Chickens, Crabs Races, and Chowder: A Fall Weekend in Amagansett

Every once in a while (or more often than we can afford, for most of us), every NYC resident has got. to. get. out. Of the heat, or of the smog, the crowded streets, the noise. All of these things that make living here so thrilling get to be too much, even when you’ve lived in the city for 6+ years.

For those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have a family home or summer timeshare in the Hamptons, there’s always AirBNB. Since somehow both Olivier and I got Columbus Day off, this past weekend was my first experience with the share-your-own-home service, and (even as a geeky only-child introvert) was pleasantly surprised at the experience.

We booked a place in Amagansetta quiet, leafy beach town on the south fork of the Hamptons between East Hampton and Montauk. From the house description on AirBNB, we knew our host, Mike Bottini, was a laid-back, outdoorsy kind of guy. But until he picked us up at the train station and started rattling off random facts about the area — the surrounding forest (a nature preserve and perfect for hikes), the water temperature (warm enough at 67 degrees to surf! for some people, I guess…), the 3,000-acre island across the bay (privately owned for over 400 years by the Gardiner family) — that he was probably one of the most in-the-know dudes in the area. (The five books he’d written about wildlife and nature tours on the dining table in our room was another big hint).

We arrived at the house and it was perfect: A private entrance off of the main house, with a door out to a garden full of tomatillos, squash, tomatoes (those that weren’t eaten by squirrels), Jerusalem artichokes, peppers, and more:

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Oh, and of course, chickens:

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Four of them. Look a little bit closer at the pic above, and you’ll see what they’re eating. Chicken. Yup, that’s right. The chickens, when we arrived, were eating chicken. Apparently chickens eat anything — worms, beef burgers, even mom, dad, or big sis (maybe especially big sis). I don’t think I’ve seen chickens up-close-and-personal since I was maybe 14, at a county fair in Tucson with my family. These ones were cuter than I remembered (if you could get past their Hannibal-like meal). One clucked quietly and constantly to herself. We learned that every time she laid an egg, she proudly announced it to the others, loudly, from the top of the chicken coop. Another chicken looked a little deformed — a raccoon once tried to eat her, we discovered, and she was disowned by the rest of the hens for a few months until she healed (guess even chickens can be catty!).

Later that afternoon, we took a walk down to the beach:

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At the water’s edge was a tractor and probably 40 tons of bags of sand (we later learned from Mike that the town was working to shore up beach erosion). Two boys were stationed on top in a sand fight, scampering between and through and behind the bags, throwing sand:

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After a quick walk on the sand (most of which seemed to end up in our shoes), we went home to try (and fail) to grill burgers on the charcoal grill outside of our room. Still working on that whole BBQ thing…it’s not really a “thing” in France (and I guess I never watched Dad carefully enough to pick up the art of crisping cow’s meat).

The next morning, after a fat bowl of cereal and some watered-down coffee (hey, we didn’t come for the food!), Mike and his buddy down at the local gym lent us a couple of bikes, which we took for a 15-mile ride down the highway to Montauk. We took the long route, down Cranberry Hole Lane, which took us past a gorgeous lake where, we learned later from Mike, Alec Baldwin has a home and a very famous ecologist lives (this picture doesn’t do the beauty of it justice):

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We trekked on for our first (and probably only!) good food of the weekend with a stop at the nearby Lobster Roll, where we shared a lobster roll (meh…I’ve had better) and two bowls of soup (lobster bisque and pumpkin crab chowder…absolutely indulgent).

After another 45 minutes on our bikes, rolling past huge, stately (and sometimes Mc)mansions lining Old Montauk Highway, we landed in Montauk. It was the last day of their fall festival — a small street fair where kiddos could draw in sidewalk chalk and romp through inflatable playhouses while their parents took respite (for at least a few moments) in a beer. We wandered into this, apparently big on the East Coast but not so much in the Tucson desert or Paris suburbs:

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The lady in charge of the crab races, a portly older gal in a Northface jacket and jeans, vigorously pounded an empty plastic takeout bucket on the table, while the crabs cowered and then crankily skittered away, and the kiddos screeched in excitement. Only thing Olivier and I could imagine: the Pixar movie where the THUD THUD THUD on the table was a crab-sized earthquake, and the disillusioned old crustaceans grumbled among themselves, wagering over who would drag himself to the edge of the board first…until the new guy came to spice things up (let’s go! where’s the finish line, guys! where do i go!).

We finally landed at our ultimate destination: a beer tasting at the Montauk Brewing Company ($8 for four small tasters of different beers brewed on-site, plus you get to keep the glass!), chatting it up with a 40-something couple who had come to town to surf (apparently we were in Montauk at a good time…Manhattan Hampton homeowners make up a good 2/3 of the population from May to September. Not really our scene.). The sun was just an hour or so from setting, so back on the bikes for home, with a stop at the top of a hill on Montauk Highway overlooking the valley of Napeague State Park. We finished just in time to make it to the Amagansett beach for this — the perfect bookend to our surprisingly laid-back Hamptons weekender:

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