Monday, August 2, 2010

Quail Eggs, Jellyfish, and West Hampton

Pat reached inside his bag and said he had something for me to see. I leaned back in my chair and patted myself down for the LIRR round-trip ticket I had just purchased from Atlantic-Pacific stop to West Hampton for the weekend. He found what he was looking for before I could find my ticket. With a flourish, he produced a tiny plastic pack with 18 petite bubbles with spotted brown and black orbs inside.

"Quail eggs," I guessed correctly before he turned the carton over to show the label. He looked disappointed that I didn't even hesitate in my answer. I brightened my eyes and re-answered: "Wow! Quail eggs!" Pat nodded and smiled. He got them from Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. They were next to the electric-green, avocado-sized Emu eggs and the grapefruit sized pearls listed as 'ostrich eggs.' Emu were several dollars for each one and an ostrich egg cost about $40. The quail eggs were $7 for 18 tiny eggs that equaled maybe 3 chicken eggs in yolk.

I never had quail eggs and was intrigued but my body pat-down had become slightly panicked. After several minutes of the macarena I found them lodged in between some papers. My mind could relax and return the topic of quail eggs. Boiling them seemed like the best way to maximize the experience. Pat also had some Celtic sea salt in his bag. The only thing I brought for this journey was an assortment of day old fruit and nuts. Next time I'll bring something more exotic.

Pat and I have gone up to the West Hamptons a few times. We meet up with our friend Pam, who has this vintage 1940s beach house, which she has restored to its glory days. The past few years we went up there, it was mostly to help in the restoration process. I removed rust from vintage art deco dining room lights, sanding off grim from kitchen cabinets, and did some minor detailing for chairs and tables. I also fought the sand dunes that were encroaching on the back porch and wall. A few metal stakes were pounded into the ground and we all helped insert some wooden planks to serve as a dam against the tons of sand that were being blown slowly into the backside of the house. Then I began shoveling the sand for a few hours onto the other side of the sand dam. A few new coats of paint and pounding down some boardwalk planks and the beach house looks remarkable. A high plumage of trees, vines, and bushes hides the cabin from the main road. On each side of the beach house are rows of New England mansions and modern-looking glass bird houses.

We got into West Hampton by 11:30 and Pam took us to a local diner in Hampton Bay. Despite the Hampton's posh image, there are still plenty of regular places that serve large portion diner food and we ate huevos rancheros, coconut cookies and a large wedge of bread pudding with seltzer water.

The weekend was amazing. Too many things to list and yet it was a fairly simple two-day getaway. All we did was eat, swim, talk, sleep, swim, eat some more, and go for walks on the beach. Cell phones were off most of the time, I checked my email once for 5 minutes, and no TV. Pam's house is lined with dozens of classic books. Her parents owned the house and she said they were voracious readers. Furthermore they lived next to a book editor so they were getting the best of the best for decades. Each room has piles of sea shells in jars, platters, and decorating the wall. I took the bedroom facing the beach and slept with the window open. I went to bed hearing the lapping waves and smelling the salt. I could sleep 8 hours every day if I went to bed near the ocean.

I also saw jellyfish for the first time. In fact the sand was pocked with the clear jellyfish glistening in the bright sun. They were without tentacles and harmless. I scooped up one with a sea shell and carried it back to our beach chairs.

In the morning Pat broke out the quail eggs. He boiled them for a few minutes and we scooped out 18 little brown-looking rocks. Pam toasted 7-grain bread and I buttered the bread and sprinkled sea salt on to the sticky side. Then I broke off pieces of the bread and wrapped the peeled eggs in the salty, buttery goo. Quail eggs taste almost exactly like chicken eggs. If I had a better palette I could probably discern what exactly was the after-taste that made it slightly different. The inside of the pealed shells was light blue and matched the beach house.

Pat broke out his 8 mm vintage camera with a 3-minute roll of silent film. Now I know why all those old 60s home movies feel so stage. When you only have 3 minutes, there is no time to waste. Every scene has to be thought out. Pat filmed the boardwalk and the patio.

Sunday late afternoon we crowded back on to a west-bound train. The car was filled with hungover teenagers with smiley face stickers covering their clothes and skin. We guessed -perhaps snobbishly- that they were probably heading back to New Jersey after a weekend on a party boat drinking and popping pills. Everyone was wearing sunglasses, texting, and occasionally moaning.

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