Oboe Boot Camp + Inspiring Respites= A Joyous New Recording!

The week before my group Hevreh Ensemble began our new recording project at Oktaven Audio in NYC, I cleared my schedule, arranged substitutes for my students and dove headfirst into Oboe Boot Camp! I wanted make sure that I had enough time to make reeds; my normal practice routine was greatly extended. This was to insure that I had enough endurance on this most aerobic of instruments. I was accomplishing my goal, but felt that was getting what I like to call, “Oboe Brain”, loosely translated as feeling a bit loopy, unfocused and spacey. Nothing a cup of tea and a good walk would not cure!

The perfect respite was to take a few hikes, some familiar and my husband Paul happily researched a few new locations.

The weather that week was glorious; cool and sunny with the trees in their last blaze of fall color!

Overlook Tail- Great Mountain Forest: Norfolk, CT

We headed up to Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT for a lovely walk on the Overlook Trail. The path climbed gently uphill with views of Tobey Pond peeking through the trees. I discovered this idyllic pond years ago as a student at the Yale Summer School of Music!

Overlook Trail- Great Mountain Forest

Next, we scouted out Woodcreek Pond, not far from the center of the village of Norfolk. We thought this might be an excellent place to kayak next spring!

Woodcreek Pond, Norfolk, CT

Another day we returned to one of our favorite walks at the Overmountain Conservation Area in Ancram, NY. The Kite Hill Loop Trail winds through a large meadow with distant views of the Catskills and the Taconic Range. A rustic gazebo graces the top of the meadow with glorious views.

Kite Hill-Ancram, NY
Kite Hill, Ancram, NY

On a cloudy slightly overcast day, I took a solo walk at another favorite in Sheffield, MA on Kelsey Road. The peaceful dirt road, where one can stroll for miles, has distant views of the Taconic Ridge and passes by a beautiful marshland area.

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA
Kelsey Road-Sheffield, MA

All of the walks were very calming and centering, preparing me for the intensity of the next few days.

The morning of the recording, I woke up earlier than usual and was treated to golden light filtering through the woods near our house. Perhaps a sign of good things to come??

I arrived early at Oktaven Audio, about a two hour drive from our house to warmup, just as the affable and talented engineer Ryan Streber co-owner of the studio was setting up. One option was to be in the large room with sound baffling on either side of the musicians or to be in a small isolation booth. The big room had a direct view into the control room, where the engineers and our producer would sit. I felt a bit of trepidation; as if I would be a guppy in a fish bowl. I volunteered to be in the small booth, with no sight line to the control room. I immediately felt that I had made the right choice. With a rug on the floor, enough room to lay out my reed tools; the lighting was dark but with a stand light, I could see perfectly and I felt cozy and protected!

Then the work began; three days of continuous recording with the sessions starting at 10:30 AM and ending at 8:00 PM- talk about Oboe Brain!!

Our colleague and violist Ralph Farris, who is a member of the acclaimed string quartet ETHEL, is producing the album. He has an incredible ear, a seemingly endless supply of energy along with creative and innovative ideas. Combined with a quirky and irreverent sense of humor, I think he would be the ideal orchestral conductor, if only!!

Ralph Farris & myself

During one of our sessions when I was not playing, I listened as Ralph gently teased the others; to Shane Shanahan our wonderful guest artist on percussion: “Shane, you’re making us angry in here- that take was so good it was offensive!!” Or, to Jeff Adler, Hevreh group member and composer- Jeff had an improvisation section on bass clarinet in one of the pieces- it was going to be over dubbed at a later time, so there was silence during the take. From the control room Ralph said loudly over the speaker, “that’s the best you’ve ever sounded!”. Or, he would share a self deprecating viola joke with the humor (being a violist) turned toward himself. All of this made us feel relaxed but also kept us razor focused on our playing. Ralph mentioned that he believed that 98% of performing well is psychological; I believe that his unorthodox methods created a supportive, safe and creative environment for all of us.

When we finished the recording sessions, I felt a sense of elation and accomplishment, BUT…..I was completely exhausted! I was hoping that the adrenalin that was rushing through me would last for for the long drive home, but what really did the trick was the snack that I had squirreled away into my bag! Rooting around in my freezer, I had found a few slices of Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread that I had made for our Prentice Barn concert this past summer. Spiced with ginger and cardamom with a crunchy streusel topping, the flavors danced around in my mouth and helped keep me alert! The recipe is from the June 2021 Bon Appetit magazine. I left out the turmeric called for in the recipe. Now, we can look forward to the release and distribution of the album by our amazing record label PARMA sometime in the late spring- stay tuned for updates!!

Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread from Bon Appetit Magazine

Ingredients

Makes one 9×5″ loaf

STREUSEL

⅓cup (42 g) all-purposeflour

2Tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. (30 g) dark brown sugar

¼cup (24 g) old-fashioned oats

½tsp. ground cardamom

½tsp. ground ginger

½tsp. ground turmeric

¼tsp. baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

2Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2½medium zucchini (about 1 lb.), trimmed

¾tsp. vanilla extract

1½cups (300 g) granulated sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

3large eggs

¾cup grapeseed oil

1¾cups (219 g) all-purpose flour

2¼tsp. ground cardamom

2¼tsp. ground ginger

2tsp. baking powder

1¼tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¾ tsp. Morton kosher saltBlueberry jam and/or crème fraîche (for serving; optional)

Preparation

STREUSEL

Step 1

Whisk flour, brown sugar, oats, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl to combine. Drizzle butter over and, using your fingers, work into dry ingredients until butter is absorbed and clumps form. Set streusel aside

BREAD

Step 2

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat a 9×5″ loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Using the grater attachment of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, grate zucchini. (You should have about 3 cups.) Wrap shredded zucchini in a kitchen towel and wring out as much excess moisture as you can. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in vanilla extract (adding the vanilla here means the zucchini will take on more of its flavor).

Step 3

Place granulated sugar and lemon zest in a medium bowl and, using your fingers, work zest into sugar until sugar starts to clump and mixture is very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add eggs and oil to bowl and whisk to combine. Add grated zucchini and whisk again to incorporate.

Step 4

Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift flour into another small bowl. Add cardamom, ginger, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula until there are no visible flour streaks remaining and batter is homogeneous. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth surface. Scatter reserved streusel evenly on top.

Step 5

Bake zucchini bread, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let zucchini bread cool completely in pan.

Step 6

Run a small offset spatula or paring knife around sides of zucchini bread to help loosen, then turn it out onto rack.

Step 7

To serve, cut zucchini bread into thick slices and divide among plates. Top with jam and crème fraîche if desired.

ENJOY!!

AND- here is the Tree of the Week!

I may have developed a bit of a double chin!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! 11/26/21

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.

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