As I sit here wilting in the Nashville heat (Good Lord, it’s only June), I think back to my idyllic childhood summers in Sleepy Hollow, New York. We had it good. Real good. And now I sigh thinking of that golden afternoon light, those humidity-free days, the berry picking in the woods, the comforting sound of river waves lapping against the shore, and the sandwiches. Yes, sandwiches are very important.
If you’ve never been to the Hudson Valley, I highly suggest arranging a sojourn. In Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson spans a whopping three miles in width, making for an excellent vista and a spacious watersports playground. The view is in fact so good that when the Rockefellers built their Rockwood Estate, they also bought the bluffs across the river to maintain an unadulterated landscape. Along with the Rockefellers, those of us on the east side of the river enjoyed the daily treat of watching the sun set itself down in swirls of purple and orange glory behind the Palisades. Then, the next morning, we greeted the sun again as it illuminated every green and blue crevice of the cliff face. I tried to paint it once, but the colors changed so fast I couldn’t keep up.
Growing up, the river was a refuge, a place for breathing freely and remembering the important things. My other refuge was the woods. The extensive Rockefeller properties have long since become a state park complete with carriage trails, grandiose stone bridges, babbling brooks, and towering oaks and hemlocks. The last two weeks of July were my favorite. The entire forest would erupt in delicious red berries. We called them red-caps, but I don’t know why. They looked like bright red raspberries, but were juicier and fell apart in your fingers. I would stay in the woods for hours walking and feasting on berries. Sometimes my siblings and I would manage to pick enough for pies, and then sometimes we would even leave enough uneaten to actually make the pies.
Between the enticements of playing in the woods and swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing in the river, summer days went by fast. I think longingly now of capping off those days with dinner at the beach. My family would pack up the picnic basket, either with homemade goodies or our favorite local take-out fare, and set up for an elegant though rustic dinner at the beach. I like to think the setting made the food taste even better. I like remembering how all of my family enjoyed this time together. I like thinking about dining with my toes in the sand.
There is so much to say of that near-perfect summer locale, what with trips into the city to see a show or visit a museum or eat in Chinatown, or treks up to the Shakespeare festival at the Boscobel estate, or vacations in the Adirondacks—a mere five-hour drive to an ancient, wilderness paradise. But for now I will explain about the sandwiches. Growing up in New York I took sandwiches for granted; every corner had a deli and every deli had fresh ingredients served up on fresh, fluffy, crusty bread. I have since learned that the rest of America does not adhere to this same reverence for sandwich craft, and it saddens me greatly. I salivate now thinking of the best local deli, Rocky’s, where they even fried up homemade kettle chips to accompany your Italian Combo or Chicken Parmesan. What makes New York sandwiches so special? Many things, but mostly the bread. No New York establishment would ever dream of serving old bread, let alone lifeless, tasteless hoagie rolls or whatever concoctions Subway and the like manufacture. New York delis employ fresh kaiser rolls, or fresh baguettes, or classic New York bagels, or hearty multi-grain, and all of them perfectly match the ingredients they house. My kingdom for a decent sandwich.
For the record, Potbelly is the best sandwich chain if you are in a pinch.
Anyway, summer in Sleepy Hollow…those were the days.