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Talk of the County


Talk of the County

Top 5

Ben Cheever

The noted local author and running enthusiast on his favorite places to run

Ben Cheever of Pleasantville is an avid runner. His most recent book, Strides (Rodale Press, Inc.), is a detailed look at his sport of choice. We caught up with Cheever, who typically clocks five miles daily, to find out about his all-time favorite spots to lace up and let loose.

1) Rockefeller State Park Preserve (Pocantico Hills) Though he’s been running here for decades, Cheever says he still can get lost. “You never take the same run twice. But who would want to? The vistas are breathtaking.”

2) Borghese Gardens (Rome) “My father took me for walks along these paths when I was eight. My wife and I ran there on our honeymoon. I love the contrasts. There’s ancient stonework. There’s also litter.”

3) Bordeaux Marathon (Bordeaux, France) The race’s appeal? “They serve wine at the water stops,” Cheever says. “The French runners displayed an insouciance that I found shocking. There was a lot of drinking and also smoking at the party the night before the race. First prize is the runner’s weight in grand crus.”

4) Central Park (New York City) “A jog around the reservoir is a tour of the Manhattan skyline,” Cheever says. “In November, the life-size statue of Fred Lebow is moved across the park from Ninetieth and the

East Drive

to the Tavern on the Green so that his bronze likeness can see who wins the marathon he founded in 1970.”

5) Camp Victory’s Peach Tree 10K (Baghdad) “In 2006, I went to Iraq to run the Peach Tree Ten-K. There was a live band. We milled around in shorts and T-shirts, looking just like runners at any ten-K ever held, when a truck full of stern men in combat gear came in and parted the crowd. Their get-ups and expressions contrasted starkly with the cheerful, lightly dressed men and women around me.” Cheever won in his age category. “I remember standing there in the crowd afterwards thinking. ‘This is happiness. This is how it feels to be ecstatic. Remember this.’”

//  Laurie Yarnell




Q: Does Cellphone + Gas Pump = Danger?

You’ve seen the warnings posted at the gas station about not using your cellphone because of the risk of fires. But, after our friendly, local gas-station attendant repeatedly pumped our gas while talking on his cellphone, we wondered, is it true?

A: The answer, according to a 2005 FCC consumer advisory, is no. Apparently, the whole don’t-use-your-cell-and-pump-gas scare, which can be traced back to 1999 when rumors circulated on the Internet that various fires were sparked by  cellphone use at gas stations, is baseless. “There is no evidence that these reports are true,” the FCC assures. And it reports that the “wireless industry” has done studies on the potential for cellphones to create sparks that presumably could start fires and found nada. According to the FCC, there hasn’t been one documented incident of cellphones causing fires at gas stations. So why the warnings? The old let’s-protect-ourselves-from-potential-even-if-farflung-lawsuits. “Wireless phone manufactures and fuel companies have issued these warnings as a precaution,” the FCC notes.

//  Marisa Iallonardo


The Senator and The Socialite

(And, Quite Possibly, Our New President)


Chappaqua resident Lawrence Otis Graham’s book, The Senator and The Socialite, came out in hardback in 2006 and in paperback in 2007. So why is Graham, who blogs for this magazine (visit westchestermagazine.com—look for POV) still on a book tour? The book is a biography of Senator Blanche Bruce, born a slave who went on to become the first black to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate. With the world watching Senator Barack Obama’s race to become the first black President, the topic was timely enough to warrant an additional tour. “Whether the victor is my Chappaqua neighbor Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Obama, it’s clear that many Americans are fascinated by the rise of the African-American politician in national politics,” Graham says.


road trip

Distill the One

The Tuthilltown spirits distillery is reviving New York’s legal—again—booze biz.


There’s no word to describe the whisky-loving equivalent of an oenophile, so we don’t know what to call you if you have a real hankering for whisky. But if you do, we do know that you’ve got to meet Ralph Erenzo, a distiller and part owner of the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner, New York (about 90 minutes from Central Westchester). He’s the man behind the sleek bottles filled with flavorful Hudson Whisky that populate the shelves of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, X20 Xaviars on the Hudson, and Vino 100, and which may soon be on shelves as far away as Japan. And he’s part of the reason it’s now legal for small farms to make big bucks from spirits (making the chances of a distillery opening soon in Westchester darned good). “I lobbied for four years to get the law changed,” Erenzo says. And now, thanks to Governor Eliot Spitzer, Erenzo’s distillery, which he runs with his business partner, Brian Lee, will conduct tours, sell on premises, and ship directly to consumers starting this summer.

Erenzo took quite a round-about path to become a distiller. He first worked in Manhattan as a” climbing consultant,” advising bridge builders how best to get their workers up their structures. He got into the field after designing trade-show booths for the Danskin Clothing Company, where he came up with the idea to build a climbing wall at a trade show. He eventually tired of working trade shows and found his interest was in climbing. He decided in 2001 to open his own climbing compound in upstate New York. He bought land in Gardiner, which included a mill that once made flour for matzos, and set to build his climbers’ Mecca. But his neighbors would have nothing of it. “One old woman was worried about drunken climbers breaking into her house,” he says. After meeting Lee, an engineer, the two decided to get into the distilling game. They did everything from learn how to weld to learn accounting to get their business off the ground. So far, it’s been a success. “In the first year we were self-sustaining, and by spring we’ll be turning a profit,” Erenzo says.

A trip to Tuthilltown starts with a walk through the farmhouse distillery where Erenzo, his son, his nephew, Lee, and one other employee brew small batches of brandy, two types of vodka, corn whisky, and rye. The distillery’s bourbon is made using non-hybrid heirloom corn which hasn’t been grown in New York for 400 years. Soon, visitors will be able to enjoy Hudson Bourbon in an on-site restaurant and will be able to purchase bottles as well as full casks (about $1,500 for five gallons or 50 bottles).


At the Tuthilltown Gristmill

14 Gristmill Ln, Gardiner, NY

(845) 255-1527; tuthilltown.com

//  W. Dyer Halpern


Oh What a Web We Need

Who says that traditional media IS  afraid of the Web? Here at the magazine, we couldn’t live without the Internet (for work—honest). Some of the sites we check on a near-daily basis are actually useful, too, so we decided to share our favorites.


1. HopStop.com

Let’s say your friends want to meet you at a tiny, tucked-away restaurant in the City, and you don’t want to drive. You know you can take the train to Grand Central, but then what? HopStop.com will show you the way, acting as a kind of MapQuest for the New York City subway system. Plug in the addresses and it’ll return foolproof, step-by-step directions from your doorstep to the closest Metro-North station, through the subways, and on the mean streets between the subway stop and your destination. HopStop.com also can give you bus directions (yes, there are buses in New York) and approximate taxi fares and travel times.

2. Yelp.com

Looking for a mechanic, or a salon, or a gym? Why settle for one friend’s recommendation when you can have 17? (If you don’t have your Westchester Magazine handy, that is.) Yelp.com lets its users review just about anything—restaurants, stores, spas, etc.—then compiles everyone’s opinions into a handy local guide. Westchester Yelpers’ favorites? Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Chef Central.

3. NexTag.com

How many times have you ordered something online, only to find your exact purchase cheaper at another website? No more. Choose your preferred brand and model of whatever you’re looking to buy, and it’ll drum up a list of online retailers selling the product, presented in order of price (it even accounts for tax and shipping). On a recent visit, we found a $750 price difference on the exact same Panasonic 50-inch plasma TV.

4. RetailMeNot.com

Everyone knows there are tons of online coupon codes flying around the Internet, but this site harvests them all and presents them in an easy-to-search way. Find discounts at Amazon, J Crew, Overstock, and many more.

5. Metacritic.com

Ebert liked it. A.O. Scott hated it. Should you still go see it? Metacritic.com aggregates and calibrates all of the reviews of one film into a single über-score on a scale of 1 to 100. For further research, it also includes excerpts from the reviews and links where you can read more. And it’s not just films; Metacritic.com gives the same treatment to DVDs, TV shows, music, games, and books. .

// ML


Post-Winter Workouts

Spring is finally here, which means that summer is just around the corner. To help get you ready for beaches and bathing suits, we tracked down and tried out some of the newest workouts available around the county. We also rated the difficulty of each workout on a scale of 1 to 5 water bottles—the more water bottles, the more difficult. Here’s what we learned.



 Curbing the Carbs


By age 38, New Rochelle native Susan Blech weighed in at a staggering 468 pounds. Her stomach folded nearly to her knees. “I ate too much and exercised too little,” Blech says. After checking into North Carolina’s Rice Diet Clinic, the 42-year-old today is 250 pounds lighter and has dropped from size 34 to 18.

Blech’s radical weight gain and loss are explored in Confessions of a Carb Queen, a book she wrote with her sister, Caroline Bock. Blech’s transformation from a bodybuilding paralegal to an obese woman and finally into her new role motivating obese children in Brooklyn is chronicled in the book, the story of which has its roots in Blech’s New Rochelle childhood. Blech says she loved her Westchester youth, from its autumn-colored trees to nights hanging out with friends at Davis Elementary School counting stars. In fact, the newly wed Blech and her husband, Marty, who currently live in Manhattan, are thinking about moving back to Westchester. “New Rochelle has always just felt like home to me,” she says.

In the meantime, Blech says she is devoting this next phase of her life to battling the obesity that is overwhelming the country, particularly among children. She hopes this book will motivate others to confront their own challenges.

//  Diana Marszalek



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