Hamlin Bear Trail and Colombian Empanadas!

I am back from my trip to California where I collaborated with the legendary jazz oboist Paul McCandless. It was an amazing and life changing experience and now I am happily sorting through pictures and notes. While I am getting everything organized into what will probably be a two or three part blog, here is a shorter post from this past week.

After my usual Friday commute to teach at Hofstra, I stay over in Manhattan; the next morning I decided to find a new neighborhood to explore. I thought that the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx might be interesting. First, I headed up to Columbia University for a delicious breakfast treat at one of my favorite haunts, Community on Broadway between 112th and 113th Streets. I enjoyed the Veggie Scramble: egg whites, market vegetables, with avocado wedges and 7-grain toast served with crunchy home fried potatoes mixed with shredded carrots along with a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea.

Across the street, with views of the imposing Cathedral of Saint John the Devine, is a branch of the excellent bookstore, Book Culture. I was looking for a copy of MFK Fisher’s classic, How to Cook a Wolf and ended up buying sale copies of a collection of short stories by Edith Wharton and Tocqueville’s classic, Democracy in America. At the corner of West 113th is a tiny bubble tea cafe. I ordered a lightly sweetened Chai Bubble Tea with almond milk for later in the day. Fortified, I was ready for my exploration!

Several years ago I traveled on small tours with a flute, oboe and guitar ensemble called Trio Sonata; the group had an old style manager who always offered this sage advice: “When you arrive at your destination, before you go to your hotel or eat anything, make sure that you secure the location!” This directive has served me well, and on this day, the location I wanted to secure was an empanada restaurant in Morris Park that I had read about called La Masa. I found the restaurant and parked my car nearby.

Whenever I go to a new area, I like to walk slowly around and see what catches my eye. The side streets were filled with tidy one and two story homes with a feeling of a solidly working class neighborhood. The main street was lined with small mom and pop businesses; I entered the tiny Morris Park Meat Market and enjoyed listening to the heavy thick New York accents in the easy going banter between the owner/butcher and longtime customers. When the butcher saw me looking at the display case he asked me what I would like to purchase. I was curious about the coils of parley flecked sausages. He described the different kinds of sausage and I said I would return in the near future with my cooler, he said, “Smart Lady”- or as I heard it- it sounded like “Smat laydee!”

Across the street, I saw an Italian bakery that looked inviting; Faglione Brothers.

In the display case, I saw some curious looking crackers; the counter person told me they were called Taralli. I had never seen this particular cracker and asked what part of Italy they were from; they were not sure. I found out later that Taralli is a peculiar Italian bread from the region of Puglia. They were created in the 8th century by poor workers in Puglia from leftover scraps of dough. The crunchy cracker is typically made from just flour, salt, olive oil and white wine. I bought a few to take home and also could not resist a delicious crispy sfogliatelle pastry filled with lemony ricotta- one almost made it home intact!

Taralli and Breadsticks- Faglione Brothers Bakery

Sfogiatelle- Faglione Brothers

My next stop was for Columbian Empanadas from the restaurant La Masa. I entered the bright and welcoming space and was greeted by the effusive owner.

I ordered several different empanadas to eat on my way home; chicken lime cilantro, roasted vegetables and shrimp salteados (onions, green pepper and pureed potato). The covering for Columbian empanadas are made from masa corn flour; called masarepa and are deep fried. I took a bag of piping hot empanadas and enjoyed them as I headed home. The cornmeal covering was light, not at all greasy and was crunchy and slightly chewy inside. All of the fillings were delicate and delicious. Just 2 1/2 miles from the New York Botanical Gardens and 2 minutes from the Hutchinson Parkway North, this is a place that I will definitely return to many more times. A great discovery and a few empanadas did make it home for my husband to try!

Empanadas from Masa

This particular day, it was sunny with a bright blue sky; spring was in the air! As I neared home, it was late afternoon and there were beautiful clouds- maybe time for a short walk? I turned onto a dirt road that leads to the Hamlin Bear Trail in Sharon, CT and luckily I had my waterproof hiking boots in the car.

Hamlin Bear Trail- Sharon, CT

I headed down the muddy, very slushy trail, hoping that I would not end the day slipping and coming home covered in mud! After sitting in the car for a few hours, I was rewarded by the fresh cold air, brilliant blue sky and billowy clouds.

Hamlin Bear Trail- Sharon, CT

Hamlin Bear Trail- Sharon, CT

Hamlin Bear Trail- Sharon, CT

A perfect ending for this day!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week” which I am proud to say that my husband Paul found this one!

” I do have a lot to say on the subject”

California blog coming soon!


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.

3 thoughts on “Hamlin Bear Trail and Colombian Empanadas!”

  1. Another amazing trip!

    Haven’t heard from John but may try and drop by the church this week and see what I can learn …

    All best,



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