A Frosty Winter Walk and Spiced Apple/Sour Cherry Cobbler

It’s hard to believe that three years have gone by since the beginning of the pandemic, when we searched for places to walk where we would encounter few other people. My husband Paul had come across an article in an old New Yorker magazine that was about to join the recycle pile. The writer Alan Weisman, who wrote the book: The World Without Us, was waiting out the pandemic at his home in rural Cummington, Massachusetts. He took daily inspiration from his walks at the bucolic William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington.

We decided to seek out the site and discovered a place of great natural beauty; it had a timeless air of peace and solitude. Since then, we have returned countless times during all of the seasons. One of our favorite trails is the Sugar Bush Trail that winds through an old maple sugaring farm. A few weeks ago, we bundled up to take a walk there on a cold and frosty day. At the beginning of the trail one of Bryant’s poems is posted- “Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs no school of long experience, that the world is full of guilt and misery and hast seen enough of all its sorrows, crimes and cares. To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature. The calm shade shall bring a kindred calm.”

So fitting for our time with the devastation in Turkey and Ukraine and our current climate of political divide and mistrust. Nature continues to be a balm for the soul!

Make a cup of hot tea and join us on a virtual walk through the woods!

And as always, thinking about food and particularly cooking and dreaming up delicious combinations of flavors is centering and calming.

I have been using a vegan recipe for spelt biscuits from Erin McKennas’s Baby Cakes Cookbook for several years; the biscuits make a great topping for either savory potpies or fruit cobblers.

We enjoy fruit cobblers with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and peaches, whatever is in season. Recently Paul asked about mixing cherries and apples and at first, I admit that I turned up my nose at the idea. But, we had a bag of frozen sour cherries in the freezer and I decided to give it a try. I placed the frozen cherries and a few peeled and sliced apples in a medium pot. We have gotten used to desserts without any added sugar, but if you desire a sweeter taste, feel free to add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar to the fruit as it cooks. I thought that some warming spices might be nice; cinnamon and a pinch each of allspice and ground cloves. I cooked down the mixture until the fruit softened and added a slurry of cornstarch mixed with water. The mixture quickly thickened and bubbled up with a lovely aroma and with the addition of vanilla extract it smelled even better. And, it turns out that the combination of cherries and apples was delicious!

Next week I travel to California for a collaboration with the jazz oboist Paul McCandless. I will be accompanied by my intrepid travel buddy Carol and after the sessions with Paul McCandless, we are going on a foodie road trip to nearby Sonoma county; we were lucky enough to snare a reservation at the famous restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley! I have been eagerly reading the menu and lo and behold, a featured dessert is apple and sour cherry Galette! Much more to come from our California culinary adventures…..

Spiced Apple and Sour Cherry Cobbler

Pre- heat oven to 350 degrees

Biscuits:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup whole grain spelt flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup hot water

To Make Biscuits:

In a large bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder. Mix well.

Add oil and hot water, stir to combine and knead mixture gently a few times with your hands.

Filling:

Ingredients:

3-4 large apples peeled and thinly sliced

8 ounces frozen sour cherries (a mixture of sweet or sour cherries is fine)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with about 2 teaspoons water- more if needed.

Make the Filling:

Place frozen cherries in a medium sized pot and cook over a low heat until cherries soften and start to release a bit of their juice.

Add apples and cook mixture until apples start to soften slightly.

Add cornstarch mixture and whisk mixture until it thickens and the cornstarch turns clear. Stir in vanilla.

Place mixture in bottom of a baking dish and form biscuits on top.

Bake about 40 minutes until filling bubbles up and biscuits brown nicely.

Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here’s the Tree of the Week

“It’s really cold out here, but the sun does feel good!!”

Parsons Marsh- Lenox, MA

STAY WARM AND SAFE!

“Joyful Mountain Landscape” and Lemon Curd/Chia Pudding Parfaits!

“Heiterre Gebirgslandschaft”- “Joyful Mountain Landscape”: Paul Klee- Swiss 1879-1940
Yale University Art Gallery

The holidays are past us and as we start the new year, I am looking forward to my group Hevreh Ensemble‘s album release concert in February at the Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn. I realize that I need to get into shape with a regular practice routine. And, if all goes well, I am scheduled to travel to California at the beginning of March for a collaboration with the iconic jazz oboist Paul McCandless; made possible by a professional development grant from Hofstra University- all very exciting! This is made all the more fun because McCandless lives in the middle of wine country in Sonoma County and I will be accompanied by my intrepid travel companion Carol!

Not bad things to have plans on the horizon as we slog through the rest of the winter. And, on a particularly gray, cold and raw Sunday, we thought of a trip to New Haven and the Yale University Art Gallery and maybe takeout from the wonderful ramen restaurant Mecha Noodle Bar!

The Yale University Art Gallery is one of our favorite places to visit. The collection and special exhibits are excellent, the size of the museum is perfect; not too large, but big enough that you leave feeling full and satisfied and there is always free admission.

For this visit, we headed up to the Modern and Contemporary Art Collection. As were entered the large gallery our eyes were drawn immediately to a beautiful and familiar work by Pierre Bonnard- “Interior at Le Cannet”.

Pierre Bonnard- “Interior at Le Cannet”

I often become visually overwhelmed when visiting art museums and have found it helps if I stroll slowly through the galleries, not trying to see everything at once, my eyes become accustomed to all of the richness and beauty of the art; then I am drawn into a few works that I can focus on.

This particular day after a few minutes of walking together, we took off in opposite directions. I enjoyed the bold lines and brilliant colors of works by Kadinsky, Pollack and Picasso.

Wassily Kadinsky-“Abstract Interpretation”

Jackson Pollack- “Burning Landscape”

Pablo Picasso- “The Painter in His Studio”

I was most taken with works created by artists that I was not familiar with including Dora Bromberger’s Village Street.

Dora Bromberger born in 1881, was a German artist who painted expressionist landscapes. She was born in Germany into a Jewish family and in 1941 was deported to a concentration camp where she was killed in 1942.

Sara Bromberger-“Village Street” 1916

I was most taken by a work by the American painter Sam Gilliam (1953-2022) titled “Haystack”.

Sam Gilliam- “Haystack”

I sat on a nearby bench and was mesmerized by the beautiful intricate patterns and rich imagery.

Paul and I met up and we showed each other some of our favorite paintings. We both were taken by Paul Klee’s “Joyful Mountain Landscape”.

Paul Kee-“Joyful Mountain Landscape”

Perhaps it brought to mind the joy that we have experienced surrounded by the beauty of nature during our walks.

Ashintully Gardens- Tyringham, MA

Recently, dear friends from Toronto stopped through on their way to their daughter’s wedding in Boston. We had not seen them since the beginning of the pandemic. After their long drive, we wanted to make something nice for dinner. For dessert, I was thinking of something light but satisfying; lemon curd came to mind. Combined with chia pudding and fresh fruit, it looked pretty and after the holidays, was a guilt free pleasure. This could easily be enjoyed for breakfast!

Lemon Curd/ Chia Pudding Parfaits

Yield: 5 servings

Low fat Lemon Curd

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg whites 
  • ¾ cup granulated monk fruit sweetener ( I used 1/4 cup for a very tart flavor, you could also use regular sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • ⅔ cup lemon juice

To prepare lemon curd: Whisk whole egg, 2 egg whites, granulated sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thick enough that drawing your finger across a coated spoon leaves a mark, 5 to 12 minutes. Do not let the sauce come to a simmer. Pour the hot curd through a fine-meshed sieve into a small bowl, pressing on the solids. Let cool slightly and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours.

Chia Pudding

  • 2cups unsweetened almond milk
  • ½cup coconut milk
  • 85grams chia seeds (½ cup)
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (or to taste)

In a quart container with a lid, combine almond and coconut milks, maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly so that seeds are evenly hydrated. Let rest at least 20 minutes or until pudding has a rich, creamy texture. Seeds should be fully hydrated. (Pudding will keep for up to 3 days but may require rehydrating with more almond or coconut milk as the seeds continue to absorb liquid.

1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried on a paper towel

1 cup fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried on a paper towel

Assemble Parfaits

Place 1/2 of the chia pudding at the bottom of 5 wine goblets or clear glasses

Layer raspberries on top.

Place lemon curd on top.

Add a layer of blueberries.

Finish with a layer of the remaining chia pudding.

Refrigerate for a few hours .

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Whoo Boy”!

STAY WARM!!

A Snowy Day at the Killarney Bridge and Warming Red Curry Thai Chicken Stew

Extreme weather dominated the holiday season with catastrophic amounts of snow and disrupted travel plans. Just a few days before, we experienced a normal amount of snow- the kind that softly blankets everything, muffles sound and makes one want to walk slowly through the woods, breath in the cold fresh air and enjoy the pristine surroundings.

Barbour Woods, Norfolk, CT

We drove to nearby Barbour Woods in Norfolk, Connecticut with trails that wind through old carriage roads, one of which leads to an old stone arch bridge built in 1908. The Killarney Bridge built by Norfolk resident Frederick Shepard, takes it’s name from a similar bridge in Killarney, Ireland.

The woods were peaceful and perfectly still with the snow weighing down the branches and with the trail a bit slippery in spots, I trod carefully. Through the trees, we could see the crumbling foundation of the abandoned bridge and it felt as if we were on a treasure hunt. In 1908, this area of Norfolk was a bustling industrial center manufacturing knitting cotton and included several tanneries and an iron works. Broad swaths of the forest were cleared and the lumber produced charcoal to smelt iron ore.

When we return in the summer, it will be possible to walk almost underneath the bridge. For now, the path down to the edge of the bridge was icy and slippery; the day raw and chilly. It was time to return home for hot chocolate and start to put together the ingredients for a warming Red Curry Thai Chicken Stew!

The dish is based on a recipe from NYT Cooking, Brothy Thai Curry with Silken Tofu. I swapped out boneless chicken thighs for the tofu and the dish was the perfect thing for a cold winter’s night. We served it over brown rice, sprinkled with chopped peanuts and it was aromatic, piping hot and delicious!

Red Curry Thai Chicken Stew

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2shallots, peeled and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1(1-inch) piece ginger, scrubbed and grated
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1(14-ounce) can cherry tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1 quart water
  • 1(13.5-ounce) can low-fat coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½cups mixed fresh herbs, such as cilantro, basil.
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges, for squeezing

PREPARATION

Heat a medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high.

Add the oil and shallots, and stir until softened, 2 minutes. Add chicken and brown on all sides.

Add the garlic, ginger and curry paste, stir, and cook until fragrant and the paste turns deep red, 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the tomato juices thicken slightly, 4 minutes.

Add the water and coconut milk and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook about 1 hour until chicken is very tender.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in cilantro and basil.

Serve with lime wedges.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the first “Tree of the Week” for the New Year! For those new to my blog, I love photographing old trees and greatly enjoy imagining various facial expressions. A definition of the word pareidolia recently featured in the Word of the Day aptly described my fixation: “the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual, so that one sees an object, pattern, or meaning where there is none.” This may be more common then I might have thought. Last spring, I was strolling through Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York. I had stopped by an old gnarly cherry tree and was looking closely at it. An elderly Asian woman walking by, observed me and said softly: “Do you see the smile?” Case in point!

“So you say??”

HAPPY NEW YEAR! STAY WARM AND SAFE!

Winter Light and the Ultimate Comfort Food: Twice Baked Potatoes

Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

The days are short and the late afternoon sun slips quickly into darkness. I have a break from teaching with just enough time to take a walk at nearby Kite Hill in Ancram, New York. The light is beautiful with rich shades of brown and dark blue clouds; the cold air is brisk and invigorating.

Kite Hill: Ancram, New York

All to soon, the light starts to fade. I anticipate returning home after teaching to make a fire in the wood stove and sit with a cup of hot tea while I think about what to make for a quick dinner. Comfort food comes to mind- maybe baked double stuffed potatoes. This could turn into one of my favorite dinners that we call “German Night”; assembled with whatever ingredients are in the freezer or refrigerator. This evening’s feast includes sauteed apples spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and allspice, stone ground German mustard with organic chicken/mushroom sausages, Hosta Hill spicy Crimson Sauerkraut and twice baked potatoes.

Potatoes are baked in a hot oven until the skin is crisp and the insides are soft. I scoop out middle of the potatoes and usually mash the mixture with butter and milk. I decided to try a less rich method using extra virgin olive oil, kefir and plenty of salt and pepper. This gave the mixture a tangy rich taste. Topped off with grated parmesan cheese and baked until the cheese is melted and browned, they are the perfect comfort food to eat in front of a hot fire!

Baked Double Stuffed Potatoes

This really is a no-recipe dish. I usually make 2 potatoes, but you can make as many as you want.

Pre heat the oven to 375 Degrees.

Rinse off potatoes and make a few slashes with a sharp paring knife in each potato.

Bake about an hour until the skin is crisp and the inside of the potatoes are very soft.

Cut around the circumference of the potatoes, scoop out the middles and place in a medium pot. Pour in a few glugs of olive oil and enough kefir so that when you mash the mixture you get a soft filling. You could also use yogurt or buttermilk. You can’t go wrong here- any amount of oil or kefir will make a delicious filling. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place filling into potato shells and sprinkle tops with plenty of grated parmesan. Bake in oven about 30-35 minutes. The potatoes should be steaming hot and the parmesan will be brown and crispy. ENJOY!!

At this time of the year, I often take stock of how fortunate we are in our neck of the woods and I am so grateful that music and art is such an important part of my life. When I look at the sweet earnest faces of the members of my Recorder Ensemble from Hofstra University before a recent concert, all of this is brought home to me!

Hofstra University Recorder Ensemble

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“I may have eaten too many baked stuffed potatoes!”

Best Wishes for Happy and Safe Holiday Season!

Lime Kiln Preserve: Sheffield, MA

Dried Fruit Cream Scones, Sour Cherry Pie and Great Stories!

What a pleasure it was to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our daughter Alicia, her partner Katie and both of our families! We spent a few magical days gathered around a large table, as we shared Thanksgiving dinner and other meals together. We enjoyed leisurely conversations filled with family stories and collective memories.

Katie’s grandparents owned a dairy farm in New Jersey and I loved hearing stories about the taste of the rich milk that the cows produced and this led to a conversation about making clabbered milk; naturally fermented raw milk that her great grandfather enjoyed every day. He attested that this habit was part of his remarkable longevity, he lived until almost 102 years! The word “clabber” comes from the Irish language, and it means “to thicken.” If clabbered milk is allowed to thicken long enough, it becomes clotted cream, a popular spread for scones in many parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Alicia cooked an incredible meal with the most delicious turkey ever that she spatchcocked (the backbone is removed to make the turkey lay flat), brined and rubbed with an herb mixture of parsley, rosemary, thyme, onion, lemon juice and olive oil. Roasted quickly in a hot oven, the turkey had crispy burnished skin and incredibly tender flavorful meat. I made a large chicken with this same method the other night and I will never make a chicken or turkey any other way ever again. The recipe will appear shortly in another blog post!

As always after a Thanksgiving feast, we were happily full and contented, but after a few hours we could start to think about dessert. We had a quite a lineup that included a beautifully decorated key lime cheesecake and apple cranberry pie made by Alicia.

I made a sugar free apple pie and oft requested Kabocha Squash Pie; the recipe will also appear in another post! The recipe comes from the NYT Book of Desserts by the dessert chef Pichet Ong.

The Dessert Line!

The next morning, we gathered for brunch with smoked salmon and bagels from Zabars in New York. Katie’s father, Mark who is a wonderfully talented baker and cook decided we could use some of his dried fruit scones and we all happily agreed!

Quite simply, these are the best scones I have ever tasted. They have a delicate texture with a crispy sugary top and irresistible flavor. I asked Mark for the recipe and here you go. He said that the most important thing is to use heavy cream; don’t be tempted to use anything lighter. The cream is used instead of butter in the recipe and is what makes the scones so light.

Dried Fruit Cream Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Glaze:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Use an ungreased baking sheet.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl, stirring with a fork to mix well. Add the dried apricots. Still using a fork, stir in the cream and mix until the dough holds together in a rough mass (the dough will be quite sticky).

Lightly flour a board and transfer the dough to it. Knead the dough 8 or 9 times. Pat into 2 circles about 6 inches round. For the glaze, spread the butter over the top and side of the circle of dough and sprinkle the sugar on top. Cut each circle into 8 wedges and place each piece on the baking sheet, allowing about an inch between pieces.

Bake for about 11 minutes, or until golden brown

Yield: 12 scones

We had more than enough leftovers for the next day and plenty of desserts! At one point , the conversation turned to summer fruit and Alicia lamented that for the last several years, she had missed the short sour cherry season. She wistfully talked about making sour cherry pie. Somehow, even with extra desserts on hand, it was suggested that if we could find a good source of frozen sour cherries, that maybe Alicia would like to make a cherry pie! Katie’s mother Kathy looked up sour cherries online at the venerable grocery store Wegmans and the parents in the group made the executive decision that cherry pie should be made; if Alicia was willing! Mark, Paul and I headed off to Wegmans on a mission to find sour cherries. Mark had a Wegman’s app on his phone; we quickly located the frozen fruit section and purchased flash frozen sour cherries that came from Wolcott, New York near Lake Ontario.

We got 2 bags, so Alicia would have come cherries for another time. The pie was delicious; the bright red sour cherries had been picked at their peek and were packed full of flavor. The pastry crust was buttery and tender with a beautiful pattern that Alicia had created; served with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, it topped off a perfect holiday; with stomachs and most importantly, our spirits full!


AND: Here is the Tree of the Week:

“I think I may have eaten too much pie”!


Merwin Road, Millerton, NY

STAY SAFE AND WARM!

Plum Torte and Jackson Heights

The past week was one of minor miracles. My husband recovered quickly from covid and knock on wood, I never succumbed! I have to confess that I was rather glad when it was time to commute to New York to teach at Hofstra; escape from the germ zone!

As a treat to Paul, I thought I would bring some Indian takeout back home; this would give me the opportunity to explore the vibrant Indian community in the New York City borough of Queens. I had heard about the neighborhood for years, but never had chance to visit the area.

A kindly cab driver motioned me into a parking spot that he was leaving and I took a picture of the street signs; no getting lost this week! From this point of reference, I started to slowly walk around the neighborhood, taking in all of the sights.

As I neared the entrance of the subway at 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, I was met by the sounds of popular Indian music blaring from a loud speaker in front of a store. As people pushed by me on all sides, I felt as if I could be in the middle of a bustling and vibrant movie set!

Enjoy this short video in front of the 74th Street subway station!

There were many thriving family businesses and clothing stores that displayed bold colorful fabrics.

The streets were lined with small grocery stores selling a wide variety of Indian spices, dals & grains and outside the stores, exotic vegetables were displayed on stands including Thai eggplants, small round purple eggplants, Bengali squash, gourds, and heaping boxes of hot green chilies. As I walked slowly through the neighborhood, a delicious aroma of garlic and spices wafted through the air.

Thai Eggplant

Bengali Squash

There were numerous cafes and Indian pastry shops with enticing displays of sweets.

The colorful and fragrant small desserts were like eye candy; I succumbed and selected a few small pastries to sample on the way back home.

I discovered that Jackson Heights is also one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the United States with over 167 languages spoken, including Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Columbians, Argentinians, Tibetans and Nepalese. As I walked down the streets and looked at all of the different faces of the people, I sensed the beautiful mix of cultures with everyone seeming to comingle peacefully!

I started to look for an Indian restaurant to order our takeout dinner and was distracted momentarily by a display of colorful cakes in the window of a Mexican bakery and of course I had to go inside. The counter person was a lovely young woman who proudly showed me the different breads , cakes and pastries.

Just down the street I saw a Tibetan restaurant that looked interesting and decided that maybe some momos (Tibetan dumplings) would be good instead of Indian food. I made a rather large order to take home along with a few other dishes. Often my instincts are on the mark when choosing restaurants, but alas not in this case. The food was greasy, lacking in flavor & the momos were filled with tough pieces of meat. So, this restaurant will remain nameless! The good news is the I will definitely make more trips to Jackson Heights and I know the next time I will find great Indian or Tibetan food!!

Back in the car, heading home, I took out one of the Indian pastry treats and took a bite. The flavor was delicious with hints of cardamom, but shockingly sweet and it made my teeth ache; time to think about a dessert that was guilt free but also delicious!

In my blog, I made a decision not to dwell on health issues, but I will make an exception for this post. More then 15 years ago my husband was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and this caused us to make major changes to our diet. You may have noticed that many of the dessert recipes in my blog are made either without sugar and if a recipe needs a sweetener, I use either small amounts of monk fruit sweetener, stevia, or coconut sugar; all with a very low glycemic index. I find that now when I taste recipes that use regular sugar, they taste way too sweet and I enjoy the fresh taste of apples and berries without sweeteners.

Recently, I reinvented a plum torte that was made famous by the NY Times food writer Marian Burros. The original plum torte is rich and buttery and very sweet. For my guilt free version, I used the same batter that is in my Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake, with the addition of almond extract and for an extra treat, I made a glaze for the top of the torte with a small amount of honey that I microwaved with cinnamon. You could also use sliced apples or apricots when they are in season. I hope you enjoy this recipe!!

Plum Torte

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla soy or almond milk

10-12 Italian plums or you can use sliced apples or apricots in season- cut plums in half and remove pits.

Glaze:

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon cinamon

stir together honey and cinnamon and microwave for about 30 seconds until honey becomes liquid.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

Lightly butter a tart pan or large pie dish.

To make cake batter:

In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Add egg, vanilla, canola oil, soy or almond milk and mix together just until the batter is smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and place plum halves cut side down in a decorative pattern over batter.

Drizzle glaze over top of the batter and fruit.

Bake until fruit starts to bubble and a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

ENJOY!!

This fall I have been watching a spider outside of my study window. It distracted me nicely as I avoided working on my oboe reeds! I was fascinated to watch how during stormy weather or heavy rain, the spider would retreat to a corner of the window and the web would be torn apart. When the weather cleared, the spider would slowly climb back out, repair it’s web and carry on; much like the resilience that our fragile democracy has recently exhibited!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“That was a close call”!!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

“Mann tracht un Gott Lacht”* and Baked Apple Cider Donuts

* “Man plans and God Laughs”- The old Yiddish expression took on new meaning this past week. The plan was this-my Birthday week was crammed full with students, an early rehearsal in NYC for a Salisbury Four Christmas concert, teaching at Hofstra University and getting ready for the release of my group Hevreh Ensemble’s new album, Meserole Street. I thought that I would be too busy to write much in the way of my blog and the idea of a guest blogger appealed to me. My husband took a walk at the Keystone Arches in Chester, MA and returned with beautiful photographs- he would be the perfect guest!

“Keystone Arches”- Chester, MA- photo Paul DePaolo

But as it happened, too much transpired that I needed to write about. I will look forward to featuring a Keystone Arches guest blog soon!

This year, my birthday fell on a Friday, the day I travel to New York to teach; Paul suggested waiting until Sunday to celebrate. The plan was to attend an Orchestra ONE concert at Bard College’s Fisher Center. A group of my talented Advanced Ensemble students from the Indian Mountain School were planning to meet us at the concert; being kindly driven by another IMS faculty member. After the concert, Paul and I would drive to nearby Rhinebeck, New York and have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants; Gigi’s Trattoria. I returned home Saturday night; tired but happy and inspired by the rehearsal I had that afternoon. Exquisite melodies from works by Schutz and Monteverdi were still dancing around in my head and for a brief time all felt right with our crazy world. At the rehearsal, we had all talked about the soothing power of music.

Then, Sunday morning after I woke up late, I came downstairs and my husband ominously said that his throat hurt and it felt scratchy. We both took Covid rapid tests and his came back with the dreaded 2 stripes! Quickly all plans were scuttled and we were thrust into the place where no one wants to go….

Feeling frustrated with the sudden change in direction, I decided to take a hike by myself. I made sure that Paul was comfortable with plenty of tissues and herbal tea nearby and I am so glad that I decided to tell him my planned destination!

I set out for The Drury Preserve in Sheffield, Massachusetts for beautiful solitude. My car was the only one in the small lot and this suited my mood just fine. Kicking leaves, I strode off on the trail that led through a pine forest. My thoughts were full of frustration, anger, worry about Paul and plenty of self pity! The trail leads gradually down into a swampy area with narrow planks of wood over the small marsh; the entire round trip is about 3 miles. As I tramped through the woods, gradually my mood began to lighten and I thought there might even be enough time to get back to The Bistro Box in Great Barrington to bring home chicken and falafel burgers and a salad with the freshest organic greens. Things were beginning to look brighter!

I crossed the last wooden plank over the marsh and looked forward to reaching a small idyllic pond with a small wooden bench that has a lovely view of Race Mountain in the distance. Somehow I got off the trail without knowing it, but I saw the pond in the distance and climbed up a small hill and then down to the pond.

Drury Preserve- Sheffield, MA

I sat for a few minutes on the bench, breathing in the fresh fall air deeply and then started to head back. Very quickly I realized that I could not find the trail. The ground was covered with leaves and there were no blue blazes on the trees to mark the way.

I started off in one direction, realized it was not leading to the trail and went the other way. This did not work either, but I saw the pond peeking through the trees and headed back to the pond.

After a few mores tries to orient myself to the trail, I knew that I was completely lost and as the sun sank lower in the sky, a small amount of worry trickled into my mind and I decided to call my sick husband. With one bar of power on my phone, the call miraculously connected and I said “I think I am completely turned around, please come!! I had a good 45 minutes to wait for my rescuer and went back to the lovely bench by the pond; plenty of time to “cool my heels”, mediate and take pictures of the beautiful surroundings.

I even took a picture of a possible candidate for a “Tree of the Week”!

As I heard Paul’s voice calling out to me through the woods, I felt palpable relief. I bounded down the path towards him; Paul was so relieved to see me that he did not pay close attention to the way back and soon enough both of us were lost! Our friends Peter and Caroline were also coming to my rescue. Luckily, Paul remembered Peter’s advise to “cross the marsh and head east” after Peter had checked a map of the preserve. With great relief we soon saw the wooden slats of the trail in the distance and we headed back to our cars just as the sun was setting!

And best of all, my dear friend Carol created a beautiful piece of artwork, “Tree and Bird” for my birthday; this could not be a better birthday treat! To see more of her extraordinary artwork: Carol Ober.

As I write this post, Paul is recovering nicely and I wait to see if I will develop symptoms.

In the Fall, I often pass by farm stands that sell Apple Cider Donuts and I resist eating them because they are greasy, overly sweet, full of calories and I am often disappointed with the lack of apple flavor. I set out to find a recipe for Apple Cider Donuts that were baked and full of cider flavor and I think I may have found the trick! I adapted a recipe that I found online from Sweet Cayenne. The recipe calls for apple cider that is cooked down into a syrup and with the addition of allspice, cinnamon and ground cloves, they tasted light, delicious and best of all are guilt free! I liked them plain, but they could also be glazed or dipped in coconut sugar and cinnamon.

Baked Apple Cider Donuts- adapted from Sweet Cayenne

Ingredients

For the donuts:

  • ⅓ cup neutral-flavored oil (canola, avocado, grapeseed, walnut)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup applesauce ( I did not have a jar of applesauce on hand, so I just cooked down a few apples and mashed them up with some cinnamon).
  • ½ cup  apple cider, boiled down to about 2 tablespoons of syrup
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

For the glaze:

  • 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons milk or enough to make a spreadable glaze

Instructions

Making the donuts:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a non-stick donut pan with cooking spray. My pan makes 6 donuts, so I had to fill it twice.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, sugar, applesauce, cider syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth.
  • Add the flour, stirring until just smooth.
  • Fill a pastry bag or a sturdy gallon-sized plastic bag with the batter. Use scissors to snip off the tip of the bag, creating about an ½”’ hole.
  • Pipe the batter into the wells of the doughnut pan nearly to the rim. Or, just carefully spoon in the batter.
  • Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean. .
  • Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and loosen their edges by running a knife along the outer circle.
  • ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Oy Vey”

HAPPY HALLOWEEN AND STAY SAFE!!

Autumn in Chelsea: Himalayan Art at the Rubin Museum

Rubin Museum of Art

I am back to my fall teaching schedule at Hofstra University in New York where I teach oboe, recorder and chamber music. I often combine my trip to New York City with food and art explorations. The crisp cooler air is energizing and I am excited to head out to visit art museums and galleries and to discover more of the wonderful ethnic neighborhoods and small restaurants that make New York City so unique.

One clear and sunny Saturday morning I decided to go to Chelsea; an area on the West Side of Manhattan that stretches from 14th street to the upper 20’s; from the Hudson River to the west and to 6th Avenue to the east.

The neighborhood is known as the center of the city’s art world with over 200 art galleries and recently has seen good a good deal of gentrification. When I was a young music student at Juilliard, my boyfriend at the time lived on a block in Chelsea that had seen better days. The windows in his walk up apartment faced a dark courtyard where feral cats fought and the sound of their loud screeching made a caterwaul that reverberated against the walls- very peaceful. One day, two cats engaged in an especially ferocious battle flew through an open window and landed with an unceremonious thud on the floor of the apartment. I’m not sure who was more surprised; the cats or the people!

Walking down a Chelsea street the other day, I passed by glitzy new high rises, trendy art galleries and fancy restaurants.

I had planned to visit The Rubin Museum of Art, which features masterpieces of Himalayan art. I arrived before the museum opened and decided to visit Chelsea Market, just a few blocks away.

Chelsea Market is housed in an enormous old factory that once was the National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Built in 1913, the building stretches from 9th to 10th Avenue and fills up a whole city block.

Vendor stalls were selling everything from falafels, sushi, dumplings, noodles, Tai food, etc. Side by side with upscale stores and outposts were of some of the best NYC bakeries. The maze of hallways was somewhat overwhelming with sensory overload. In a small dose it was exhilarating; an atmosphere supercharged with energy and extravagant Halloween decorations.

Walking slowly through the labyrinth of hallways, I enjoyed looking at colorful and vibrant works of art displayed on the walls.

I saw one of my favorite all time bakeries, Amy’s Bread, which makes some of the most delicious bread in the city. At this point, I was just browsing and admiring.

And then I succumbed to temptation; ahead of me was an outpost of the famous bakery/restaurant Sarabeth’s. According to her website, Sarabeth Levine first began her business in 1981 making her family’s unique 200-year-old recipe for Orange Apricot Marmalade at her apartment in New York City.

Manhattan’s Chelsea Market Sarabeth location operates a 15,000 square foot jam manufacturing facility and a 4400 square foot wholesale bakery, café, and retail shop. It was great fun to walk through the bakery. It is setup so that the first thing one sees is the manufacturing facility. I joined in with the tourists and watched the bakers making croissants and English muffins!

Everything in the bakery looked delicious; I chose a pumpkin muffin to savor on my trip home and I was delighted to see a homey pig ceramic figure above the counter.

It reminded me of my own antique 3 little pigs that grace my kitchen window sill.

I headed back to the museum and after the frenetic energy of the Chelsea Market, entering the peaceful and serene atmosphere of the Rubin felt like a calming balm. Himalayan art is featured; including the cultures of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan as well as the interrelated traditions of India, Mongolia and China. The artwork in the exhibitions depict figures and symbols where sacred images play a prominent role.

The museum was founded by art lovers Shelley and Donald Rubin in 2004 and is the site of the former store, Barney’s-a bastion of New York fashion and celebrity.

There was s0 much to take in, with six floors of art and exhibits. I concentrated on a few masterpieces that were rich with depth and complexity.

“Wheel of Existence”- The Rubin Museum of Art

Rubin Museum of Art

And then it was time to savor the pumpkin muffin that I had purchased from Sarabeth’s for the two hour drive home. I bit into the top of the muffin strewn with toasted walnuts and a light crunchy glaze. The texture of the muffin was light but moist, not too sweet and with hints of nutmeg and ginger; pure perfection!

The cooler days have also put me in the mood for cooking with long simmered dishes that fill the house with enticing aromas. I have made countless stews, braises and soups in my heavy blue La Creuset cast iron enamel pot. I like to think that the pot has absorbed it’s own particular character with the many flavors of food cooked in it, but it was starting to exhibit wear and tear, with a stained scratched cooking surface. One day while perusing an online sale from Sur la table, I decided to treat myself to a new bright red La Creuset pot; a tad larger and all the better to make larger amounts of recipes for our guests! For the first dish that I cooked in the pot, I decided on a chicken stew made with red wine, shallot, onion, mushroom, red pepper, thyme, basil, oregano and plenty of garlic. Served over whole wheat rotini, accompanied by sauteed broccoli rabe, freshly grated pecorino cheese and more red wine, it was wonderful first act for my new pot!

Fall Chicken Stew

Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 cup red wine

1- 28 ounce can crushed organic tomatoes

4 shallots finely diced

1 medium onion finely diced

1 large red pepper cuts into thin strips

5-6 button mushrooms cut into quarters

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To Make Chicken Stew:

In a large heavy cast iron pot, heat olive oil.

Add boneless chicken thighs to pot, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and brown well on each side.

Add chopped onions and chopped shallots; saute until translucent and slightly softened. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes.

Add dried oregano, thyme and basil.

Add sliced red peppers and chopped mushrooms cook about 3-4 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes and about 1 cup water. You can always add more water later if the mixture is too dry.

Add red wine and bring mixture to a boil.

Cover pot and reduce to a simmer.

Cook over low heat for about 1 hour until chicken is very tender and vegetables are soft.

Adjust seasoning as desired.

ENJOY!

AND: As always, here is the “Tree of the Week.”

“Feeling a little nervous “

HAPPY AUTUMN!

Savory Tomato Bread Pudding and Mountain Meadow Preserve

Mountain Meadow Preserve- Williamstown, MA

A bucolic sunny afternoon on Labor Day weekend …..one of our last summer forays! My husband Paul, the intrepid trail blazer, found a walk at the Mountain Meadow Preserve in Williamstown, Massachusetts complete with stunning views of Mt. Greylock in the distance.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

The sun was strong and bright; a hot day. We walked slowly uphill through a fragrant meadow.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

Even with the warm temperature, we saw signs of fall; milkweed pods hung languidly from their stalks and we were delighted to come across late summer wildflowers. The air smelled sweet; at the edges of the field we peered into the cool woods. Ferns were starting to turn brown and gave off a slightly nutty aroma; almost like coconut.

Mountain Meadow Preserve

Mountain Meadow Preserve

We have been gifted with yet one more talented gardener’s summer bounty. We also had a rather large amount of stale sourdough bread hanging around from the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton, MA; our new addiction!

Stuffing is one of my favorite cold weather comfort foods. I came up with a dish that combines my love of stuffing. It was a good use for stale bread and also for a surplus of cherry tomatoes. The combination of the crunchy savory bread moistened with chicken stock and vegetables full of flavor was irresistible; even better with a glass of chilled rose!

Enjoy!

Savory Tomato Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

3 cups stale sourdough bread cut into medium cubes

1 medium onion chopped finely

1/2 bunch lacinato kale chopped, tough center stem removed

5 mushrooms chopped

1 medium zucchini chopped into small pieces

1 cup chicken stock (more if needed) If you have home made stock on hand, this would be great.

1/2 cup feta cheese crumbled

12-13 cherry tomatoes halved

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Bread Pudding:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy saucepan.

Add chopped onions and saute until slightly softened over medium heat.

Add dried herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Add mushrooms and zucchini and saute about 5 minutes until mushrooms release their liquid and zucchini starts to soften.

Add kale and cook a few minutes.

Remove pan from heat and add bread cubes. Add chicken stock a bit at a time to let the bread absorb the liquid slowly. If the bread mixture seems to dry, you can always add a bit more stock.

Pre heat oven to 375 Degrees Farenheit

Place mixture in a lightly greased casserole dish.

Place tomatoes on top of the bread/vegetable mixture and sprinkle feta cheese over the tomatoes.

Pour a good glug of olive oil over the mixture and bake about 35-40 minutes until the tomatoes start to burst, the mixture bubbles and the bread is crunchy and browned around the edges of the pan.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Feeling a bit long in the face!”

William Cullen Bryant Homestead Cummington, MA

HAPPY END OF SUMMER!

End of Summer: Tomato Tart and Hallockville Pond

Hallockville Pond- DuBuque State Forest

The days have visibly shortened and the end of summer is just around the corner. I console myself with the late season bounty of tomatoes and the appearance of Italian prune plums and best of all, Plum Tart. The recipe will appear soon in another post!

The fall rush of concerts and teaching has started, but I was determined to sneak in a few more spontaneous walks and hikes.

Case in point: Hallockville Pond in Dubuque State Forest in Hawley, Massachusetts. It was a bright beautiful morning with low humidity; I got my practicing and concert work out the way and we decided to hit the road. One last free day! Dubuque State Forest is a bit of a slog to get to, but well worth the effort. I wanted to remember the beauty of summer; the gift of time.

We met our friends Peter and Caroline at the park and took off for a leisurely walk around Hallockville Pond.

Fragrant pine needles lined the forest floor with views of the peaceful pond peeking through the trees. I held back from the others to take pictures and listened to their exuberant voices echoing through the woods as they discussed philosophy, economics and coffee.

This summer the water level in the pond was very low with interesting grasses and algae that sprouted up around the pond.

In the spring we often come to the pond to see the early trilliums and other wildflowers. On our late summer walk, we were surprised to come across trillium plants with bright red berries. I discovered the following from an article by  Annie Reid from the
Westborough Community Land Trust: Nodding trillium spreads slowly in its woodland setting. The flower develops into a single red berry with many seeds. Birds may spread a few of the colorful berries, but most berries simply split open and drop the seeds on the ground. Ants then spread the seeds, as they find them and carry them to their nests to feed on tasty parts on the outside of the seeds.

I will look forward to seeing the first trillium blooms next May!

I am not much of a gardener; my excuse is that we have too much shade, deer and groundhogs! Luckily I know several talented gardeners and I am the grateful recipient of their summer bounty! Recently I was gifted many sweet cherry tomatoes and zucchini. What to make??

Tomato Pie immediately came to mind. I always remember fondly the tomato pie that the late writer Laurie Colwin wrote about in her book Home Cooking. Mary O’Brien served the savory delicious pie for many years in her iconic teahouse Chaiwalla in Salisbury, CT. I decided to make my own version of tomato pie with a favorite vegan biscuit crust.

I caramelized an onion, broiled some zucchini slices with olive oil and layered this over the spelt biscuit crust with halved cherry tomatoes, toasted walnuts, feta and fresh rosemary. I drizzled olive oil over the top and baked the tart in a hot oven until the tomatoes burst and browned lightly. We ate this with a green salad and it was so good; the tomatoes so sweet, that I almost forgot to be sad that summer was over!

End of Summer Tomato Tart

Ingredients:

Biscuit Crust:

1 cup spelt flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup hot water

1/3 cup canola oil

Tart Filling:

13-14 ripe cherry tomatoes- cut in half

1 medium onion thinly sliced

1 medium zucchini sliced into thin rounds

1/4 cup toasted walnuts (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese- crumbled

freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To Make Tart:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan, add sliced onion and cook until onions are soft and lightly browned; about 20 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.

Place zucchini slices on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bake in oven until soft and starting to brown. Set aside.

Make Biscuit crust:

Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Add canola oil and hot water. Stir until just combined.

Lightly grease a round baking dish or glass pie plate with butter. Press biscuit mixture into bottom of the dish.

Reduce Oven to 350 Degrees F.

Sprinkle onion mixture over crust. Place zucchini rounds and cherry tomato halves over onions. Sprinkle walnuts, feta cheese and chopped fresh rosemary on top. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and more freshly ground pepper.

Bake about 30 minutes until tomatoes start to brown and burst and the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Many thoughts swirling around this week!”

HAPPY END OF SUMMER! STAY SAFE!

Kite Hill- Ancram NY