Foodie Heaven! Iceland: Part 3

Tryggvas- Selfloss, Iceland

When planning our recent trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the restaurant scene in Iceland. I had heard that the food was boring and not very creative; I decided to plan with an open mind and with not very high expectations. What I discovered was a vibrant food scene that has changed greatly in the last few years. We found restaurants that used the freshest, often locally sourced ingredients; the food was creative and lovingly prepared.

The first day of our trip was spent in Reykjavik; we arrived early in the morning and dropped off our bags at the charming Apotek Hotel. We asked the desk clerk to recommend a good bakery and her eyes lit up. She said, “You must try Baka Baka for the most delicious pastries”. We decided early on that for this trip there were no holds barred; we were going to enjoy as much sugar and rich food as we wanted! We headed down the street, walked up a small hill and saw the open door of Baka Baka beckoning to us.

As we entered we were welcomed with the rich smell of coffee and freshly baked pastries. We ordered a yeasty fragrant Cardamom Bun filled with almond paste and enjoyed it with coffee and a pot of herbal tea that had the light delicate taste of currents.

The plan for our first day was to explore Reykjavik and at the the same time try to stave off jetlag. We spent the next few hours walking slowly around the quaint streets and adjusting gradually to the lovely cool windy temperature of 50 degrees F!

The time flew by and we were ready for our first lunch reservation at Hosilo, a small unpretentious restaurant on a quiet side street. The other diners were young Icelanders and as we waited for our food to arrive, we enjoyed listening to the lyrical sounds of the Icelandic language. The food was creatively presented; I started with an appetizer of “watermelon” sushi-cool, rosy slices of fruit in a savory gingery sauce. Expecting the taste of raw fish, my taste buds were jolted awake- a good remedy for my sleepy mind!

I had some of the freshest and most tender shrimp I have ever tasted with house made pasta, basil, tomato and roasted garlic.

It was all bathed in extra virgin olive and served with a slice of crunchy parmesan toast.

We were starting to fade quickly, but thought a walk down the hill to the harbor and to the Harpa Concert Hall might revive us.

Harpa- Reykjavik, Iceland

Luckily for us, we discovered that there was a short interactive visual installation offered; Circuleight. As we entered a large gallery, we were surrounded by animations that were inspired by eight natural elements: lava, glacier, water, algae, micro organism, flora, basalt, and volcanic gas. If you waved your hand or came close to one of the images, the image would respond to the motion; it gave the effect of the artwork improvising. The installation was accompanied by a score written by the Icelandic composer Hogni Egilsson. I found a place to curl up, leaned against one of the walls and immersed myself in the experience; although I confess, I fell briefly asleep! It was time for a short nap at our hotel.

Circuleight Installation- Harpa

Just an hour of sleep and we were refreshed and ready to continue on our culinary adventures of the day! For dinner, I had a made a reservation at The CooCoo’s Nest. From our hotel, we walked a few miles to the quirky, newly developed section of the waterfront with art galleries, specialty food shops and restaurants. CooCoo’s Nest was opened in 2013 by Anna and Lucas Keller.

The CooCoo’s Nest- Reykjavik, Iceland

A passionate chef, Lucas is originally from California and trained and worked in Italy. Since opening, the restaurant has gained a loyal local clientele.

It was Taco Tuesday, so we ordered the sampling menu of 3 different tacos that included tequila marinated fish with guacamole, shredded cabbage and spicy sour cream; slow cooked lamb, salsa verde and pickled raddish; and a vegetarian taco with sweet potato, charred broccoli and a spicy romesco sauce. They were delicious and the flavors danced in our mouths.

The CooCoo’s Nest- Reykjavik, Iceland

We ate our dinner outside the restaurant at a picnic table and watched young families strolling by; several of which were licking ice cream cones. Glancing to our right we saw an inviting ice cream shop- well one more treat for the day!

An interesting flavor was listed on the wall that looked very similar to my last name- “Danskur lakkris”. I asked for a taste and the young clerk told me that the flavor was Danish licorice. Very nice, but I settled for a double dish with dark chocolate and lemon ginger crunch and then enjoying our ice cream, we walked oh so slowly back to our hotel; the sky still bright blue in the late evening. Shortly after we returned to our room we fell into a deep slumber!

Thus ended our first day in Reykjavik. Coming soon…. one more Icelandic blog detailing the other food highlights of our trip; some from restaurants where the food was simply but expertly prepared in lovely peaceful settings.

Silfra Restaurant- Nesjavellir, Iceland

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Well, THEY sure ate a lot!”

Twin Lakes- Salisbury, CT

HAPPY SUMMER-STAY SAFE AND COOL!!

Iceland: Part 2/ Geothermal Baths and Icelandic Brown Bread (Rugbraud)

Deildartunguhrar Geothermal Spring- Borgarnes, Iceland

Late last winter, when we started to plan our trip to Iceland, the thought of soaking to our heart’s content in a hot thermal pool was the balm that got us through the dark days of the latest omicron wave. And here we finally were, peering into the largest thermal spring in Iceland at the Krauma Baths in Borgarnes, Iceland!

Krauma Thermal Baths is one hour from Reykjavik and next to one of Europe’s most powerful hot springs. With a temperature over 212 F; the water bubbles vigorously up from the earth. In the above picture, my intrepid travel buddy Carol is obscured by steam from the spring.

We walked up a path to the thermal baths and the gracious attendant ushered us into sleek contemporary changing rooms where we showered and changed into our suits. As an added treat, we had reserved fluffy white robes. There were several pools heated to different temperatures; around 39 C / 102F.

At the present moment, during the most recent heat waves and climate change woes, the thought of submerging my body into a hot tub, is not at all appealing! But, stepping outside in a wet bathing suit with an outside temperature of 50 Degrees and a stiff artic wind blowing, it was an amazing feeling to slowly sink into a hot thermal pool; all tension melting slowly away. This was not a touristy site; small groups of hardy North Europeans were enjoying tall glasses of frosty beer while soaking in the pools. After one sip of beer, I believe I would have drowned!

I did make somewhat of a thermal spa faux pas; I saw a smaller pool with no other guests in it and thought the privacy would be nice. I climbed in eagerly and then let out a bit of an uncouth yelp; the water was ice cold. I realized too late that this was the pool to use after exiting from the sauna!

Krauma is open year round; I love this picture of brave souls in the winter enjoying the hot springs! An image that is a good antidote to our current high temperatures!

After we soaked to our heart’s content, I mentioned to Carol that I believed I was “cooked” and ready to return to earth! Our next stop was to our lodging for the night, a charming unspoiled B&B nestled in the hillside; Hotel A, in nearby Kirkjubol, Iceland. We had a lovely dinner, more to come about this in the next blog. The next day at breakfast I noticed a dark brown bread on the bread board and added a slice to my plate along with fresh fruit, a bowl of skyr and smoked salmon. I spread the bread with fresh blueberry jam and it was delicious. The bread was hearty, slightly sweet and full of flavor. I asked the young desk clerk about the bread and he immediately looked it up online for me and printed a recipe. Originally Icelandic Brown Bread was steamed in a thermal pit overnight. When I returned home, I looked at several online recipes and decided to try a recipe from King Arthur Flour. Some recipes require baking the bread all day in a low oven or in a slow cooker. The King Arthur recipe called for 2 hours in the oven. I decided to try this method and modified the amount of sugar. I replaced the honey in the recipe with a small amount of Agave Nectar and used a smaller amount of dark molasses for flavor and color. And, the bread was very easy to make! The recipe calls for baking powder, baking soda and buttermilk and there is no yeast or rising time involved. The texture of the bread improves greatly after a day and was delicious sliced and toasted; spread either with butter or jam. The bread would also be lovely with smoked salmon and dill or other savory toppings.

ENJOY!!

Icelandic Brown Bread

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups stoneground dark rye flour ( I used Bob’s Organic Flour)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/8 cup molasses

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the center position. 
  2. Weigh flour or measure it by gently spooning into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. 
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, and molasses.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring to combine.
  6. Transfer the batter to a lightly greased 9 inch loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with foil. 
  7. Bake the bread for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and remove the foil from the pan. Leave the loaf in the turned-off oven for another 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn out of the pan onto a cooling rack.
  8. Cool completely before slicing thinly and serving with butter or your favorite savory toppings.
  9. Store leftover bread tightly wrapped at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week“!

“How long do we have to wait for the Brown Bread??”

STAY COOL AND SAFE!

Iceland Part 1: Lupines and Blueberry Skyr Pie

I was convinced that something would prevent my friend Carol and I from traveling to Iceland. At the last minute, either my husband or I would get Covid or some other emergency would come up; but the heavens smiled in our favor and as the plane lifted up into the clouds, Carol and I held our hands tightly together and said, “We did it”!!

So many choices and things to write about the trip. I have decided to write a three part blog. The second post will be about geothermal pools, volcanos and the Icelandic brown bread that I am going to attempt to bake. The third post will be a foodie’s delight; a road tour of the restaurants and cafes that we visited- even with all of the hiking and walking that we did, I managed to put on a few pounds!

With all of the disturbing events in our world, I hope you enjoy the next few entries as a brief respite!

We spent the first two days of our trip in quaint and charming Reykjavik and could easily have spent a week there walking around interesting neighborhoods, visiting museums and enjoying excellent restaurants and cafes.

Harpa Concert Hall- Reykjavik
Reykjavik Harbor

After our stay in Reykjavik, we headed out in our rental car, about a 3 hour drive along the coast to the western peninsula towns near Anarstapi. I was not prepared for the breathtaking and unusual landscape.

Brilliant purple lupines lined coastal inlets and mountainsides.

Volcanic rock looked as if it was tossed randomly in the fields.

Often, we were the only car on the road with sheep slowly crossing the road.

So many things to share; a hike between the two small towns of Anarstapi and Hellnar stands out. From our cozy lodging, Fosshotel in Anarstapi, we walked to the trailhead for a 4 mile hike along the sea cliffs. The rocky path, high above the ocean, was strewn with volcanic rock.

Wildflowers dotted the rugged landscape with the cries of seabirds reverberating from the cliffs.

The air was bracing, clear and invigorating; my four layers of sweaters and winter raincoat a perfect match for the sudden blasts of artic air- and this was in July!!

At the end of the hike, there was a treat awaiting us; the path led up a small set of stairs to cozy and atmospheric Cafe Fjoruhusio. The tables were covered with embroidered place settings with patterns of tiny wildflowers. The air smelled of coffee and fresh baked pastries; cinnamon mingling with butter and chocolate.

Cafe Fjoruhusio- Hellnar, Iceland

An outside deck overlooked the cliffs and the ocean.

Sykr, Icelandic yogurt, appears in many dishes. After securing a lovely spot on the deck, we ordered a piece of Blueberry Skyr Cheesecake. I am normally not a big fan of cheesecake, but this cake was light, full of tangy flavor and had a blueberry topping; irresistible! Just a few bites were all I needed; any more and I don’t think I would have felt light footed enough to make the return trek back over the craggy and rocky trail to our hotel!

That night we had a delicious dinner at the Fosshotel and since it does not get dark at all this time of year, we were able to take one more small walk at 9 PM. Just down the road, we saw a small weather beaten church; it looked like the metal structure had withstood many storms. Next to the church was an ancient graveyard overlooking the sea.

Anarstapi, Iceland

There were hours of daylight left, but shortly after returning to our room, we fell into a deep sleep. I woke briefly in at 3:00 AM and the sun was still shining brightly!

More to come………

We made it back safely home, without incident and knock on wood, no Covid! As we entered the customs hall at Newark, I was expecting to be met by throngs of sweaty, exhausted travelers. There were at the most 20 people in line. Amazed, I asked the elderly African American guard: “Where are all of the people”. He remarked dryly, “Don’t ask questions, just pray to G-d!!”

During the trip, we enjoyed desserts, ice cream and treats with abandon. After all, we did not want to miss out on anything! One day, we had three desserts (although we did share them)! Back home and to reality, I was thinking fondly about the rich Skyr cheesecake that we devoured happily. I decided to create a version with no refined sugar, healthy and guilt free. I perused a few online versions and here is what I came up with. I made the crust from whole grain flax crackers rather than sweet graham crackers and sweetened it with a bit of coconut sugar. I added a handful of toasted walnuts and some lime zest and instead of butter used a vegan butter substitute, although melted butter would also be fine.

For the filling, I used plain lowfat skyr (I used the Siggi brand) and added some pureed wild blueberries. The best part was the substitute for whipped cream. Here is a bit of kitchen magic: I put a can of whole fat coconut milk in the fridge overnight and the next day opened it and scooped out the solids. Beat together with monk fruit sweetener and vanilla, it miraculously morphed into what looked like whipped cream and it was delicious!

Blueberry Skyr Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

12 Back to Nature flax flatbread crackers

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons lime zest

3 tablespoons melted butter ( I used Kite Hill plant based butter)

1/8 cup coconut sugar

Filling:

1 cup Wymans wild blueberries

2 cups plain low fat skyr

1 can full fat coconut milk ( refrigerated overnight)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener

1 cup fresh blueberries

To make pie:

In a small saucepan place blueberries and slowly bring berries to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until berries release their juice and berries soften. Place berries in a fine mesh strainer over a small bowl and press down on solids. Refrigerate until cold.

Make pie crust:

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees

Place crackers and toasted walnuts into the bowl of a food processor. Process until crackers and walnuts are finely ground. Place in a bowl and add cinnamon, lime zest and coconut sugar. Mix well and then add melted butter. Stir well and place mixture in the bottom of a pie pan. Pat firmly and place in oven. Bake about 8-10 minutes until crust is lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Make whipped coconut:

Open can and carefully remove the solid coconut from the top of the can. Place in a mixer and start to slowly blend. The mixture will start to lighten- add the vanilla and monk fruit sweetener and beat on a high speed until mixture resembles whipped cream. Set aside.

Place skyr in a large bowl- slowly fold in whipped coconut mixture and then carefully fold in strained blueberries.

Place mixture in pie crust and smooth over evenly. Decorate with fresh berries and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. We liked this light dessert so much that we are bringing a tartlet version to our friends in Boston as a house gift this week!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the Icelandic Tree of the Week from Reykjavik!!

“Glad that I could appear in the blog all the way from Iceland!!”

HAPPY SUMMER!

An Abundance of Strawberries and Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumb Tea Cake!

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

Early June is one of my favorite times of the year; the days are sunny and not too hot and best of all it’s time to pick the sweet and full of flavor organic strawberries from Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancramdale, New York!

Thompson Finch Farm- Ancramdale, New York

I sit cross legged on the ground and as a fresh cool breeze washes over me, I look around and I am completely contented. As I pick, I listen to the happy voices of people in the surrounding rows discussing what they plan to do with their bounty; strawberry jam and scones, chocolate mousse with strawberries and I start to concoct my own recipes. I am thinking of a coffee cake with apple, strawberries and a ginger crumb topping.

There are so many berries that in less than 40 minutes I pick over 9 pounds!

After picking strawberries, I returned home and thought that I had just enough time to make the tea cake before my haircut appointment. And, here the saga of the under baked tea cake begins!

I realized after I put the cake in the oven that there was no way the cake was going to be done before I needed to leave. I asked the hair dresser if there was any wiggle room in their schedule; not an option. I decided to take the half baked cake out of the oven and then see if I could finish baking it later. I can report that this did not work very well- the double baked cake had a strange heavy gluey texture and when I cut it, the cake crumbled and looked ugly and misshapen; a real cooking disaster!

I thought that maybe I could gather it all up and make a bread pudding out of it. But, somehow the cake tasted delicious and it disappeared before it could be transformed into a pudding! I baked the cake again a few days later and can say with confidence, this recipe works if baked properly- see picture below!! This is not a sweet cake and it is perfect with yogurt and fruit for breakfast!

Apple Strawberry Ginger Crumble Tea Cake

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 vanilla

1 egg

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup soy or almond milk

1/2 cup thinly sliced apple

1/2 cup thinly sliced strawberries

Crumb Topping:

1/4 cup oats

1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)

1/4 cup toasted pecans

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons ginger powder

1/4 cup coconut sugar

pinch salt

1/4 cup kefir

Make Crumble:

Place oats, flour, coconut sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until nuts are in small pieces. Add kefir and pulse until mixture forms small clumps- you may need to add a bit more kefir. Add small bits at a time. Set mixture aside.

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

Line a 5×9 loaf pan with parchment paper with the paper hanging over the sides. Butter the paper lightly.

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. Add fruit and stir to combine.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish and then scatter the crumb topping over the top. Bake in the pre heated oven for about 15 minutes and then cover the top loosely with foil so the top will not brown too quickly. Bake for about an hour until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Remove from oven. Lift cake out of pan leaving paper on the cake. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing with a serrated bread knife. This is a very soft crumbly cake, the longer you let it cool the easier it is to slice. This is hard to do, so enjoy the first very crumbly pieces if you can’t wait!

ENJOY!!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”

“Is He Really Running Again??”

Devil’s Paint Brush- Bryant Homestead Cummington, MA

HAPPY SUMMER!

Wild Roses, Bobolinks and Crispy Cauliflower ala Siciliana!

Wild Rose: Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Standfordville, New York

Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Wood Thrush, Emerson Collard Dove, Gray Catbird, Red Wing Blackbird; strolling through the gentle hills and meadows of the Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Stanfordville, New York; we were serenaded by a symphony of bird song.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Stanfordville, New York

A friend had told us about an app created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Merlin. It quickly identifies the bird call and a picture appears next to the name of the bird. For the amateur birder, this is simply quite amazing!

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary- Stanfordville, Vermont

The Buttercup Sanctuary is a haven for the many species of birds that flourish in the tall grasses and meadows.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

We stand still and listen carefully to the delicate bird calls; breathing in the lightly perfumed air, is that wild honey suckle? We are drawn into the beauty that surrounds us.

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary

At the top of Kite Hill in Ancram, New York, we sat in the rustic gazebo that over looks the Catskills and the Taconic Range. We turned on the merlin app and there it was; a bobolink with its reverse tuxedo and light yellow capped head, singing its distinctive throaty song!

On another cloudy day at Kite Hill, we caught a quick glimpse of a bobolink sitting on a bird house.

Wikepedia mentions that an old species name for Bobolinks is Rice Bird, because of the grain that they like to eat. The English “Bobolink” is from Bob o’ Lincoln, describing the call. I came across this lovely poem written by William Cullen Bryant titled Robert of Lincoln.

Robert of Lincoln

Merrily swinging on briar and weed,
Near to the nest of his little dame,
Over the mountain-side or mead,
Robert of Lincoln is telling his name:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Snug and safe is that nest of ours,
Hidden among the summer flowers;
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln is gaily drest,
Wearing a bright black wedding-coat;
White are his shoulders, and white his crest;
Hear him call in his merry note:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Look what a nice new coat is mine,
Sure there was never a bird so fine.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln’s Quaker wife,
Pretty and quiet, with plain brown wings,
Passing at home a patient life,
Broods in the grass while her husband sings:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Brood, kind creature; you need not fear
Thieves and robbers while I am here.
Chee, chee, chee.

Modest and shy as a nun is she;
One weak chirp is her only note,
Braggart and prince of braggarts is he,
Pouring boasts from his little throat:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Never was I afraid of man;
Catch me cowardly knaves, if you can !
Chee, chee, chee.

Six white eggs on a bed of hay,
Flecked with purple, a pretty sight!
There as the mother sits all day,
Robert is singing with all his might:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nice good wife, that never goes out,
Keeping house while I frolic about.
Chee, chee, chee.

Soon as the little ones chip the shell,
Six wide mouths are open for food;
Robert of Lincoln bestirs him well,
Gathering seeds for the hungry brood.
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
This new life is likely to be
Hard for a gay young fellow like me.
Chee, chee, chee.

Robert of Lincoln at length is made
Sober with work, and silent with care;
Off is his holiday garment laid,
Half forgotten that merry air:
Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
Nobody knows but my mate and I
Where our nest and our nestlings lie.
Chee, chee, chee.

Summer wanes; the children are grown;
Fun and frolic no more he knows;
Robert of Lincoln’s a humdrum crone;
Off he flies, and we sing as he goes :
“Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link,
Spink, spank, spink;
When you can pipe that merry old strain,
Robert of Lincoln, come back again.
Chee, chee, chee.

– William Cullen Bryant

Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

Kite Hill-Ancram, New York

Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

Organic cauliflower was on sale at our local food coop and I thought it would be nice to try to recreate the Sicilian cauliflower from Gigi’s Trattoria an excellent Italian restaurant in Rhinebeck, New York. I cut the cauliflower into small florets and parboiled them for a few minutes. I sliced some onion thinly, heated some extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan and caramalized the onion. I tossed the drained cauliflower in a bit of flour and then added this to the onions along with some lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper. You can also add a handful of golden raisins. I put the pan into a hot oven and let the mixture cook until the cauliflower was crispy and nicely browned. The dish is good as a side with roast chicken or served over whole wheat pasta sprinkled with grated pecorino cheese and more freshly ground pepper.

ENJOY!!

Crispy Cauliflower ala Siciliana

Ingredients:

1 small parboiled organic cauliflower cut into small florets

1/2 medium onion sliced thinly crosswise

1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup capers

1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon flour

To Make Cauliflower:

Pre heat oven to 425 Degrees

Cut cauliflower into small florets and add to a medium pot of boiling water. Cook for a few minutes and softened a bit and then drain well. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan. Add sliced onion and cook until the onions start to color and caramalize.

Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon flour and add to pan. Add fresh lemon juice, capers and salt and pepper to taste.

Place pan in hot oven and cook stirring occasionally about 1/2 hour until mixture is crispy and nicely browned.

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Humph”!

Happy Summer and Stay Safe!

“Wolf Trees” and New Hiking Boots With a Curious Name!

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

The trail at Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary in Worthington, Massachusetts starts off on a straight path that was once a farm road. Gnarly old trees line the edges of meadows where farms once flourished; known as “wolf trees”, we were curious to learn more about the origin of the name. Here is a very interesting article from Berkshire Natural Resources Council interspersed with pictures from our walk.

Debunking the “Wolf Tree”

During the early 19th century a vast portion of the New England landscape was cut and cleared for agricultural use. At the peak of deforestation, 60 to 80 percent of the land was cleared for pasture, tillage, orchards and buildings. However, some trees remained in pastures as shade trees for livestock, along boundaries, or grew later along rocky outcrops and fences.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

During farm abandonment, primarily from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, pastures and fields developed rapidly into forests and the old, wide-spreading pasture trees were encircled by young trees. Many of these older trees are still prominent features of our forests and are commonly known as wolf trees. This terminology came from foresters in the late 20th century who believed that the wide-spreading, old trees were exhausting forest resources and should be eradicated to make way for profitable wood, much as wolves had been eradicated from the landscape because they were viewed as harmful predators that exhausted forest resources

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

As forestry practices transitioned to more integrated methods, the perception of “wolf trees” began to shift. Today, best forestry practices reflect the need to keep many of these pasture trees in the landscape because they are very important to wildlife.

These giants provide a location for animals to communicate via scent marking, and have attractive features like large limbs, decaying limbs, wide branching patterns, wrinkled bark, and cavities. The relatively young surrounding forests don’t have these diverse characteristics, proving that these relics from another time are truly anchors to the forests we experience today.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Like the wolf trees now being appreciated for all their contributions to ecological health, the wolf is also being more deeply understood and appreciated.

For further reading about this topic visit northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/a-place-for-wolf-trees

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

Full of character, this tree was the inspiration for a recently featured “Tree of the Week”in my last blog.

Road’s End Wildlife Sanctuary- Worthington, MA

“Oh Gee, Feeling a Bit Silly Today”!

If all goes well, in a few weeks, I will be traveling to Reykjavik for an adventure with my dear friend Carol. The weather there at this time of year is cold, rainy and windy. I decided to treat myself to a new pair of water proof hiking boots. After trying on a pair of hiking shoes with the brand name Oboz, the young and helpful salesman at LL Bean asked how they felt. I told him that they were extremely comfortable but also being an oboist, it was quite a surprise to find the brand name of a shoe seemingly, if not intentionally named after my instrument! He may have been amused or confused; I am not sure which!

I plan to break the shoes in the for the next few weeks on our hikes and then my Oboz will travel to Iceland; I will look forward to writing about our adventures and discoveries!!

I was inspired to offer a short musical interlude!!

Enjoy a rendition of “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Marricone

Sometimes the inspiration for a new dish will come together from a few left over ingredients. In this case it was mashed potatoes made with kefir and vegan butter and a surplus of sourdough breadcrumbs made from an old loaf of Hungry Ghost Bakery whole grain bread. I imagined a kind of a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with a crispy potato topping. In a large pot, I sauteed some onion, garlic and leeks in olive oil and then added whatever vegetables were in the bin; carrots, zucchini and lacinato kale. I added a small can of diced tomatoes with their juice, a small can of rinsed organic garbanzo beans and a small bag of corn from Howden Farm that I froze last summer. Seasoned with curry powder, turmeric and ground coriander, I placed the mixture in a baking dish, topped it with the mashed potatoes and sprinkled it with the sour dough bread crumbs. I poured a few glugs of love oil on top and baked it until it was bubbling and the top was golden brown and crusty. It was delicious with a green salad and slices of fresh crusty sour dough bread!

Curried Vegetable Shephard’s Pie

Ingredients:

2 carrots cut into small pieces

1 medium zucchini cut into small pieces

1 onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 medium leek rinsed carefully and finely chopped

1 cup lacinato kale- finely chopped, tough ribs removed

1/2 cup frozen corn defrosted

1 small can garbanzo beans, rinsed

1 small can diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon ground coriander

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and more for top of casserole

2 cups mashed potatoes

1 cup sour dough bread crumbs (any bread crumbs would be fine, panko crumbs would also be good.)

To Make Shephard’s Pie:

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Saute onion until soft, add leeks and cook a few minutes more, add garlic and cook one more minute. Add spices and cook about 4 minutes.

Add carrots and zucchini and cook about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook about 10-15 minutes. Pour mixture into a casserole dish. a Cover top with the mashed potatoes and then the bread crumbs. Pour a few glugs of olive oil over top and cover with foil. Bake about 30 minutes until mixture starts to bubble. Remove foil and cook about 15-20 minutes more or until the top starts to brown and crisp up.

ENJOY!!

AND: Instead of a the usual “Tree of the Week“, Here is the “Most Unusual Squirrel of the Week”!! This little fellow held still long enough on my patio to get a close pic-I have not seen him scampering through the woods again!

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!

Spring Woodland Wildflowers, Yellow Violets and Lemon Fennel Almond Biscotti!

There they were– our little patch of yellow violets; waiting for us to rediscover them and coo over their delicate beauty! Last year, we went on a prolonged search for the seemingly elusive flowers and they turned out to be right under our noses; just across the street from the trailhead to the Pine Loop Trail at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead.

With so much uncertainty and turbulence in our times, the predictable cycle of seasons is comforting and small observances are a delight!

During the pandemic when we were sequestered in place and could not perform in public, I found inspiration and a creative outlet by playing short improvisations in woodland and other outdoor settings. This past year, I have been back to playing indoor concerts and it is wonderful to once again communicate with live audiences; case in point, a performance of the Mozart Coronation Mass that I performed in this past weekend. Written in 1779 in Salzburg, the composition became known as a preferred piece of music for the Imperial Court of Vienna to commemorate royal and imperial coronations. The entire mass is in the cheerful key of C major; full of lively and at the same time poignant oboe duets with lovely lyrical lines.

Enveloped by the sounds of Mozart’s ethereal music with violins, viola, cello and double bass along with two resonant oboes playing in close harmonies was an intense aural experience; one that I realized I had missed dearly.

Even though this was a heartwarming and wonderful experience, I realized that I also missed my solo impromptu concerts! When we went on our yellow violet exploration, I brought along my alto recorder. Although playing outside alone was a very different, I enjoyed hearing the sound of the recorder waft off gently into the distance. Here is a short “Ode to the Yellow Violet” inspired by William Cullen Bryant’s poem:

The Yellow Violet

BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

When beechen buds begin to swell,

  And woods the blue-bird’s warble know,

The yellow violet’s modest bell

  Peeps from the last year’s leaves below.

Ere russet fields their green resume,

  Sweet flower, I love, in forest bare,

To meet thee, when thy faint perfume

  Alone is in the virgin air.

Of all her train, the hands of Spring

  First plant thee in the watery mould,

And I have seen thee blossoming

  Beside the snow-bank’s edges cold.

Thy parent sun, who bade thee view

  Pale skies, and chilling moisture sip,

Has bathed thee in his own bright hue,

  And streaked with jet thy glowing lip.

Yet slight thy form, and low thy seat,

  And earthward bent thy gentle eye,

Unapt the passing view to meet

  When loftier flowers are flaunting nigh.

Oft, in the sunless April day,

  Thy early smile has stayed my walk;

But midst the gorgeous blooms of May,

  I passed thee on thy humble stalk.

So they, who climb to wealth, forget

  The friends in darker fortunes tried.

I copied them—but I regret

  That I should ape the ways of pride.

And when again the genial hour

  Awakes the painted tribes of light,

I’ll not o’erlook the modest flower

  That made the woods of April bright.

“An Ode to a Yellow Violet”- William Cullen Bryant Homestead

On our walks we were excited to see the return of many beautiful woodland wildflowers from last season and we also made a few new discoveries.

At the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, columbines lined the forest floor.

White Memorial Conservation Center- Litchfield, CT

A gentle brook flowed down a hillside that led to a marsh area with beautiful yellow flowers.

At the Steeple Top Preserve in New Marlborough, MA, speckled trout lilies lined the trail.

Steeple Top Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

Tiny daisy like yellow flowers nestled next to rocks in a stream.

Steeple Top Preserve- New Marlborough, MA

At the D’Alton Preserve in the Ellsworth section of Sharon, CT, we happened upon flowers we had not seen before; white star shaped flowers and delicate pink flowers capped with yellow tops. On a rainy day I plan to look up all of their names!

D’Alton Preserve- Sharon, CT

D’Alton Preserve- Sharon, CT

A pert line of flowers at the Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, Massachusetts……..

We often find ourselves in Northampton, MA and have become addicted to the sourdough bread at the Hungry Ghost Bakery. Made from excellent ingredients, it has an delicious sourdough flavor and if we are lucky, we arrive when fresh wholegrain sesame loaves have just come out of the oven. We take our treasure back to the car and break off crusty hunks of piping hot bread; so good it is almost enough for dinner! They also sell scones, cookies and biscotti. I tried an irresistible lemon fennel almond biscotti that was rich with butter and sugar. I decided to try to create an equally good biscotti that was guilt free. I used the same basic recipe that I created for Gingerbread Biscotti featured in my Ol’ Stoney Lonesome Blog. I swapped out the warming winter spices; ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and star anise and used lemon zest, fennel seeds and toasted almonds. They were delicious and they quickly disappeared! The biscotti would be good dipped in iced coffee or with a bowl of fresh strawberries. I hope you enjoy making these!!

Lemon Fennel Almond Biscotti

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • zest from one organic lemon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
  • cup whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup whole grain spelt flour

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the egg, egg white, both sugars, 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.
  3. 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 fennel and almonds.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature- well maybe!!

ENJOY!

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”!

“Oh Gee, Feeling a Bit Silly Today”

HAPPY SPRING!!

A Misty Walk at Dark Hollow and Ramp Mushroom Ravioli!

Dark Hollow Trail: Salisbury, CT

A slow steady rain was starting- undeterred, we put on our raincoats and water proof hiking boots and set out for a misty early spring hike on the Dark Hollow Trail in Salisbury.

As we walked up the trail, the air was damp and fragrant with pine and rich humus and we saw many early woodland wildflowers peeking hesitantly out of the soil.

Enthralled, we saw the first trilliums of the season!

Fiddlehead ferns were slowly unfurling on their stalks and tiny leaf buds glistened with moisture.

Through the mist from a vantage point high on the trail, we could see a home in the village.

Early spring is the time of year for wild ramps.

Wild Ramps Next to Trillium Flower

I had always heard about ramps and their delicate onion/garlic flavor, but had never tried them. Luckily, our dear friends Thomas and Fran are avid ramp foragers and they offered to take us to harvest ramps from one of their sources.

According to Spruce Eats:

Ramps–a cousin of onions, leeksscallions, and shallots–grow in low mountain altitudes from South Carolina to Canada. In many areas, they’re considered a spring delicacy and a reason for celebration. Harvesting ramps has a long tradition in the Appalachian region of the United States, with West Virginia particularly well known for its many festivals and events. Ramp festivals are also held in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. There are many ways to enjoy ramps: raw, sautéed, roasted, grilled, and pickled too.

On Mother’s Day we set off for a beautiful hike at the New Marlborough Land Trust- then we went off to find ramps at an undisclosed location!

New Marlborough Land Trust

Not far from the side of the road, we came upon a sizeable patch of ramps. Next to a swampy area, thousands of ramp plants were clustered together in the woods. Paul called them a “run of ramps”!

Paul had found a recipe for vegan ramp ravioli from Meatless Makeovers and I decided that this would be a perfect use for our foraged treasures. When we returned home in the late afternoon, I thought I might make the pasta dough and then prepare the filling and form the ravioli the next day. But, after the inspiring walks and ramp adventure with our friends, I found myself full of energy and decided to make the raviolis for dinner. I listened to Stile Antica on Pandora and found myself in cooking heaven.

The original vegan recipe calls for pasta dough made with ground flax seed instead of egg, but I decided to go with rich golden organic egg yolks, a wise decision; the pasta was tender and full of flavor! I also added mushrooms and a few seasonings: dried thyme, nutmeg, red pepper flakes and salt & pepper to taste. The flavor of the ramps was just as I had imagined; subtle and delicate and they blended beautifully with the mushrooms and vegan ricotta. I think that you could also make the raviolis with leeks and scallions for a similar flavor.

These are definitely a dish for company. We will serve these soon for a group that includes our favorite ramp foragers!

ENJOY!!

Wild Ramp and Mushroom Ravioli (almost vegan)

FILLING:

  • 3 cloves garlic (Minced)
  • 1 bunch ramps (chopped with white stems separated from leaves)* Note
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4- or 5 mushrooms finely chopped
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Vegan Ricotta ( I used Kite Hill plant based ricotta)

SAUCE:

  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter (I used Kite Hill Vegan Butter and it had a nice flavor, although you could just use unsalted butter)
  • 3 cloves garlic (sliced)
  • 15–20 sage Leaves
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 ramp (chopped with white stems separated from leaves)

Ingredients for Pasta Dough

Makes enough dough for 24 ravioli or cappellacci

1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup water

Blend together all dough ingredients in a food processor until mixture just begins to form a ball. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface, incorporating only as much additional flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, 6 to 8 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Cooks’ note:

Dough can be made (but not rolled out) 1 day ahead and chilled, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.

  1. Prepare the Ramps: Meanwhile chop the ramps completely, separate the chopped leaves from the white ends. Mince the garlic.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Place the chopped white part of the ramp first and allow to cook for 2 minutes.
  3. Next, add the chopped ramp leaves, mushrooms and the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Making the Ravioli: Once the dough has rested, cut it into 8 equal pieces. Working in batches roll out the dough on a floured surface. Your dough should be about 3mm thick after rolling.
  5. Dollop 1 tsp vegan ricotta cheese about 3 inches apart along your rolled out dough. Place 1 tsp of the ramp filling onto each dollop of ricotta.
  6. Place another rolled out piece of dough over the filling piles. Carefully press out any trapped air and seal your ravioli tightly using your finger and cut them out with a knife or with a ravioli cutter. Dust your fresh ravioli with flour and set aside.
  7. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
  8. Make the sauce:  In a skillet over medium/low heat, melt the butter. Stir the butter frequently until it has a slight golden brown color. Approx. 4 minutes.
  9. Add the garlic, white part of the ramps, and the walnuts. Cook stirring constantly until garlic begins to brown. Approx. 3 minutes.
  10. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the ramp greens and sage leaves to the sauce and set aside.
  11. Once your water is boiling, place a few ravioli into the water at a time. Allow them to boil for 3-4 minutes.
  12. Serve: Plate the ravioli and spoon the sauce over them. Garnish with red pepper flakes, black pepper, or grated vegan parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!
  13. Store uncooked ravioli in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
  14. * Note: Make sure to wash ramps very well with plenty of cold water. They are quite gritty! After I washed the ramps, I spun them dry in a salad spinner.
  15. ENJOY!

AND: Here is I think, an appropriate “Tree of the Week!”


“I think I Smell Something Good”!

HAPPY SPRING!!

High Ledges and a Passover Delicacy

High Ledges- Shelburne, Massachusetts

It was a windy chilly early spring day with the unusual occurrence of Easter, Passover and Ramadan taking place over the same weekend. We took a walk with breath taking views on the High Ledge Wildlife Sanctuary Trail in Shelburne, Massachusetts. From the top of the trail one can see the Deerfield River weaving gracefully through the hills with Mt. Greylock in the distance.

The trail climbed gently through peaceful pine woods and passed a gentle gurgling stream. In no rush, we stopped to listen to the beautiful sounds.

From the vantage point at the top, looking down almost 1,000 feet, we were treated to a cookie cutter view of the village of Shelburne Falls. To the left of the village not too far off, nestled in the hills, is our newly purchased land!

This year was our first in person Passover Seder since 2019. What a wonderful feeling to get out our fancy tableware and set the table for our guests! Although, I had lost track where the serving platters and large bowls were stored away. I needed to recalibrate how much food to prepare; I had gotten so used to cooking for two people!

One of the best things about hosting a Passover dinner again was that I could prepare Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish! When you mention gefilte fish to most people, there is a bit of eye rolling; we have a collective memory of cold gloppy fish that came from a jar with a strange after taste complete with an unappealing gooey gelatin. Mostly I think we ate it because we were starved after the long Seder service!

I found the recipe several years ago on Epicurious from an April 2002 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. I love it when a person tastes the dish; skeptically the first time and then a look of delight crosses their face! A request has been made for a summer version of the dish; perhaps with a glass of chilled rose wine and served with tender baby lettuce with fresh peas from a local farm stand!

Each year, a few weeks before Passover, I make my annual pilgrimage to Zabars on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to purchase the freshest smoked whitefish; one of the ingredients for the gefilte fish. I do believe this is what makes the dish so special. I always enjoy watching the rude irreverent countermen carefully slice nova and other smoked fish. As I stand in a long line waiting for my turn, Mozart is playing softly in the background accompanied by the aroma of smoked fish and freshly baked bagels in the air. I listen to the back and forth banter between the customers and countermen. Then, I take my treasure home and keep it in the freezer for a few weeks until it is time to prepare the dish. The fish can be made up to 2 days before serving.

It had been several years since I had made the recipe and I needed to read the directions carefully. This recipe is a bit of a slog, but the result is well worth the effort! I hope you will try this recipe!!

Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Fish with Lemon-Horseradish Sauce

Ingredients

Makes about 24 dumplings

Gefilte fish

3/4 cup thinly sliced peeled carrots

1/4 cup matzo meal

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green onions ( reserve a small amount to garnish the fish)

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 pounds mild white fish fillets (such as sole or flounder), cut into small pieces

2 cups flaked smoked whitefish (about 8 ounces), carefully boned

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce:

2 garlic cloves

1/4 cup prepared white horseradish

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup mayonnaise ( I use vegannaise)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For gefilte fish:

Step 1

Cook carrots in pan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water in small bowl. Stir matzo meal into water; let stand 10 minutes. Place carrots in processor. Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add green onions and stir 1 minute. Add onion mixture to carrots in processor. Add matzo meal mixture; blend until mixture is pureed and smooth. Using electric mixer, beat 3 eggs and lemon juice in large bowl until foamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in mixture from processor; do not clean processor bowl.

Step 2

Blend fish fillets, smoked fish, salt, and pepper in same processor bowl until fish is finely chopped. Add remaining egg and blend to coarse paste. Add fish mixture to matzo meal mixture and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours.

Step 3

Line large baking sheet with waxed paper. Using wet hands, shape 1/4 cup fish mixture for each dumpling into egg-shaped oval. Place on prepared sheet. Cover with waxed paper and chill before steaming.

Step 4

Set vegetable steamer rack in large pot. Fill pot with enough water to meet, but not cover, bottom of rack. Line rack with parchment paper. Arrange 8 fish dumplings on parchment paper. Bring water to boil. Cover pot and steam dumplings until cooked through and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Steam remaining dumplings in 2 more batches. Cover and refrigerate gefilte fish until cold, at least 6 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

For Sauce:

Step 5

Mince garlic and place in small bowl. Mix in horseradish and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in mayonnaisse. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings adding more lemon juice or horseradish to taste. Cover; chill up to 1 day. The flavors develop overnight!

Serve fish on a large platter sprinkled with remaining chopped scallions.

ENJOY!!

As is the tradition, at the end of the Seder, we opened our door to let Elijah enter. As dusk was falling we could hear the sounds of the birds tucking in for the evening and peepers calling from the pond across the street. I always imagine at this time of the year that a hungry bear enticed by the aroma of smoked whitefish gefilte fish, matzo ball soup and roast chicken may enter the door instead of Elijah! What a joy it was to be gathered around our table with dear friends once again!

AND, here is the “Tree of the Week”:

“It’s been a whirlwind of a year so far!”

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!

The Return of the Fungi and Chicken Pesto Meatballs!

Bray Road Buckland, MA

March 28th– Walking through our land in Buckland, Massachusetts, the snow has all melted away and I am amazed to see a colorful show of fungi that seems to have reappeared like magic!

Fountain Pond State Park: Great Barrington, MA

Many years ago our land was originally a sheep farm, then it was logged; a good deal of brush was left behind. As the wood decayed, a moist fertile environment for mushrooms and fungi was created. I love walking through the land; although I have to be careful stepping over the brush so I don’t fall! Moving slowly this way, my attention is drawn towards the ground and I discover strange, colorful and intricate fungi!

Bray Road Buckland, MA

An interesting fact from an article written from bountea.com: “Life in the Winter Soil.”

 “With soil rich in humus, bacteria can hibernate through the cold weather well protected within their carbon habitats. Soil that drains well and has humus content around 10% is an ideal environment for overwintering microbes.

Spring arrives slowly in the Northeast.

Sheffield, MA

The other day on a walk at Hunger Mountain in Monterey, MA, the blue grey sky was spitting snowflakes. We were treated to views of the distant misty mountains peeking through the still bare trees.

Hunger Mountain: Monterey, MA

As I get ready to publish this blog, it is greening up rapidly outside, but there are still weeks of cool weather left to make hearty dishes that simmer for hours on the stove!

For many years, I watched my late mother- in-law Dolores DePaolo make her legendary meatballs and tomato sauce. As she cooked, she regaled me with stories from her rich Italian American family history, always complete with a demonstration of a rude hand signal; a dismissive fleck of the hand in the air to use if someone was being disrespectful. I listened carefully as she showed me her techniques to coax the most flavor out of a sauce and to make the meatballs tender. As she aged, others in the family started to cook more; then at one holiday meal, the ultimate compliment was made; a smile and a look of approval! To mix up cultural references a bit here; in her eyes, I had become a true balabusta (a Yiddish expression for a good homemaker.)

I remember clearly a few tips: 1. mix the ingredients for the meatballs thoroughly and when you form them into balls handle the mixture gently, don’t over pack them. 2. Heat the olive oil in the pan to a high temperature then and brown the meatballs all over. 3. Place the meatballs into the sauce, add water to the pan and stir up all of the browned bits in the pan. Add this to the sauce. 4. Simmer the sauce and meatballs gently for hours.

I have experimented making meatballs with ground beef, ground turkey and adding other ingredients like chopped kale. I have made vegetarian meatballs with ground nuts, onions, garlic, egg and breadcrumbs. My latest rendition is with ground chicken, pesto, garlic, egg, bread crumbs and kale. I hope you enjoy Chicken Pesto Meatballs!

Chicken Pesto Meatballs

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 large can organic crushed tomatoes

1 small can organic tomato paste

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

a good glug of red wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

water

To make sauce:

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot, add onion and saute for about 5 minutes until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook briefly.

Add all other ingredients except wine and bring to a boil. Add wine, let it cook down for a minute and then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and cook over a low heat while you prepare the meatballs.

Ingredients for Chicken Pesto Meatballs:

1 pound ground chicken

1 egg

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons basil pesto

1/4 cup finely chopped lacinato kale ( you can also Italian parsley, I used dandelion greens one time!)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

To make meatballs:

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well together.

In a large non stick pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Wet hands and add loosely formed meatballs to hot oil. Saute on all sides until nicely browned.

Place meatballs into sauce.

Place about 1/2 water into pan where the meatballs were browned and stir up any loose bits. Add this to the sauce.

Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 2 hours.

I like to serve the meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti and a side of steamed broccoli with lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Serve with either freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese and a good Italian red wine!

ENJOY! Or, as my mother-in-law would say MANGIA!

AND, Here is the Tree of the Week!

“So you say!!”

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!!