Overnight, ice crystals were magically transformed into intricate fractals on our deck.
It was a gloomy day, cold and steely gray; a perfect backdrop to explore an atmospheric section of the Billings Trail called Stoney Lonesome maintained by the Norfolk Connecticut Land Trust.
My husband Paul had scouted out the trail a few days earlier with a friend; they happened upon a lone hiker who stopped in his tracks and asked excitedly, “Did you find the site of the train accident?”
The trail follows an abandoned train track that was built in 1871 and ran from Hartford, Connecticut to the border of New York State. It was built on a high ledge above the Canaan valley, strewn with enormous boulders. There was in fact a horrific wreck that occurred in 1882 when a train rammed into a boulder that had slid down the mountain side onto the track. We read that the laying of the track was very difficult and engineers had to make huge rock cuts into the side of the mountain.
Walking along the trail we were captivated by the dramatic rock formations made from the deep cuts through the mountain side to accommodate the train tracks.
We had set out on our walk late in the afternoon; the days are so short now that by the end of our hike, the sun was starting to set. The clouds suddenly parted and for a brief moment, sunlight lit up the hillside with a golden glow.
Our eyes were drawn uphill to a rock formation that reminded us of stone sculptures that we have viewed at the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York.
By the time we returned to our car, it was almost completely dark. We drove back down the road with a beautiful sunset in front of us leaving somber Stoney Lonesome behind.
Glad to be back safely home after our frosty and invigorating adventure, we settled in next to a cozy fire in the woodstove and enjoyed hot chocolate and a few Gingerbread Biscotti that were left over from Christmas.
After our hike, we wanted to know more about the origin of the name Stoney Lonesome; some sources suggested that the name reflects a desolate area, strewn with rocks and boulders. This certainly seemed appropriate! Then we discovered that the name is also a slang term, made popular in the early 20th century for prison. Paul found the prison reference to Stoney Lonesome in a book written by John O’Hara published in 1931 with the title, “Appointment in Samarra“. The title of the novel refers to W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an ancient Mesopotamian fable where a servant has an untimely meeting with the devil- dark indeed!! We were so curious about this that we ordered the book and have gotten pulled into the tragic tale of a used car salesman from the 1930’s.
AND, of course we had a bit of fun arranging Bananagram tiles into references from “Appointment in Samarra“!
Here is a recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti’s adapted from NY Times Cooking. These biscotti are full of warming delicious spices including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise along with espresso powder and almond & orange extract. The spices create a lovely flavor combination that lingers beautifully in the mouth! I swapped out the brown and granulated sugar in the recipe for monk fruit sweetener and coconut sugar which has a low glycemic index. I used whole grain spelt and whole wheat pastry flour, which in addition to being more nutricious, give the biscotti an added nutty flavor and I used Lily’s stevia sweetened chocolate chips. The original recipe called for candied chopped ginger, which would also be good! These biscotti are hard and crunchy and are excellent dipped into coffee or espresso!
Gingerbread Biscotti from NY Times Cooking
- 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 whole star anise, finely ground (1/4 teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup whole grain spelt flour
- ⅔ cup/113 grams dark or semisweet chocolate – I used Lily’s Stevia sweetened chocolate chips.
- 1/2 bar any dark chocolate to coat biscotti- I used Equal Exchange “Total Eclipse” dark chocolate. Feel free to use something with more sugar!)
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the egg, egg white, both sugars, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise, espresso powder, salt, baking soda, almond extract and lemon extract. Beat on medium speed just to combine, scrape down the bowl and beater, then increase the speed to high and beat for a full 90 seconds or until the mixture is slightly paler, thick and ribbon like.
- Add the flour. Beat on low speed until mostly combined, stopping the beater just before all the flour is incorporated so you don’t overmix. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate any remaining dry bits into the dough. Add chocolate chips.
- Gather the dough with your hands, kneading lightly in the bowl just to bring everything together into a cohesive mass. Place the dough on the center of the prepared sheet, then dampen your hands with water and mold the dough into a 9-by-4-inch log about 1 inch tall. Bake until the log puffs and spreads a little, turns golden brown at the edges and is firm to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes.
- Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut at a diagonal into 12 (¾-inch-wide) slices. Turn the slices on their sides and return to the oven.
- Bake, flipping the slices halfway through, until slightly browned and dry in the centers, 10 to 15 minutes. Bake longer for drier, crunchier biscotti. Remove from the oven and cool the biscotti on the sheet. Turn the slices top sides up.
- In a double-boiler or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and using a small spoon, drape the melted chocolate over the tops of the biscotti, nudging some to drip over the edges. Allow the chocolate to sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator to fully set. The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
As I write this blog, it is a raw cold day with sleet and freezing rain and we are in for a few days of frigid weather. Today I plan to sit close by the fire and enjoy a cookbook that just arrived; My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories for a City on the Water by Betty Liu. I will dream about making dumplings for our next dumpling party which I hope will not be in the too distant future!!
AND, here is the first “Tree of the Week” for 2022!
STAY WARM AND SAFE!!