The Return of the Fungi and Chicken Pesto Meatballs!

Bray Road Buckland, MA

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

Fountain Pond State Park: Great Barrington, MA

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

Bray Road Buckland, MA

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

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

Spring arrives slowly in the Northeast.

Sheffield, MA

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

Hunger Mountain: Monterey, MA

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

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

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

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

Chicken Pesto Meatballs

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 large can organic crushed tomatoes

1 small can organic tomato paste

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

a good glug of red wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

water

To make sauce:

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

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

Ingredients for Chicken Pesto Meatballs:

1 pound ground chicken

1 egg

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons basil pesto

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

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

To make meatballs:

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well together.

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

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

Place meatballs into sauce.

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

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

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

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

AND, Here is the Tree of the Week!

“So you say!!”

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!!

A Musician’s Travels

Lemon Curd, Blueberry, Peach, Tapioca Pudding Parfaits

Welcome to my new blog! I look forward to sharing my love of music, art, travel, nature and food with you! Yes, there will also be recipes! I am a professional oboist, and during this time of Covid when it has not been possible to perform live concerts, I have been inspired by the daily walks and hikes that I take with my husband Paul. On our excursions, I have started to bring along my Native American Flute and Recorder and have been creating short spontaneous improvisations on mountain tops and by serene marshes and ponds. I hope you enjoy accompanying me on my adventures and explorations!

Water Music: Steepletop Preserve

Recently after reading the NY Times and visiting the drive through at the bank I felt a bit stressed. Hoping to change my mood pattern quickly, I decided to take a short drive to one of my favorite solo walks on Beaver Damn Road. I have been watching several patches of wild blackberries that line the road for a few weeks, hoping that they will ripen soon for picking! Not quite ready…. but as I walked down the road, I noticed several swallowtail butterflies perched in a lovely patch of purple cone flowers….. a hawk soared high above in the blue sky. Mood fixed!!

Over the last few weeks, we have gone on several new hikes, all beautiful! Thousand Acre Swamp, part of Cookson State Forest in New Marlborough, Massachusetts is a small lake; a haven for birds, wildlife and it is covered with lily pads. There are miles of trails that meander through the woods and around the lake. Looking at the lily pads I felt as if I was in a Monet painting! So… “Music from the Water” was born!

The day after a huge storm that caused havoc and downed many trees and power lines, we decided to return to Thousand Acre Swamp to make a music video. We quickly realized that getting to our destination was not in the cards- we tried several different routes; all were impassable with downed trees and wires. We decided to try to visit another favorite, Steepletop Reserve, run by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. The 1,230 acre reserve includes expansive wetlands and a series of well marked trails that weave around the marsh and woodland areas. We finally made it to Steepletop although the trail had several trees blocking the path that we had to climb over!

Here is a video from the lovely marsh area of the trail:

The next day we finally made it back to Ten Thousand Acres Swamp. Arriving in the late afternoon, the light was stunning and made intricate patterns on the water.

We walked to a suspension bridge that was a bit wobbly, but it was the perfect place to make another video! As I played my flute, I looked over the water and felt a deep sense of peace.

AND, here is a bit of escape from the present! In October 2018, I visited the Bronx Botanical Gardens and was excited to learn that there was a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit: “Visions of Hawaii”. It was a sunny and cool fall day-I had never had the opportunity to visit the botanical gardens. I was impressed by the intricate design of the gardens and how accessible everything was to the public. I took a leisurely stroll through the gardens and on the wide paths that led to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory; an Italian Renaissance style greenhouse. The exhibit included plants, gardens, and landscapes that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe and were paired with an exhibition of her Hawaii pictures in the Art Gallery. As I entered the humid and hot conservatory, my senses were momentarily overwhelmed by the enormous variety of exotic vegetation and lush vividly colored tropical flowers. Interspersed throughout the exhibit were quotes from Georgia O’Keefe and insightful commentary about her paintings.

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The exhibition was totally engrossing, but soon it was time to find a place for lunch! I did a quick google search for ethnic restaurants near the Botanical Gardens and Dukagjini Burek came up- it was seven minutes away on Lydig Avenue. This was a good sign! I located the restaurant and discovered that the neighborhood was a small Albanian enclave with bakeries, ethnic grocery stores and family run restaurants.

I entered the small restaurant that had a just a few tables and the menu on the wall posted the following:

 Burek w/ Meat | $4
Burek w/ Cheese | $4
Burek w/ Spinach | $4
Burek Any Pie | $16

Yogurt / Kus | $1.50

Espresso | $2.00
Cappuccino | $2.50

A Burek is a pizza sized pie with a crust that is a combination of phyllo and pastry dough. I discovered that the owner, Marjan Kolnrekaj who is from Dulagjin, Kosovo has made this specialty for many years. His family has been making Bureks for over a hundred years. I ordered a slice of the burek with cheese and an order of yogurt. I bit into the crisp buttery crust with a cheese filling that included onion and herbs and it was simply delicious! I felt the sense of pride and respect that the workers had for the food and their culture. As I ate, several burly men came in speaking a language that I could not place. I asked a woman standing nearby if she knew what the language it was and she told me with pride that it was Albanian.

I wanted to take a picture of one the counter workers cutting and serving the pies and I may have pushed my luck a bit! The woman at the counter did not smile when I asked if it would be alright to take a picture. She wielded her sharp knife a little threateningly in my direction, but it was worth it!

I am happy to say that Dukagjini Burek is thriving during the pandemic. I called the other day to see if the restaurant was open and they sounded busy- a burek would be the perfect comfort food during this time! I look forward to returning soon!!

AND… Blueberries are ready for picking! We went to Jameson’s High Meadow Farm in Chester, Massachusetts- a perfect place for socially distant picking!

After a walk at the Siegel-Kline Kill Conservation Area in Ghent New York, we stopped by nearby Love Apple Farm and got a half bushel of the sweetest peaches I think I have ever tasted….. more about the beautiful wildflowers in the fields at Siegel-Kline Kill in another blog!

Here is a Sweet Ending with a perfect summer dessert! I had a version of this dessert a few years ago at the wonderful restaurant, Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg, NY- near Ithaca. I remember that the dessert was topped with freshly chopped chilled mango. This dessert is light, very refreshing and there will be plenty of lemon curd, peaches and tapioca pudding left over for snacks!

Lemon Curd, Blueberry, Peach Compote, Tapioca Pudding Parfaits (ala Hazelnut Kitchen)

Low fat Lemon Curd:

Ingredients:

1 Large Egg

2 Egg Whites

3/4 cup sugar ( I used 1/2 cup of Monk fruit Sweetener- see note)

2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest freshly grated

1 tablespoon butter

Make Lemon Curd:

In a medium non-reactive sauce pan whisk together egg, egg whites, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest.

Add butter and cook over low heat stirring constantly until thick- aprox. 5-7 minutes. Do not let mixture come to a simmer.

Use a fine mesh strainer and strain mixture into a small bowl-refrigerate until cold.

Peach Compote

Bring a large pot of water to boil- add 6 large peaches – let sit for about a minute.

Remove and peel peaches- the skins will slip right off!

Cut peaches into slices and place in a medium sized pan

Bring peaches to a boil reduce to a simmer, cook for about 5 minutes until they soften and release their juices – add a bit of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and make a slurry with a small amount of water

Mix into peaches and stir over low heat until the mixture thickens and the color turns clear.

Refrigerate until cold.

Tapioca Pudding

Ingredients

2 3/4 cups milk

1/3 sugar-( for a low sugar version, use 2 tablespoons coconut sugar)

3 tablespoons instant tapioca

1 teaspoon vanilla

To make pudding:

Whisk together milk, sugar and tapioca in a medium saucepan- let stand 5 minutes.

Bring to a full boil over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Refrigerate until cold.

Wash and drain 2 cups fresh blueberries ( you can also use raspberries or blackberries)

Assemble Parfaits:

You can use wine glasses or small bowls.

Place a layer of tapioca pudding on bottom of glass or dish

Add a layer of peaches, then the lemon curd and top with the berries.

Note:

Monk fruit sweeter comes in granulated form and looks just like sugar. It has an extremely low glycemic index and it be used with the same quantities as regular sugar. I used less then the recipe calls for because we like a very tart flavor.

Enjoy and Stay Safe!