Sunday, January 23, 2011

January on Martha's Vineyard...

…is cold. And gorgeous. At least that’s how I would describe it after being there a week ago. The storm that walloped New York City with a foot of snow the day before I left didn’t have the same effect on the Vineyard and instead left a slew of rain with a topcoat of snow. Those several inches of snow quickly froze, turning parts of the island into a skating rink.

The drive up from Manhattan wasn’t bad – about five hours, not including the ferry. For me the ferry doesn’t count as “getting there”; as soon as I’m on board, vacation is on. The sun set while we lumbered to the island and fishermen steamed home for the day.

At this point in the road we’re almost to the house.

This innocent looking hill was our first realization that many of the back roads were sheets of ice. I’m not a fan of SUV’s but I have to say this weekend I was grateful for ours and its four-wheel drive!

While my friend took in the view from the comfort of a heated house (and fantasized about golfing in Florida), I ventured out into the chill to explore. I had woods and beaches and goats to see! In the summer this vista is filled with boats either tethered to moorings or under sail to Vineyard Sound; today it was desolate.

I poked around the yard a bit longer

then slipped down the icy road

through the woods

to the beach.

There are many farms of varying sizes on Martha’s Vineyard. This one, called Pilot Hill, was a working dairy until the 1950’s.

The land was purchased by the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the rural character of the island, and turned into a low-density housing development with many acres of common space. Part of the land is still farmed and provides fresh produce, cut flowers, and eggs in season to its neighbors as well as island restaurants such as The Scottish Bakehouse on State Road.

Walking towards the farm I engaged in a stare down with their cows

but not with these guys…

Across the road reside two of the friendliest goats you’ll ever meet and were they ever happy to see me! I’m guessing they don’t have many visitors this time of year because their heads and ears were clearly overdue for a good scratch. Their winter coats were so pretty, especially this one.

Who knew goats like to nosh on leftover Christmas trees? With every munch the fragrant, wintry scent of pine wafted through the air.

The ladies in the hen house weren’t dumb; they stayed inside, out of the cold!

I had to agree with them at this point. I’d been outside for a few hours and was starting to look forward to a warm, cozy abode of my own. I made my way home, down the deer path.

What next? Food, of course!  On Friday afternoons during the winter Offshore Ale Co. is the place to be for their homebrewed beers and $1.00 oysters. I learned on this trip that Bob Skydell, owner of one of the best farm shops on the Vineyard, Fiddlehead Farm, was one of the founders and former owners of Offshore Ale. I definitely like Bob’s aesthetic and eye. At both Offshore Ale and Fiddlehead Farm he has captured the essence of New England without resorting to the cliqued and hokey.

The rustic, soaring interior of this mircrobrewery and pub is filled with beautiful small wooden boats hanging from the rafters as well as racing flags and other boating paraphernalia. A huge barrel of peanuts sits by the front door for anyone to partake in and I was encouraged by the bartender to crack my shells onto the floor, not my plate!

This is the spot I had my first taste of the divine Sweet Neck Farm oysters from Katama. Sweet Necks were available for $2.50 a pop (worth every penny, in my opinion) but in the spirit of the moment, we stuck to the dollar specials, which were Blue Points from Long Island and local West Tisbury Wilds. Offshore Ale brews all their lagers, pale ales, IPAs, and stouts from scratch. I had a fantastic rich, smooth winter ale called Miss Behavin’. When life is good, it’s really good…

The next day was our pilgrim moment. Faced with nothing to eat for lunch but hot dogs dug from the depths of the freezer and neither of us anxious to stand outside by the grill, we opted to roast them in the fireplace. Sitting on the floor with a glass of wine, it was the perfect snack before heading to a friend’s house for dinner in Oak Bluffs.

A few hours before getting on the ferry to begin our trip home we did what people have been doing every morning for decades on the Vineyard – eat at the ArtCliff.

The ArtCliff Diner is a Vineyard institution, a local hangout that is always packed. This is the place where Carly Simon is as likely to be at the table next to you (yes – once) as a local carpenter. We got there just in time and didn’t have to wait for a table, a rarity. But if we had to wait, it would have been well worth it. The ArtCliff’s creative spin on classic country breakfasts, more often than not prepared with food grown locally, is out of this world. Both the atmosphere and staff are easy-going and friendly - the Vineyard at its best.

I had Swiss cheese and ham French toast with poached eggs (I know, I know – but I was starving!)

and my friend had a tomato, cheddar, and spinach frittata on top of home fries.

We shared the best short stack of buttermilk pancakes I’ve ever had. Really.

I’ve never gotten to the end of a stay on the Vineyard and not been sad to go.  This trip was no exception.  It’s true that most of the shops are closed for the winter so if your idea of fun is shopping, Martha’s Vineyard in January might not be for you.  Nor is it for you if you long to be on a beach or a boat in a bathing suit.  But if you’re the sort that doesn’t mind dreaming up your own adventures and hanging with the locals – in many layers of clothing! - it could not be more perfect than this time of year.

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