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East End sundown. (Photo credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Wow. What a year. As much because, damn, it went fast (!!) as that it’s the first one I completed with Times Review Media.

Launching Southforker online and in print has been nothing less than a joy — a very challenging joy, but a fulfilling, exciting, (exhausting!), and never boring one, and it wouldn’t have happened without a team of really phenomenal people. To say I am grateful for their work, ideas, support and camaraderie doesn’t even quite cover it. And I really can’t wait to see what we do next year!

I think one of the things at the onset that seemed especially challenging was finding a place on these pages where we could all come together. That felt important. The Hamptons is well-known for its wealthy residents and visitors, but it’s home to people from many walks of life and income and age. But that’s the thing about good stories: they’re everywhere. You just have to really look and listen. Some of the best ones are even hiding in plain sight.

Last week we listed our Top 10 favorites of the year — a list, mostly, of the big, meaty feature stories that we poured ourselves into creating. But there were lots of others, too, that I hope helped shine a light on more than just the super-shiny. Like awesome staff reporter Emily Toy’s heart-grabbing story on tap-dancing senior citizens, where and how to use public transportation in the Hamptons, her fab profile on car star Chelsea Sweeney of Hampton Car Club, her lovely look at the success of Nick & Toni’s, and the really cool stand-taking art exhibitions at Onna House.

[And may I say, as a special shout-out: I should be careful about public kudos because someone may well try to steal her from me, but Sag Harbor’s own Toy cares about words and rocks the house! Thank goodness for you. Local girls rule.]

Chef Bermudez at work in the Shelter Island Legion Hall kitchen. (Photo credit: Doug Young)

There was contributor Charity Robey’s great piece on historical cookbooks, more often than not compiled by people in your town and which are treasure troves of bygone ways, and her deep dive into food insecurity and how our local food pantries fight that tide. Thank you, Charity — it’s really special to have your stories and keen but empathetic take on the tales we tell.

There’s Doug Young’s multitude of wonderful recipes (most shot by this talented shutterbug, too!) in our weekly Cook This Now! column and, my goodness, the Shelter Island Legion Hall shoot — man, that was a moment. That you are always as jazzed as I am about all of this has been, many times, the battery boost I needed. The way you see things is so special — grateful you’re on this ride, too.

Joe Mollica’s lovely ode to Sag Harbor Variety, whose organized-chaos and whimsy was wonderfully captured in photos by Doug, and Lee Meyer’s marvelous and moody story on The Church (gorgeously shot by the amazing David Benthal) is still a fave of mine.

I got to discover the talented women behind the Cookery teaching us that second and third acts are sometimes the best ones and have a long conversation with Nada Barry and Gwen Waddington, proprietors of the beloved Wharf Shop, where I’ve been going since I was a small child an awfully long time ago. (Fun fact: They used to have an outpost of their beloved kid’s shop on Shelter Island, right by my dad’s store!). I chatted with a butcher who I now keep on speed dial (this is from a butcher’s daughter, people: Steven Colabella and his Peconic Prime Meats are the best!), learned about oyster farming from an accidental oysterman, and provided you with a year’s worth of mixing and shaking in my weekly Southside Sips cocktail column because, well, if I have one, drinks mixing might just be my super power.

And there are so many stories, old and new, I look forward to bringing you in the new year.

But for a minute, let’s just be in the present. When you live in a four-season climate, you fall into one of two camps. You yearn for warmer climes as soon as the heat kicks on, or you fall in love with our region’s wintery charms like it’s the first time, every year. The way our streets, seemingly lonely and less full in the off-season, become illuminated with warmth and color from holiday lights. The growing, irrepressible urge to give, to those you love and those who really need it. Taking stock at the end of the year and thinking about how you’d like shape the next 12 months ahead.

(Photo credit: Gerard Franciosa)

I like a hot sunny day as much as the next person, but I really do love winter here. Always have. When I was kid waiting for a proper snow fall to build yet another snowman in the front yard of the house I grew up in, to the grown-up pleasures of now, coming in from the cold to meet good friends for a chat over a favorite meal or glass of something festive and warming. Add the holiday season into the mix, and like the Waitresses sing in “Christmas Wrapping,” well… I couldn’t miss this one this year. Or any year.

It’s that still, stark, quiet beauty of the beaches, windswept and entirely empty of crowds; of the naked oak tree branches on my block, stretched against a clear night sky; that urge to amble around the backroads exploring — not because you have to in order to avoid traffic, but because you want to. 

Happy New Year, South Forkers! Looking forward to more in 2024…

Amy Zavatto


P.S. That photo that kicked off this post? That’s from the one and only Eleanor P. Labrozzi. Her landscape work is some of my favorite. A fellow Islander, I’ve known Ellie an awfully long time; that we get to work together now is pretty darn cool!