A New York State Of Mind May Surprise You

Forests, farms, mountains and rivers await….

kaaterskill falls waterfall in the new york catskills

By Denise Payne

Having moved from New York to Texas, I’m aware of the many faces of the Big Apple state. I’ve lived in Texas for seven years now but apparently I still have a New York accent. People always ask where I’m from as soon as I open my mouth. The second question is, “What is it like there? Is it all skyscrapers?”  I fondly remember my beautiful home state and surprise people with its description.  Yes, the lower part of the state is all skyscrapers and concrete. Ahh, but upstate New York is an oasis filled with forests, farms, rivers, and gorgeous mountains. A place I was lucky enough to spend most of my childhood. I spent summers, holidays and many weekends on my grandparents’ several hundred-acres dairy farm. I went back east this past April, a beautiful time to visit. Rivers and streams are running wild. The trees were budding bright green, and flowers were blossoming an array of dazzling colors.

I went to visit my mother who lives in Poughkeepsie, which is about two hours from my grandparents old farm. Poughkeepsie is an old town founded in 1686 in the Hudson River Valley region of the state. On the way to my moms house I drove by a dairy farm.  Pulling on my heart strings from memories of my grandparents’ farm, I had to stop and “talk” to the cows.   Wandering by an old silo, a barn and a tall corn filled bin, I came across a farmer sitting on that familiar green color of tractors. I asked if I could take some pictures of his herd and he agreed.  After a few photos and noting the time, I went on my way, as I planned on meeting friends at a German restaurant in the town of Gardiner before seeing my mom.  Along the way, I planned on visiting Perrines Covered Bridge County Park off the New York State Thruway.  Perrine’s Bridge is an old, covered bridge in New Paltz built in 1844 over the Wallkill River.

After a few pictures of the bridge, I made my way to The Mountain Brauhaus restaurant, nestled near the Shawangunk Mountains.  Meeting my sister and friend was a sweet reunion. If you love German food, this place does not disappoint. Warm brown bread and fresh creamy butter was served alongside our rouladen and sauerbraten with spaetzle. After our delicious dinner and reminiscing about our childhood, we suffered through teary eyed hugs, and I said goodbye to my sister and oldest friend.  Driving north I was heading towards the Catskill Mountains.

The sun was shining as I cruised up route 28, passing steep mountains and the Ashokan Reservoir. There are working dairy farms and horse ranches alongside the Esopus creek.  This creek, more like a river, is where many go canoeing, tubing and kayaking. The water is very cold and clear.  I stopped the car to do a little hiking to give my legs a chance to stretch.  The Shandaken Tunnel which is 18 miles long was dug in the early 1900’s to connect the Esopus and Schoharie Reservoir, which in turn supplies New York City with drinking water.

Continuing my drive, my car climbs higher into the Catskill mountains. The Catskills Mountain ranges natural beauty includes breathtaking waterfalls, scenic vistas, plenty of fishing and rock climbing.  Slide Mountain is the highest peak with a summit elevation of 4,180 feet.  As you can expect, the Catskills has ideal skiing and snowmobiling trails in the winter.  Climbing higher into the mountains, I turn onto a small curvy road, route 42, almost to the top of this peak towards the small town of Prattsville.  Years ago, it was a big dairy farming town, now it’s mostly tourists and skiers. A few miles more and I get to my ol’ stomping grounds where the family farm was.  I stopped in to visit some neighbors. Not much has changed in the years I’ve been gone.  Walking down the road are some cows grazing on thick green grass. I think to myself how the cows in Texas would love to munch on some of that. This brought back memories of a conversation with my grandmother years ago.

One year after my grandparents retired from farming, they went to Florida and my grandmother was so upset to see the yellow dried up grass those cows had to eat.  She loved those Holsteins cows.

With my mind back in the present, I kept walking and strolled past some cows up the road. On my left was an old church. It was here when I was a kid. All us kids used to walk around this side of the mountain, it was our halfway mark to rest.  Good to know some things don’t change.  It still stood exactly as it was about 50 years ago, except for a new coat of white paint. It was getting late, and I had about an hour to drive back to my mom’s place. That night I slept with the window open and enjoyed that amazing pine smell from all the old pines that surrounded her house.  I was in heaven.

A few days later I drove to another part of New York.  Saying goodbye to my parents and the mountains, I now journeyed to the beaches of New York.  Long Island is about 2 to 3 hours from Poughkeepsie.  I was staying with my friend who lives in Merrick Long Island which is the south shore.  Merrick is a short 15 minutes to world famous Jones Beach State Park.  Jones Beach is six and a half miles of beautiful white sand beach on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s on a barrier island linked to Long Island by the Meadowbrook State Parkway, Wantagh and Ocean Parkway. There are many boardwalks, visitor centers, fishing areas and the Gatsby on the Ocean Restaurant.   The boardwalks also have concessions stands in the summer.  After Memorial Day the beach comes alive with tourists from all over the world and residents from all over New York.  There is also miniature golf, basketball courts and of course the Jones Beach concert series.  You cannot find a more perfect place in the summer than listening to a concert right on the water.  I’ve listened to Cher, Chicago, Charlie Daniels, the Doobie Brothers, etc at this magnificent outdoor theater.  People lucky enough to own a boat can also anchor their boats on the water and listen to the summer sounds of great music.

There is also an iconic structure that has been there for 90 years a short distance from the concert area.  Many people call it a pencil point because of its shape. The bell tower of St. Marks Basilica was the inspiration for the design.  It’s more than just a monument.  It is a fully functioning water tower that supplies the park with all of its fresh water.

I had planned to visit one of the many farms on the “east end of the island.” It surprises many to learn about the flower, vegetable and dairy farms that abound on Long Island.   If wineries make you think of Fredericksburg, Texas, you will think you are back home in Texas when you visit vineyards that dot the North and South forks of the island. Gorgeous tasting rooms, perfect picnic spots and live music flourish here.  Billionaires and celebs flock to their mega mansions around the area so you never know who you’ll run into.  But again, time is ticking and I have previously planned places to visit.

Every time I come back to visit New York, my first items to check off my to do list are, having some New York pizza, Chinese food and shop in Zum Stammtisch pork store.  Zum Stammtisch German restaurant is in Glendale Queens, New York. It was founded in 1972 by John Lehner from Bavaria Germany. After his passing, his two sons Werner and Hans continued running the restaurant. A few years ago, they opened a butcher right next door which sells German food imports.  Hence the name Zum Stammtisch pork store. Stammtisch loosely translates to “a table reserved for regulars”.

Opening the thick wooden door leads you to believe you are walking into Bavaria. Inside I met some friends and as luck would have it, my sister was again available to join us.  Waitresses wear Dirndls, which is Tracht. Tracht is traditional vibrant German clothing. Dirndls usually consist of three main parts. The bodice, skirt and apron. They are very beautiful dresses. Old dark wooden beams fill the walls along with a large moose head.  Colorful stained-glass windows proudly depict German flags. Over the years Zum Stammtisch has gained recognition and has been on numerous TV shows and written about in food magazines. They are famous for their goulash soup which of course I had a cup.  Hot and spicy herbs filled the cup with gravy and chunks of tender beef.  Thick brown sour gravy poured over my Sauerbraten and flowed around fluffy potato dumplings which was my next course.  I enjoyed my last big meal with friends and family before I flew back to Texas.  The day I was to fly out, I stopped at a pizza place for lunch and picked up knishes to bring back with me.  My Texas husband was in for a treat. As I once described what knishes are to my friends in Texas who never heard of them.  I thought I’d bring the real thing back with me. Knishes are dough, filled with spices and potato and fried or baked. It’s a big New York food.

Having been satisfied with my fill of pizza and knishes packed securely in my luggage I was heading for John F. Kennedy airport.  Looking out of the airplane window saying goodbye to the Big Apple, I couldn’t wait to get back home to Texas.