Vibrant Colors and Albanian Bureks!

New York Botanical Garden- September 2021 Exhibit KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature
Beaver Dam Road Salisbury, CTFebruary 2022

The contrast could not be more stark. The colors on a recent walk were mono chromatic; I felt as if I was in an old black white film. Time to write about a trip to the New York Botanical Garden in September 2021, when I viewed the eccentric, whimsical and boldly colorful work of the contemporary Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama New York Botanical Garden

Pre-pandemic, my usual routine was to commute to New York on Fridays to teach at Hofstra University and then if I did not have a rehearsal scheduled for Saturday, I would excitedly plan a food/art/ethnic neighborhood exploration. I had great fun finding unusual places and small out of the way Mom and Pop ethnic restaurants. This all ended abruptly in March of 2020.

Last September, during a lull in the covid case rate, I started teaching in person again at Hofstra and felt safe enough to go on one of my Saturday excursions. I decided to return to an area of the Bronx and The New York Botanical Garden that I had last visited in 2019. I had the wonderful fortune to view Yayoi Kusema’s featured exhibition. Before I headed up to the Bronx, I made a visit to Zabars, a beloved Westside fancy food store selling the freshest cheeses, the best smoked fish, coffee, breads, etc.; complete with rude but skillful countermen at the smoked fish counter. I loved listening to their sarcastic banter as they expertly sliced nova lox, whitefish and sable; I had missed the aroma of lox and freshly baked bagels mingling in the air with Mozart playing softly in the background.

Kusama: Cosmic Nature

When I arrived at the Botanical Gardens, proof of vaccination was required and we were asked to wear masks at all of the indoor locations. I felt completely safe and even though there were crowds of people, it felt almost normal!

Yayoi Kusama’s wildly colorful and playful sculptures were placed throughout the gardens; some outside and others inside galleries and the Haupt Conservatory.

The artist wrapped trees with dotted fabric and this moved in perfect lockstep with my love of anthromorphizing trees, one of which became a favorite “Tree of the Week”.

” I felt like getting dressed up today!

I was also touched by the artists’s compelling bio; this is from her website:

Yayoi Kusama dazzles audiences worldwide with her immersive “Infinity Mirror Rooms” and an aesthetic that embraces light, polka dots, and pumpkins. The avant-garde artist first rose to prominence in 1960s New York, where she staged provocative Happenings and exhibited hallucinatory paintings of loops and dots that she called “Infinity Nets.” Kusama also influenced Andy Warhol and augured the rise of feminist and Pop art. She has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern ArtCentre PompidouTate Modern, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. In 1993, Kusama represented Japan at the Venice Biennale. Today, her work regularly sells for seven figures on the secondary market. Throughout her disparate practice, Kusama has continued to explore her own obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexuality, freedom, and perception. In 1977, Kusama voluntarily checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, where she continues to live today.

Continuing on my walk through the gardens, I was also fascinated by plants and giant lily pads in the pond outside of the Haupt Conservatory.

After walking quite a distance through the gardens, not wanting to miss any of the installations, I became quite hungry. It was time to revisit Dukagjini Burek, I had last been there in 2019. Only a five minute drive from the Botanical Gardens, I was delighted to discover that the small Albanian restaurant located at 758 Lydig Avenue had made it through the pandemic! I was also heartened to learn that my aggressive instinct for finding parking spots in NYC had not disappeared! As I entered the small restaurant, that for the time being is only open for takeout, the hard working counter person and a few customers were speaking Albanian. To my ear, the soft lilting sounds fell somewhere between Greek and Slavic.

Counter Worker cutting Bureks

The small menu includes three kinds of bureks; meat, spinach and cheese. I ordered a slice of the spinach burek and a small plastic container of plain yogurt; nothing fancy here! I took my treasures back to my car a few blocks away and had a lovely picnic. The crisp buttery crust of the burek had the texture of phyllo dough with a bit more heft to it and the spinach filling was mixed with bits of soft onion, feta and herbs. The yogurt complimented the richness of the pastry and filling; simply put- totally delicious! I think it would be well worth a trip to the Bronx just for bureks!!

The days are visibly brightening up, the sun is stronger and I hear the sweet sounds of bird song ; some hearty souls that have made an early return!

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA

Still, the weather is cold and bracing and calls for hearty comfort food. Paul recently showed me a recipe that he saw on a website called Little Spice Jar for Pesto Chicken Meatball Soup. It sounded delicious and this is the version that I came up with! If you have the time to make a batch of home made chicken broth, this is great, but store bought will also work in a pinch.

Pesto Chicken Meatball Soup

Ingredients

2 quarts chicken stock

6-7 pieces of lacinato kale- tough centers removed and cut into ribbons

1/2 cup small dried pasta (any small shape is fine)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Chicken Meatballs

  •  1 pound ground chicken
  •  ½ cup panko breadcrumbs (add more if mixture seems too soft)
  •  1 large egg
  •  2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  •  2 tablespoons prepared pesto
  • 2 small garlic cloves finely chopped
  •  1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • few grinds of freshly ground pepper

To Make Meatballs:

Combine all of the above ingredients and mix well.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.

With wet hands, form mixture into medium size meatballs and saute in olive oil until nicely browned on all sides.

To Make Soup:

Place chicken stock in a large pot and bring to a simmer.

Add meatballs, kale and bring to a boil.

Lower hear to a simmer and cook for about an hour.

Make Pasta

To Serve Soup:

Place a serving in each bowl, add desired amount of pasta

Top with grated percorino cheese and freshly ground black pepper

ENJOY!!

AND, here is the “Tree of the Week”!

Spring really is coming, I promise!!”

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

Winterscapes and Lots of Chocolate!

Bray Road- Buckland, MA

I have never been the most athletically talented person, but I think I may have found my true winter calling- snowshoeing!! A friend suggested trying it out. I put on a borrowed pair the other day and duck footed, glided off! My own bright turquoise and gold pair will arrive next week. The snow shoes give me great balance; no fear of careening out of control down a hill on cross country skis and best of all I can traipse to my heart’s content through deep snow in the woods taking photos!

Bray Road- Buckland, MA

Walks on the last few weeks have been glorious, even with frigid temperatures. The contrast of light and shadows on the snow, water and sky has been breathtaking; some days with brilliant blue skies and others cloudy, misty and atmospheric.

I have picked some of my favorite photos for a slideshow:

SKY:

WATER:

SNOW:

All of this cold weather has made me crave chocolate even more than usual and put me in the mood for chocolate cake! I wanted to find a recipe that tasted fudgy and rich; without the fat and calories. I found this simple one bowl vegan chocolate cake recipe from allrecipes.com. For a low glycemic cake, I swapped out the sugar with Monk Fruit Sweetener and Coconut Sugar. To fancy up the cake, I made a dark chocolate pudding filling to sandwich between the layers and for the topping. I adapted the recipe for the chocolate pudding from a treasured old cookbook called fittingly, Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater. With the addition of Lily’s Stevia Chocolate Chips and some toasted pecans for decoration, it was irresistible!

Snowy Day Chocolate Pudding Vegan Chocolate Cake

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar*- see note
  • 1 cup water

To Make Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease and line one 8×10 cake pan with greased wax or parchment paper.
  • Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the oil, vanilla, vinegar and water. Mix together until smooth.
  • Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 25-30 minutes. Do not overbake, the cake should remain soft and fudgy. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  • Remove cake from pan, peel off wax paper and place on rack to cool.

Chocolate Pudding Filling– adapted from Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater

Ingredients:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup monk fruit sweetener ( this makes a very bittersweet pudding, feel free to add up to 1/2 to 3/4 sugar.)

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond or soy milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

4 ounces dark chocolate chopped (I used Equal Exchange Extremely Dark chocolate, but you could semi or bittersweet chocolate for a sweeter taste)

To make the pudding:

In a small mixing bowl, with a fork or small whisk, combine the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the milk.

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

Whisk the cornstarch and milk in the bowl again to make sure the cornstarch is dissolved, and add this to the hot milk and sugar mixture. Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to a simmer until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly. Remove from the hear and add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts into the mixture. Stir in almond extract. Put pudding in a bowl and refrigerate until cold.

To fill the cake:

Carefully slice cake with a serrated bread knife in half and place one piece on a plate. Spread half of pudding mixture and place other half on top.

Spread remaining pudding on top and sprinkle with Lily’s Stevia Chocolate Chips. Decorate with toasted pecans. This would also be nice to decorate with sliced strawberries or raspberries.

* I was curious to find out why vinegar was called for in the recipe. For the kitchen science geeks, it turns out that vinegar reacts with baking soda to create a chemical reaction that makes the crumb of the cake light and tender!

ENJOY!!

I have become more than a little obsessed with the Great British Baking Show and in one installment the contestants made rich molten chocolate puddings filled with peanut butter. I decided to make my own lighter version with the vegan chocolate pudding batter and they were delicious- also addictive!!

Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins

To make muffins:

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

Lightly grease a muffin tin ( this recipe will make about 8 muffins)

1 recipe of vegan chocolate cake batter

Fill each muffin cup with the vegan chocolate cake batter about 2/3 of the way.

Place a heaping teaspoon of peanut butter in the center of each muffin.

Top each muffin with remaining batter.

Bake about 10-12 minutes. The centers should jiggle slightly and it’s better for these to be slightly under baked!

ENJOY!!

The other day as I sat carving oboe reeds in my study, my husband called excitedly from the living room. He had just come upon a poem, very appropriate for our time, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Published in 1818, the famous poem describes how powerful men are destined to fade into oblivion. Very cheering to think that one un- named boastful tyrant we know only too well, will follow this route!!

Ozymandias

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week!

“Have I Got a Story for You!!”

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

Bray Road- Buckland, MA

Mozart’s Starling and Bird Song!

Buckley Dunton Lake- October Mountain State Park Beckett, MA

It’s cold out there!!

What better time to write about birds and their elegant and exquisite songs to get us through this stretch of winter and to help harbor thoughts of spring!

I start with my own talented little Cockatiel Lucy, who learned to sing a snippet from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet when he was a baby!

I was delighted to discover that my little genius was in good company with no less than a starling that was Mozart’s dear pet! I have been reading a charming book; Mozart’s Starling written by eco philosopher and naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

Today, starlings are considered to be nuisance birds; a species that is aggressive and invasive. In Mozart’s time, starlings were endearing and delightful household pets.

In her book, Lyanda Lynn Haupt describes a beloved starling that Mozart bought in a pet shop in Vienna in 1784. The story goes that as Mozart entered the store, the starling sang a snippet from a piano concerto that Mozart had completed a few months before but was yet to be performed in public! He ended up purchasing the bird, naming it Vogelstar, which means starling in German. He became so attached to his pet, that when it passed away 3 years later, he held a small funeral for Vogelstar and wrote a short elegy:

Here rests a beloved fool,
A starling bird.
Still in his prime
did he experience
the bitter pain of death.
My heart bleeds
when I think about it.
Oh, reader! Shed a tear for him.
[…]
I bet he is up above
to praise me
without payment
for this act of friendship.
Since while he, unsuspecting,
bled to death
he thought not at all of the man
who can write such good rhymes as these.

Countless works have been composed that depict bird song and much has been written about the practical use of bird song. Is it for the creation and defense of territory, declaring sexual maturity and attracting a mate or simply beautiful music? When we are treated to the throaty and lyrical song of a wood thrush as dusk falls at the end of a long summer day, I prefer to think of the latter!

Wood Thrush-Kathy Porter (C)- Mass Audubon

The talented young composer Alexander Liebermann has transcribed intricate and complicated birdsongs into musical notation. In this video, you can follow the complex rhythm and remarkable pitch of a thrush nightingale!

Coming back inside from the bracing cold calls for comfort food and Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins fit the bill! I adapted this dish from a recipe written by Scott Hocker from a recent Food and Wine Magazine article. What can be better than both chicken potpie and cornbread muffins; in one meal! The house smelled heavenly as they baked and they were delicious for dinner along with a green mesclun salad with slices of pear, chunks of parmesan cheese and toasted pecans.

Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins

Ingredients

Cornbread:

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 1 small celery, cut into medium dice
  • 1 small carrot, cut into medium dice
  • 4-5 mushrooms cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup frozen peas defrosted
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken cut into small pieces

Directions

Make the cornbread:

  • Step 1 In a bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the egg and soy or almond milk into the cornmeal mixture. Fill 12 (1/2-cup) greased muffin tins about 2/3 full with the cornbread batter. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Make the filling:

  • Step 2 In a large cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot, then saute the onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms, celery, salt and pepper to taste, thyme and sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in green peas. Stir in the flour and cook, until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, then stir in the chicken. Season the filling with salt and pepper to taste. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling over each batter-filled muffin tin.
  • Step 3 Bake the muffins until golden around the edges, about 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly and then run a table knife around the edges of the muffins. They will be easier to remove if you wait a bit, although this may be hard to do!!
  • ENJOY!!

I decided to use a tree of the week from a trip that I took to the New York Botanical Gardens last fall. I thought a bit a greenery would be appropriate! The tree was part of a whimsical and eccentric exhibit, Kusama: Cosmic Nature by the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; more about the exhibit in my next blog!

“Tree of the Week” from NY Botanical Garden- 9/12/21

“I Decided to Get Dressed Up Today!”

STAY WARM AND SAFE!

Bobcat prints! New Marlborough, MA

Coming Soon: “Bird Songs and Mozart’s Starling”!

Wood Thrush perched on a limb singing.

My next blog will be all about intricate bird songs, Mozart’s love of birds and his talented starling, my own talented Cockatiel Lucy and more! In the meantime on this frigid and blustery day, here is a recipe for Blue Corn Waffles.

At the start of the pandemic, we made a mail order for organic blue corn flour. The order was huge and I squirreled away large bags of it in our freezer. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find a use for all of this flour; not a hard resolution to keep! Yesterday, I made Blue Corn Blueberry Banana Muffins!

Blue Corn Flour Waffles

Yield: 5-6 waffles

Ingredients:

3/4 cup whole grain spelt flour

3/4 whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup blue corn flour- *Note

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk

For Topping:

1 1/2 cups wild frozen blueberries (I like the Wyman brand)

Cook blueberries in microwave about 2 minutes until soft and syrupy.

To make waffles:

Heat a waffle maker

In a medium sized bowl, mix together dried ingredients.

Add oil, egg and soy or almond milk and mix together.

For each waffle, place about 2 large spoonfuls of mixture in center of waffle maker and cook until light brown and crisp on the edges.

Serve with blueberry sauce, plenty of maple syrup and we enjoy a dollop of Oatley Oatgurt; creamy and totally delicious!

Note: Blue Corn Flour can be hard to find. We found a source on the excellent Milk Street Store site!

ENJOY!!

Norbrook Brewery: Colebrook, CT

STAY SAFE AND WARM!!

A Winter Walk at Ole’ Stoney Lonesome!

Overnight, ice crystals were magically transformed into intricate fractals on our deck.

It was a gloomy day, cold and steely gray; a perfect backdrop to explore an atmospheric section of the Billings Trail called Stoney Lonesome maintained by the Norfolk Connecticut Land Trust.

My husband Paul had scouted out the trail a few days earlier with a friend; they happened upon a lone hiker who stopped in his tracks and asked excitedly, “Did you find the site of the train accident?”

The trail follows an abandoned train track that was built in 1871 and ran from Hartford, Connecticut to the border of New York State. It was built on a high ledge above the Canaan valley, strewn with enormous boulders. There was in fact a horrific wreck that occurred in 1882 when a train rammed into a boulder that had slid down the mountain side onto the track. We read that the laying of the track was very difficult and engineers had to make huge rock cuts into the side of the mountain.

Walking along the trail we were captivated by the dramatic rock formations made from the deep cuts through the mountain side to accommodate the train tracks.

We had set out on our walk late in the afternoon; the days are so short now that by the end of our hike, the sun was starting to set. The clouds suddenly parted and for a brief moment, sunlight lit up the hillside with a golden glow.

Our eyes were drawn uphill to a rock formation that reminded us of stone sculptures that we have viewed at the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York.

By the time we returned to our car, it was almost completely dark. We drove back down the road with a beautiful sunset in front of us leaving somber Stoney Lonesome behind.

Glad to be back safely home after our frosty and invigorating adventure, we settled in next to a cozy fire in the woodstove and enjoyed hot chocolate and a few Gingerbread Biscotti that were left over from Christmas.

After our hike, we wanted to know more about the origin of the name Stoney Lonesome; some sources suggested that the name reflects a desolate area, strewn with rocks and boulders. This certainly seemed appropriate! Then we discovered that the name is also a slang term, made popular in the early 20th century for prison. Paul found the prison reference to Stoney Lonesome in a book written by John O’Hara published in 1931 with the title, “Appointment in Samarra“. The title of the novel refers to W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an ancient Mesopotamian fable where a servant has an untimely meeting with the devil- dark indeed!! We were so curious about this that we ordered the book and have gotten pulled into the tragic tale of a used car salesman from the 1930’s.

AND, of course we had a bit of fun arranging Bananagram tiles into references from “Appointment in Samarra“!

Here is a recipe for Gingerbread Biscotti’s adapted from NY Times Cooking. These biscotti are full of warming delicious spices including ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise along with espresso powder and almond & orange extract. The spices create a lovely flavor combination that lingers beautifully in the mouth! I swapped out the brown and granulated sugar in the recipe for monk fruit sweetener and coconut sugar which has a low glycemic index. I used whole grain spelt and whole wheat pastry flour, which in addition to being more nutricious, give the biscotti an added nutty flavor and I used Lily’s stevia sweetened chocolate chips. The original recipe called for candied chopped ginger, which would also be good! These biscotti are hard and crunchy and are excellent dipped into coffee or espresso!

Gingerbread Biscotti from NY Times Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, at room temperature 
  • 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves 
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom 
  • 1 whole star anise, finely ground (1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
  • cup whole wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup whole grain spelt flour
  •  cup/113 grams dark or semisweet chocolateI used Lily’s Stevia sweetened chocolate chips.
  • 1/2 bar any dark chocolate to coat biscotti- I used Equal Exchange “Total Eclipse” dark chocolate. Feel free to use something with more sugar!)

PREPARATION

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the egg, egg white, both sugars, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise, espresso powder, salt, baking soda, almond extract and lemon extract. Beat on medium speed just to combine, scrape down the bowl and beater, then increase the speed to high and beat for a full 90 seconds or until the mixture is slightly paler, thick and ribbon like.
  3. Add the flour. Beat on low speed until mostly combined, stopping the beater just before all the flour is incorporated so you don’t overmix. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to incorporate any remaining dry bits into the dough. Add chocolate chips.
  4. Gather the dough with your hands, kneading lightly in the bowl just to bring everything together into a cohesive mass. Place the dough on the center of the prepared sheet, then dampen your hands with water and mold the dough into a 9-by-4-inch log about 1 inch tall. Bake until the log puffs and spreads a little, turns golden brown at the edges and is firm to the touch, 40 to 45 minutes.
  5. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut at a diagonal into 12 (¾-inch-wide) slices. Turn the slices on their sides and return to the oven.
  6. Bake, flipping the slices halfway through, until slightly browned and dry in the centers, 10 to 15 minutes. Bake longer for drier, crunchier biscotti. Remove from the oven and cool the biscotti on the sheet. Turn the slices top sides up.
  7. In a double-boiler or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and using a small spoon, drape the melted chocolate over the tops of the biscotti, nudging some to drip over the edges. Allow the chocolate to sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator to fully set. The biscotti will last for a couple of weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

ENJOY!!

As I write this blog, it is a raw cold day with sleet and freezing rain and we are in for a few days of frigid weather. Today I plan to sit close by the fire and enjoy a cookbook that just arrived; My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories for a City on the Water by Betty Liu. I will dream about making dumplings for our next dumpling party which I hope will not be in the too distant future!!

AND, here is the first “Tree of the Week” for 2022!

“YIKES!!”

STAY WARM AND SAFE!!

A Joyous Christmas Concert by The Salisbury Four!

The Salisbury Four”- Salisbury Congregational Church December 4, 2021

What a pleasure it was to recently perform with some of my favorite musicians at the Salisbury Congregational Church in Salisbury, Connecticut.

Salisbury Congregational Church

The church, completed in 1842, is an example of Greek Revival architecture. At the time, it was the center of political, social and religious activity. I have performed often at the church and have always felt a strong sense of history and a feeling of calm and peace in the light filled sanctuary.

For our recent concert, I was joined by Marcia Young, singer and historical harpist and my Hofstra University colleague, lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. My daughter, Alicia DePaolo sang with us for several years, but recently moved to Virginia with her partner. We miss her presence in the group, but were happy to welcome a new friend this year; singer and Baroque dancer, Zahra Brown. For many years, I have performed an annual Christmas concert in Salisbury, Connecticut that has been generously sponsored by the Salisbury Association.

Originally the concert was held at the historic Holley House Museum, now a private home. It was complete with it’s own mischievous poltergeist! On two separate occasions, strings snapped suddenly on a viola and harp; in another concert, a note stopped playing on my oboe, as if someone was holding down an extra key! And, then there was time that I felt somebody was tickling my nose with a feather while I was playing!

Holley Williams House- Lakeville, CT

Next, the concert was held for several years at the cozy intimate space at the historical Salisbury Academy building Built in 1833, the exterior is an example of a Federal style school building.

Academy Building- Salisbury, CT

Living in this bucolic New England town, I routinely pass by all of these all of these historical buildings and architectural gems; they have become part of my fabric, almost like a familiar family member!

Last year, we presented an online version of the concert and we felt so fortunate to be able to consider a live concert this year; a few weeks before our current Omicron situation. With proof of vaccination required and a socially distanced audience, the venue of the spacious church with beautiful resonant acoustics was perfect!

I always look forward to the rehearsals we have in NYC; usually a few weeks before the concert. This year, we set two rehearsals on late Saturday afternoons. Both weeks, I had taught at Hofstra University the day before and stayed overnight in the city. Each Saturday I had a few hours to fill and decided to make long over due visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Frick Museum.

It was heart warming to walk down Fifth Avenue and see the crowds of people outside of the museum.

And, then as I entered the familiar space of the grand hallway, I stood in awe for moment taking in all of the art and beauty surrounding me. I made my choice of what to view that day. I walked up the grand stairway towards the impressionism wing; through the hallway filled with Rodin and Degas sculptures and eagerly tried to take it all in! I decided to concentrate on an exhibit of Surrealistic painters.

It can be overwhelming at times with so much to visual stimulation; I find that concentrating on one or two works of art is most rewarding. I stroll slowly through an exhibit and stop when a work of art is compelling. Such was the case with a painting by the Austrian-Mexican painter Wolfgang Paalen; who I was not familiar with. A friend of Frida Kahlos, he moved to Mexico in 1939 to escape the Nazi regime. He became interested in the Fourth Dimension and studied with the Russian mystic Peter Ouspensky. I found his painting “The Messenger” fascinating and was drawn to the bold lines of the brush strokes and the hidden symbolism in the work.

“The Messenger”– 1941 Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959)

The next Saturday, I visited the Frick Museum, which I discovered had recently moved their entire collection to the modern stark Whitney Museum, while renovations are taking place.

At first, it was jarring to see masterpieces from the permanent collection that date from the Renaissance to the early 20th century displayed in a building with modern architecture. I chatted with a surprisingly friendly guard about the new location for the artwork and he thought that some patrons might be able to appreciate the artwork more in a sleek pared down setting. I tended to agree and as I viewed the exhibition, I found that I could concentrate on the art without becoming visually tired. Unfortunately, I was asked to not take any photographs, although I did sneak in one photo; (a tiny sculpture tucked into the wall) as I walked up the stairwell to another floor!

Then, it was time to get ready for our rehearsal and of course think about what to pick up to eat in the car on the way home that evening! We were rehearsing at the apartment of one of the musicians who lives in a high rise in the mid fifties near Eighth Avenue.

One of my favorite dumpling places, Kungfu Kitchen, is on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street, not too far from our rehearsal location!

I knew there was a place to park my car for free on 38th Street; between Eighth & Ninth Avenue, where Hevreh Ensemble usually rehearses at our keyboardist’s studio. AND, here was my plan:

Find a parking spot on West 38th Street; walk to Kungfu Kitchen on West 41st Street and place an order for pickup after our rehearsal; walk to rehearsal on West 55th Street and rehearse for about 1 1/2 hours; retrace my steps and pickup my order- it all worked like a charm! The only thing I had to do was to find a place to park!

I am usually a very calm and considerate driver and pride myself on my smooth acceleration and braking, but a transformation overcomes me when I am seeking out parking spots in New York City. I become eagle eyed and aggressive looking for possible spots and delight in squeezing my car into the tightest of places. Such was the case on this day! I believe that this New Yorker cartoon expresses my metamorphoses perfectly!

After the rehearsal, I picked up my order at the appointed time, walked back to my car and laid my treasure of 2 steamed buns filled with bok choy and shitake museums, an order of steamed chicken dumplings with a pungent black vinegar sauce and a large icy bubble tea made with lemonade; sweetened with honey on the seat next to me. I navigated my way through the midtown traffic making sure to not get into a left turn only lane that would force me to go through Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey and then I could enjoy my treats as I headed up the West Side Highway towards home-Heaven on earth!

In past years, the musicians from the Salisbury Four would drive up to my house in Northwest, CT the day before the concert. We would have a dress rehearsal and I was treated to the most excellent house guests for the weekend. One of the members is vegan, so I would always have fun dreaming up interesting dishes, like this Mixed Greens Pie inspired by the delightful PBS Kitchen Vignette Series!

Mixed Greens and Bean Pie with Olive Oil Crust

A favorite and often requested dessert by the Salisbury Four members are Strawberry and Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones. This year, we had a quick rehearsal before our Saturday evening concert and enjoyed tea and these scones together. This simple one bowl recipe is adapted from Erin McKenna’s Baby Cakes NYC Bakery. I found the recipe several years ago in an article from Food and Wine Magazine. For my version, I swap out agave nectar with coconut sugar and I add cinnamon. These scones are not very sweet, but are guilt free; perfect for a snack or with a bowl of yogurt and granola for breakfast!

ENJOY!

Strawberry Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones

  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ to 1/2 cup cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries cut into pieces (if using frozen berries, thaw slightly and then cut into small pieces-don’t defrost all of the way, it will make the mixture too soft).
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts broken into small pieces

To Make Scones:

  • Step 1 Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk the spelt with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, coconut sugar and vanilla. Stir in the hot water and strawberries- if mixture seems to dry, add a bit more hot water at a time.
  • Step 2 Scoop 12 mounds of batter 1/3 cup each onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the tops with oil. Bake the scones for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the baking sheet cool completely on top of a rack.

AND, here is the last “Tree of the Week” for 2021!

“It’s Been Quite a Year!”

BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND NEW YEAR!!

Oboe Boot Camp + Inspiring Respites= A Joyous New Recording!

The week before my group Hevreh Ensemble began our new recording project at Oktaven Audio in NYC, I cleared my schedule, arranged substitutes for my students and dove headfirst into Oboe Boot Camp! I wanted make sure that I had enough time to make reeds; my normal practice routine was greatly extended. This was to insure that I had enough endurance on this most aerobic of instruments. I was accomplishing my goal, but felt that was getting what I like to call, “Oboe Brain”, loosely translated as feeling a bit loopy, unfocused and spacey. Nothing a cup of tea and a good walk would not cure!

The perfect respite was to take a few hikes, some familiar and my husband Paul happily researched a few new locations.

The weather that week was glorious; cool and sunny with the trees in their last blaze of fall color!

Overlook Tail- Great Mountain Forest: Norfolk, CT

We headed up to Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT for a lovely walk on the Overlook Trail. The path climbed gently uphill with views of Tobey Pond peeking through the trees. I discovered this idyllic pond years ago as a student at the Yale Summer School of Music!

Overlook Trail- Great Mountain Forest

Next, we scouted out Woodcreek Pond, not far from the center of the village of Norfolk. We thought this might be an excellent place to kayak next spring!

Woodcreek Pond, Norfolk, CT

Another day we returned to one of our favorite walks at the Overmountain Conservation Area in Ancram, NY. The Kite Hill Loop Trail winds through a large meadow with distant views of the Catskills and the Taconic Range. A rustic gazebo graces the top of the meadow with glorious views.

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

On a cloudy slightly overcast day, I took a solo walk at another favorite in Sheffield, MA on Kelsey Road. The peaceful dirt road, where one can stroll for miles, has distant views of the Taconic Ridge and passes by a beautiful marshland area.

Kelsey Road- Sheffield, MA
Kelsey Road-Sheffield, MA

All of the walks were very calming and centering, preparing me for the intensity of the next few days.

The morning of the recording, I woke up earlier than usual and was treated to golden light filtering through the woods near our house. Perhaps a sign of good things to come??

I arrived early at Oktaven Audio, about a two hour drive from our house to warmup, just as the affable and talented engineer Ryan Streber co-owner of the studio was setting up. One option was to be in the large room with sound baffling on either side of the musicians or to be in a small isolation booth. The big room had a direct view into the control room, where the engineers and our producer would sit. I felt a bit of trepidation; as if I would be a guppy in a fish bowl. I volunteered to be in the small booth, with no sight line to the control room. I immediately felt that I had made the right choice. With a rug on the floor, enough room to lay out my reed tools; the lighting was dark but with a stand light, I could see perfectly and I felt cozy and protected!

Then the work began; three days of continuous recording with the sessions starting at 10:30 AM and ending at 8:00 PM- talk about Oboe Brain!!

Our colleague and violist Ralph Farris, who is a member of the acclaimed string quartet ETHEL, is producing the album. He has an incredible ear, a seemingly endless supply of energy along with creative and innovative ideas. Combined with a quirky and irreverent sense of humor, I think he would be the ideal orchestral conductor, if only!!

Ralph Farris & myself

During one of our sessions when I was not playing, I listened as Ralph gently teased the others; to Shane Shanahan our wonderful guest artist on percussion: “Shane, you’re making us angry in here- that take was so good it was offensive!!” Or, to Jeff Adler, Hevreh group member and composer- Jeff had an improvisation section on bass clarinet in one of the pieces- it was going to be over dubbed at a later time, so there was silence during the take. From the control room Ralph said loudly over the speaker, “that’s the best you’ve ever sounded!”. Or, he would share a self deprecating viola joke with the humor (being a violist) turned toward himself. All of this made us feel relaxed but also kept us razor focused on our playing. Ralph mentioned that he believed that 98% of performing well is psychological; I believe that his unorthodox methods created a supportive, safe and creative environment for all of us.

When we finished the recording sessions, I felt a sense of elation and accomplishment, BUT…..I was completely exhausted! I was hoping that the adrenalin that was rushing through me would last for for the long drive home, but what really did the trick was the snack that I had squirreled away into my bag! Rooting around in my freezer, I had found a few slices of Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread that I had made for our Prentice Barn concert this past summer. Spiced with ginger and cardamom with a crunchy streusel topping, the flavors danced around in my mouth and helped keep me alert! The recipe is from the June 2021 Bon Appetit magazine. I left out the turmeric called for in the recipe. Now, we can look forward to the release and distribution of the album by our amazing record label PARMA sometime in the late spring- stay tuned for updates!!

Cardamom Streusel Zucchini Bread from Bon Appetit Magazine

Ingredients

Makes one 9×5″ loaf

STREUSEL

⅓cup (42 g) all-purposeflour

2Tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. (30 g) dark brown sugar

¼cup (24 g) old-fashioned oats

½tsp. ground cardamom

½tsp. ground ginger

½tsp. ground turmeric

¼tsp. baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

2Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

2½medium zucchini (about 1 lb.), trimmed

¾tsp. vanilla extract

1½cups (300 g) granulated sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

3large eggs

¾cup grapeseed oil

1¾cups (219 g) all-purpose flour

2¼tsp. ground cardamom

2¼tsp. ground ginger

2tsp. baking powder

1¼tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¾ tsp. Morton kosher saltBlueberry jam and/or crème fraîche (for serving; optional)

Preparation

STREUSEL

Step 1

Whisk flour, brown sugar, oats, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl to combine. Drizzle butter over and, using your fingers, work into dry ingredients until butter is absorbed and clumps form. Set streusel aside

BREAD

Step 2

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat a 9×5″ loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Using the grater attachment of a food processor or the large holes of a box grater, grate zucchini. (You should have about 3 cups.) Wrap shredded zucchini in a kitchen towel and wring out as much excess moisture as you can. Transfer to a small bowl and mix in vanilla extract (adding the vanilla here means the zucchini will take on more of its flavor).

Step 3

Place granulated sugar and lemon zest in a medium bowl and, using your fingers, work zest into sugar until sugar starts to clump and mixture is very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add eggs and oil to bowl and whisk to combine. Add grated zucchini and whisk again to incorporate.

Step 4

Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift flour into another small bowl. Add cardamom, ginger, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to zucchini mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula until there are no visible flour streaks remaining and batter is homogeneous. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth surface. Scatter reserved streusel evenly on top.

Step 5

Bake zucchini bread, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let zucchini bread cool completely in pan.

Step 6

Run a small offset spatula or paring knife around sides of zucchini bread to help loosen, then turn it out onto rack.

Step 7

To serve, cut zucchini bread into thick slices and divide among plates. Top with jam and crème fraîche if desired.

ENJOY!!

AND- here is the Tree of the Week!

I may have developed a bit of a double chin!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! 11/26/21

The Amazing Guest, Fantastic Fungi and Spooky Sounds!

I read a recent New York Times article that talked about how excited a couple was to host a guest for the weekend. They were determined to fill the planned itinerary with as many activities as possible, after being denied time together for so long. The guest went home feeling tired and overwhelmed. Our dear friend Carol was planning to meet us for some well deserved R & R; first at our home and then at a Bed and Breakfast in Cummington, Massachusetts. My husband Paul and I talked for weeks about all of the places we would take Carol; among them, many of our favorite hikes. And, although we wanted to avoid the same pitfalls of over booking, we were not sure this would be possible!

We started our glorious fall weekend at the Ashintully Gardens in Tyringham, Massachusetts.

Ashintully Gardens Trustees of the Reservation

We walked up a hill through a field of dried wildflowers standing at attention like soldiers in a row and quickly realized that Carol was the perfect guest- she was delighted and engaged with everything we showed her and being a visual artist, she innately understood my love of close observation.

Before our dinner reservation on the patio at the excellent restaurant, John Andrews in Hillsdale, New York, we squeezed in a short walk at Parsons Marsh in Lenox, MA. The late afternoon sun was beautiful as we walked on a boardwalk that wove gently through the woods to the marsh.

Parsons Marsh-Berkshire Natural Resources Council
Parsons Marsh

After a delicious dinner at John Andrew’s, we returned home, watched an episode of Only Murders in the Building on Netflix and then fell into a deep slumber! The next day we were eager to show Carol our land that we recently closed on in Buckland, MA in the hill towns above Northampton. Our big news is that in a few years we plan to build our dream house there! On the way, we made a stop in Northampton to the Woodstar Cafe to pick up a picnic (that included their yummy vegan peanut butter cookies) and headed up into the hills! Near Buckland, is an old cemetery that was a perfect location to make a creepy Halloween video.

We put on our hiking boots and traipsed uphill on our land. Carol bravely joined us in a bit of bush whacking!

On the land, the trees are beautiful with many tall evergreens, but our eyes were drawn close to the ground. The patterns of autumn leaves, fungi, rocks and twigs made beautiful collages.

Carol came up with an interesting concept-along with photographs of my recipes, we could make natural place settings with leaves and twigs and photograph them with a woodland backdrop; perhaps a cottage industry was born!!

Continuing on our walk, we saw some incredible and unusual fungi.

Back in the car, we took a short five minute jaunt to the charming village of Shelburne Falls; complete with art galleries, cozy cafes, bookstores, restaurants, an artisanal bakery and the beautiful Bridge of Flowers, the site was created in 1929, when the old trolley bridge was no longer used.

Bridge of Flowers-Shelburne Falls, MA

On a bit of a schedule, we moved on to our next activity; a beautiful fall drive through the country roads to Cummington, MA where we were guests at The Upland Meadows Farm B & B. The quaint old farmhouse was full of character with cozy rooms and the surrounding area was quiet and peaceful. And, it was right down the road from our beloved William Cullen Bryant Homestead. We could walk through a pasture to reach the Sugar Bush Trail!

Upland Meadows Farm B & B

We took a short walk and then headed down towards Chester for our dinner reservation at the Chester Common Table. I was not sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. Tucked away in the small town of Chester that borders the Berkshires and the Pioneer Valley, the small restaurant opened in 2016 and is housed in a charming vintage house. We sat on the covered front porch and inside a folk group with mandolin and guitar played gentle Appalachian and bluegrass tunes that wafted softly through the open window. It started to rain, but with our jackets on and a cozy space heater next to us, we were totally comfortable. I enjoyed a tall glass of a local IPL draft beer brewed in MA, called Jack’s Abbey “Hiponius Union”. The light lemony flavor of the beer was perfect with a big plate of Coconut Curry Noodles that was lightly spicy. The dish included rice noodles, grilled chicken, crunchy bits of broccoli, red peppers, zucchini and red onions. Along with a few pieces of homemade corn bread, I was a happy camper!

Sunday morning, we took a misty early morning walk on the Rivulet Trail at the Bryant Homestead. I had been wanting to show this trail to Carol and she was enthralled by the tranquility and peacefulness of the fragrant pine woods.

Rivulet Trail- William Cullen Bryant Homestead

On the trail, we came upon one of my favorite trees that I call “The Wise Man”.

And, then after coffee and brunch at the Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, it was time to hug tightly and say goodbye. All in all, an incredible weekend- hopefully with not too much packed in for our amazing guest!

Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters

When I was little, my mother often made a favorite fall dessert; a sticky, gooey, very sweet dessert called Apple Brown Betty. It was rich with melted butter, brown sugar, graham crackers, raisins, lemon juice and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. The recipe was from Erma Bombauer’s, The Joy of Cooking. I found myself craving this dessert, but wanted something much lighter. I decided to make an almost sugar free healthy version. I am happy to say, I may have found it!! I had a loaf of stale whole grain sourdough bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery hanging around. I cut it into pieces and made bread crumbs in my food processor. I toasted them in the oven until they crisped up. Instead of using butter I substituted fresh apple cider for the liquid and I used Monk Fruit instead of sugar. It has a very low glycemic index and it can be used the same way as granulated sugar.

The dessert is even better the next day and perfect to eat sitting curled up on the couch with one of the first woodstove fires of the season; perhaps watching an old Hitchcock film- I think Psycho might be too scary, maybe something along the line of The Trouble with Harry, still with a macabre theme, but with plenty of black humor and a great film score by Bernard Herrmann or maybe something dark and atmospheric like Rebecca. Happy Halloween!!

Apple Brown Betty Redux

Ingredients:

Topping:

3 1/2 cups toasted bread crumbs ( preferably from whole grain bread- I just made another version and used Rockhill Raisin and Cinnamon bread that was also really good!)

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (from an organic lemon)

1/8-1/4 cup Monk Fruit sweetener (you could also use granulated sugar)

1 cup apple cider

1/2 cup raisins

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon all spice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Apple Filling:

4-5 large apples peeled and cored (try to use a combination of firm local apples for the best flavor).

1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

To Make Apple Brown Betty:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Place 3 1/2 to 4 cups bread crumbs on a baking sheet. Bake and crispy and lightly browned.

Place breadcrumbs in a medium sized bowl. Add grated lemon zest, lemon juice, spices, raisins and monk fruit sweetener. Slowly add 3/4 apple cider until absorbed. The mixture should feel lightly moistened when squeezed.

Cut apples into quarters, peeled and then thinly slice them. Place in a medium sized casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and stir.

Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over apples in baking dish and pour remaining 1/4 cup apple cider over the top. Cover tightly with foil and bake until apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove foil and bake about 5-10 more until bread crumbs crisp up a bit. Let cool briefly- Enjoy!!

AND of course here is the: The Halloween Tree of the Week!

BOO!

Late Summer Sounds and Kenetic Sculptures!

Artist: Tim Prentice

At the end of August, on a hot summer afternoon, I met the kinetic sculptor Tim Prentice at his West Cornwall, Connecticut barn to make plans for an upcoming concert. The bucolic landscape is dotted with his sculptures that float gracefully in the gentle breeze.

My group Hevreh Ensemble was getting ready to perform a concert at this idyllic and serene place. We have played there several times in the past, but this was our first concert since the pandemic began.
I love playing here- in large part because of our connection with Tim Prentice. It was heartwarming to see his welcoming face and his warm and engaging presence once again! The barn is filled with many of Tim’s sculptures that ripple and weave gently in the crosscurrents of air. Rays of sunshine catch the edges of the works accentuating the bright vibrant colors.

Artist: Tim Prentice

We had a wonderful socially distanced concert and even an unexpected rain shower could not dampen our spirits! The masked concert goers quickly moved their chairs into the barn and we soldiered on!


I had left a box of our CD’s after the concert and this gave me the excuse to make a return visit.
A few weeks later on a warm September afternoon, I stopped by the barn and was joined by Tim and the sculptor David Colbert; he became Tim’s artistic and business partner in 2012. We sat on a cool shaded porch, next to Tim’s house that once was part of a barn and had a wonderful conversation about art and music!

Since the mid 1980’s, Tim has lived in a large colonial era house that sits on a gentle slope of a hill across from the barn. I asked him what he knew about the house and the surrounding area.
The first part of the house was built around 1790 with an addition added in 1850 in the Greek revival style. His family bought the farm in the 1960’s and was only the 3rd family to live in the house! Next to the house is a small pond and the studio that is now Tim and David’s workshop was an Ice House. Tim showed me a menacing looking antique saw that he found in the old barn that was used to cut ice.

Tim with antique ice saw

I asked both Tim and David what inspired them when creating their art. Both men answered almost in unison that all of nature surrounding us played a large role in their work. Tim said, “I observe the reflections of the sun on water, plants agitated by the wind and especially murmurations of birds.”

I thought that David’s description on his website was beautiful:

“I find inspiration most of all in nature. Witnessing: radiant light deepening in mountains with darkness coming on; thick drifting sunlit mist slowly burning off serene lakes; swirling clouds nearly hiding jagged mountain peaks; desert sand dunes at dusk reflective as etched glass; heavy snow; fog; barely seen mist rising up a valley. Is it there or is it not”- David Colbert

Artist David Colbert “Square Wind Frame”

To hear these words from two incredible artists was music to my ears. On my walks I have found much joy from closing observing nature. The week of our conversation, I was transfixed by intricate thistles being tossed about by the wind.

Kite Hill: Ancram, New York

This week on a late afternoon walk at the Steeple Top Preserve in New Marlborough, MA, the exquisite reflection of light on the water made me stop in my tracks, catch my breath and murmur softly, “ohhhh my”!

Steeple Top Preserve: New Marlborough, MA

Since Hevreh Ensemble has started performing at the Prentice Barn, I have observed that Tim also deeply loves music and seems to enjoy and relish our music. I asked him about his musical background: in the 1960’s along with his late wife Marie Prentice, they received a State Department grant to perform folk music with guitars and voice. One of the mains purposes of the grant was to collect songs from their host countries. Tim recalls being in Thailand when President Kennedy was shot- they also performed in Nepal, India and Kenya!

I asked Tim if there are certain qualities that he finds compelling in our music, which are all original compositions by our group member and composer Jeff Adler. I wondered if there was a connection between the energy and motion in his work and the edgy jazzy rhythm in many of our pieces? His answer was: “both exist in time and create or use patterns to set up expectation.” He told me that one of the things he enjoys the most is that in our work, “he hears music from many different cultures that give the music a timeless quality that sounds like no other group”. He loves the blend of keyboard, wind instruments and Native American flutes and the deep sonorous sound of the bass clarinet.

By now, it was almost early evening; starting to cool off and as we sat and talked on the old barn porch, the dulcet and lovely tones of water rippling gently on the old ice pond accompanied us. We stopped and listened- these sounds made us feel complete!

AND: I leave you with a delicious savory treat that we served at our Prentice Barn concert: Black Pepper and Parmesan Biscotti from the Smitten Kitchen blog! This a large recipe and leftovers freeze beautifully! After a long day, take out a few, crisp them up briefly in a hot oven and enjoy with a glass of red wine!

Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti from Smitten Kitchen
Adapted from Gourmet, December 2006

Makes 5 to 6 dozen biscotti.

1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
4 cups (520 grams) all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup, 6 ounces, or 170 grams — now corrected) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup (235 ml) whole milk

Special equipment: an electric coffee/spice grinder

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peppercorns in grinder until coarsely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups cheese, and 1 tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quarter dough. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened 12-inch-long log (about 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch high). Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper. Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.

Carefully transfer 1 warm log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool biscotti on baking sheets on racks, about 15 minutes.

Do ahead: Biscotti keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

A Sweet and Healthy New Year!

Rosh Hashana was early this year and I was feeling ambivalent about sitting with a large group of people in a synagogue or staring at a Zoom screen for hours. A friend mentioned that she was going to spend the holiday communing with nature; an excellent idea. This seemed to be exactly what I was seeking!

Paul found a beautiful trail right down the road from Tangle Wood in Lenox, MA run by Mass Audubon called Pleasant Valley. The day was warm and sunny with a beautiful breeze. We took a trail that meandered through marshland, ponds and pine forests.

The trail crisscrossed over several burbling brooks that rushed over mossy rocks. During Rosh Hashanah a tradition is observed called Tashlich. Small stones are thrown into the water to cast off one’s sins. I remember being at a service once where the cantor said that the ritual might also be used as a way to cleanse one’s self of unwanted grudges or to create intentions for positive change. I chose this route and as I tossed a few stones into the water, I felt an immediate sense of lightness.

I had brought my recorder along thinking I might play an improvisation that sounded slightly Hebraic and pastoral at the same time. I was hoping to find an inspirational location and was not disappointed!

Now the only thing needed for a perfect Rosh Hashanah was a delicious dessert with apples. I looked through a few of my old blogs and found a recipe I had included for apple kuchen, from Smitten Kitchen. This moist dessert reminds me of the apple kuchen we had in Germany when my daughter and I were on our “Following in Bach’s Footsteps” journey a few years ago! When baking this cake, your house will smell heavenly as the rich aromas of butter, vanilla, cinnamon and apples fill the air!

Apple Kuchen (from Smitten Kitchen)

Topping
4 tiny-to-small apples, halved, peeled and cored
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Batter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey (any variety you like to eat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated
2 good pinches of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Glaze
1/4 cup honey
A good pinch of sea salt

Heat oven: To 350°F. Coat a 9-inch springform with butter or a nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

Prepare apples: Place peeled, halved and cored apples cut-side-down on a cutting board. Use a knife to create parallel thin slices, but only cut halfway through each apple so that the apples stay intact. Don’t fret if you cut through, however; you can just reassemble the halves on the cake in a few minutes.

In a bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and 2 tablespoon granulated sugar.

Prepare cake base: Beat butter and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar together in a bowl with electric beaters until fluffy. Add honey and beat until combined. Add vanilla and egg yolks, beating until just combined. Sprinkle salt and baking powder over cake batter, and mix for just 5 seconds, until they disappear. Add flour, half at a time, mixing only until just combined.

In a separate bowl with cleaned beaters, beat egg whites until stiff. Stir 1/4 of them into the cake batter, to lighten it a little. Fold in the rest in three additions. It will seem impossible to fold in at first because the batter is so stiff, but it will loosen with careful folding. Only fold the last addition of egg whites until it has mostly disappeared (a couple faint streaks of egg white are fine).

Spread cake batter in prepared cake pan, smoothing the top. Arrange apple halves facedown over the cake batter. To warn, 4 tiny/small apples will definitely fit over the cake batter. When I made it with 4 small-almost-medium apples, I could only fit 3 1/2 of them. No need to press the apples into the batter. You can pour any extra lemon juice and sugar in the bowl over the apples.

Bake cake: 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let rest on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then cut around the cake to make sure it’s not sticking to the pan at all, and unhinge the sides. Let cake cool completely. You can store it at room temperature at this point, or after you add the honey, for up to 5 days 3 days at room temperature. After that, a fridge is best for longevity. The cake is lovelier on day 2 than day 1.

Before serving, if you’d like the glaze to look glossy, or whenever the cake is cool, if you don’t mind if the honey sinks into the cake: Warm 1/4 cup honey and a good pinch of sea salt until it liquefies to the point where it makes a thin glaze — this will take less than 30 seconds. Brush honey-salt mixture over cooled cake.

I added a sprinkle of cinnamon on the top of the cake before baking.

ENJOY!

This was a perfect Rosh Hashanah! Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy 5782!