First Snow and a Renaissance Christmas Carol

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary- Plainfield, Massachusetts

“Ein Lied von der Geburt Christi“- Caspar Othmayr 1515-1553

Enjoy a Renaissance Christmas Carol as you read about our first snowy adventure of the season. The music continues even if I can’t play improvisations outside!

A few weeks ago, in our corner of Northwest Connecticut, it had rained all day with a few snow showers. The following morning we headed north and as the elevation increased, we saw the first real snow of the season! Since there were only a few inches of snow on the ground, we decided to take a small hike at the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield, Massachusetts. There were no other cars in the lot and the billboard at the beginning of the trail posted pictures of bear claw marks on a tree trunk and moose. A little ominous, but no problem; after all, this was only a small walk- a one mile loop.

The woods were beautiful and still with small evergreen plants poking their noses out the snow.

We walked and walked….. taking pictures absorbed me completely. The patterns of ice on the water in a small stream made lovely abstract designs.

After a while, I noticed that the sun was getting a bit lower in the sky and I mentioned to Paul that the promised one mile loop seemed a bit long! We looked around us and the trail seemed to be heading back uphill. A thought went through my mind: “the doofuses get lost and freeze to death on a one mile loop”!

Paul said a bit anxiously: “stop taking pictures and let’s move along here”!! We increased the tempo of our steps, hopefully heading in the right direction and with relief we soon saw the original trail marker. The small one mile loop turned out to be 3 1/2 miles!

We thought that at this point it might be a good idea to head back towards home. Well, maybe just one more little detour on the back roads! Ahead of us was the Dubuque State Forest and Hallockville Pond, where I had kayaked this past summer. The sun was just starting to set over the small pond; a perfect ending to a beautiful day!

This week I was in the mood for a comforting hearty soup. I thought that a fish chowder might fit the bill and thoughts of the eclectic and innovative restaurant Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine came to mind. This small eccentric restaurant is the perfect little place- great creative simple food with big bold tastes and no pretension! It is always crowded, a bit too noisy and often hard to get a reservation. Hopefully this summer we will be able to return. On one of our visits, I ordered the “Chowdah Guy”- roasted to order haddock with smoke house bacon, corn, onion, potato, fresh thyme, garlic, cream and fumet ( fish broth). What’s not to like!! I came up with a version with what I remembered about the dish and the ingredients that I had on hand. I sauteed an onion and a bit of chopped celery in olive oil and a small knob of butter for extra flavor; then sprinkled flour on top and whisked in whole milk to help thicken the stew. I added corn that I had frozen from last summer, diced potato, a piece of andouille sausage, dried thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, diced fire roasted tomatoes and covered everything with water. I let it cook down for about an hour and right before serving it, added about a pound of haddock cut into small pieces. It brought back memories of being in coastal Maine in late August and it tasted even better the next day!

Fish Chowder ala Cafe Miranda

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cod or haddock

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 stalk celery with leaves finely chopped

1 medium potato diced

1 cup corn (frozen is fine)

1 chicken or pork andouille sausage cut into small pieces

1/4 cup diced tomato

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter

1 tablespoon white flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

To Make Fish Chowder:

In a large pot heat butter and olive oil.

Saute onion until it softens and then add celery, cook for about a minute more.

Sprinkle flour over onion and celery, stir and cook about 1 minute.

Add milk and stir. Add all other ingredients, except fish.

Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about an hour.

Add fish and cook briefly, just until fish flakes easily.

Adjust seasoning- add more salt and freshly ground pepper if desired.

ENJOY!

AND, here is the perfect accompaniment to the stew- an easy to make Whole Wheat Soda Bread that tastes and looks like a combination of biscuits and bread! I added chopped rosemary, fresh ground pepper, chopped scallion and grated parmesan. I think any and all additions would work beautifully!

Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups flour-I used a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and whole grain spelt flour.

1 level teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (you may need a bit more or less).

I added a handful of chopped fresh rosemary, freshly ground pepper, diced scallion and 2 tablespoons grated parmesan.

To Make Soda Bread:

Preheat oven to 425 Degrees F.

Lightly flour a baking sheet.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt in a large bowl.

If using, mix in cheese, pepper and herbs.

Mix in enough buttermilk to from moist clumps. You should be able to gather dough into a loose ball-it will be very sticky. Have a bit of extra flour on hand to sprinkle over your hands.

Lightly flour a surface and knead dough until it forms a ball. Cut into two pieces.

Place the pieces on the baking sheet and cut all of the way through the dough with a sharp small knife making a crisscross pattern. The dough will actually be separated- this will help the bread cook through.

Bake until bread is golden brown on top, about 30-35 minutes. It will sound hollow when you tap it lightly.

Transfer to a rack and let cool completely- although, I don’t think I could wait! This would be wonderful with some good butter!

AND of course, here is the Tree of the Week:

“I’ve seen a lot in my time, but this year does seem to take the cake!”

As I finish writing this, we are digging out of our first real snow!!

Happy Holidays to All and Please Be Safe!

Author: Judith Dansker

Professional oboist and chamber musician- member of Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness, Professor of Oboe Hofstra University; observer of people, art and nature; passionate food and travel explorer.

5 thoughts on “First Snow and a Renaissance Christmas Carol”

  1. What an adventure on your “1 mile loop.” I loved your pictures, especially the ice sculpture on the pond or stream. The tree is incredible! I agree. It does take the cake! Speaking of cake, I can’t wait to try your fish soup and the soda bread. You come up with the most amazing recipes, Judy! And oh yes, thank you for the lovely winter Renaissance piece! Best to you and Paul.

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  2. There is something to be said about a crisp day walk through the woods with the snow crackling under your feet, and finishing it off with a fish chowder is just perfect. Great post and thanks for the recipe.

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  3. Thank you Judith! I loved reading about your adventure and always appreciate a good recipe. All best wishes for the holidays and new year!

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