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!!

Twin Oaks Preserve and a Passover Treat!

Twin Oaks Preserve

This past week, I listened to a segment featuring poet Tess Taylor on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and it resonated deeply with me. For so many people this past year has been one of isolation, grief and hardship and then there are others like myself who have had the good fortune to spend the year safely sheltered with our partners in our homes and surrounded by natural beauty. At first, it felt surreal and strange to be so anchored to one place, but after some time passed, I began to notice subtle changes in my daily life. Taylor selected a few poems about that in her words: “speak to an appreciation for that sense of being stuck”.

One of the poems she chose was by the Harvard based poet Stephanie Burt:

Love poem with horticulture and anxiety. Of course we have feet of clay or fins. Of course we made promises – everyone does – that we will make good, but not today. We cherish our oversized shoes. Our garden also has sylphs that only we can see and peonies and badger tracks and a sandstone Artemis and colors not found in nature except in flower beds – intense maroons, deep golds, sleek pinks, warm blues.Stephanie Burt

In Taylor’s words: “I think this is a poem that actually says it’s OK to be stuck. It’s OK to be watching this time pass. Things are flowering that you may not even understand. You are stuck. You are in this garden. This world is enormous and beyond you. And there’s a beautiful surrender to just watching. And so there’s a way in which just trying to think what are the good parts of this strange year that we’ll treasure, that feels like a particularly domestic assignment and a way of circling this strange life that we’ve been thrown into and having the chance to evaluate what is it that I have figured out how to love this year.”

I decided to make a list of the things about this most unusual of years that I will treasure:

1.The unexpected gift of time gave us the opportunity to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds us and to explore it in a deep way. Of course, my husband Paul’s knack of finding unusual walks and hidden away trails helped!

2. Although it was hard not to perform with my group and others, I developed a satisfying routine of practicing oboe where I could smooth out my tonal production, finger technique and other aspects of my playing. In a normal year, I would mostly be practicing repertoire for concerts; my interest in improvisation was rekindled and I discovered that I love creating small improvisations on my recorder, oboe and Native American flute. I played anywhere- on our hikes to mountain tops, marshes and other inspiring places. I plan to continue this and look forward to playing in chapels and other beautiful locations- and dreaming a bit- I have started researching locations in Croatia!

3. Finding ourselves together constantly, my relationship with my dear and sweet husband Paul deepened as well as our mutual sense of humor relating to the absurdities of our situation. Or, perhaps I should say- poor man– my silly streak rubbed off on him!

4. Perhaps best of all, I have started to write about my experiences and had the time to take a creative writing class. I don’t think this would have happened in such a wonderful and organic way given another set of circumstances!

The other day, I took a solo walk at Twin Oaks Preserve in Sharon, CT. This was one of our first walks that we took at the beginning of the pandemic last March.

As I walked up the gentle slope of the meadow, I experienced a bitter sweet emotion as I observed the change of the seasons. The birds have returned, a strong March wind was blowing and I smelled the sweet air of spring. We had come through this year and survived!

The Sharon Land Trust bought the 70 acre Twin Oaks property in 1998. Two oak trees that stood in the middle of the field were there since before the American Revolution. The first tree fell shortly after hurricane Sandy in 2013 and it’s twin fell shortly after. Paul and I have been reading a book called: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The author talks about how trees communicate with each other and what they feel; very thought provoking. We don’t know if somehow the root systems were interdependent or perhaps the second tree died of a broken heart! A local artist created a beautiful sculpture from the wood that stands at the beginning of the trail.

We just had our second ZOOM Passover this past weekend and it was so heartwarming to see our daughter and her partner Katie, along with other dear friends. Not being able to see each other in person was also bittersweet, but with the use of technology we managed to see people living in Massachusetts, Virginia and Connecticut all at the same time! Our daughter led the first part of the service and then we signed off to have our own dinners. We resumed the service and were treated to Alicia & Katie’s beautiful singing. At the end of a Seder, a door is traditionally opened to symbolically allow the prophet Elijah to enter. As we opened our individual doors, I thought that the bittersweet chocolate pots de creme I had made for dessert fit the mood perfectly. We had to close our own door a bit abruptly as a bat flew close by and also the bears have awakened from their winter slumber! No reason to invite a bear into our home!

I adapted this simple recipe from the book Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. I used Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate and just a touch of coconut sugar, but feel free to add maple syrup if you would like a sweeter flavor! This recipe makes a dense rich textured pudding that is delicious on it’s own, but also would be lovely served with fresh strawberries and maybe a touch of whipped cream!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Creme

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons coconut sugar

4 ounces Lily’s dark stevia sweetened chocolate

To Make the Pots de Creme:

Ina small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the almond milk.

In a small saucepan over low heat, bring the remaining 1 cup almond milk to a simmer with the coconut sugar, stirring often so that the milk does not boil over. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

Whisk the cornstarch again to make sure it is completely dissolved and add this to the hot milk mixture.

Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly.

Remove from heat and sprinkle chocolate over the top. Whisk until chocolate is completely mixed in and is smooth. Place in individual ramekins or a bowl. Refrigerate until cold.

Note: This recipe can be easily doubled. The pudding has a very bittersweet flavor. Add maple syrup to taste.

ENJOY!!

As of this writing, both my husband and I are completely vaccinated! Now comes the part of becoming “unstuck” from our safe haven. I feel like a tortoise slowly poking it’s head out of it’s shell and looking warily around!

One of our first ventures will be to the Aldrich Museum with timed tickets to see an exhibit by the amazing 91 year sculptor Tim Prentice. Hevreh Ensemble members and close friends Laurie and Jeff will meet us there. Afterwards , we are going to a restaurant called the Farmer and The Fish, where we will celebrate Pauls’ birthday! We will be seated safely outside!

Next, we plan to visit our dear friends Carol & Hal in Boston. Carol has told me how much she misses my cooking and our dinners together. So, I am planning to make her a dinner that we are calling: “Carol’s Feast”. AND– yes, there will be blog posts about all of this; complete with recipes!

I end with my favorite Tree of the Week:

“What a Year! “Looking Forward to Spring”

STAY SAFE!

Kite Hill and Galumpki!

Watching hawks soaring freely and effortlessly on thermals at Kite Hill in Ancram, New York gave me hope that we will soon have more freedom-I have just had my second vaccine!

In the next few weeks, I will spread my wings and I can rehearse again with my group Hevreh Ensemble and we will be able to invite couples over for dinner and maybe even go to a museum! On our Kite Hill walk with distant views of the Catskills, my spirits began to soar!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY
Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

At the top of the field is a small rustic gazebo that overlooks the distant mountains. This will be the site of my first outdoor spring musical improvisation!

Kite Hill- Ancram, NY

But, perhaps not so fast! The recent events that happened to a good friend’s daughter, brought to mind the kind of experiences that the famous Yiddish novelist Issac Bashevis Singer wrote about; characters that are often victim to cruel and unusual twists of fate!

Here is a true life story (with fictional names) that is akin to a modern day Yiddish Folk Tale!

Rena Hilfemacher is a gifted and accomplished photo journalist who works for several top New York City publications. During the pandemic she has ridden her bicycle tirelessly (no pun intended) on assignments throughout the city; many of them potentially exposing Rena to the covid virus. This past year, she has taken over 10 covid tests, thankfully all negative. When the vaccine became available in New York for certain age groups, she became somewhat of a maven in finding hard to get appointments for her parents, uncle, her parent’s friends, etc.- she was an online dervish- nothing could stop her! She thought wistfully that it would be wonderful if she too could get vaccinated. Rena had heard from a friend that if one volunteered with a soup kitchen, you would be eligible to be vaccinated; so this is what she did. She spent an afternoon, masked and socially distanced helping out in a soup kitchen; it was very rewarding and then at the end of the day, she received the document that she needed to sign up to get vaccinated.

This is where it starts to get interesting. A few days before Rena volunteered at the soup kitchen, one of her assignments was to photograph a family in their home and to document their struggles during the pandemic. The family was masked and she had on a double mask, but the thought had been at the back of her mind, that maybe she should get tested, just to be safe.

As she walked down the street, she saw an ominous looking black van with the following lettering, Covid-19 Testing: Lab Q and a placard next to it said, “Skip the Line.” A small voice of reason in her head, said “Walk away, now!” But then, her impetuous side took over, “Why not-what could it hurt, I’ll know quickly if I was exposed and then I can go get my vaccine!!

The result came quickly and unfortunately the test was positive. In shock and disbelief at this disturbing news, upon the advice of her mother she decided to get another test. This thankfully, came back negative and she breathed a big sigh of relief. However, unbeknownst to Rena was that her first positive test had been reported to contact tracing and soon after, she received a text stating that she needed to receive two negative tests and in the meantime she was required to quarantine for 10 days. Contact tracing recommended that she go to Bellevue Hospital for a test, as the tests done there are reported to be trusted and accurate.

She followed this advise and went to Bellevue, took the test and then went back home to her cozy quarantine to await the verdict. The results came back and said she was negative- great news- but not so fast!! They texted her shortly afterwards and said that the vial had been dropped and the contents had been contaminated, so could she come back for another test??

Again, luckily the result was negative, but in the meantime, contact tracing reached out to Rena and asked that she fill out an online report 2 times a day and the last I heard, Rena is finishing up her quarantine. In the meantime, her friends hearing about her prowess at getting vaccines for people, have been texting her-“Can you find me an appointment?” She did have a bit more free time for the next few days, so why not!! I am reminded of the old Yiddish proverb: “Mann Tracht, un Gott Lacht”- “man plans and god laughs!”

*Good news update: Rena finished her quarantine and was able to get an appointment for the Moderna vaccine at the Jacob Javits Center this weekend for herself and also for a friend who is a reporter!

This short story put me in the mood for some Eastern European comfort food and I thought of a big casserole of stuffed cabbage or in Polish, Galumpki!

Galumpki is a satisfying but very heavy dish; often made with pork or beef and smothered in sour cream. It might also be served with sauerkraut that has been cooked with crunchy bits of meat and mashed potatoes. Just imagining all of this makes me feel like a stuffed cabbage!

Thinking about a making a lighter version, brought to mind a quirky, very creative vegan restaurant that we visited a few years ago in Pittsburgh, called Apteka. The cuisine features food from central and eastern Europe. The food is entirely vegan and we came away after a meal feeling satisfied but not overfull. I checked out their current menu and this week the dishes included: Koltlet Selerowy- a celery root schnitzel with dilly potatoes, dressed beets, cabbage slaw, leek and apple and horseradish sauce! Another special this week is roast endive with black currant raisins, sour cherry vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. They also offer potato pancakes with celeriac remoulade, smoked cabbage and prune paste.

I decided to create light and healthy stuffed cabbage that also would fit in the category of comfort food. Cabbage rolls appear throughout central and eastern Europe with different names and versions. The name golabki means “little pigeons” in Polish referring to the roll’s rounded shape. The Czech and Slovak rolls are called holubky and Serbian and Croatian rolls are sarma- all unique and delicious! I am not sure what category my cabbage rolls would fall under, but I channeled my eastern European roots and carried on!

I made a tomato sauce with lots of vegetables including onion, garlic, zucchini, carrot and kale seasoned with dried thyme, paprika and hot pepper flakes. I cooked it all up and then pureed it with an immersion blender. For the filling, I had some leftover parsley pesto(that I made with parsley, toasted walnuts, garlic and olive oil), brown rice, sauteed shallots and mushrooms- seasoned with dried sage and thyme, a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. I stuffed the mixture into cabbage leaves, poured tomato sauce over it and baked it all until the cabbage rolls were tender and the sauce was bubbling and aromatic. To serve the dish, I thinned a bit of non-fat yogurt with water and poured this over the top of the cabbage rolls.

So, here they are! This would be great with a glass of cold frosty beer and some really good dark rye bread smeared with softened butter! I hope you enjoy making these!!

Vegetarian Galumpki

Vegetarian Galumpki

Ingredients:

6 cabbage leaves from 1 small green cabbage

For parsley pesto:

1 bunch organic Italian parsley

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 clove garlic

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rest of ingredients for filling:

1 cup cooked brown rice (I used organic brown basmati rice)

2 shallots finely chopped

3-4 mushrooms finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch of cayenne pepper or more to taste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 large can whole tomatoes

1 carrot finely chopped

1 small zucchini finely chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 /2 cup kale, stems removed, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

To make Galumpki:

Prepare cabbage:

Remove core from cabbage and run hot water into the cored area to help in removing outer leaves. Remove 6 leaves and remove any thick ridges, this will make it easier to fold the rolls into packages. Keep remaining cabbage for other use.

Make Sauce:

In an large pot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and over medium heat, saute onion until it softens, add garlic and saute a few minutes more.

Add chopped zucchini and carrot- saute for a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and add kale, bay leaf, thyme, paprika and red pepper flakes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes. This can also be made the day before.

Remove bay leaf and blend with an immersion blender until the sauce is smooth. It’s fine for small chunks of vegetables to remain!

Adjust seasoning and set aside.

Make Parsley Pesto:

Wash parsley thoroughly with cold water, cut off ends of stems. Don’t worry about drying the parsely, the extra moisture is good!

Place in food processor with garlic, toasted walnuts and olive oil.

Process until mixture is coarsely chopped.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

If mixture seems too stiff, add a bit more olive oil.

For this recipe, use 1/2 cup. You will have leftover pesto for another recipe!

This can be made a few days before, keeps well and is also great over whole wheat pasta!

Make rest of filling:

In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add chopped shallots and saute for a few minutes until softened. Add chopped mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their juices.

Add brown rice to onion mixture. Stir in 1 cup of the parsley pesto, 1 teaspoon ground sage, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Assemble Galumpki:

Pre-heat oven to 350 Degrees

In a medium size casserole dish place half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Divide filling into 6 portions. Place a cabbage leaf on a plate and place a portion of the filling in the center. Fold both sides of cabbage leaf in towards each other and then fold from bottom to top. Place seam side down in dish on top of tomato sauce. Continue stuffing rest of rolls. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the rolls.

Cover pan tightly with foil and bake about 45 minutes until cabbage is easily pierced with a sharp paring knife. Uncover and bake about 10-15 minutes more.

Yogurt Sauce:

1 cup non-fat plain yogurt

mix yogurt with water until the consistency is pourable, but not too thin!

Let sit for a few minutes and then pour yogurt sauce over the top of the galumpki.

ENJOY!

AND: I leave you with The Tree of the Week!

“I’m grumpy because I didn’t get any galumpki!

STAY SAFE!

Provence Revisited: Part Two

Cassis Calangues, Cassis France

Even for a person who enjoys the cold, I can now say enough! I am more then ready for spring! There are promising signs, the days are getting visibly longer and the dirt roads have turned to mud! This week most of the snow melted. So, this is an excellent time for Part Two of Provence Revisited.

In my blog entry from February 7th, Provence Revisited, I talked about my trip to Provence in 2017, made possible by a Professional Development grant from Hofstra University. The main goal of the grant was to learn about the cultivation of oboe cane (the species of cane is called arundo donax) that grows in southern France. For the trip, I was accompanied by my good friend Amanda. The plan was to spend three days visiting cane plantations and interviewing the growers in Hyeres and the surrounding area near the Mediterranean Sea. No hardship there!!

Arundo Donax Cane

After that, we would have another three days to travel around Provence, with visits to Aix en Provence and Marseille. The main theme for this part of the trip was to visit museums and historic sites, including a visit to the Notre-Dame Senanque Abbey where the monks tend acres of fragrant lavender. AND, of course food played a major part of the planned itinerary!

Our trip started in Cassis, east of Marseille in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. Cassis is a quaint Provencal fishing village that is famous for the stunning and majestic Cassis Calangues; white limestone cliffs formed over 120 million years ago. We took a boat ride through crystalline blue water where we were treated to views of the magnificent and regal Calangues cliffs, that have inspired so many painters and artists; a wonderful way to start our adventure.

Cassis Calangues

Cassis, France

There were so many places that we would have liked to visit, but an excellent decision was to visit Aix en Provence; a small charming university town with beautiful architecture and bustling with energy! We checked into our hotel, Hotel en Ville; chosen partly because it was in walking distance of our lunch reservation at Chez Feraud! For this trip, I was looking for restaurants that were charming, unpretentious and most importantly offered great food. Chez Feraud did not disappoint!!

The food was excellent- I ordered a vegetable terrine that looked liked a beautifully arranged mosaic and a fish entree; grilled red mullet with black olive tapenade and roasted potatoes- but it was the dessert that I still remember clearly, simple poached figs served over homemade vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce! The only problem was that it was now time to walk to our next destination; Musee Granet. The only desire I had at the moment was to sit in an outdoor cafe and people watch; so this is just what we did!!

Chez Feraud- Aix en Provence

After we finally recovered from lunch- icy lemonade with fresh mint helped- we slowly walked to the museum. Originally started in 1766 as a free drawing school, the museum has grown to it’s present size to include over 12,000 works and masterpieces. The day we visited, there was a special exhibition of contemporary works of art that were edgy and boldly colorful.

The next morning we drove to a leafy neighborhood in the Lauves Hill section of Aix to visit Atelier Paul Cezanne. In 1901, Cezanne bought a plot of land that at the time was open countryside. He built a simple two story house and from 1902 until his death in 1906, he worked here daily in his studio. After viewing the studio, I walked outside to the garden in the back of the house; surrounded by the lush greenery, I sat quietly enjoying the sense of history.

Atelier de la Paul Cezanne

Atelier Paul Cezanne

The next day we headed up into the hills towards Apt. Our hotel was in the town of Gargas about an hour from Aix. Picking hotels sight unseen can sometimes result in not perfect outcomes. But in this case, I was delighted that the clientele in the charming Mas de la tour, was not touristy, and included a French motorcycle group and a group of handicapped youths on a field trip. The rooms were charming and very reasonable priced. Housed in a 12th century structure that once was an abbey, it was not far from the beautiful hills towns of  Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux.

We checked into the hotel and then it was time for our lunch reservation in the medieval village of Bonnieux at L’Arome, across the street from a breathtaking view of the hills.

Bonnieux, France

Usually my recollection of memorable past meals is on the mark, but here I only remember that the food was delicious. Perhaps the stunning scenery distracted me and the fact that I was sitting on a terrace in the middle of Provence in a medieval hill town! My only regret is that I did not obsessively take pictures of the beautifully plated food. Here is one picture of my appetizer, almost too beautiful to devour, which I do remember that I happily did!

L’Arome- Bonnieux, France

That night, overly full from lunch, we had dinner in our hotel’s cozy outdoor courtyard restaurant. I remember that the food was good, but the best part was observing the other guests and the hotel’s friendly dogs that eagerly visited the tables. Amanda snuck a bit of her beef daube, that was a bit gristly, to one of the dogs!

The next morning we drove to the charming small city of Apt, famous for it’s bustling open air market place held every Saturday at the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance. The streets are filled with small stalls that sell everything from fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread and pastries to colorful fabrics, pottery and antiques.

Marketplace, Apt
Marketplace, Apt

I purchased a small tart made from puff pastry, filled with figs and almond paste. I placed it in my bag for later in the day when a snack was called for. And, this is one of my favorite parts of the trip: our next stop was the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes. Started in 1148, the monastery still has an active religious community of monks that gather together seven times a day for prayer. The monks are famous for their cultivation of lavender. As my friend Amanda navigated our rental car around the steep and narrow roads, I took out my fig tart and as I took a bite, the fragrant scent of lavender wafted into the car! Heaven on earth!!

Abbey de Senanque Monastery
Abbey de Senanque Monatery

The monks have very generously structured their daily life to allow the public to tour the monastery. The tours were in French only, and I could only pick out a few words or phrases, but it was lovely to listen to the fluid and musical language as we walked through the chapels and cloister areas.

When I am traveling, I sometimes find that the unplanned discoveries are often very rewarding. Driving along a back road, we saw a sign that said La Boutique du Molin and we pulled off the road to investigate. It turned out to be an artisanal olive oil cooperative where the growers from the area bring their crops to be processed into olive oil. The friendly and helpful owners offered to give us a tour of the facility and they talked about the process of making olive oil. Then, we had an olive oil tasting where we sampled many different flavors of olive oil. It was fascinating to discover the different character and taste of each oil. And, of course we ended up purchasing a good number of bottles for friends and family.

We flew into Marseille and our original plan was to drive back to Marseille and spend our last day in France touring around Marseille before we returned home. We got to Marseille late in the afternoon- the steep and narrow streets of Marseille were very difficult to navigate our car through and by the time we found our hotel, New Hotel Bompard, a small nap was in order. We did not get to visit some of the places on our itinerary: the Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde, Parc Borely, and the Chateau Borley (museum of decorative art)- this will have to be for another trip!

Then it was time for our dinner reservation at Chez FonFon. We walked down the steep and crowded streets to the restaurant, located in the old fishing port. Across the street from the restaurant was a crowded open air night club- it looked like a movie set from a Fellini movie. Chez FonFon is known for it’s excellent Bouillabasisse specialties, but after a few days of indulgence, I was not that hungry. I ordered a small appetizer of grilled fish and this was perfect along with some bread and a glass of wine! Afterwards we walked around the port and then very slowly back up the long hill to our hotel and very welcome beds!!

Chez Fonfon- Marseille

So, back to reality! Every day it seems as if we are getting closer to our new normal and if all goes well, more freedom. Writing this blog has awakened my desire to travel again! The other day, a simple dish of roasted red and yellow peppers brought back memories for some of the bright flavors that I tasted in Provence. The peppers can be served over pasta, grilled fish or chicken and with some crusty French bread and a glass of Rose wine, you can imagine that you are sitting on a terrace in Provence!

Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers

Ingredients:

2 red peppers

2 yellow peppers

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make peppers:

Pre- heat oven to 450 degrees

Cut peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. Slice into medium size strips.

Place on a large baking sheet and pour a few tablespoons of olive oil over peppers. Mix together with your hands.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes, stirring about every 5-10 minutes with a spatula.

Roast until peppers are soft and start to caramelize.

Serve over pasta, grilled fish or grilled chicken.

Enjoy!

arundo donax- wild oboe cane

As we drove down the hills back towards the Mediterranean, Amanda noticed that the vegetation had dramatically changed and she said, “There it is, on the side of the road- wild oboe cane!”

My over packed suitcase made it safely back home with Rosé, a huge bag of oboe cane from Daniel Rigotti and of course olive oil! AND, I can happily report that I checked out several of the restaurants and hotels that we visited and they seem to all have survived the pandemic! Perhaps a return trip may happen in the not too distant future!!

Stay Safe!

Hummocks, Flarks and A Vegetarian Indian Feast!

Kelsey Road: Sheffield, MA

This week I had planned on writing Part Two: Provence Revisited, but I was sidetracked by pristine fresh snow; a brilliant white palette for animal tracks and reflections of light. Provence can wait, for now it’s back to winter!

Our invigorating walks in the cold have been mostly on side roads and our steps are careful; plodding and heavier. Between wearing sturdy winter hiking boots and the snow covered roads, it feels as if my feet carry me along like the thick and heavy tread of snow tires! The slower pace gives one the advantage of noticing more and I am enthralled by the patterns of light and shadows on the snow.

Wild Turkey Tracks

A small puddle of water on the side of the road is transformed into an exquisite ice sculpture.

On Kelsey Road in Sheffield MA, we walked by a small marsh and Paul remarked that he thought that the tiny bumps and indentations covered with snow were called hummocks. I thought that they looked like a magical colony of snow elf dwellings! After checking on Wikipedia, we read that shallow wet depressions in swampy areas are also called flarks.

Walking along the road, we had a good deal of fun making up silly word combinations, but quickly realized that we needed to call on our dear friend Hal Ober, an amazing poet and writer. He writes a blog called The Old Hatchery. We asked him to come up with a fitting limerick and he willingly complied. Here it is!

Hummocks and flarks. Hummocks and flarks.
It’s enough to flummox the Brothers Marx!
Compounding the task with a limerick ask?
Why, I’d sooner recline in a hammock with sharks!


AND, then Hal also wrote a poem!

Boggier(but not a limerick)

A hummock’s a hollow,
A flark is a mound.
No, sorry! 
I’ve got that the wrong way around.


If you slog through a bog
Here’s a field note to savor:
A hummock’s convex
And a flark is concaver. 

Or picture a sine wave.
Why? Just for a lark.
The crest—that’s the hummock.
The trough is the flark.

Thank you Hal!!


AND, According to Wikepedia

In geology, a hummock is a small knoll or mound above ground.[1] They are typically less than 15 meters (50 ft) in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. It is difficult to make generalizations about hummocks because of the diversity in their morphology and sedimentology.[2] An extremely irregular surface may be called hummocky.[3]

An ice hummock is a boss or rounded knoll of ice rising above the general level of an ice-field. Hummocky ice is caused by slow and unequal pressure in the main body of the packed ice, and by unequal structure and temperature at a later period.

Hummocks in the shape of low ridges of drier peat moss typically form part of the structure of certain types of raised bog, such as plateaukermipalsa or string bog. The hummocks alternate with shallow wet depressions or flarks.

Strange as it may seem to some, especially this week with the whole country in crisis with a deep freeze, I love the cold weather. I find I have more energy and focus. After a long walk, I am ready to come back indoors and cook to my heart’s content. With a fire blazing in the woodstove, food can simmer on the stove for hours while I practice, plan for future concerts, read and write. In the summer, I feel languid and lazy. I am always trying to keep the house cool and cooking in general suffers.

While walking the other day, I passed a small farm that raises Highland cattle. Originally from the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, their heavy fur is suitable for strong winds and colder temperatures. I was able to get quite close and could see puffs of steam come out of their noses as they exhaled. They seemed very contented in the snow; I think I might have found some kindred spirits!

**********************************

Safely back inside, I began to think about dinner. For the holidays, my daughter gave me a cookbook by the Israeli/English chef Yotam Ottolenghi called Flavor. Well known for his innovative recipes using a wide range of flavor combinations, his most recent book features plant based recipes. This is perfect for us. These days we are leaning towards a mostly vegetarian diet for a number of reasons: health, environmental concerns and I also happen to love the many different cuisines that use vegetables in flavorful and creative ways; Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian; the possibilities seem endless. Looking through the book, I saw a recipe for Tofu Korma that sounded delicious. Luckily the day I made it, we were snowed in- it took most of the day to prepare! The recipe with instructions will appear at another time!

Tofu Korma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Flavor

I decided to make an Indian vegetarian feast that was a bit less labor intensive. I made the following dishes over two days: Day One- Curried Vegetables, Kidney Bean Dal and Brown Rice. Day Two – Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower and Whole Wheat Naan along with leftovers from the previous night! A true feast!

Curried Vegetables
Kidney Bean Dal
Indian Pan Fried Cauliflower

The pan fried cauliflower, seasoned with cumin and black mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger and garlic is based on a recipe by David Tanis who is a contributor for the NYT Cooking column. Tanis has worked as a chef for many years at the renowned Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse; on my wish list to visit! I found the cumin and black mustard seeds in out of way container of Indian spices that I had purchased a while ago from a wonderful store called Kalustyan’s in Manhattan. Ideally spices should replaced after a year and I know that my supply is getting a bit old. Kalustyan’s has a great online store to order spices, but I think I will hold out until I can visit Curry Hill, the area between Lexington Avenue and 25th to 30th streets. I will also plan to visit Pongal an excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant in the neighborhood and will most definitely order a dosa!

Whole Wheat Naan

The naan was surprisingly easy to make; the only ingredients were whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and yogurt. I kneaded the dough in my mixer with a dough hook and they cooked very quickly on a hot griddle. The fun part was holding them over an open gas flame with tongs and they puffed up!

Curried Vegetables

Ingredients:

2 carrots cut into diagonal slices

1 zucchini cut into diagonal slices

1 cup frozen green beans

6-8 cherry tomatoes

1 medium onion diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To Make Vegetable Curry:

In a large saucepan pan, heat olive oil.

Add onions and saute until they soften and turn light brown.

Add garlic and ginger and saute about a minute.

Add cumin, salt & pepper to taste and curry powder and saute for two minutes.

Add vegetables and saute for two minutes.

Add a bit of water and cover pan. You can always add more water if the mixture gets too dry and the vegetables are not soft enough.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are soft about 30 minutes.

Remove cover from pan and cook for a few minutes. You want a thick mixture-if there are bits of caramelized onion, garlic or ginger on the bottom of the pan this is good! Stir them up into the mixture.

Enjoy!

Kidney Bean Dal

Ingredients:

2 cans organic kidney beans drained and rinsed

1 small onion finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 bay leaf (if you have fresh curry leaf, this would be great!)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro for garnish

To Make Kidney Bean Dal:

In a medium sized pot, heat olive oil.

Add onion and saute until it softens.

Add garlic and ginger- saute one minute.

Add turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper to taste.

Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and cook until onions are soft and liquid is almost gone.

Uncover and cook a bit more until all liquid is gone.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Enjoy!

Indian Pan-Fried Cauliflower

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small cauliflower, cored and sliced into 1/2 pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

2 garlic cloves finely chopped

1/2 cup frozen peas

To Make Cauliflower:

Heat a large saute pan or cast-iron skillet over medium to high heat.

Add the oil and when it is hot, add cauliflower in one layer. Let it brown and then stir. Season with salt and pepper and cook about 5 minutes more.

Push cauliflower over to one side of the pan and add a bit more olive oil.

Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and tumeric and when the mixture begins to sizzle, add ginger and garlic.

Add peas and stir well.

Add water to almost cover vegetables, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Cover pan and cook until the cauliflower is tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10-15 minutes, the timing can vary.

At this point, you can cook the mixture a few minutes more to brown and crisp things up.

Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Naan

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

small pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons non-fat yogurt

1 teaspoon salt

lukewarm water

To Make Naan:

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, pinch of sugar, salt and yeast.

Place the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl, this is because salt will adversely effect the yeast if the are mixed together while still dry.

Add yogurt and a small amount of water and knead briefly to make a smooth dough. You can continue kneading by hand for 5 minutes, but I used the dough hook on my mixer for 5 minutes and it was fine!

Cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until it is doubled in size.

This is one of the fun parts- punch the dough down and knead for a couple more minutes.

Make 6-8 portions of the dough into balls and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. The dough will rise again a bit more.

Lightly dust a working surface with flour and roll the balls into ovals or circles, do not roll out too thin.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat, place the rolled whole wheat naan over the heated skillet and cook on both sides. You will notice brown spots come on the top and the naans will puff up with air pockets. 

This was my favorite part. If you have a gas flame, you can optionally cook it directly over the flame once it is partially done on the skillet and let the breads puff up over the open flame!

You can smear some butter over the hot breads if desired!

ENJOY THE FEAST!!

Happy Rest of Winter! For the warm weather lovers, spring will be here soon! Stay warm and safe!

An addendum: hummocks and flarks on today’s snowy walk on Kelsey Road!