onion jam, Consider Bardwell Dorset Cheese, hard boiled egg, sliced tomato, and sliced apple $8.95. Even though I’d fasted all morning the sight of that plate made my eyes pop and I was sure I’d be having it for supper, too. But No! Bite by tasty bite the plate was cleared, as Elsie devoured her Prosciutto, Pesto and Fresh Mozzarella cheese on Cibatta Roll. We sat at a table on the porch, and then, being nosy, scouted the gorgeous gardens out back where Sissy grows much of the produce she uses in the kitchen, with the help, it must be admitted, of the amazing gardener Paul Morgan.
***Next week I had lunch with Angela Miller, the owner, with her husband, Russell Glover, of Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet. I hadn’t seen Angela since last fall when we met for dinner at the Victorian Inn at Wallingford. I’d first met her at the Consider Bardwell booth at that frigid first year festival, in 2007, of the Winter Farmers’ Market. She struck me then as a pretty blond woman, petite, retiring but warm, almost shy but forthright. We talked about cheese and I sampled. Those were some wonderful cheeses. In 2008, when finally I drove to West Pawlet and saw the gorgeous (300 acre, red brick) farm and talked to Peter Dixon, the cheese maker, I couldn’t quite square the whole thing in my head. I knew Angela had her own literary agency in New York City. Driving from NYC to W Pawlet and back each week? Melding or leaping from one end of life’s spectrum to the other? THIS woman? It didn’t compute. And, really? It still doesn’t.
But sometime this summer I picked up her new book, Hay Fever, from the Consider Bardwell stand (which she no longer womans) and it had lain on my coffee table since then. You know how it is that sometimes you’re reluctant to read something that a friend has written? What if you don’t like it? What if you find it boring, or the voice is off, or... I don’t know! Anyway, one night, when I had first begun reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I picked up Angela’s book as I was making myself a supper sandwich, flipped it open on the kitchen counter and began to scan through it, like you do with a new book sometimes, trying to get the lay of the land.
It. Was. Fascinating! Angela’s voice came right off the page and into my ear. I flipped it shut, took my sandwich and glass of wine out to the porch and started at the beginning, leaving Lisbeth Salander to languish pour le nonce.
It was all there. No punches pulled. Names named. An honest – heartrending sometimes; joyful, too – account of real life on a real farm. But this is not your ordinary farm, nor is Angela – or her husband, (whom she calls Rust) – your ordinary farmer. Rust has his own architectural practice in NYC, too. Both are very successful. Thus – as a rule – she usually drives from NYC to West Pawlet on Thursday night and back again to the city on Monday. By 8AM next morning she’s sitting in the Chinese beauty salon in her office building getting redone for her city look – nails, hair, makeup – and taking calls from “my authors” on her cell, “they don’t know I’m not in my office.” The goats take care of her country remake every Thursday evening with their nuzzling and kisses. Angela loves her goats and they love her!
I got up and emailed Angela,
She wrote back, "That’s probably because we don’t see each other enough. Let’s have lunch."
That next Wednesday, Angela pulled up in a utilitarian van with no air conditioning. It was sweltering. She was wearing black denim jeans and a white muslin top that she worried she would drip pulled-pork sauce on (BBQ Pulled Pork on Cibatta Roll with cole slaw 5.95). I had what Elsie had had the week before, (Prosciutto, Pesto and Fresh Mozzarella cheese on Cibatta Roll 5.95). We strolled out back to the gardens and found a shady table. And talked. For a leisurely but intense couple of hours.
We talked about her voice. She told me how she had written notes through that 2008-2009 year and given them to her co-writer (the title page says By Angela Miller with Ralph Gardner, Jr), and he had captured her voice and put the book together. Later I googled him and from what I found he doesn’t hesitate to be hard-hitting. He’s written extensively for magazines and newspapers – I got quite caught up in his compelling account of the Tony Marshall/ Brooke Astor affair from last year; one in which I hadn’t the slightest interest at the time – and is Senior Special Writer for The Wall Street Journal. Hay Fever is his first book.
We talked a lot about the mechanics of raising goats, milking them, and making internationally-acclaimed cheese out of the milk. “Most cheese makers don’t milk their own goats,” she told me. “It’s like having two full time jobs – three, if you count my agency.” (Oh, now why would we count your agency??!!)
She told me she slept in her car during kidding season, which is March and April, during which she tries to stay at the farm most of the time. “The house is too far away from the kidding barn,” she said. “I couldn’t have someone running to the house to get me every time I was needed.”
We talked of the satisfaction she gets from the mix of all the farm workers from all strata of life – from 18 year old tough-talking pure Vermonters to the Texan who travels up to W Pawlet for every kidding season. When she first went to New York City (from her mother’s organic farm in Pennsylvania), she found herself dating a publisher and their whole social scene was literary. That was when she determined she wanted publishing to be her career, not her life.
We talked a lot about the dilemma of when to separate the kids from their mothers. We talked about the tragedy of male kids, most of whom are destined to be slaughtered.
We returned again and again to a vituperative letter to the Manchester Journal that had taken Angela to task for the euthanization of a kid that the writer took totally out of context. Angela was distraught at the letter as she had been distraught at the necessary euthanization.
A neighboring farmer had stopped her at the general store. “He said, ‘we farmers know that life on the farm holds its tragedies. But we don’t write about it.’ I think I should have pulled my punches on that one,” she told me with regret.
But that’s one of the strengths of Hay Fever – she pulls no punches!
We got up to walk through the gardens. I had one last question. Angela’s in her early sixties, but doesn’t look it. And to my earnest question, “How long can you continue to do this?” there was, uncharacteristically, no answer.
This week, my daughter will be visiting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sissy didn’t see me again! Maybe we’ll all go for dinner this time.Maybe I’ll see you there! Maybe you’ll be reading Hay Fever!