After the Rain: Joffey Preserve

Joffey Nature Sanctuary-New Marlborough, MA

This summer our lives have once again become busy; dinners with friends, visits to museums, traveling, rehearsing and performing concerts and perhaps best to all, having the freedom to plan spontaneous excursions. I am thankful and feel blessed that we have come through this part of the pandemic. The only thing that I am wistful for are the daily hikes and walks that we took this past year. With no other distractions and the only safe activity, it developed into a joyful distraction. Not wanting to lose this precious connection to nature, I have had to make a conscious effort to allot time for walking.

The other day, in between all of the soggy rainy weather, the sun peeked out briefly. The perfect place for a short walk was the Joffey Nature Sanctuary in New Marlborough, MA. The one mile trail winds around a pristine micro ecosystem that includes a marsh and woodlands.

As I entered the woods, I was surrounded by the damp pungent scent of pine needles and saturated tree bark. The pine needles underfoot felt like I was stepping on a soft pillow.

Because of the extra moisture, tiny fungi and mushrooms had sprung up and dotted the forest floor.

Algae covered much of the marsh, creating delicate patterns on the water that looked like abstract paintings.

A few benches are placed along the path; we plan to return with books and iced tea on a hot day!

This summer, it’s also once again a great pleasure to visit farm stands and farm markets. One of my favorite places is the Silamar Farm Stand in Millerton, New York. The other day, I bought sugar snap peas, cucumbers, dill, red beets and Sky Farm mesclun mix. With my delicious bounty, I made a summer salad with grilled salmon and creamy hummus. Made with canned chickpeas, garlic, lemon and tahini, the hummus comes together in under 5 minutes. I made a simple salad dressing with olive oil and Carr’s Cider House Cider Vinegar. The vinegar is sweet, not too astringent and tastes almost like a good balsamic vinegar. This along with some crusty French sourdough bread, made a light and delicious summer dinner.

Quick Hummus

Ingredients:

1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed

1 clove garlic minced

2 tablespoons tahini

freshly squeezed lemon to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

water

To Make Hummus:

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.

Blend for about a minute. The mixture will be crumbly and rough looking.

Add water a bit at a time and blend. When the mixture looks smooth, blend for about another minute more until creamy and very smooth. Adjust seasonings and enjoy!

AND: with my bounty of red beets it was time to make Summer Borscht! This is absolutely one of my favorite things about summer. Made with plenty of crunchy cool radishes, cucumber, scallions, dill and a big dollop of yogurt, it is refreshing and delicious alone or better yet with a slice of fresh rye bread. It is also great topped with a sliced hard boiled egg!

Summer Borscht

Ingredients:

4 or 5 large red beets

1/2 cup diced cucumber

1/2 cup diced radish

1/2 cup minced dill

1/4 cup diced scallion or chives

salt and pepper to taste

brown rice vinegar to taste* see note

1 or 2 tablespoons honey to taste

1/2 or more plain yogurt

Prepare Borscht:

Scrub Beets well and if large cut in half

Cover with water in a medium sized pot

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer

Cover and cook until tender

Save water that beets were cooked and strain into a large bowel

Let beets cool completely

Peel Beets and cut into small dice

Add diced beets along with cucumber, radish, dill and scallions or chives into reserved beet liquid

Add brown rice vinegar to taste- start with a small amount and add more as desired.

Stir in yogurt and honey

Add salt and pepper to taste

Refrigerate for at least a day to let flavors meld

Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream

Add a sliced hard boiled egg on top if desired

Note: I do not specify exact amounts of brown rice vinegar, honey or yogurt. After the borscht sits for a day or two, you can add more seasonings to your taste.

ENJOY!!

AND: Here are “Two Trees of the Week!” I was uncharacteristically at a loss for their captions- any takers??

STAY SAFE AND ENJOY THE SUMMER!!

Resonating Sounds from Silver Bay!

My group Hevreh Ensemble’s first live indoor concert– it couldn’t have been a more wonderful experience! I wrote part of this blog sitting on an Adirondack rocking chair on the porch of the Victorian era Silver Bay Inn that overlooks Lake George.

This past weekend, we performed a concert for a small, warm enthusiastic audience of fully vaccinated people in the historic Auditorium at The Silver Bay YMCA Conference Center. The hall had a high wooden ceiling and the acoustics were vibrant and at the same time mellow. I felt as if I was enveloped in a cozy blanket of sound; I felt totally safe and enjoyed a wonderful sense of connection with our audience.

For the next two days, as guests of the Silver Bay YMCA, we relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful site; kayaking, taking walks and a good deal of sitting on the inn’s porch, reading and talking together!

My husband Paul was able to accompany the group on our trip and he and I enjoyed a trail that wound around a section of the lake.

We also discovered a lovely wildflower close to the water.

AND: then there is the backstory of what took place before the idyllic concert and beauty of the Silver Bay area!

As an oboist who carves my own reeds, I have come to believe over the years, that there must be a special Reed Muse. Often times, I whittle and carve and adjust and readjust a recalcitrant piece of cane and the result is horrid!! Then, seemingly out of the blue, with almost no effort, a reed will play beautifully almost immediately and then- I know that this might sound eccentric- I look up at the sky and say softly, “Thank you”! But hey, I am an oboist after all!!

There is also another protector that I think of the Travel and Parking Muse. It seems that more often than not, I travel to rehearsals and concerts and especially when I come into Manhattan for rehearsals, I will find a parking spot easily. The members of Hevreh Ensemble often remark that I have special parking karma. My little bright blue Impreza can squeeze into the most unlikely of spots!

Well, recently I believe that the Travel and Parking Muses thought I was getting a mite too cocky and decided that it was time for a little comeuppance! I imagined that there was a hastily held committee meeting and the consensus was to “play with this one a little bit!”

A few blogs ago, I wrote a true life story that is akin to a modern day Yiddish Folk Tale! So, here is Part 2 of a true life experience that once again illustrates the old Yiddish proverb: “Mann Tracht, un Gott Lacht”- “man plans and god laughs!”

Driving into Manhattan for a rehearsal with Hevreh Ensemble last week, I made sure to allot plenty of time for any extra traffic; the ride should take about 2 1/2 hours. I left my home in Northwest, CT at 1:15 with the rehearsal set to start at 4:30- plenty of time, right?? I also felt that I was getting my “sea legs” back driving into New York, adjusting to the noise and large numbers of people.

I encountered traffic jams in 4 locations, The Hutchinson Parkway, Cross County Parkway, West Side highway and the usual Manhattan tie ups and finally arrived to Adam’s Hell’s Kitchen studio (appropriately named) at 4:45. I thought that I might put my car for once in a garage on West 38th Street, but not so fast!

A broken down delivery truck was blocking the street, so I made a very slow slog around the congested and almost completely blocked streets. I finally found a garage 5 blocks away and by the time I made it back to West 38th Street, I was an hour late for the rehearsal.

The rehearsal was great; amazingly after a year of not playing together, we are sounding tight and unified. BUT: the Travel and Parking Muses had plenty more in store for me!!

After the rehearsal I returned to the garage to retrieve my car and was met with an outrageous charge for parking and the rude attendant ignored me at first and then could not find my car keys for 20 minutes.

Luckily I am easily placated with food and I found a cozy little bakery and cafe on the corner of 38th Street and Ninth Avenue. I was fortified with a frosty smoothie that was made from coconut milk, chocolate protein powder, peanut butter and banana and also a hefty turkey, cheddar, onion, pesto, tomato sandwich on a French baguette. I happily munched and slurped on this in my car as I wound my way through a few traffic jams and up the West Side Highway getting out of the city. I was treated to a beautiful sunset view of the lights twinkling on the George Washington Bridge as my car inched ever so slowly forward. And then, after just a few more snarls of traffic, a broken down car blocking a lane, road construction, a small bug that kept biting me and dodging deer on the Sawmill Parkway, I made it safely and more than a bit dazed, back home at 10:30 PM! The saying: “Mann Tracht un Gott Lacht” (“man plans and god laughs”) I believe that the Travel and Parking Muses made their point!!

Here is the “Tree of the Week” that I thought fit the bill perfectly!

“I feel like I have a hole in my head!!”

Postscript: We made it safely home from Silver Bay and found time in the late afternoon to enjoy a short walk to the Drury Preserve in Sheffield, MA. Although muggy and very buggy, the sun shining through the trees was beautiful!

Mosaics and Linden Trees

I had originally meant to write a blog this week about birdsong, particularly Mozart’s starling and my own talented Cockatiel Lucy. This will have to wait! I got waylaid as I was thinking about what recipe I wanted to feature.

I love anything that includes poppy seeds: bagels, strudel, hamentaschen or cake. I remembered an amazing vegan raspberry poppy seed tart that I had in Vienna a few years ago. After we returned home from the trip, I became obsessed with recreating it!

Here is the back story……

My group Hevreh Ensemble traveled to Poland in 2018 where we presented concerts for the Jewish Cultural Festival in Krakow and concerts in Lublin and for the POLIN Museum in Warsaw. We were fortunate to collaborate with the amazing photographer Loli Kantor in a project together.

Polin Museum of Jewish History- Warsaw, Poland: Video presentation by Loli Kantor

After the tour, my husband and I traveled to Budapest and then to Vienna. Following is a blog that I wrote about the trip and the poppy seed dessert for Hevreh Ensemble’s website in 2018. Since we will not be taking any long trips for yet awhile, I reread the blog with both nostalgia and envy. We took our freedom to travel and go on adventures so for granted. I plan to make the poppy seed tart again and will bring it to a barbeque or other gathering soon!

Mosaics and Linden Trees- 9/28/18

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After our concerts this past summer in Poland, my husband Paul & I had the wonderful opportunity to travel for an extra week to other destinations in Europe. We took off by train from Warsaw for a trip to Budapest and Vienna. We had been to Vienna a few years ago and were impressed by the creative and cultural energy of the city. It was wonderful to be able to return to Vienna and to find new neighborhoods to explore.

Our hotel Altwienerhof was in the 15th District of Vienna and was reached by an underground stop that was easy to remember- Gumpendorfer Strasse! I have never been an early riser, so on our trips, Paul often leaves early around 6:30 or 7:00 AM to find coffee and to do a bit of exploring. This particular morning he decided to walk in the residential neighborhood near our hotel. He observed that there were a few placards on the walls and almost by chance came to a small clearing on a tiny street called Turnergasse.

It turned out this was the site of a memorial for the Turner Temple that was destroyed in 1938 during the terrible Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).The synagogue was an important symbol and a center of the district’s Jewish life. The Turner Temple Memorial was opened on November 16, 2011.

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A web of black concrete beams were chosen as the central design element. Mosaics form a bridge between the past and present and they show fruit and plants that are mentioned in the Torah. There is a row of Linden trees that were integrated into the design and according to the community organizers for the memorial, they symbolize the horrors of the past but also look forward to a future full of hope.

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Later that morning Paul showed me the site and we also looked at some of the placards- one included a picture of a Jewish Kindergarten that was housed at 21 Herklotzgasse.

We looked down the hallway of the building and discovered a small sign that said Turnhalle. We walked down the narrow passageway and saw that the building that housed the former kindergarten was now occupied by a vegan restaurant run by a group of earnest and dedicated young cooks. We strongly felt the caring and effort of the community to remember and honor the past, but also were encouraged that the spaces emptied because of distant terrible horrors, were being used in a positive and caring way.

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The next day we returned to the Turnhalle Cafe for lunch, The day before my purse had been stolen in the center of Vienna at the historic Cafe Mozart. After a frantic morning of visits to the consulate to obtain new passports and take care of other missing documents, it was time for a good dessert treat! There was a delicious looking cake and the young server explained it was one of their favorites- a vegan raspberry poppy seed cake. It was excellent and of course when we got home, I felt a craving for the cake. After quite a bit of experimentation and although It was a bit different, It brought back sweet memories of our recent trip. I brought the cake to share with my daughter and her partner for Rosh Hashana. Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Here is my reconstructed version!

Raspberry Poppy Cake with Streusel Topping

Ingredients:

8 ounces fresh raspberries

Filling:

¼ cup soft white semolina

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ cups poppy seeds

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup almond or soy milk

2 tsp. cornstarch

Crust:

¼ cup powdered sugar

½ cup butter

3 tablespoons shortening

½ tsp. salt

2 Tsb. ice water

Streusel Topping:

½ cup sugar

¾ butter (8 tablespoons)

1 cup flour

½ tsp cinnamon

Cover outside of 9 inch spring form pan with heavy duty foil to prevent leaks

Make Crust:

In food processor combine butter, shortening, flour, salt and powdered sugar until mixture has small lumps the size of peas. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and process until mixture forms a ball. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.

Make the Filling:

Grind poppy seeds in several batches in a small spice grinder. The poppy seeds may clump together- this is fine!

Mix together all ingredients except poppy seeds and cornstarch over low heat. Whisk until sugar is completely dissolved. Combine cornstarch with a small amount of water and stir until smooth. Add to mixture and bring to a boil. Add poppy seeds, stir thoroughly and let sit for 5 minutes until poppy seeds swell. At this point if the mixture is to thick, add up to ¾ cup more almond or soy milk. The mixture should form a loose pudding.

Make the Streusel Topping:

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Combine all ingredients in bowl of food processor until mix until large clumps form.

Preheat oven to 350 F

1.Roll out dough and fit into bottom of spring form pan – dough should come up the sides a few inches.

2.Pour in poppy seed filling and smooth with a spatula

3. Place raspberries evenly over filling

4. Place streusel clumps evenly over top.

5. Bake aprox. 45 minutes until the top is a light golden color.

6. Let cool completely before serving.

7. The cake is excellent the next day, refrigerates well and also can be froze

Enjoy!!

Back to the present! The afternoon I started to compile this blog, Hevreh Ensemble was getting ready to present our first concert in over 15 months. I felt myself getting a case of the jitters; it had been so long since I had performed with others. Writing the blog helped to center me and calm my nerves.

I believe that this “Tree of the Week” expresses perfectly how I was feeling!!

“Yikes”

AND: A postscript: Our first Hevreh Ensemble concert was a huge success and it felt wonderful to be playing again!

STAY SAFE!

Lots of Hugs and Cicadas!

We finally made it to Alexandria, Virginia to see our beautiful and amazing daughter Alicia and her equally adored, beautiful and amazing partner Katie. We tend to kvell about them at each and every opportunity! After more than a year, we could finally hug to our heart’s content! We were filled with joy to see the warm, cozy and inspirational life that they have created together; of course with Benji the irresistible cat!

I was reminded quickly that the “apple does not fall far from the tree”; over the next few days as we caught up on lost time, we were treated to Alicia’s creative and delicious food!

The evening we arrived, we had a picnic outside with a roasted vegetable, eggplant and spiced crispy chickpea salad with yogurt and tahini dressings.

There was a delicious dinner with roasted ginger salmon glazed with a fermented chile Korean sauce called gochujang and spring vegetables based on a recipe from a cookbook called Flavor written by the Israeli- British chef Yotam Ottenlengi.

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For lunch the next day, leftover salmon was magically transformed into sesame seed coated salmon cakes with sauteed vegetables and quinoa brown rice pasta! It was served with more of the spicy tangy gochujang sauce that I am now addicted to!

While Katie is studying at the Virginia Theological Seminary towards ordination in the Episcopal Church, Alicia works as a professional singer and as a Jewish educator. They live on the historic campus of The Virginia Theological Seminary, which is celebrating it’s 200th anniversary this year.

I was heartened to hear on a recent NPR segment, that the school has just initiated one of the first reparations programs for descendants of enslaved people.

On a walk through the campus, Katie showed us the ruins of an old chapel built in 1881 and destroyed in a fire in 2010. In the middle of the ruins was a beautiful sculpture by Margaret Adams Parker, artist and adjunct instructor at VTS. The work of art illustrates the visitation between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth and the figures in the sculpture are depicted as African women.

Paul and I enjoyed walking around the campus looking at the historical architecture and observing the southern trees and plants. We saw a majestic willow oak….

Cicadas were just starting there journey up from the earth and we could hear their chorus swelling in the distance, like a repetitive composition by Steve Reich. I found the sound meditative and soothing. A lone cicada perched on a leaf posed for us!

As I was taking a video of Alicia’s garden, I realized that we had unknowingly captured a soundtrack of the cicadas!

The week before, the Smithsonian Museums had reopened in Washington, D.C. and Alicia was able to get us timed tickets at the National Gallery of Art!

It was an incredible feeling as we stepped into the cool, enormous and majestic hallway of the museum. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the massive amount of art work, and having only one hour timed tickets, we decided to visit beloved old favorites: Rodin, Dega and Saint Gaudins sculptures and then the Impressionist Wing. As I gazed happily at works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne and Monet; surrounded by vivid colors and patterns, I felt like a plant that had been deprived of water and was once again slowly absorbing moisture. What a balm for the soul! The guards also seemed to be happy to be back at work. A tall guard approached us and asked how we were enjoying our visit and had we seen the da Vinci painting yet? He proudly gave us some background on the painting; it is the only da Vinci in the Americas and dates back to the 1470’s; and then he pointed us in the right direction. We found the small exquisite painting and noticed unusual markings on the reverse side of the masterpiece: a painted wreath with three plants: juniper: a play on Ginevra’s name; palm: it represents moral virtue and laurel: it symbolizes Ginerva’s artistic side. A scroll surrounds the wreath with a motto written on it: “Virtutem Forma Decorat,” or “beauty adorns virtue.”

As we were leaving the museum, we passed by the same guard and he asked if we had enjoyed the da Vinci painting and would we like to buy it?? I found out later the painting was sold by the Royal Lichtenstein family in 1967 (they were having cash problems!)After a few failed bids the National Gallery of Art was able to purchase the painting for a mere 5 million- today a similar work is valued at over 450 million!

Alicia’s birthday was in a few weeks, so we decided to celebrate it early. She asked if I would bake her favorite carrot cake. This is a cake that is totally worth indulging in; based on a recipe from a 1994 Bon Appetit magazine, the cake is incredibly moist and spicy, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. I add crushed pineapple to the batter and also for the rich cream cheese frosting.

This past year, Alicia has been leading Sabbath services on ZOOM. It kept us connected when we could not see each other. She is often joined by Katie and they sing beautiful and haunting duets together. This time we were going to be watching the service live from the comfort of their living room! They were rehearsing Friday afternoon and as I iced the cake with creamy tangy frosting-some of which made it to my mouth- their rich sonorous voices transported me to a magical place of peace and absolute delight! Benji the cat who also loves music hopped down from his cat tree and laid on the floor on his back next to them with his feet up in the air!

Indulge and enjoy a big slice of this cake!!

Triple Layer Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts- more is fine!
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple

Ingredients for Frosting:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar- (add more if desired for extra sweetness)
  • 2 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup crushed pineapple or for another flavor, I sometimes use the grated zest of a lemon.

For cake:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Lightly grease waxed paper. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture. Stir in carrots, chopped walnuts and raisins.

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 40 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

For Frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using icing spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

We have been back home for a few weeks and I am slowly adjusting to our new normal, traveling to rehearsals in NYC, meeting friends for dinner, teaching students in my house and attending our first outdoor jazz concert with people actually dancing together! It all is a bit overwhelming to me, so I find particular comfort in the peace and continuity on our walks and hikes. The beauty and intricacy of early summer wildflowers enthrall us- we came upon Lady Slipper flowers that lined a path along a lake at the Dubuque State Forest in Plainfield, MA.

On a sticky and humid day, thunder clouds were rumbling in the sky. Lovely clusters of small wildflowers dotted the lush meadows at the Lime Kiln Preserve in Sheffield, MA.

AND: Here is our Southern Tree of the Week!

” I can see right through you!”

i

STAY SAFE!

A Tune for Yellow Violets at Steepletop Preserve!

The week after our yellow violet discovery at the Bryant Homestead, we returned to another favorite place; The Steepletop Preserve in New Marlborough, MA. It was a beautiful spring day with bright sunshine overhead and gentle cool breezes. Fiddlehead ferns were just starting to unfurl on their graceful stems.

And wouldn’t you know it; as we walked down a gently sloping path towards a marsh, we happened upon a whole family of yellow violets; right in front of our noses!

They lined the path on both sides and a lone yellow violet was even intermingling with purple violets!

A tune for an improvisation came to me; I made a mental note of their location and we decided to return the following day with my alto recorder in hand.

On our return, we found the violets and as I played, the sound reverberated around me like being in a small chapel. A strong sense of joy washed over me!

This was our first visit to the trail since last fall and it was as peaceful and inspiring as we remembered it. We followed the path down a small slope to a marsh where the reflection of the sky and clouds on the water was breathtaking and birds were singing their intricate melodies.

Continuing on the 2 mile loop of the trail, we saw mayflowers that decorated the forest floor with their tiny delicate flowers.

We passed a gently gurgling stream………

…….. then made our way back up the hill, looking forward to returning again soon!

And, then of course it was time to think of what to make for dinner! I had just bought some fresh organic collard greens at our local food coop and was trying to think of a way to get a large amount of the greens into us and also into a delicious dish! I came up with an idea for a spicy stew using kidney beans and here is the result. Served with brown rice, blue corn tortillas, salsa and guacamole, it was very tasty. This evening we will have the leftovers with cornbread!

Spicy Kidney Beans with Collard Greens

Ingredients:

2 cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic minced

1 small can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons smoked red paprika

1 teaspoon or more to taste red pepper flakes

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 or 5 large collard green leaves- center rib removed, rolled up like a cigar and sliced thinly into ribbons.

To make Spicy Kidney Beans:

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Saute the onions until they soften and then add the garlic. Cook a minute or 2 more.

Add rest of ingredients and about a can of water. You can always add more if the mixture is too thick.

Cook about 1 hour- the mixture will thicken slightly and the collard greens should be very tender.

ENJOY!!

For many of my recent posts, I have had great fun anthromorphosizing trees. A few weeks ago I traveled to NYC for our first rehearsal with my group Hevreh Ensemble and it was Paul’s turn to go on a solo walk. I was overjoyed when he came back from his hike and told me that he had found a great tree! My job is done! AND, here it is- He did ask that I make up the caption!!

” I have had a lot on my shoulders this year!”

STAY SAFE!

A Search For Wild Yellow Violets

Lately we have been seeking out violets; in particular the illusive wild yellow violet. Our inspiration came from a walk that we took last summer at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead. Throughout the trail, there are placards that include some of Bryant’s most famous poems. Originally his childhood home, he summered at this idyllic spot in rural Cummington, Massachusetts.

We were touched by the romantic and lyrical stanzas of the poem, The Yellow Violet; where Bryant recalls finding the tiny and secretive violet that bloomed in the spring on his property.

On a visit a few weeks ago to the Bryant Homestead, we set out to find yellow violets; not sure where to look. At first, we thought they might be a woodland plant and possibly be where the placard of the poem was; deep in the woods, near a gurgling rivulet stream. But alas, no luck! I thought that the plants might need more sunlight and we walked back up the trail closer to road. We found several early wildflowers and a field of lovely purple and white violets, and some white violets; but no yellow flowers!

A week or so later, I was in Torrington, Connecticut. For those not familiar with the Northwest Hills of Connecticut, Torrington is a small scrappy city with a population of about 40,000. It was once a bustling factory town and it is now a bit rough around the edges and like many older American cities, there are sad boarded up abandoned buildings lining the streets. Somehow, even though the city feels worn down and tired, I often sense an air of possibility; either inspired by a tireless and innovative arts organization, a children’s chorus or a good small new restaurant that opens.

The day I was in Torrington, I had a small oral surgery procedure and then I went to change my snow tires. As I walked into the tire store, the novicane in my mouth started to wear off and a throbbing pain started. I thought that while waiting for my car, a walk might be a good way to distract me from the discomfort. My husband Paul had traversed the same route a few days before when he changed the tires on his car. He mentioned finding a few interesting sites. So, off I went!

Having spent so much time this past year observing nature, one of the first things that I noticed on a busy noisy street was a small patch of white and purple violets thriving in gravelly soil close to the sidewalk.

Shortly after that I came upon the 9/11 Memorial that Paul had mentioned. Next to a firehouse, a metal beam from the Twin Towers juxtaposed with the American flag made a poignant statement. Normally, I would have missed this entirely, driving quickly by. This day, I sat for a few minutes on a nearby stone wall and quietly paid my respects for the souls that lost their lives on 9/11.

Very close to the memorial, I found the next site that Paul had discovered. Torrington was home to an innovative guitar maker, James Ashborn and on this site there was once a guitar factory. Ashborn, who was English, opened the factory in Torrington around 1850. The area was ideal because it had plenty of water power and an abundance of wood to make guitars.

I spent over an hour walking, happily distracted; almost forgetting completely about my discomfort. I was excited that I had found inspiration and new discoveries-when at first glance, it seemed as if there was nothing new to be seen!

A few days later, undeterred, Paul and I decided to return to the Bryant Homestead to continue our quest for the illusive yellow violet. We thought that perhaps some of the violets might be in the field near Bryant’s childhood home.

Again we found white, striped and purple violets, but no luck. It was like finding a needle in a haystack! At the edge of the field, something made me walk near a tree a few feet away and there it was, a lone yellow violet peeking tentatively through a few blades of grass! “AHA” I crowed excitedly to Paul. And, then nearby, we saw a small group of yellow violets clustered together!

This stanza from the Yellow Violet poem so fittingly described what we saw:

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.

So delicate and beautiful!!

Often when I am walking, my thoughts not surprisingly turn to food. One particular day, I was in the mood for veggie burgers. I thought about what ingredients I had on hand; some cooked mixed grain quinoa, toasted walnuts, onions and garlic. When I got home I sauteed onion and garlic until it softened. A friend had mentioned a good substitute for egg using ground flax seed. I followed her directions and the ground flax magically emulsified into an egg like substance. I whirred this together in my food processor with the quinoa, onion and garlic, walnuts, a can of black beans, bread crumbs; seasoned with ground sage, thyme, oregano, cumin and salt & pepper to taste. I formed the mixture into patties and let them firm up in the fridge for a while. I heated a cast iron pan until quickly sauteed the veggie burgers in a bit of olive oil until they were crisp and lightly browned.

Served on toasted brioche buns from Berkshire Mountain Bakery, topped with caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms, excellent homemade garlic pickle slices that a friend gave me, a quick sauce made with vegenaise and ketchup and some sauteed radish greens, they were delicious!

I served a salad of firm bright red radishes with arugula simply dressed with lemon and olive oil; along with some oven roasted sweet potato fries, the feast was complete! A tall glass of frosty beer would also fit the bill!

Black Bean/Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Black Bean/ Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Ingredients:

Flax seed Egg Substitute

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

3 tablespoons hot water

Rest of Ingredients:

1 cup cooked mixed grain quinoa

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/4 bread crumbs

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

To Make Flaxseed egg substitute:

Place ground flaxseed in a small bowl and pour hot water over the flaxseed. Stir and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk and let sit until thickened- the mixture will look emulsified when it is ready.

To Make Veggie Burgers:

Heat olive oil in small pan. Saute onion until it softens and then add garlic. Cook for a minute or two.

Add sauteed onion and garlic along with flaxseed egg substitute to bowl of food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until the mixture is smooth.

Form into patties (makes about 6-7 burgers) and chill for about an hour to firm up.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet and saute burgers until brown on one side. Flip over and brown other side. Enjoy!!

AND, I end with Paul cradling a yellow violet in his hand…….

AND- of course, here’s The Tree of the Week:

” I feel like I have a hole in my head!”

Music from Kite Hill!

It was a glorious spring afternoon. We walked slowly up the gentle slope of Kite Hill reveling in the clear fresh air and the bright green spring colors. In the distance we saw misty views of the Harlem and Hudson Valley and the Taconics. Part of the Overmountain-Columbia Land Conservancy, the Kite Hill Trail is located in Ancram, New York. This day was also my first musical improvisation of the season!

For those new to my blog; during the pandemic I started to bring my recorder, oboe and Native American flutes on our hikes. Since I could not play with others, it became an important creative outlet. I discovered that I was profoundly inspired by the beauty that surrounded me and a series of short improvisations were born! Even though I will be fortunate to meet with my groups Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness and start to rehearse and perform again, I plan to continue my improvisations in beautiful and inspiring settings. Later this week we will return to a beloved place, the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA. to search for yellow violets blooming by stream and see what melodies may transpire!

As Paul carried my recorder up the hill in his backpack, we were treated to an intricate symphony of bird calls.

The Overmountain Land Conservancy has placed nesting boxes all along the trail. The birds were busy tending to their nests and did not seem perturbed as we observed them rather closely. I saw birds with iridescent markings on their wings and heads and after checking a reference guide, believe that they may have been blue buntings. Their complex and lyrical calls were enthralling!

A melody on Kite Hill- Ancram, New York

AND: Yesterday we returned to the William Cullen Bryant Homestead in Cummington, MA and found an illusive yellow violet. More about this in the next blog!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

A Joyous Outing to The Aldrich Museum!

Jeff, Laurie and Paul at the Aldrich Museum: Ridgefield, CT

What an exhilarating and joyous experience; this was our first visit to a museum since last March! It was also my husband Paul’s birthday and close friends and fellow Hevreh Ensemble members Laurie Friedman and Jeff Adler joined us. It was especially meaningful to visit the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut and to have the opportunity to view a special exhibition by the kinetic sculptor Tim Prentice.

Sculptor Tim Prentice

For the last three summers before the pandemic, Hevreh Ensemble presented concerts at Tim Prentice’s idyllic West Cornwall, Connecticut barn. It was an incredible experience to be playing music surrounded by his lyrical sculptures moving gently in the breeze.

At the barn concerts, my main focus was on performing; seeing his work in a different context at the museum gave me the opportunity to appreciate his work more fully.

Tim Prentice Aldrich Museum

The exhibit also included a touching and very informative video with Prentice talking about his art and what inspires him.

Here is a description of his work and process in his own words:

“In my current work in kinetic sculpture, I am trying to concentrate on the movement, rather than the object. I take it as an article of faith that the air around us moves in ways which are organic, whimsical, and unpredictable. I therefore assume that if I were to abdicate the design to the wind, the work would take on these same qualities.”

Tim Prentice: Aldrich Museum

“The engineer in me wants to minimize friction and inertia to make the air visible. The architect studies matters of scale and proportion. The navigator and sailor want to know the strength and direction of the wind. The artist wants to understand its changing shape.”

“Meanwhile, the child wants to play.”

After we viewed the exhibit, we walked around the grounds of the museum. Paul noticed bamboo plants that looked similar to the cane (arundo donax) that we use to make our clarinet and oboe reeds. I picked up a few pieces from the ground thinking that I would take some home and try to fashion an oboe reed from the cane. And then, the inner child came out in both Laurie and myself! It was so great to see Laurie in person that silliness just poured out of us. I think it was partly a sense of relief after the months of being cooped up and not seeing each other in person.

This summer, Hevreh Ensemble hopes to return to Tim Prentice’s West Cornwall barn at the end of August where we will look forward to sharing our music and also experience more of Tim’s inspiring and beautiful work!

The other day, we were in the mood for a light vegetarian dinner and Paul reminded me about a soup that I had made a while back that had both red lentils and quinoa. For this soup, I used mixed grain quinoa along with plenty of ginger, turmeric, cumin and ground coriander. I had onions and carrots on hand, but any vegetables would be good. I had made some hummus the day before and this along with a spicy mushroom shawarma spread on fresh slices of whole wheat sourdough bread from Bread Alone, made a delicious little feast!

Curried Red Lentil and Quinoa Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups red lentils rinsed

1 cup cooked mixed grain quinoa (any kind is fine)

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 large carrot finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely diced ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground tumeric

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, heat olive oil.

Saute onion until it is translucent and softens.

Add ginger, cumin, turmeric and ground coriander. Stir and cook for a few minutes.

Add carrots, bay leaf, salt & pepper and red lentils. Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until lentils start to soften, about 30-40 minutes.

Add cooked quinoa and cook for for 30 more minutes. If soup seems too thin, remove cover and cook about 20 minutes more over medium heat.

This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes beautifully!

Enjoy!

Mushroom Shawarma (based on NYT Cooking Recipe)

Ingredients:

3/4 pound mushrooms, stems removed and cut into large chunks. I used button mushrooms, but sliced portobello mushrooms would also be good.

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into wedges.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

pinch of red pepper flakes or to taste.

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

To Make Mushroom Shawarma:

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place mushrooms and sliced onion on a large flat rimmed baking sheet.

Pour on olive oil and mix everything together with your hands.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roast until tender and browned about 25 minutes, turning once or twice.

Enjoy!

AND: Here is the first wildflower sighting of the season!

BloodrootSanguinaria Canadensis

HAPPY SPRING!!

Hidden Gems: Solo Walks

Fox Brook Preserve-Goshen, CT

The past few weeks my husband Paul could not accompany me on our walks and explorations because of medical issues and true to Paul’s form, he sent me out on several solo walks to explore new locations! It all went well, except for one walk at the Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Sheffield, MA. where we had actually been before. I belatedly realized that I was too busy taking pictures to watch carefully where I was going.

Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

I often do not pay close attention to the trail markers and just follow Paul. At this particular walk, which should be about 1 mile, I felt like a mouse in a maze and until I found my way, walked over 3 1/2 miles! It was late in the afternoon and the weather was chilly and a bit threatening; I was very happy to see my bright blue car in the distance! Since then, I can happily report Paul is recuperated and thankfully back with me on the trails!

One of my solo walks was at the Fox Brook Preserve in Goshen, CT. on Route 4. I have driven by the tiny entrance to this walk for years on my way to chorus practices and doctor’s appointments in Torrington, CT. Very easy to miss, the trail is a hidden gem complete with a pine forest, large boulders, stone walls, a babbling brook with a suspension bridge, a grove of mountain laurel, a serene pond with hummocks and a small beaver dam!

As I entered the woods from the busy highway, this time paying close attention to where I was headed, the trail sloped up gently and transitioned to a peaceful pine forest with large glacial boulders strewn about. The noise of the road faded away quickly.

I walked through a grove of mountain laurel and felt as if I was in a private chapel, embraced gently by the plants. Near the end of June we will be surrounded by a fragrant blaze of color.

Holding tightly onto a thin guard wire, I traversed over a slightly rickety bridge. The late afternoon sun reflecting on the water was both mesmerizing and peaceful.

Approaching the pond, I saw a small knoll that seemed like a beautiful place to play one of the first improvisations of the season. We will return soon with a recorder and Native American flute in hand!

My next solo walk was at the Buttercup Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Northeastern Dutchess County, just south of Pine Plains, New York. The day I visited, I saw only one other person the whole time.

 There are six miles of trails throughout the sanctuary on over 641 acres. The preserve has over 80 species of birds including Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Bobolinks and both Golden-winged and Lawrence Warblers.

Although I am happily vaccinated and can safely walk where there are more people, I revel in the solitude of walking alone peacefully with the birds and nature for company!

After my walk, I traveled on to Rhinebeck, NY to pick up bread from the wonderful artisanal bakery, Bread Alone. My online order included an organic whole wheat sour dough boule, a sourdough raison nut bread and a dense loaf of sourdough rye bread. I also had made an online order for Indian food from one of our favorite restaurants, Cinnamon. In addition to ordering Chicken Chettinad and Chana Gobi Masala, my big treat was a large Masala Dosa.

Dosas are made with a tangy crispy crepe with ingredients that include fermented rice and dal. Filled with seasoned mashed potato, sauteed onion, dal, cashews, mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves, it is both delicious and addicting!

I arrived early to Rhinebeck and my order at Cinnamon was not ready for another 40 minutes. I thought this might be a opportune time for a bit of people desensitizing! The Poet’s Walk is a few minutes away and is always filled with visitors. For most of the pandemic, we would drive by and see the parking lot filled with 40 or more cars and we would both say together,”No Way”!! This day, I decided to go for it! I saw signs asking people to wear their masks and most complied. The path winds gently through fields and the woods and at the top of a hill you can see the Hudson River and the Catskills off in the distance. I felt reasonably safe, although when a boisterous family without masks, came bounding down the path from the other direction, my protective instinct kicked in rather strongly and I moved quite a distance away into a field!

Poet’s Walk: Red Hook, NY

The other day, rummaging around in the freezer trying to find something for lunch, I came upon a container of lentil soup that I had made a few months ago. I sometimes find lentil soup a bit bland. I remembered when I had made this batch of soup that I added chicken chorizo sausage, smoked paprika and a small can of diced tomatoes. Along with kale, onion, carrot and celery; that did the trick! A bowl of this soup along with a slice of leftover dosa made an excellent lunch!

Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

2 cups dried lentils

1 chicken chorizo sausage cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped kale

2 carrots cut into small pieces

1 medium onion finely chopped

1 stalk celery finely chopped

1 small can diced tomatoes with juice

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Soup:

In a large pot, heat the olive oil.

Saute onion until it softens.

Add lentils, carrots, chicken chorizo sausage, celery, kale and diced tomatoes with the juice.

Cover with water and add bay leaf, smoked paprika, dried thyme and salt & pepper to taste.

Bring to boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 1 hour until vegetables are very soft and lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water. Or, if it is too thin uncover the pot and cook the soup down until it is a thicker texture. This soup tastes even better the next day and freezes beautifully!

Enjoy!

This past Sunday, Paul showed me a map of the Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT. and we took a short walk on a new trail. At the top of a hill we could see Tobey Pond peeking through the woods. I remember swimming there as a young music student at the Yale Summer School of Music. Perhaps it will be possible to swim and take my kayak there soon! Happy Spring!

Tobey Pond: Norfolk, CT

AND, I have two favorites this Trees of the Week that I saw on our walk.

Humpf!
Really?

Stay Safe!

Happy Spring from Parsons Marsh!

Parson’s Marsh- Lenox, MA

It was the second day of spring; the wind was brisk and the air had a chill to it, but the sun was shining brightly as we walked through Parsons Marsh Trail in Lenox, Massachusetts. The site, just down the road from the main entrance to Tanglewood, was designed and built by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in 2018. The short trail winds through an open meadow, forested upland and ends at a large marsh. It is home to over 75 nesting bird species, white tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, red and grey fox, and the marsh also houses beaver, mink and otter!

Parson’s Marsh
Parson’s Marsh

In a few weeks the landscape will change dramatically; the trees and vegetation will be green and lush. Every year I am newly amazed at the rapid transition. Near the edge of the water at Parson’s Marsh, I saw the last small ice formations of the year.

Directly across from the trail is an old Berkshire “Cottage”that is now The Stonover Farm B&B. Built in 1890 by John Parsons, the existing cottage served as a farm house for the estate. The idyllic grounds stand on a spring fed duck pond and 10 acres.

Next to the main cottage is an old barn that houses a contemporary art gallery. This looks like it might also be a beautiful space for chamber music concerts!

A few weeks before Passover, I always make a large pot of chicken stock as a base for Matzoh Ball Soup; I cook a whole chicken along with onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and dill. After simmering for a few hours, the resulting broth is rich with full depth of flavor, but the remaining chicken is very soft and tastes like cotton! Trying to avoid food waste, I tried to think of a use for the leftover chicken. I was in the mood for Italian cannelloni and came up with an idea for a filling. I removed the chicken from the bones and added this along with sauteed onion and garlic, lightly steamed broccoli rabe and a handful of toasted walnuts to the bowl of my food processor. I pulsed the mixture just a few times so the chicken would not get too pasty and then seasoned it with dried thyme, a pinch of both nutmeg and red pepper flakes and salt & pepper. Tasting the crumbly mixture, the texture of the chicken reminded me of dry ricotta cheese. So far so good!

I had purchased a few fresh lasagna sheets from Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington, MA. I cut the pasta into long strips, spread some filling in the center of each and rolled them up. Along with fresh tomato sauce, I have to say the result was delicious. I used no cheese, but feel free to top the dish with fresh grated mozzarella! There were 12 rolls and I thought this might be too much for two people, but they disappeared quickly! Hence the name of the dish-“Can’t Leave Them Aloni Cannelloni”!

“Can’t Leave Them Aloni Cannelloni”

Ingredients:

1 large sheet fresh lasagna pasta

For Filling:

leftover chicken from stock

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 cup steamed broccoli rabe (the taste was slightly bitter, you can also substitute kale or baby spinach- if you use spinach, make sure to wring it out in a paper towel to remove extra moisture.)

handful of toasted walnuts- more or less will work just fine!

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of red pepper flakes to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

For Tomato Sauce:

1 large can crushed tomatoes

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried sweet basil

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

splash of red wine (if you have an open bottle hanging around!)

To Make Cannelloni:

Make Sauce:

In a large pot, heat olive oil.

Saute chopped onion until it softens slightly.

Add chopped garlic and cook briefly.

Add crushed tomatoes and remaining ingredients.

Add about 1 cup water- you can always add more later if the sauce seems too thick.

Bring sauce to a boil and then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. The sauce can be made the day before.

Make Filling:

Heat olive oil in a medium sized saute pan.

Add onion and cook until softened.

Add garlic and cook briefly.

In bowl of food processor, place chicken, steamed broccoli rabe, onion and garlic, walnuts, nutmeg, thyme and red pepper flakes.

Pulse a few times until mixture is crumbly. Do not over process as the texture will get pasty.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Assemble Cannollini:

Pre-heat oven to 365 Degrees.

Put 1/2 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.

Place a pasta sheet on the counter. Cut lengthwise into 6 even strips. Cut each strip in half. You should have 12 pieces of pasta.

Place a dollop of the filling in the center of each pasta piece and roll up.

Place the filled cannelloni seam side down over the sauce.

Put the remaining sauce over the top of the rolls.

Cover tightly with foil and bake about 35 minutes. When you insert a small paring knife in the center of a roll, it should feel soft and the sauce will be bubbly and fragrant! Uncover and cook about 5-10 minutes more and the rolls will brown up a bit. Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

See how long it takes to finish these! Enjoy!

AND: Here is The Tree of the Week:

“Put that in your pipe and smoke it”

STAY SAFE!!